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!