Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fulbright Mid-Year Meeting

I’m not  a fan of bureaucracy.
But, my time here is chock full of it: To get a bank account, you need a residence permit, a tax number, and a number that is assigned by the government, which can take anywhere from 1-9 months to receive. You can’t be paid without this number, or without a bank account. Getting a cell phone requires a passport, a phone registration document, and no foreigner can purchase a cell phone contract. Under any circumstances.
The structure of things is comical because, ultimately nothing is orderly. Unlike the monotonus, if predictable bureaucracy I encountered in France, Turkish bureaucracy seems to be for show, and my Fulbright experience has been tinged with this flash and red tape, and it seems I’m not alone.
If you’ve been keeping up with my blogs, you’ve heard about the problems regarding Fulbright’s expansion. Essentially the American Fulbright Commission handed over everything to the Turks, allowing them full control of us without explaining this to us at any point. We slowly began to realize that we are first Turkish university employees and second Fulbright fellows. And, while I have lucked out with a phenomenal staff at an incredible university in a forward thinking city, this is absolutely not the case for many of my friends.  This weekend's meeting was a bloodletting for Fulbrighters throughout the Cumhuriyet,  and I have some favorite remarks:
“Its important to just remember to stay alive.”—A.S.
While addressing the Commission and fellow Fulbrighters regarding the state of our mental and physical health.
“Overall, I give it a rating of 280 Van cats.”—C.T.
After speaking about the feral cat population in his city, and deciding to use feral cats as an arbitrary rating system with which to rate his Fulbright experience so far
“Yeah, I still have to walk 20 minutes when I want to take a shower.”—J.I.
Talking about how his situation has improved
“You’re welcome to come visit, but bring your own water or you’ll have to haul it 2 km.”—D.R.
Addressing the executive members of the Fulbright Commission, inviting them to his rural placement, where there is no running potable water
“Without YÖK, you wouldn’t be here.”—A.O.
Reminding us to remain positive
Who do we work for?”—R.B.
When asking for clarification about who we actually work for
“Secil, who do you like more? Us or the full grant recipients?”
“Euhhhhhhh…” walks away, thinks for a minute, returns, “Well, I will always remember this group, because we all suffer together.”—Secil Yazicioglu, American Programs Officer, Fulbright Turkey
After addressed by several inquisitive Fulbrighters regarding her undying love for us
“Yes, I would like you to write me a letter before you leave my country telling me what is wrong with your university.”—Dr. Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, President of YÖK (Turkish Ministry of Higher Education)
Addressing me personally after dinner, after skipping our briefings discussing exactly what hisorganization needs to change
“Next year will never be the taste of this year, if you ask me it’s a good thing, I will only remember this year as bad… If you survive, it is enough… My job is to count heads…All the suffering is worth it, I hope I filled the 15 minutes”—Ersel Aydinli, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission
After showing up unprepared to give the opening address that was supposed to be 15 minutes long
The day was tipped off by a flurry of Turkish media. A dozen cameramen and reporters swarmed into the room to tape the Dr. Yusuf Ziya Ozcan’s speech regarding YÖK’s sizable contribution to Fulbright’s expansion, he then, to our collective horror, veered off saying the program will be doubled next year (can I get a hell no!) Ultimately a PR ploy, it was an unwelcome start to a very, very long day.
Next, the newly appointed Ambassador addressed us, he offered a combination of humor, respect and solidarity that was lacking from the Turkish side. Having been an English Teaching Fellow himself, my favorite comment was something along the lines of, "I only went to Italy, you came to Turkey!" And, for all the Turkish media in the room, who definitely missed the emphasis, it was meant to be a, you crazy, adventurous kids, kind of an emphasis. He’s a great man who solidified his position on my good side when he made Sam Adams beer available at the reception at his home later that evening.
The most galling thing about the entire day was that not one member of YOK stuck around for the quote-un-quote bitch sesh that went on. There was also Ersin Aydinli who, after listening to stories of homelessness, borderline persecution, and outright hostility had the balls to tell us, yes it seems the positive has outweighed the negative. Ass hole. 
The one perk was staying at the Hilton Hotel.
While I have a pretty cushy apartment, and placement for that matter, many of my fellow Fulbrighters cannot count on certain comforts typically deemed a simple standard of living in the US: hot water, access to brewed coffee, TV, and 24-hour electricity to name a few. And, while it is these very experiences that equip each of us to speak authoritatively on Turkish culture, a slight bump in our standard of living, if only for a weekend was certainly welcome. The Hilton Hotel redefined comfort with a pool, jacuzzi, fitness center, attentive staff, Crabtree & Evelyn bath products, plush robes, comfortable beds and bacon.
If it was an attempt to placate us in our rage, it was too little too late, but I was happy to accept the bribe. I was thrilled to take the first bath I’ve had yet in this country, take a dip in the pool, and eat bacon while overlooking the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran(the Hilton Hotel’s neighbor).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for all of your writing. As a potential Fulbrighter in Turkey (2012-2013) I found your blog very helpful. Overall, would you recommend the program, thinking back on it now? Also, after you did finally get paid, was it adequate? Were you able to save any? Cheers! --Rebecca