Thursday, September 30, 2010


I am teaching at a university but in a hazırlık or prep-year. Depending on the university and department in which you wish to study, a proficiency in English is necessary. Because the language programs in most high schools (much like in the US) are quite substandard, many students fail to pass the entrance exam. These otherwise qualified students are then relegated to the hazırlık where they receive 26 hours of English instruction per week for an entire academic year.

Nearly all the Fulbrighters from this year were sent to smaller cities with new universities. Namık Kemal opened, as far as I can tell, in 2006. The school expands greatly from year to year and is still under construction.

Many people have asked how the teaching is going. And, interestingly enough, its going quite well. My students are great and while they may only understand a portion of what I ask them to do, they are very enthusiastic. I am hoping this enthusiasm does not wane in the weeks and months to come, its the only thing that makes the teaching tolerable. Why is that, you ask?

As I mentioned, the university is quite new. In fact the building I teach in is not yet completed which makes for an outrageously loud academic atmosphere.

This is the view from one of my classrooms. Notice the boarded windows and the construction material strewn throughout.

The doors were quickly thrown up a day or so before classes start, some being put on backwards so they do not close (and cannot block out the sound of welding and drilling.) All the classrooms are missing a teacher's table or desk and many were made far too small to house the 25 students that each must hold. Every room lacks a window that actually opens, turning them into ovens, roasting both myself and the students in the afternoon sun.

I tried to put this all out of my mind, I tried not to be such a Debbie Downer but then my colleagues all spent an afternoon complaining as well with one so enraged that she dragged our Rector (something of a cross between a President and a Provost) down to see the situation. After spending no more than three minutes surveying the situation, he told her to calm down, that everything is fine, that she should stop complaining. I suggested she should have asked him to observe a day's worth of classes (where he could sit and roast in his three-piece suit) before passing judgement but it seems that this would have overstepped the lines of propriety.

Even the old buildings aren't safe from the construction crews. Our office building must be updated to become earthquake proof, but the government does not pay to re-build buildings but rather to alter them and their foundations. So, each year they knock down one of the walls, inserting some new foundational elements and then patch the wall back up. The effect looks something like this.

Notice the offices above, mine is on that first floor just to the right of the post. And yes, the building opens to the outside.

Its all been quite the adventure, really. And, let me say, once the classrooms are completed and the workmen go home, and the dust from the construction is finally cleared, the building will be magnificent. Its just the road to get there is already taking a toll. And its only day 4.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My first 24 hours.

After arriving in Tekirdag yesterday evening quite composed and reenergized from my afternoon with Selen, I met Hakan, one of my supervisors here who took me briskly to the school's hotel. The facilities, while not quite the Ritz, are spacious, largely clean and modern (I have internet after all.) I went down to the Migros (the closest thing I've experienced to a Wal-Mart) to get some real-sized shampoo and body lotion, etc. and as I'm mindlessly wandering around working to get my bearings I hear a loud commotion to my right.

The Migros is set up as a kind of CVS/Sears/Staples on the ground floor with a supermarket in the basement. You take a kind of escalator-moving sidewalk combination contraption down and back up again. Well, somehow a small child of about five had fallen down while trying to step off the escalator and was wedged under her father's shopping cart. He was desperately trying to move backwards so as not to crush her, but there were people behind him and he was being pulled forward on top of his daughter. Everyone was just kind of staring at the situation as this poor little girl came closer and closer to being scalped by the escalator so I ran over and yanked her out from underneath the shopping cart. Speaking next to no Turkish I kind of patted her off and stood there awkwardly while her father tried to calm himself down. Props to the little girl--she didn't even cry. And, more strangely than that, her father just kind of took her by the hand and walked off... no word of thanks to me. All in all, very strange.

When I went to check out, the cashier was the nicest girl ever. She is probably around my age and her name was something that sounded like Cheetah. I think its Çitam but somehow pronounced otherwise. I've seen her twice and she still remembers my name. She calls out, "Ah-leks-ahn-dah-rah! Hohv ahhre yu!" It makes me feel warm and welcome.

Speaking of warm and welcome, I feel so fortunate to be here with these people. And, while my arrival was a bit rushed, two of my colleagues came by today to show us around. They are kind and helpful and I feel so lucky. That said, not all of my new friends are feeling quite as warm and welcome. Before leaving Ankara the brilliant Kate started a google group for all of us ETAs. Its meant to be a private message board as well as a forum for English teaching/classroom management ideas. Today's hot topic is regarding arrival to our new homes. Where some are currently settling in their two-bedroom apartments and having dinner with their new colleagues, others are significantly less comfortable. One individual has yet to meet anybody from her school and is still unclear who it was that picked her up from the bus station. Nobody seems to know why she is there and the soonest she will be able to speak to anyone will not be until Tuesday. Two others seem to have moved into an occupied apartment where they found slippers, sewing supplies and prescription drugs.

Our own university does not seem to be clear on our housing situation but we were assured that the vice rector is a kind man we are sure to love. They have assured us that we can speak to him and he will help us sort it out. All are agreed that staying in the hotel until June is a bad idea.

I am teaching tomorrow morning at 8:45 am. I don't know who or where and rumor has it the classrooms are still under construction. But somehow, I think it will all be okay.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Whores

Cell phones are closely controlled here in Turkey. I'm starting to see that the embassy security team wasn't exactly kidding when they said Big Brother is watching. To prevent cell phones from being brought in en masse from abroad, every foreign phone must be registered before it can be used with a Turkish SIM card. I didn't entirely understand why this would be such a problem until I went shopping for a phone today.

This phone, which retails for maybe $200 and change in the US went for about 1200YTL (That's about $1000 folks). I have yet to see an iPhone in a store but I feel they would take nothing less than a kidney in payment. My baby cost 100YTL (the cheapest I could find and has both a flashlight and FM radio!!). She doesn't look to bad either:

In addition to the exorbitant pricing, one, if Turkish, must register the SIM card with the powers that be. That means that you must provide a photo ID--even if the phone is a pay-as-you-go--before the SIM will be activated. They photocopy your ID and write your phone number on the sheet.

Foreigners are not exempt from this process. You must provide a passport before they will sell you your SIM. All I could think about was the Jason Bourne movie where he's talking to that Guardian journalist in Waterloo station and he just walks up and buys two cell phones at a desk and drops one in the guy's pocket. Can't pull that here Matt Damon. Not that I am any kind of super spy maniac out to expose the inner workings of the CIA, but it was strangely invasive.

The staff at Turkcell made the whole experience quite enjoyable however. We got this young guy with a pony tail who, when we asked if he spoke English responded, "Hayir, Russiya", or something like "No, Russian" though I think he was joking because he had a hearty laugh after that one. Bouncing back and forth with about 80% pantomime and 10% each Turkish and English we finally had done the necessary paperwork. He then told me "Two whores." He had been a pleasant guy the whole time, and in any case there were four of us. He clearly wasn't sure he had said the right thing, especially after seeing my face and hearing the three others burst into laughter, when his colleague chimed in, "Two hours, must wait use cep telefonu."

Ah, wait two hours...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 1

Luckily for me, my voyage here was (quite possibly for the first time ever) entirely uneventful. I made all my flights, my luggage arrived when and where it was meant to, even finding a taxi to get to the hotel was without any complication. The only part of the voyage of note was running into Andrew Mahoney in Logan Airport and discovering that we were both flying on the same plane to Amsterdam (he's going to be studying in Jordan for the semester.)

Today was full of characters--the head of the Turkish Higher Education Council (YOK) addressed us this morning to welcome us etc. when much to our surprise a dozen or so reporters, cameramen and film crew swarmed in. The Minister continued on as if nothing had happened, but to be honest I didn't hear much of what he had to say being distracted as I was by the TV camera shoved six inches from my face. Once he had concluded he joked with us that he had to go make an official statement to the press since none of them understood a thing he had just said (he addressed us all in great English.) He left the room and never came back. Maybe I made the evening news?

Then after a few discussions regarding the Embassy and their health services followed by a political discussion with the Embassy's political strategist, we were addressed by two security agents who gave us an (and I quote) "Unclassified Security Briefing". One of the two men grew up in Brooklyn (and talks like it) he had worked on the US-Mexico border in narcotics and other arms smuggling (and you can tell). Suffice it to say this man's every though is how someone could possibly cause any kind of harm to any person with any imaginable instrument. And while I am glad that it is his job and not mine to identify and neutralize threats to Americans, his presentation offered several comical points. The highlight may have been when he showed how a person could use the strap of a woman's purse to strangle her to death--demonstrating on our YOK liaison, a diminutive, sweet woman.

If this is day one, I imagine it will only get better from here.