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.