In Her Own Words

The author's daughter, Frances, kept a blog during the family's four months in Istanbul.
The author's daughter, Frances, kept a blog during the family's four months in Istanbul. (Robin Kirk)
By Robin Kirk
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 17, 2007

When we told my 12-year-old daughter, Frances, that our family would be living in Istanbul for four months, the howls of dismay could be heard two blocks from our Durham, N.C., home. "And leave my school?" she cried. "My friends?"

Assurances that such a trip would be "fun," "an adventure" and even "educational" did not convince her. While my husband, Orin, and I busied ourselves with renting the house, stashing the cars and finding temporary homes for the pets, we worried about Frances. Would the next four months be unalleviated pain for her? Would every sight go unseen through a veil of tears and tantrums? Was it really, in the end, worth it?

Enter the Internet. A former student of Orin's, now a professor at Istanbul's Sabanci University, had been our inspiration for applying for Fulbright grants to teach in Turkey, and she quickly proposed a cure: a Turkish friend to exchange instant messages with. She arranged for a 12-year-old girl named Defne to message Frances, with promises of outings and other attractions attuned to a preteen sensibility.

The transformation was instantaneous. The most famous sites of this ancient city -- the monumental Hagia Sophia church, the ruins of castles and aqueducts, the museums and incense-filled churches -- were of no immediate interest to our daughter. Instead, Frances's new friend promised a roller coaster ride inside Cevahir, Europe's largest mall; movie theaters with recliners and intermissions for snacks; and concerts by A-list pop stars, including a September performance by Pink, a favorite.

To capitalize on this Internet interest, I set up a blog for our family to post to during our trip. Once we were in Turkey, the blog ( became the main way we kept in touch with friends, grandparents and neighbors. The blog also eliminated the need of sending lots of repetitive e-mails. But the best part was that it inspired Frances to look forward to Turkey and enjoy it while we were there, writing about her experiences for an audience.

The blog, Turkey Adventures, did not just list the famous places we visited. More important, it was a way to share what "normal life" was like and to give Frances a way to chronicle her unique perspective.

She began posting even before we left. While her trepidation was obvious, it also became clear that part of her was looking forward to the trip:

I'm kinda scared, yet I'm anticipating it greatly. I know that I'll miss everything so much . . . I'm eagerly awaiting my penpal to write me, I hope I can have some pre-connection to Turkey. I think it's going to be cool cause I am going to get to communicate with the 7th graders (currently 6th graders) and e-mail them pictures and such about my Adventures. =]]] . . .

I think that it is going to be hard for my emotions because I have so many great friends in the states, I just want to be able to communicate with them one on one, beyond e-mail. . . . E-mail just takes so long.

Indeed, after we arrived in Turkey, Frances spent many late nights messaging her friends back home and despaired of finding Istanbul buddies. That soon resolved itself, however, when school started -- a private international institution that had Turkish students as well as a polyglot of Europe and the Turkic diaspora. Within two weeks, Frances was getting around the city on her own with her new friends.

Frances began to use the blog as a way of appreciating the historical sites that would have otherwise been so "boring" for her. During one outing to Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, she took over the camera and shot the pictures we uploaded to our blog. As we prepared to return home, the one place she wanted to visit again was not the shopping mall but the Hagia Sophia, with its mysterious graffiti and mosaics that seem to glow with light. Above all, the idea that other people cared about what she was doing and would read her opinions convinced her that spending a bit of time away from home was actually fun.

The posts I relished most had nothing to do with history, however. They were about school, friends and living far from familiar things.

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