December 31, 2014

The box I didn't get

Sometime in early October, my mom put a box in the mail to Turkey.

Sometime in early November, the box arrived in Kayseri. Someone at the post office opened the box to do the usual check of international mail. They found some Imodium--diarrhea medicine--in the original packaging.

This person, following procedure, filled in the blanks on the customary letter explaining in Turkish why the package could not be delivered. "This medicine is a controlled substance and requires a doctor's prescription." This letter doesn't include the recipient's name or address. The letter was folded and tucked into a brown waxy envelop. A label with the recipient's address and the parcel's tracking number was carefully placed on the letter.

The letter was delivered to the correct apartment building, but as there was no recipient's name on the label, nor on the inner letter, the waxy brown envelop was filed into a box by the security guard.

The letter sat in the box, undisturbed for nearly a month. The US Postal Service tracking eventually told my mom that the box hadn't been delivered due to a missed delivery, so I went down to the security desk to ask. In Turkish. Yeah.

No package at the desk.

But, are you sure?

Yes. Then the security guard helped me call the shipping company. Ah yes! They knew the package.

Did the box have medicine in it?

Yes probably! I said.

The waxy brown envelop surfaced from the depths of the box.

I needed a prescription for the Imodium, or I could chuck the medicine and collect the rest at the office downtown.

I asked a coworker for help. She kindly took me to a doctor first, to try and score a prescription. This is Turkey, I thought. A fake-ish prescription outta be about the easiest thing to get, considering that Xanax is sold over the counter here.

Turns out we went to an awesome and ethical doctor who was very hesitant to write the prescription for an ailment I didn't have, for a medicine that they have in Turkish pharmacies. When you have infectious diarrhea, we cautioned, you shouldn't take this medicine. You should, let the bacteria come out of your body. Or you will die.

After a few minutes more of our most dignified pleading, the doctor compromised his ethics and wrote the prescription, but on the condition that I would visit his office if I have diarrhea so that he can consult me about whether to take the medicine.

We took the prescription and made the longish drive to the downtown Kargo office. We were taken to a back room, where I expected to see a beat up box from the US. Instead of a box, I saw a man sitting between two desks. He took out a seriously old school ledger. Not just any ledger, but a giant book of package information. I imagine that they've been using that book since the 1970s. He found my number in the book.

Punchline: the box had been sitting there for a month or more, but was shipped back to the US in the past week. Out of Turkey, out of reach. The worker had a number of legitimate excuses which were almost nullified by the awesome excuse that he didn't know that my name wasn't on the label. Apparently he thought my last name was "Rezidans"--the Turkish word for residence--a type of apartment. Nice try.

No box.

Somehow I didn't cry, despite my extreme disappointment. Oh Turkey.

December 28, 2014

Shopping-spree dream

Just for fun, I think I'll make a list of what I would buy if I had an hour at Target (US big box store, just a step up from Wal-Mart).
--Target-- Are the angels signing yet?

  • Rosarita refried beans. I'll take three cases, please.
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, a few of the monster-sized bags I used to buy in Flagstaff.
  • Tortillas. They have them here, but if I'm at Target, why not?
  • Avocados.
  • SALSA. Another three-case purchase. Target sells a pretty good tomatillo salsa. I'd probably get that.
  • Tapatio and Sriracha. Maybe a case of each. Hot sauce is also expensive and hard to come by here.
  • Tortilla chips. OMG. Maybe a pallet of these. They are my favorite. Doritos are everywhere here, but I just want some plain tortilla chips to make nachos... (I might cry now).
  • Coffee beans and a french press. I can get these here, but while at Target, I'll get American-sized, and American-priced stuff.
  • Food processor.
  • Several brownie and cake mixes.
  • Soy sauce (3 gallons)
  • Ice cream maker. Our friends have one and it is AMAZING.
  • American beef. Turkish cows eat different stuff. 
  • The entire spice rack and baking supply area would be tempting. I'll prioritize ingredients for a dozen pumpkin pies (don't forget whipped cream from a spray can).
  • Unscented lotion and face soap. Turkey loves perfumed toiletries. My skin doesn't.
  • American make up. You can buy it here, but it's expensive and doesn't always look...unused.
  • Sunscreen, lots, also unscented, strong SPF. It's expensive here.
  • Unscented laundry detergent. 
  • Natural cleaning spray (Method brand).
  • Ziplock bags with real zippers. Gallon, quart, and snack size.
  • Tampons. Sorry TMI (too much information) but darn are those things hard to find and expensive here.
  • WINE WINE WINE. Without sounding too dependent, I would stock up. I mean, cases. There is really only one place with a decent selection in this town, and it's a pain in the you-know-what to get there and back from our apartment by bus carrying bags.
  • PBR Beer. A pallet. For my Alan. :) and a case of limeade to make "alien blood."
  • Pepper jack cheese. Gouda. YUM.
  • Supplies for green bean casserole. Maybe a case of each ingredient.
  • While I'm there, let's get some new socks and underwear. Always a good idea.
  • Snow boots. Waterproof. Size women's HUGE. It doesn't exist here, and I'm a little embarrassed to go to the men's stores.
  • Pepto-bismol, Tylenol, Advil, Claritin (you know I'll need these if I'm consuming cases of spicy food and wine).
  • Emergen-C packets.  A case, please.
  • Multivitamins. Big supply.
  • Games: Apples to Apples, Twister, Taboo, CatchPhrase, Jenga.
Okay, that was fun. My mouth is watering. I miss capitalism, my car, Target...

Well, I'm planning to be in "the States" in August 2015, so maybe I can pick up some of these things when I'm there. Target, if you're reading this, please open a location in Talas. I will be your best customer!

And yes, if there were a Starbucks inside the Target, I would have a soy latte. Thank you for asking. Corporation inside corporation. Gotta love the USA.

December 25, 2014

Christmas and a Milestone.

Christmas Day in Talas, Turkey. It's sort of like swinging through parallel universes because I know it's Christmas, but there are so few external indications that it's easy to forget. Our office Christmas party created a festive vibe for about 25 minutes, which was great. There aren't Christmas lights or trees, nativity scenes, or presents from Santa. It's just another day.

International instructors were offered the day off, so Alan, some coworkers, and I spent the day on Erciyes mountain, breakfasting and sledding down the snow-packed slopes. Definitely not my usual Christmas.

I'm battling homesickness this week as I see photos from home of familiar events and food. I'm also passing an important milestone in my journeys abroad.

In the past, I've lasted about six months. A semester in Austria, a semester plus some in Cambodia (and Japan).

I'm passing the six month mark here in Turkey, and I'm in for at least another 8. Being here on a contract for work, and being here with my husband has made a huge difference in my "staying power." Traditional study abroad wisdom suggests a U shaped experience that begins high, with the excitement of a new place, goes low with frustration and language barrier, and then climbs again one your start to figure things out.

In the past, I've bailed or at least ended at the bottom, when culture shock hit it's peak.

This time, I feel like I've survived the some of the very low points (for example, locking myself in a bathroom stall at work to cry it all out--good indication of a low point), and come out the other side more prepared to deal with life in Turkey.

My Turkish is getting better. Even though it's still barely there, it's exponentially better than it was three months ago. I feel a huge sense of achievement when small encounters are successful in Turkish. For example, today I helped my American friends order food and sort out a ticket situation. Knowing a little of the language really soothes some parts of culture shock for me. I guess it really comes down to autonomy and feeling like a competent adult, rather than a helpless baby every time someone speaks to you.

So, here's to one foreign Christmas and six months in Turkey down; and to a vibrant 2015 full of the upside of the "U".

December 13, 2014

You might be an American in Turkey if...

You might be an American in Turkey if... (Thanks Alan, for your help writing this)

Speaking and language:
  • you've nearly finished two beginning Turkish classes, but you still can't ask "Can you call the water company for me?" You can, however, question the existence of everything in the room and ask profoundly self-reflective questions like, "am I not ironing?"
  • your latest learned grammar point literally translates to "before you don't leave the house, drink a tea"...a bit of a mind-bender.
  • when you assign homework, "oofya"(exasperated sigh meaning "you have to be kidding me") and "enshallah" (God willing) are the most common responses.
  • you tell  a student "I hope it's easy for you" which is an interpretation of the ubiquitous Turkish "Kolay gelsin" (meaning "may it come easily to you")
  • instead of "isn't it?", your go-to tag question is "dimi?", the Turkish equivalent. 
  • you've started including Turkish misuses of English words into your own lexis: "I'm too excited" (I'm really nervous), "Can you control it?" (Can you check my work?)
  • your textbook teaches British English, despite the fact that only 1 of 50 of the teachers in your school is from England. 
  • you subsequently find yourself saying "at the weekend" and "I'm keen on that" in your daily conversations
Call to prayer:
  • students'  presentations are sometimes drowned out by the school mosque's call to prayer.
  • you plan your lessons around the call to prayer, especially if you want to include video or music. It's disrespectful to play music during the call to prayer. 
  • you probably learned the hard way about the disrespectful thing.
  • different singers have different styles--you have picked out a favorite and look forward to his calls.
  • in your syllabus, you included a rule about cleaning up tea cups after class.
  • people produce sugar cubes from their pockets (lint and all) to sweeten your brew.
  • there's an entire section of every supermarket and mini market completely devoted to tea.
  • students bring you tea, whether you asked for it or not.
  • tea is often served from two containers, one is atomic-strength brewed tea and the other is hot water. You decide your strength: weak, medium, strong, or brand-new-foreigner (mistakenly all atomic won't forget that cup)
  • you've made the brand-new-foreigner mistake more than once.
  • your yearly consumption of eggplant  and tomato has increased by 2000%.
  • you've seen a few two many chicken drumsticks melting into a bowl of watery broth.
  • your salad, and really, all of your food, is swimming in yogurt.
  • you avoid any soup or dish with mushrooms (2 for 2 with food poisoning here)
  • your 6 lira Turkish coffee is two tablespoons of drinkable liquid and the rest is tongue-exfoliating coffee grounds
  • your coffee takes 15 minutes to prepare and creates 5 dishes to wash: cup, saucer, water glass, cezve, and spoon
  • a latte at Starbucks is like the BEST treat ever.
Grocery store
  • there are only three types of cereal in the grocery store: cocoa puffs, musli, and cornflakes.
  • students all say they eat "cheese" for breakfast--sometimes nothing else--language proficiency or simple diet--not sure which. 
  • there are 15 different kinds of cheeses in the diary section, but none are shredded, and none are mozzarella.

Paper Marbling, Mystery Sleigh, and Me

Nothing says "It's the holiday (Christmas) season" like learning a traditional paper marbling technique in a Muslim country.

I miss American Christmas stuff. As tacky as a lot of it is--read: George Michael's "Last Christmas" or cheap, fake greenery--it's a deeply embedded part of my Americanness. This year though, I'm experiencing a non-Christmas-celebrating culture.
"Happy New Year" -- See what I mean?

Well, kind of. Turkey doesn't want to commit to Christmas, especially here in Kayseri. Too Christian, I suppose. I understand and respect that. This is a Muslim country. In America, we don't do much for Ramadan or any Eid holiday. However, here in Kayseri, there is a strange mix of not wanting Christmas, and wanting just a little.

New Year's decorations often include a mysterious sleigh led by deer hovering in the background. Strings of tiny lights wrap pillars at the mall. Surprisingly, the bigger grocery stores stock a very modest collection of Christmas decorations. On our budget, I limited myself to a string of multi-colored lights and box of six assorted ornaments. Just a hint of Christmas this year.

Ok, so there I was, last weekend, the first week of December, missing my holiday season. Our Turkish teacher (also my colleague at school, and friend who plays volleyball) organized a trip downtown to a historic building where we could learn Ebru, the art of paper marbling.

Hunat Hatun Medresesi
The building itself is worth a description here. As I understood, it was a school used in Ottoman times. It's connected to a big Mosque, and also to a historic tomb, though I don't know much about either of those things. The old, stone building we visited was laid out around an open-air courtyard where Kayserians meet up for tea and chatting. A dozen tiny rooms border the courtyard, each with a tiny door. The small doors force those who enter to lower their heads (or whole torso in my case), which is a symbol of humility and respect for the teacher inside. The rooms, which are no bigger than the kitchen of most American homes built in the 1970s, are filled with art, carpets, instruments, or books. Our room was dedicated to Ebru.

The Ebru Master and me
The Ebru master in our room demonstrated how to use oil, water, paint and a special chemical to create a marbled masterpiece. A clear plexiglass tray is lit from underneath, and filled with water to allow the painter to drop bits of color onto the surface of the water.This technique has traditionally been used to make decorative covers for the Koran. He worked quickly and with the grace as he dipped the tools into paint, and then lightly touched the water's surface, causing a ripple of color to surge forth. From three green circles, suddenly an elegant tulip emerged as he pulled the colors around on the water's surface. For me, watching the colors was almost hyponotic. I have always been an artist at heart. Once satisfied with the design, the artist placed a paper onto the water's surface and then carefully lifted it back out, revealing the same beautiful design transfered to a paper. We helped him set it on the drying rack hanging just inches above our heads.

Trying my hand at Ebru
The master let me try my hand at Ebru. Using a pigeon language between English and Turkish, I decided to try to make a cactus. It was fun dipping into the paint and touching the water, though having an audience and being in the smallest possible space made me both light-headed and shakey. I made dots and curves, and pulled the colors around on the surface. At some point, the master gave up on my cactus idea and gave me instructions for making a traditional tulip. The resulting painting has a beautiful red tulip atop a clumsy cactus-stem. He also didn't let me choose not to add two red hearts to the background. When learning someone's art, it's best to follow directions, right? So my painting turned out looking a little weird, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I'd love to try again with more autonomy, and fewer people in a small room.

Overall, life in Turkey is becoming richer every day. Developing friendships piece by piece, riding the ups and downs of teaching, learning more Turkish, trying more cultural things--this is the process of having a life here.

Me, Justyna (awesome Polish friend), and Alan

November 22, 2014

Saturday Adventure Mix

My latest adventure in Turkey involved honeycomb, acting, a mini propane tank, 40 coats, Arby's sauce and a cinema intermission.

I think I may have just ruined any hope of punch-lines in the following recount of my day's events, but let's see.

My days started at 9:00 AM when I woke up from a deep, though short sleep. We had friends over for the first time last night, and it was a lot of fun, but we stayed up a lot later than usual. We had to wake up at a reasonable time though, in order to make it to our Turkish breakfast on time. Our Turkish teacher had arranged a breakfast and cultural event for us. The breakfast was held in the staff dining room on campus, the same place where we eat lunch every day. I think I've raved about Turkish breakfast before, and this one did not disappoint. The Turkish breakfast involves about 100 small plates of the following: black and green olives, assorted cheeses, honeycomb and clotted cream (superb combo on bread), bread, pancake-like bread, savory pastries, pepper and onion omlette, spicy sausage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and of course--tea. The plates of these things are dispersed around the table so that everyone is within arm's reach of everything. It's all delicious and incredibly filling. During the breakfast, our teacher and some of our Turkish colleagues (who were invited to spur more Turkish conversation in the group) helped us with vocabulary and were very patient with our halting sentences.

After breakfast, we all went to our school building for a presentation about the process of asking a woman's hand in marriage. Our teacher, Fatma, explained how the families get together for an evening and exchange small talk and ceremonial blessings on the couple. The process includes a coffee and chocolates service, done by the bride-to-be. Turkish tradition holds that the bride-to-be should replace sugar with salt in the groom's cup, and then the whole party watches as he tries not to wince while drinking. His drinking of the disgusting brew symbolizes his commitment to his wife through thick and thin, and when directly translated, "drinking poison from her hands." We then practiced cooking turkish coffee over a mini propane tank. I volunteered to make coffee for the 15 people in attendance, because I kind of know my way around a "cezve" (turkish coffee brewer), but I can say that making 1 or 2 cups at home is a lot different from trying to time the preparation of 15. M attempt was mostly successful though, and we all enjoyed small cups of coffee together. Once we were  re-caffienated, we tried to act out the Turkish family gathering. Alan and I were the prospective bride and groom, so we had important roles in the action. However, as tradition dictates, two of our male classmates playing the father characters had the most lines in our little play. The show was pretty hilarious, as we hadn't practiced. In the end, our "fathers" consented to our marriage, so all was well.

After the events at school, several of us decided to go downtown to the major shopping center, Kayseri Forum. We stood in the cold, sleeting weather at the bus stop for no less than 50 minutes watching as the hour's only bus--packed full--cruised by us without even stopping. Then we gave in and called a taxi.

Safely at Forum, the hotspot of activity in Kayseri, Alan and I set off on a mission to find me a winter-weather coat. I started in a department store with a wide selection of coats. Every clerk greeted me, but only one was brave enough to deal with the foreigner. The small man bravely perservered, handing me coat after coat to try. I (and sometimes Alan) managed to reject around 40 coats in that store, on the basis of fit, color, boringness, matronlyness, sleeve length, and tacky buckles. As the Turks say, "Ooof ya." What a let down. We headed back out into the mall, and I suggested that we visit a store where the clothes are generally a little less expensive, but where there are copious choices. After nearly giving up, I spotted a cute navy-purple pea coat hybrid lined with white fleece. I tried it on, and angels sang. I swear. Or at least I was too exhausted to try on more. I picked out a tartan plaid warm scarf and headed to the register.

Alan's compromise for shopping with me was that we see the new Hunger Games movie in Forum's cinema. Before watching, we stopped at Arby's (yeah, they exist in Turkey) for some Chipotle Sandviçler and curly fries. They really need to import Arby's sauce to Turkish Arby's--that's all I have to say about that.

The movie was a fun change of pace, though I can't say it was my favorite of the Hunger Games series. One interesting part of the Turkish cinema is the 10-minute intermission mid film. A chance to empty your bladder, get another popcorn (yes, they have it), or--the most likely--take a smoke break. What a quirk. I love it. Someone else in the audience recogninzed us form school and boldly introduced himself. It was a little weird, but kind of made me feel like a celebrity.

As usual, our last stop at Forum was to the big grocery store with the wine aisle. I stocked up--four bottles--because my favorite wine was on sale. YES!

So, that was my big day. I'm tired. I've got a glass of wine. Life is good.

November 15, 2014

One Quarter Down or A Teaching Philosophy in Question.

Günaydın (Turkish for "good morning"). It's Saturday morning here in Talas, Turkey. Somehow, my husband motivated himself to join a hiking group at 6:30 this morning to tackle the local mountain. Three hours later, I peeled myself out of bed thanks to a friend's blog post about how women reach their athletic peak around 30. As a 27-year-old who was looking for a reason not to exercise this morning, I felt compelled to get up and do at least one video from my new favorite indoor exercise, Blogilates. The coal-burning around this city is intense, and the subsequent smog doesn't motivate me to go outside to huff and puff in it. Seriously, the air is brown-ish grey.

Ok, so the mild soreness in my midsection feels like a mediocre physical accomplishment, but I am saving some energy for a walk to and from the grocery store and a party later.

What I really wanted to write about this morning was a reflection on my first quarter of teaching English in Turkey and how the reality does and doesn't match up with my training.

First of all, classroom management was my most unexpected challenge. I remember wondering why one professor spent so much time on in in our practicum class. Now I know. Wrangling a bunch of 18-year-olds who share a common first language, and who are experiencing the freedom of university for the first time---is sort of like trying to get your pet cat into a carrier to go to the vet. First they avoid you, then they cling to the carrier door with all their might so you can't force them in. Finally, when they are inside with the door closed, they yowl and howl and look at you with pathetic eyes.

My groups of students last quarter were energetic and chatty, which is normally a good thing in the language classroom. However, when the chattiness continues while I'm giving directions or after I have turned off the lights to signal that it's time to finish the activity, I get a little frustrated. Pile this on day after day, even after seating arrangements, warnings, and every technique I could think of, and the result is a major breakdown in the middle of a meeting with my colleagues. I'm not sure I've ever cried at work before, especially not out of frustration, and I hope that it never happens again. My colleagues tried to warn me about the students, but I thought they were just being pessimistic. Nope. Turns out that the students can be downright disrespectful and seemingly impossible to teach.

I was a very good student in my master's degree, so I know I paid attention during the classroom management discussions, but in a program focused on current research on language acquisition, some of these daily teacher things didn't surface as among the most critical information. A former yoga teacher once advised me that teachers are never fully prepared, you just have to get in front of the class and deal with it. I think this advice holds for me. In every new context, you can never be prepared for the students or the curriculum. It's a matter of getting in the classroom and dealing with what happens.

On the flip side, let me tell you about the last day of teaching one class that I had particular trouble with. For the last hour, I had planned a review game. however, when I came to the classroom, more than half of the students were gone, and the only people left were the sweetest female students who had shown me respect all semester. They bought coffee and cake for everyone and we sat in the classroom together, as human beings, discussing Turkey and my experiences so far. It was an incredible moment for me as a worn-down teacher---who at times during the first quarter questioned my ability and desire to be an educator---to once again feel the human connection that I love about teaching. My students used English (and I used a little Turkish) to talk and laugh about our differences and our similarities. Make-up and the head scarf were fun conversation, and we took a handful of selfies together. At some point, I realized that they were using vocabulary that we had learned in class, and I was beaming with pride. The language teacher's dream is to have students apply what they learn in a boring textbook to a context that they really care about.
C11 selfie--about half the class isn't pictured here.

Coffee and cake with the ladies of C10

Ladies of C10

Many of my Turkish colleagues, and I'm sure many of my colleagues in general, avoid getting to know students. Instead, they maintain emotional distance and focus on the material. Their classrooms are what I imagine the military to be. Completely dominated by the teacher, orderly, and fear-driven. I'm painting a grim picture, but I know that traditional teaching follows this pattern. The teacher is the ultimate authority, and students never question it. This is also a leadership style that was common in the past, and remains in many parts of the world today.

My teaching style, though, doesn't run on fear. It runs on respect and genuine interest in student success. For better or worse, I make every effort to treat my students with respect as autonomous adults (I can hear some colleagues saying, "that's your first mistake") who deserve the best lesson I can give because they will go on to use English in their majors or in their careers.

For most of my, albeit short, teaching career, I have generally had success with this approach. I think students appreciate my approachability and my interest in their success outside of my classroom. However, the first quarter of teaching here basically took most of my teaching philosophy, ripped it in half and buried it in my bottom desk drawer under waded up tissues of my snot and tears. "Prepare them for the test, check their homework, threaten them with visits to the administration, and get the heck out of there" became my survival mantra.

On Monday, I will have three new classes. One general pre-intermediate class, and two sections of intermediate listening and speaking. I am really excited for the listening and speaking classes because they are students came into the program with higher proficiency (usually accompanied by better work ethic, in this context, anyway). The pre-intermediates will take more patience from me, as they are the graduates of the classes I taught last quarter. They are finding their way through a year of manditory English en route to their private university classes in Engineering or law (only some students will take university classes in English. Others will study in Turkish). Enshallah (God willing, or "hopefully") my students will respond more to my efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. I'd like to pull my tattered teaching philosophy back out, dust it off and continue the success I've enjoyed in other contexts.

Alan is back from his hike and he is working on breakfast. I see him cutting up a pide (delicious flat bread), and I hope there will be some eggs with it. Maybe it will be Turkish style, with olives and tomatoes on the side. Until next time, Güle güle! (that's a Turkish send-off meaning go with a laugh).

October 29, 2014

Cappadocia with friends

There's nothing that a night out with friends, some fresh air, and a hotel room carved out of a cave can't fix.

And my, between work and culture shock, have I needed some fixing lately!

With our day and a half off of work (Turkish Republic Day), Alan, me, and three other couples went to Cappadocia for a little getaway. It was exactly what I needed, and I think exactly what we all needed.

We drank tea and wine, ate a nice meal, tried Rakı (Anise flavored Turkish liquor) and laughed until we cried.

We drove cars through the back roads of Cappadocia, climbed around fascinating ruins, took photos, and became suuuuper hungry. We found food.

We enjoyed being in Turkey. We forgot many of our worries, and laughed about the ones we couldn't forget.

I'll go back to work tomorrow a little bit tired from the trip, but I will mentally refreshed from our mid-week holiday.
View from Cave Hotel Room

Beautiful carpet market

These aren't just any caves. This was part of the cathedral.

Some of the fairy chimneys

I love the landscape out here.

October 12, 2014

Sunday Morning Reflections

First, may I suggest that you check out this beautiful video of Turkey: video link here

It's Sunday morning here in Talas.

I haven't taken my usual dive into the electronic version of The New York Times (Thank you, Chris!) yet, but instead I've opened up my blog.

Unlike the entries I wrote from Cambodia in which I tried to capture each excruciating drop of sweat, I find my entries from Turkey deserve a more even keel. Living and working in Talas at a university where my expertise is desired and rewarded, I feel valuable. Being married to Alan, a coworker, confident, and most-trusted friend, is wonderful. We have learned so much about each other since May 31st. Moving to Turkey together has highlighted our strengths and weaknesses as a couple and forced us to work on them.

Speaking of strengths and weaknesses, last week, Alan and I needed to pay our internet bill. When we arrived at the shop, Alan realized that he had left the slip of paper with our account number at home. As we had walked 20 minutes to get to the shop, we decided to try anyway. Between my vocabulary and Alan's grammar, our Turkish sometimes gets us through. The next twenty minutes were a struggle for all involved. First, they thought we wanted to set up new internet, but of course we didn't catch that, so after struggling to say our address and translate some terms of the contract...I realized that we weren't on the same page. Next, the employee and I had an exchange that, translated, probably went like this, but with more grammatical inaccuracy on my part.

Jena: Ma'am. But, now internet.

Employee: Right now, do you have internet?

Jena: Yes. At home. We want to buy. I mean not buy! At home. Now.

Employee: Do you have the account number?

Jena: Unfortunately. At home.

Employee: ....

Jena: Passport?

Employee: Ok. Yes. Let's try to find your account via your passport.

Employee: Here it is. I am writing the account number. DO NOT lose it this time.

Jena: Yes. Ok.

Employee: That'll be 66 lira.

So, from this encounter, I learned that I didn't know the verb for "to pay", nor the word for "account." On the way home, a random turkish guy shouted "Good Evening!" and then told us how he wasn't selling anything, he just wanted to practice English. We took his number, written on Alan's hand, and bid him adieu, wishing he had been a few blocks back to help us at the internet store.

To shift topics, one aspect of Flagstaff that I loved and hated was that anywhere I went I was bound to run into a colleague, student, or former student. Even after just a few weeks in Talas, I have a huge network of people, and I now see colleagues and students everywhere. In the grocery store, on the bus, at the mall. I can't get away! But it's nice to know people--helps me feel more integrated.

Oh, and to share an incredible "small world" story, one of my Turkish colleagues spent part of her childhood in the US. Guess where? Culler middle school, Lincoln, Nebraska. I mean seriously! I didn't go to Culler (Mickle Missles, all the way!), but I've been inside that building. Out of all the cities in the US and in Turkey, she and I have our childhood home and an adult home in common. It's pretty incredible, if you ask me. She even said "Go Huskers!" --a true taste of home.

On the work front, I will say that no MA program can prepare teachers for life in the real world. Every program has stakeholders pulling in all directions, and every program has unique challenges and demands in curricula, technology, and assessment. The best MA programs prepare teachers to adapt to the circumstances and apply their knowledge however they can given the particular constraints. Okay, enough rambling. Basically, I feel like the teaching context I'm in currently really pushes me to develop as a teacher. However, the benefit of having studied theory and research for two years is that I feel comfortable presenting a professional development workshops and discussing research articles with colleagues, which happened to be two opportunities last week. In fact, I will say that one of the best final exams I was ever given was to create a powerpoint presentation and handout for a hypothetical professional development workshop. Thank you Dr. Stoller! Much love from Turkey! This kind of assignment required us to pull together our knowledge in a meaningful and practical way that we could actually use in the future! Alan, another American colleague, and I each presented a few ideas for teaching vocabulary. Our colleagues have responded well, reporting back that our suggestions have been fun and useful in the classroom. Later in the week, a few colleagues gathered to discuss a journal article from TESOL Quarterly. It felt great to sink my teeth into some academic work and have a meaningful discussion about the implications of the article in our context here in Talas. To sum up, the two years of intense MA study prepared me well (though the adaptation is up to me!).

Now to a topic more behind the scenes (sorry for my randomness this morning). ISIS, ISIL, or IS. If you live in America, I'm sure that you are bombarded with news about the self-proclaimed Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The most recent stories are coming from Kobane, a Syrian town on the Turkish border. This town is on the verge of falling to ISIS, and in the process, stirring up huge international debate among myriad stakeholders. The US embassy in Ankara sends me frequent messages about how the situation is affecting Turkey. Recently, clashes between Kurdish and Turkish forces have resulted in injuries and death in various cities around Turkey. Sites of demonstrations are considered the biggest danger to foreigners, so the embassy simply advises us to avoid large gatherings of people and stay informed about local events. In addition, there are travel restrictions on Southern and Eastern parts of Turkey because of the intensity of the clashes there. For Alan and me, life goes on as usual. Our city is conservative and quiet. Only small protests happen downtown, far away from our sleepy suburb. I opened this post by saying that I haven't dove into the NYT yet, and based on what's happening in neighboring areas, I think you can understand that sometimes the headlines make me fearful, or at the very least, somewhat worried. As of know, there is nothing to worry about in Talas or Kayseri. Staying informed and keeping one's attention on the surroundings are the best protection.

Wow. I don't want to end on that note. Let's see. It's time for my second cup of tea, and maybe time to wake Alan up. We have tentative plans to visit a dog refuge on the outskirts of the city. Our friends have a car, and there are visitation hours. The only problem is falling in love with these animals. Maybe one day (hopefully not too far from now) we will have a dog-friendly place (and of course, also cat-friendly!).

October 7, 2014

Jena's first world problems

Ankara. I don't know it's official tagline, but if I could write one, it would be

Ankara: city of freeways.

Man alive! (Nice Midwestern expression, huh?) Ankara is a crazy city. The roads are mind boggling to me. Basically the freeways are based on where they end up, that is, other cities. So, Konya Yolu (Konya way) leads one to Konya. Eskişehir Yolu has a similar path to its namesake. This I can deal with, as my Turkish geography is getting better, but these names seem to only apply to maps, not to the roads as you are driving on them. Signs on the roadway indicate that you are traveling toward Istanbul, Eskişehir, and three other places, but the don't tell you which road you are on. In general, I'd say that Turkey isn't big on street signs, so the lack of signage indicating names for the big roads doesn't surprise me much. Suprise, no. Irritate, yes. As designated navigator for the trip, I totally failed due to confusing signage, lack of labeling, and minimal knowledge of the area.

Trying to find our hotel took well over an hour because we were lost three separate times. A kind gentlemen eventually gave us pretty good directions, but it was still a challenge to figure out when to exit the freeway. By the way, turning around on Turkish freeways isn't as simple as the American Interstate system. The overpasses don't really work like that. If you get on the wrong street, you might be going that direction for a while. You might even end up in Istanbul if you really mess up. That's my attempt at a geography and city planning joke for Ankara's mess of freeways.

Anyway, we arrived at the JW Marriot in Ankara not a moment too soon as we were both fried from the exhausting navigation and traffic. We had earned a free stay from our credit card, so it seemed like a good excuse to "put on the ritz" for a night. Our room had a cute box of Turkish delights and handmade chocolates waiting for us, as well as a bathtub, shower cabinet, plush robes, and view from the 18th floor. The hotel was probably the nicest I've ever stayed in.

One important reason I had wanted to go to Ankara was that they have şarap evleri (= literally, wine houses). I scoped out one on Google, and we, by some miracle and good directions, were able to find it. The ambience was perfect. Miniature red lights cast a warm glow over the outdoor seating. The menu was great and the wine selection was excellent (I guess. I'm no expert on Turkish wine). I picked out a steak and paired it with a red wine. A local Cabernet Sauvignon. I don't have a refined wine pallet, but I do enjoy drinking wine, especially the red stuff. In Kayseri, I don't drink much wine (because it's pretty hard to come by), so I was really excited to drink a real glass of wine with my dinner.

Our meals and drinks arrived. We toasted, and I took a sip. Wine snob alert...

Parents, if you are reading this, you may want to cover your eyes.

The wine was a frosty, fresh-from-the-fridge temperature. Seriously?

I don't know much, but I think I know that dry red wine is almost always served at just barely cooler than room temperature. Ultimately, I know that temperature is a preference thing. There's nothing wrong with a chilled red, but I think it changes the flavor and the way it goes with the food.

I cupped my hands around the glass to try to warm it up, but eventually resigned myself to a much colder than usual glass of wine. There is a punchline, "first world problems" meaning that my complaints are absolutely ridiculous when compared to the problems faced by people in the developing world. I think the temperature of my wine in Ankara definitely falls into this category, but nevertheless, I pretty much chose the restaurant based on the idea of a great glass of wine. It fell short.

After the wine experience, we went back to the hotel to explore the swimming pool. Unfortunately, no one is allowed in the pool without a swim cap, but the Turkish steam room, hamam, jacuzzi, and amazing shower area are open to all, swim cap or not. After steaming, soaking and laying on a hot slab for an hour, Alan and I were thoroughly spa-ed. We snuggled into real down pillows and comforters and slept soundly.

The next morning, we explored a small section of Ankara. We ate a tasty breakfast and walked around, hoping to find a guitar shop.

Here comes an anticlimactic ending to the post:

After fighting the traffic and freeways again, we were on our way back to Kayseri. No additional wine temperature incidents or spa time. We did get chips at a rest area. They were very delicious.

Home sweet home.

Cappadocia: Claustrophobes need not apply.

Whimsical rock formations
Kurban Bayramı is nearly over. Having Friday to Tuesday off is pretty luxurious.

It's Tuesday afternoon here in Talas. Our rental car is parked outside, waiting to go back to its city home in a few hours. We will come back by bus and resume our car-less  life. Tomorrow, we will go back to work.

"Love Valley"
I want to share a little about what Alan and I did during the holiday. After our impromptu visit to Cappadocia, Alan and I returned the following day to see more fairy chimney action and tour an underground city.

Let me paint a picture of Cappadocia. According to Alan, it looks a lot like Southern Utah. To both of us, the novelty of Cappodocia's beauty is reminiscent of Sedona, Arizona. The arid plain is dotted with colorful rock mesas. Jutting out from the earth are also these pointy spires. Some are shaped like isosiclies triangles, some are more organic and whimsical, and some look like they belong on a naughty cake for a bachelorette party. Into the hillsides and pointed rocks, previous civilizations have carved homes and entire cities. Some sections mimick adobe homes of the Southwest, and others look a lot more alien. The vast majority of Cappadocia is free and open to the public, so tourists can explore unimpeded nearly everything. Even the incredibly dangerous and scary stuff, like unlit cave tunnels with uneven bottoms, no clear signage, and no help if one is trapped. I did not encourage Alan to push his limits in the caves.

Cappadocia is beautiful. The landscape is colorful, whimsical, and practically begs to be explored. As rich as the place is in beauty, it is also full of history. Alan and I visited a church designated as a world heritage site. The church was carved into the mountainside and wonderfully preserved over the centuries. We climbed up modern stairways to see the ancient rooms painted with depictions of Christ's life and teachings. Most of the faces, save those painted on the ceiling, had been scratched out, presumably by Muslim or nomadic conquerers.

The second world heritage site that we visited was the underground tunnel. We began our second day of Cappadocia there, and I'm glad we didn't have much planned for afterward. The tour was intense.

Okay, admittedly, an ancient "underground city" pretty much tells you what to expect. Dark, damp, rocks, maybe some tighter spaces. Wow. For this particular city, claustrophobes need not apply. The first 15 minutes of the self-guided tour were tame enough. Easy clearance, larger rooms, no hallways. But then, as more and more tourists piled in behind us, we came to a bottleneck stairway which was part of the tour and exit route. We waited for several minutes as tourist after tourist climbed out of the stairway, looking exhausted and a little aghast. As soon as the train of people ended, Alan and I fell in line with a Korean tour group. Bent at 90 degrees, we crept down the staircase in single file (no room for doubles here). My backpack scraped at the ceiling of the stairway, and my knees nearly knocked my jaw as I treaded down the uneven stairs for several minutes. We passed huge stone disks that were once rolled in place to keep the enemy out. I muttered curses and encouragements to myself as I listened to the Koreans squeal with fear and delight behind me. Finally, we emerged at the bottom, in a chamber. To our right, the church section and to our left, the graves section. My heart rate was sky high from the adrenaline of the tight staircase, and the thin underground air and increased pressure had me feeling dizzy. Somehow, I was convinced to travel down the even tighter tunnel to the grave section. There weren't lights in the tunnel as it was too tight to fit them, but there were lights in the ambiguous grave room. Nothing much to see there, really. Unfortunately, before we could make our way back out of there, a party of boisterous Turks made their way in. Their loud and excited chatter made me feel really closed in, but I had to wait until every last one of them filed back out before I could reenter the passageway.

Alan showing the size of the tunnel to the grave section
The tour of the underground city wouldn't be complete without a look down the perilous well, or a look up the disparaging ventilation shaft. After a solid half hour eight stories underground, we were ready to get out of there. The problem was, if your remember that single file staircase, we were now on the other end. Waiting for loads and loads of people to come down. With no tour guides to manage the staircase situation, the noisy Turks from the grave section began yelling and gesticulating. If I can imagine the only way to make the underground city more scary, it would be to have an angry mob rushing a one way at a time staircase. I tried to take deep breaths (wondering how much oxygen there really was down there) and stay focused on getting out.

It occurred to me to make a video of the ascent on the staircase, so I have about 90 seconds of footage featuring a stranger's butt as he ascended the stairs in front of me.

We weren't out of the woods yet, though. After the staircase, the exit route included a ridiculously awful second staircase that was even smaller than the first. My thighs were burning as we crept through the dark tunnel, bent over, legs not even able to straighten. Without an alternative, I just kept going, pushed onward by the crowd behind me. Emerging into the sunlight, I thanked my lucky stars that I survived.
Free puppy guides!
We bought post cards and headed back out to the open plain for more exploring. Highlights of that excursion included an easy to explore section of larger structures, some potato chips, and a free puppy guide.


Cappadocia has captured our hearts. The surrounding areas are so open and naturally beautiful, not unlike Northern Arizona. Though touristy, Cappadocia is still relatively wild. I'm sure we will be renting more cars to visit this place again in the near future.

Coming next: Ankara, city of freeways.

October 3, 2014

The Freedom Only a Rental Car Can Provide

Welcome to Turkey.

That thought has been on my mind a lot the past three months, especially in the face of weird or frustrating occurances. Welcome to Turkey.

Well, now that I'm three months in and I've finally acquired a residence permit, bank account, and first salary installment, I'm feeling more settled.

Alan and I are trying to take advantage of a five day weekend with a rental car and desire to get away from the 15-story apartment buildings that give Talas its distinctive vibe. Getting the rental car was a struggle, but thanks to some very generous co-workers, I think we got the best deal in the city. We rented an automatic (hard to find) Nissan Micra for the holiday at a very reasonable price. Luckily the car was reasonable, because benzine definitely isn't. Filling up our tank cost around $75.

Our first trip with the car was to Beğendik (grocery store), the big one. We loaded up our cart with necessities and treats for the holiday weekend, as most shops will be closed in observance of the holiday. Standing in long lines at the cash register reminded me of doing grocery shopping on Christmas eve. Lots of frazzled people with full carts. Then, some random teenage boys nearly knocked my cart over with their crazy rollerblade tricks on the front steps of the store. Welcome to Turkey.

Today, we drove around the big dormant volcano, Erciyes. The trek took us past ski resorts, up a gondola, through open plains, shanty towns, and also one of the most touristy places in Turkey--Cappadocia. More on that topic later.

Alan and I did pretty well, considering the amount of stress that driving (or in my case, passengering) in Turkey put on us. My iPad had screen shot maps of our directions, but they didn't account for getting lost pretty much straight away, and it took a few minutes before Alan and I could communicate calmly again. We made it everywhere we wanted to go, despite a serious lack of street signage and a ridiculous traffic situation near the bus station on our way back into town. Alan did a great job of pulling off some Turkish driving to get through that.

In Turkey, driving is all about flow. Traffic rules, lane lines, slow vehicles, turn signals, basically anything that gets in the way of one's flow while driving, is to be avoided. Just try to get to your destination as fast as  possible. Don't worry about other things. Needless to say, I've personally witnessed three accidents in the past month. None today, thank God.

One of the weirdest moments today, a real Welcome to the Middle East moment, was seeing the sheep lined up downtown. The Muslim Eid holiday starts tomorrow, and the traditions include sacrificing a sheep. Christians know this story too, as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, who was then replaced by a lamb. In the Islamic version, his name is Ibrahim. So, the customary thing to do in Turkey is to buy a lamb and perform the sacrifice. Welcome to Turkey.

Even with the many surprises and tribulations, Turkey is really growing on me. With a few modifications to our current situation, including maybe a car of our own, and a place with a pet and a balcony, I could see myself living in Turkey for a few years. There are some things that are hard to get used to, but overall, it is a great place.

September 21, 2014

Transient Trance Post

The air is cooler now. Mercifully so. The cool breeze has me in a trance.

I'm thinking about Flagstaff right now. The crisp mountain air that even in summer was refreshing. The scent of the ponderosa pines that I often cursed for their height blocking my view. The calm neighborhoods.

Driving on I-17 toward Phoenix, the natural beauty of Sedona's red rocks and the Verde Valley's lush trees. Climbing the hill out of the valley toward Sunset Point. The open skies and arid plains, the mountains, the solitude of the Interstate highway. Music. Escape.

Familiar groceries in familiar stores. Weekday coffee runs at Starbucks on campus. Refried beans. Nachos. A glass (or two) of wine after work. My windowless office in the Liberal Arts building. The health club behind the apartment where all the body builders hoisted huge weights and drank protein shakes.

The group mailboxes. Junk mail for previous tenants. Peanut butter, soy milk, and cereal.

My car. Autonomy. The neighbors' dog Skyy with the blue eyes and docile presence.

Walking through Ross, hating the cheap fabrics. Finding a pair of shoes in a "comfort" brand for $24. Shopping at Target and Sprouts. Studying or applying for jobs at Campus Coffee Bean. Having a second expresso drink for free.

Always wanting to go to World Market, but never finding much I actually wanted.



Running into friends and acquaintences everywhere because its a small town.

Calling my grandparents while waiting for the bus.

Playing volleyball twice a week with people who shared my love of hip hop.

Deep tissue massages.

Under-cabinet lighting.

Letters from my grandma.

Hiking (even if only for a few minutes).

Tortilla chips.

Master bedrooms with the bathroom connected to them.

I think I would call this homesickness. Not necessarily wanting to go home, but the trance-like reminiscent feeling of being in a familiar place where the details go unnoticed. In memory, the sun is brighter, the days less mundane, the food more delicious.

Right now, the echoing call to prayer brings me back to my reality. Life in Turkey. My new home, where the details catch my attention and help me appreciate Turkey and other places I've called home.

September 20, 2014

Finding my Sea Legs

The wait is finally over. I’ve taught a handful of beginner classes at the English Prep School. My rosters have exotic names like Kübranur, Yiğit, Mustafa, Serdar and Vasfiye. Some names are a little more familiar: Ömer, Bünyamin, Hüseyin, and Muhammad; or at least less intimidating to pronounce: Seda, Elif, and Merve.

The lessons themselves have tested my worth as a teacher. Teaching a linguistically homogenous group of beginners, who also happen to be 18 and away from home for the first time, has a variety of challenges. The students and I are creating a delightful pigeon language between English and Turkish to help explain more complex directions. So far, the Turkish equivalents of classroom language (read, write, listen, speak, now, later, today, homework) that I learned from our Turkish teacher in İzmir are among the most useful. My students seem to appreciate my linguistic accommodation, however minimal, to aid their understanding of the barrage of English now thrown at them six or more hours per day. I can deeply empathize with students for whom understanding the directions of an activity is the most challenging part. In our Turkish textbook, the directions often looked like:

Aşağıdaki karışık kelimelerden anlamlı ve kurallı cümleler kurunuz.

Honestly, looking at the sentence I just copied from the book, I’m still not totally sure what it says. Something to the effect of unscramble the words to make sentences. The point is, if I can help my students understand the complex and sometimes cryptic language of textbook directions, I will do it. I also remember how sometimes it was such a relief if my Turkish teacher could just tell me the English translation of a word. The stronger students in class may be able to figure out the meaning from an English explanation, but students who are struggling will appreciate the translation. When I don’t know the Turkish word, I can ask students. This way, lower students gain understanding, and I learn a new word. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Finding my sea legs in a new teaching environment is exhausting. I feel like I could hibernate all weekend. Alan and I have plans for later today to go to the big grocery store with lots of foreign imports. A friend is taking us in his car, so it’s time to stock up.

September 17, 2014

Captain, this turbolift seems to be malfunctioning

Hanging in the balance.

It's how I've felt many times in my adult life, as I've considered career and education options. It's how I've felt for the past several months waiting for my job in Turkey to finally begin. It's how I've felt the past two weeks waiting for classes to start.

Mostly, it's how I felt this afternoon, suspended somewhere between the 10th and 11th floor of our apartment building in a small, stuffy elevator. At least I wasn't alone--Alan was there--but I was still pretty freaked out. The elevator buttons wouldn't light up, the call button didn't work, and the slot for the telephone was empty. Continuing our on-going joke and commentary on various hazards we see in Turkey, I voiced in my chastizing tone with a special eye roll, "Turkey!" I then pressed the alarm button, which, to my delight, made a loud ringing sound outside of the elevator. A Turkish voice came over the intercom. Using the phrase Alan had suggested, I said the equivalent of "Elevator has problem." I couldn't understand the Turkish response, but I assume they promised speedy help.

We stood for several minutes, taking a few Facebook-ready selfies of our predicament. I tried to ward off claustrophia and general panic while Alan cracked jokes and strategized the best position to be in if the elevator plunged. We heard prying noise above our heads, presumably from the eleventh floor. They stopped. Then the lights went out. Pitch black.

I dug in my bag for my iPad as a source of light, and composed a Facebook post to be posted upon our safe return to our apartment. Busying myself with social media helped me not think about the small and hot elevator.

Eventually, the lights relit and the elevator went to the ground floor. Went, not plummeted.  The apartment manager was there to greet us. He assured us the the problem was only on the eleventh floor, pushed the 12 button, and sent us back up the shaft. On the way up, Alan and I both had the same thought, why hadn't we taken the stairs, or at least the other elevator?

We arrived safely at the twelfth floor, took the stairs down to the eleventh, and were very happy to not be encased anymore. We were only stuck for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, but it was long enough for me to reflect on the parallels of literally hanging in the balance and the way I've felt recently.

Today was my first day of teaching at the prep school. Yesterday I taught a university writing class for sophomores. So far, I'm two-for-two on technology failure in the classroom. The number one rule for teaching with technology is to have a back up plan. My back up plans were not as well fleshed out as I would have liked, and the fact that I had somehow forgotten my whiteboard markers yesterday gave me an even bigger challenge. Harkening back to the why-didn't-we-take-the-stairs situation, I found myself wondering why I hadn't made a stronger technology back up plan for today considering yesterday's events. A glutton for punishment, I guess!

Over the past several years, I've grown accustomed to being able to project my computer screen on a wall for students to see. In fact, here in Turkey, we use SmartBoards, which have even stronger capabilities than a simple projector system. The SmartBoard basically projects an electronic version of the book on a chalkboard-size touch screen that works similarly to an iPad.  However, the technology is only as good as your knowledge of HOW to use it, and on a more basic level, it is only as good as the cable connections between your computer and the board. Working with borrowed cables both times (mine haven't arrived yet), I felt like I was flying blind--in a way trapped by my own lesson plan's dependence on technology. In the university class (with a simple projector), I simply gave up on projecting and focused on the papers I had printed, while using the PowerPoint on my computer screen more like class notes. Today, I recruited some IT help during the first 30 minutes of class and at break, which helped get me about 75% of where I wanted to be. I still couldn't use the board effectively, but I compensated for the remaining 25% with enthusiasm and whiteboard markers, a newfound luxury after the previous day's fiasco.

Not unlike the elevator's eventual returning of trapped occupants, I did eventually figure out solutions to  the problems I experienced these first two days (after class, I spent a long time fiddling with the system and talking with colleagues). And not unlike surviving the elevator, I have survived my lessons despite the technological malfunctions. Furthermore, similarly to when the lights went completely out in the elevator, I did not panic when no students had the textbook. I did leave the room to get scratch paper, as they didn't have that with them either. On days like yesterday and today, I'm glad that I have a strong foundation in teaching methodology and classroom experience to draw on.  Thinking on one's feet and making quick decisions are two underrated skills that good teachers possess and use constantly. Unplanned events in class are common, and as a newbie to the program and technology, I am especially prone to things not going as I planned.

Wish me good luck for tomorrow's new and improved lesson (taking into account the potential lack of books) and for upcoming elevator travel. Maybe I'll take the stairs.

September 14, 2014

Mid-September: Two-and-a-half months in Turkey

My last post was more than 10 days ago, so we have a lot to catch up on.

Overall, Turkey is becoming more and more manageable for this yabancı (foreigner). The biggest help is having an 8 to 5 job to go to during the week where I get plenty of human interaction and where I have things to do.

I'm an English teacher here in Turkey, in a university prep school program. In Turkey, some (or maybe most) universities require students to have a baseline English proficiency before entering their degree programs. Some degree programs are taught in English, others in Turkish; therefore, some students really need fairly high English proficiency to be successful in university. Those who don't need English for their studies are still required to take the prep school for the general benefits of knowing some English, including better job opportunities, the ability to speak to foreigners and enjoy a wider variety of media, and of course, the ability to read the interesting English phrases on t-shirts.

My job for the first 8 weeks of school (classes start in just a few days) will be to teach beginner level students. Most of my colleagues will be teaching beginners, too, and as we move through the year, our students will progress, and most of us will be then teaching more and more advanced classes. I will also be teaching a discipline-specific writing course for university students studying Political Science. I'm excited to teach a writing class for a specific discipline because we will be working with a theme (political science) and building skills and vocabulary that students will actually use in their major classes. Last year, I taught a course with similar goals, but as a required general class for all freshman, I had to cast a very wide net with my instruction. Now, I can focus on helping students become more fluent in the language specific to their field of study. This is very cool for a language teacher. Plus, now I have an excuse to watch more Al-Jazeera News. Sorry Alan!

Those are the basics of the job. I will say that learning a new system at a new school is not easy. There is just so much to know, and most of what I need to know, I will have to learn by experience. Luckily, I feel like I could ask any of my 60 colleagues for help.

Aside from work, life in Turkey is starting to get easier, though I can't say that life here always makes sense. For example, ideas about safety are really different here. Just yesterday, on my walk home from the grocery store, I heard a loud bang, and there on the balcony of a fifteenth floor apartment building, a man was throwing two-by-fours (long pieces of wood) over the railing. The wood pieces sailed down to the ground below, landing with satisfying plunk sounds. I was no more than the width of a two lane street away from the landing zone, so I sped up to pass this unmarked, unsecured construction site as fast as possible. I would call this type of construction the norm here in Turkey, which has led me to the conclusion that Turkey, the whole thing, is a hard-hat zone.

I'm learning to cook with the ingredients most readily available here. Thanks to an awesome Turkish cookbook that we received as a wedding gift and a little creativity on my part, I feel like I'm eating very well. Just last night, I made some herbed-cheese fritters and a red lentil soup that was absolutely delicious. Alan and I go to the grocery store often, and our typical trip includes a bucket of yogurt (imagine the size you might find at Sam's club--yogurt is in everything here), cheese, bread, onions, tomatoes, peppers, olives,  ice cream and Kayseri's famous beef sausage. My diet here is lower calorie than back in Flagstaff, thanks to the difficulty in acquiring wine, peanut butter, and tortilla chips. I don't miss those things as much as I thought I might. When we go downtown to the big supermarket, I do pick up a few bottles of wine, but I only drink them on weekends to keep them special. Other nights, I relax with sparkling water.

Alan and I also occasionally buy puppy-treats at the store because we have found a group of awesome dogs to be our demi-pets. The dogs live about a 20 minute walk from our apartment, on the campus of another university. There are three of them: Peynir, a gorgeous golden retriever mix; Dr. Crusher, a typical wire-furred mix of everything; and Snugglepek, a border collie mix. We visit them regularly to pet, brush, and play with them. Snugglepek is my favorite because I've invested in helping her get rid of a thick, molting undercoat that made her look pretty gross at first. Now that I've removed most of that extra fur, she looks shiny and healthy. She's also a very friendly and energetic dog. I named her Snuggle + Köpek (Turkish for dog) = Snugglepek. As much as I wish I could take her home, for now it isn't so bad to have "pets on demand." That is, I don't have to worry about letting her out during a long work day, or taking her for a walk once the sidewalks are covered with ice. Maybe one day, we will live in a place where I can have a pet.

A highlight of this weekend was my inagural volleyball night here in Kayseri. I tapped into some interest in reviving a ladies-only volleyball night, and with the help of my Turkish colleagues, we made it happen on Friday after work. It was so fun to let loose and be active. I also felt that I made a better connection with many of my colleagues by showing them a less inhibited side of me. Since my arrival in Turkey, I've been various degrees of helpless, but on the volleyball court, I actually know what to do. What a nice feeling.

My Turkish language skills are developing albeit  slowly. Colleagues have generously slown down their speech to help me practice and teach me new words. Turkish is still a beast to use spontaneously because of the syntactic differences with English. I feel like I have to form my sentence in English, then flip the sentence 180 degrees and then work it back into Turkish. I'm getting better though, and one day, enshallah (God willing or hopefully), I will be able to have a conversation.

Well, I feel purged of the last 10 days activity. I can't wait to get more immersed in teaching and in my new community. Wish me luck this week!

September 2, 2014

A Great Day to Live Abroad!

Today was a perfect example of why I have wanted to live and work abroad (again).

I experienced minimal amounts of culture shock, and instead made human connections, practiced a new language, and ate ice cream after dinner. What more could a girl ask for?

One of the highlights of today was practicing my Turkish with a group of female teachers at lunch. After investing the time and effort to learn something back in İzmir, it was rewarding to be able to make my way through a basic conversation and even make some jokes with my colleagues. Those girls (it seems like the best word, even though I’m sure some people think it is derogatory) are really fun and so patient with me. I continually express my interest in learning Turkish, and they oblige me by slowing down, sticking to relatively easy topics, and repeating repeating repeating.

Another colleague helped me build confidence in Turkish by creating a role play situation in which I was the study abroad director and he was a student wanting to study in the US. My role was to ask all the basic questions that one might be asked on and application. I think I exceeded his expectations a few times and his generous praise made me feel much more confident to keep practicing. Tekrar edebilir misiniz? (could you repeat that?)

Yet another colleague took us on a personalized tour of Kayseri, including the Tuesday market close to our apartment and a home improvement store in downtown Kayseri. She graciously helped us select several items that we’ve been doing without for the past several weeks:

A toaster. Skillet toast is neither fun nor tasty.

A wall clock. Our apartment has no clocks or decorations on the walls. We are changing that!

Bed lamps. Bright overhead light when husband is reading and I’m trying to sleep is no good. You should have seen the crazy way Alan had to rig up the extension chorded surge protector to get them both plugged into the same outlet. On a side note, there are regulations in the US about how frequently outlets must be placed in rooms. In Turkey, apparently one per room is pretty much good enough, and if you have the need for more, you better get used to stepping over extension chords.

A big, awesome tropical plant. We bought it in the name of decoration but I think its function is more like a pet-substitute for now. We are thinking of names for it.

A hairdryer. One, wet hair is so not professional. Two, after rinising one’s hair with a vinegar solution as I have been, the odor of vinegar remains under the hair is dry. Two birds, one proverbial stone.

In my field of teaching, we often talk about students’ motivation to learn the language as being either functional (e.g., a Turk learning English to study in an English-medium graduate program) or integrative (e.g., a Turk learning English to live in Lincoln, Nebraska and try to meet an American wife). While my absolute need to learn basic Turkish is merely functional, days like today bring up my integrative motivation because I do want to be a part of this community in Kayseri. Not forever, Grandma, but for now. I would like work on my Turkish proficiency so that I can enjoy speaking Turkish with my colleagues as part of our friendship—and ultimately as part of our human-to-human exchange. This is the purpose of travel.

August 30, 2014

Ten weird things I'm doing

  1. Washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar to save money and let my hair take care of itself better. It’s called the “no-poo” movement. So far, so good.
  2. Playing basketball games with my husband on busted up outdoor courts.
  3. Using a strange hand pump to extract drinking water from a large container that is delivered to my apartment.
  4. Ordering corn nuts by the kilo at the local market.
  5. Using an exercise room where there are strange posters of male body-builders who may or may not be wearing clothes.
  6. Laboring over a small, scalding pot full of fine coffee grounds, only to be disappointed when drinking it is a little like taking a sip of sand.
  7. Drinking sparkling water as a replacement for alcohol—surprisingly, it still has a relaxing effect if you believe it will.
  8. Watching three episodes of Star Trek with my husband every evening. And liking it.
  9. Eating from dishes printed with the logo of my workplace.
  10. Sleeping on sheets with a pattern best described as camo-meets-houndstooth-meets-girly.