The end of the beginning…

•June 4, 2011 • 1 Comment

Exploring the ruins of Termessos in Antalya

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’ve fallen so far behind in updating my blog that there’s no point in trying to describe everything that’s been going on in the past 2 months. And while my year as a Fulbright grantee in Turkey is coming to an end, in a lot of ways, my life in Turkey is just beginning =)

As usual, I’ve been traveling with every free second I’ve had. I was lucky enough to make the trip to Antalya, twice & to swim in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in my life, to present at a Foreign Language Teaching Conference in Yozgat (organized by my friend Donnie), to check out Kayseri, make a brief return to Nevsehir, be swept away by the peninsular city of Sinop on the Black Sea, and even celebrated Easter on the Greek island of Chios/Helios where I experienced the hundreds of years old tradition where 2 of the local churches launch thousands of rockets at each other during the midnight service…from inside one of the churches! While each of these trips were worthy of their own posts, I’m afraid I’ll only be able to share a few photos & a handful of special memories right now.

Antalya is famous for being the resort area of Turkey with the cerulean waves of the Mediterranean inviting tourists to test the water even in January (although I’m not sure I’d be quite brave enough to do that myself;) A handful of us Fulbrighters got together at the beginning of April for a birthday weekend of celebrations, which led to the discovery of one of my favorite places in all of Turkey!

Donnie & I admiring the view from the "Tiyatro"

We took a day to explore the ancient ruins of Termessos, which is a lot like Ephesus, except set in the mountains with a breathtaking backdrop of deeply carved valleys and the sea from its open-air amphitheater. I had the pleasure of climbing among these ruins while watching the clouds rush by & seemingly colliding with each other as they glided above the surrounding mountaintops. I even got to throw an American football around on the main stage, and almost lost my shoe when I tried to punt it through my friend’s arms for a field goal!

We ended up playing volleyball, American football, & frisbee with a group of Afghan men in a park in Chios...now that's what I call an intercultural exchange;)

Next came Greek Easter (which happened to be celebrated on the same day as ‘regular’ Easter this year) on the Greek island of Chios, just an hour’s ferry ride away from Izmir. It was my first trip to Greece, & also my first time in the Aegean Sea…and probably one of my favorite memories from the trip was being completely ambushed by the Sea with my friend Michael on the ferry ride over! We sat on the open top deck (naturally) for the ride since it was such a gorgeous day with bright water around us, clear skies above us…& hardly noticed that most people were just running out onto the deck to snap a few quick photos & then rushed back to the covered safety of the front of the boat. We felt our faces getting spritzed by the salty water, but found it so refreshing we couldn’t bother ourselves to move. At one point, a pretty decent-sized wave crashed against the ferry, & Michael took the brunt of it, so we moved ourselves to the center of the deck to avoid getting our bags too wet. As Michael & I were deep in conversation, I suddenly saw his expression drop as his words momentarily stopped, and we both felt an even larger wave crash over both of us where we were. By now we were the only 2 people on the deck, & those who were in the covered section of the boat were just gaping at us as they watched this happen, & after a few moments of stunned silence, we both burst out laughing. We were thoroughly soaked from the wave, so we decided to stick out the rest of the journey where we were. The rest of the ride was pretty smooth, but of course, just as I commented on how I’d even managed to mostly dry off from that last wave, Poseidan must have felt the need to drop one more gigantic bucket-full of water on us so we could make our entrance to the Greek port thoroughly baptized by the water from the Aegean =)

Loving every second in the Mediterranean!

The beginning of May marked a return trip to Antalya, this time for our self-organized end-of-the-year Fulbright get-together. We spent a glorious weekend in an all inclusive 5 star resort, making the most of the last chance we had for everyone to be gathered in the same place in a single city in Turkey. It was the perfect weekend, & my personal high-light was when we all gathered to give an eclectic assortment of Fulbright superlatives that we’d nominated for each other over the past few weeks. I was touched when I received the “Most likely to give her heart to the Tin Man” award…which was entirely unexpected, & I have a sneaking suspicion I know which of my friends may have submitted the nomination;)

The next weekend I started feel a bit overwhelmed as I hurriedly planned lessons for the week while also preparing for my friend Donnie’s conference in Yozgat. I became a last minute addition to the presenters as Turkish bureaucracy wreaked havoc on plans from budgets, to presenters, to attendees up until the very moment when the conference concluded. Donnie did a fabulous job though, & in my opinion, the conference was a HUGE success! It was amazing to meet so many other English teachers, especially those who were non-native speakers, with such a passion for bringing English to their students at all levels (primary, secondary, & university).

Right after we found out we got the jobs teaching together at Yaşar University for next year!

There was another fabulous twist to this weekend…and that was that it happened to be Friday the 13th… Now I have always half-heartedly believed that since there are two Friday the 13ths each year that one must be good luck & one must be bad luck (you know, balance of energy in the world…or something like that;) Anyways, this Friday the 13th happened to be the very same day that Donnie & I were both eagerly awaiting to hear back from one of the universities in Izmir where we had interviewed for jobs as English teachers for next year. As we were both acutely aware of the date, I had decided ahead of time that I would be avoiding checking my e-mail until the conference was finished so I could avoid either the heart-break of not being offered the position, or the possibility that one of us would be offered a position & the other wouldn’t. So it was with this resolve that I set out to help Donnie prepare for the last day of the conference, & the craziness that would certainly ensue. Donnie, however, did not share this resolve, mainly because he HAD to be constantly checking his e-mail & printing miscellaneous files from his inbox thanks to the needs of the conference. Just before lunchtime, Donnie suddenly stopped what he was doing, looked at me with a completely expressionless face and said, “Catherine, you need to check your e-mail right now!” And knowing full well that I was either about to have an emotional breakdown or an explosion of joy & relief, I went out into the hallway & checked my e-mail while sitting in the stairwell outside of Donnie’s office. I knew within 2 seconds of logging into my e-mail that I had been offered the job at Yaşar University, but I still didn’t know what Donnie’s e-mail had said…so I had to set my laptop down, I caught his eye…and we instantly knew that we’d BOTH been offered the jobs….which obviously led to a lot of screaming, jumping around, handshakes, phone calls, text messages, & memorable photographs being taken =) =) =) Best Friday the 13th of my life!

That news led into a celebratory weekend with our friends in Kayseri, and then grew to include our fellow Fulbrighters in Nevsehir as well. Of course it was difficult to contain my joy, and the next few days were filled with phone calls home, as well as the seemingly endless amounts of paperwork which then began as soon as I gave notification that I would be accepting the job offer. Perhaps it’s only slightly ironic that this news also came almost exactly one year, to the date, of when I learned that I had received the Fulbright Grant to Turkey (May 14, 2010).

On top of the castle overlooking the Black Sea in Sinop

This past weekend, I was finally able to make a trip that I’ve been trying to make since October, to Sinop! Sinop is a peaceful little fishing town located on a peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea at about the half-way mark. The second I arrived, I knew I would love Sinop, with its lazy pace of life, many sea-side cafes, and even a castle whose ruins are visible through the city. I stayed with my friend Amy, who was also packing up to leave for home the day after I headed back to Duzce. Together we ate fresh fish & drank rakı, waded in the waters of the Black Sea, escaped the torments of little boys cannon-balling into the water next to us, lounged at the cafes, and just had the most relaxing few days imaginable. When I had to get on the 10 hour bus ride back home, I was struck by just how similar it felt to be riding along the coast of the Black Sea in Sinop as compared to the shores of Lake Erie at home.

A 'Turkish' photo with some students....only 1 requirement...NO SMILING!!

Most of my time in Duzce has been devoted to the necessary duties of preparing for midterms & finals (which are, thankfully, finally over), and saying goodbye to many of my students, acquaintences, & even friends that I’ve managed to make during my time here. I took a beautiful day trip to a nearby lake with a post-graduate student who came to Duzce in March & left last week, & another friend who’s a professor in the Biology Faculty. I had a great picnic with one of my classes in a beautiful park in a part of Duzce I never knew existed! (We had our own little barbeque, complete with watermelon:) Again, I find it slightly ironic that it wasn’t until April that I finally found myself meeting people who I found I could truly & genuinely connect with on the level of friends, not because I should, but because we really connected on so many levels. And alas! Now I have to say goodbye to them!

Today was probably the most difficult day of all as Ali & had to say our goodbyes at the otogar this morning. (Even though neither of us are leaving Turkey quite yet, this was the last time we would be in Duzce at the same time before our departures.) After nine months together, it snuck up on us that suddenly we’re not going to be neighbors any more, having each other to vent to about the frustrations of being a yabancı (foreigner), to be able to call each other up when we find ourselves in awkward situations…usually due to some sort of Turkish-English miscommunication, and especially to be saying goodbye to the only other person who for months, has truly understood what it means to be a Fulbrighter in this country. I always know that the one thing I can count on with goodbyes, is that I never know exactly how I’ll react to them until the moment arrives. And today was especially difficult as we exchanged hugs before she got on her bus. If there’s anything I really hate, it’s crying in public, so I quickly left the otogar before I could be completely overcome by my emotions. And yet ironically, again, I found myself walking through the streets of Duzce with tears streaming down my face, and contemplating how even though this is the end of so many things for me, it’s really just the beginning of my life in Turkey.

Eyes to the Future

•April 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

My friend Donnie & I after interviewing for positions at Yaşar University in Izmir

I’ve been having trouble writing an update lately because so many things that are going on in my life right now are a bunch of ‘potentials’…but nothing really ‘definite’ that I can share. As some of you already know, one of the things that I’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on has been searching for jobs for next year. I knew when I came to Turkey that there was a possibility that I would love being over here, & I would want to at least look into working over here after my Fulbright grant ended. In January, I started sending out CVs and cover letters to universities and International high schools in Istanbul & Izmir to see if any opportunities would actually materialize. So far, that has resulted in a few phone calls, a few interviews, and a few schools that I’ve still heard nothing from (but in typical Turkish tradition, that doesn’t mean they’re not still possibilities either).
At the moment, it looks like my hopes of working at an International high school won’t be happening (at least not this year), but that could be a good thing. I was short-listed for one position in Istanbul, but they called me on a Saturday morning for an interview that afternoon (which I was unavailable for because I had another interview at that same time), & then never called me back. When I contacted them later, they said that because I was unavailable for the interview, the position had already been filled! Even though I’m disappointed that didn’t work out, I’m taking it as a sign that I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed working there anyways.

Another weekend in Izmir for another interview...but this time with a whole crew of Fulbrighters:)

The other interviews I’ve had have been for universities in Izmir…which would be a hugely welcomed change to my current teaching situation. I realized after interviewing at these schools that, although I love my students & I feel very lucky to be at Duzce, teaching in a public university in Turkey cannot compare to teaching in a private university! For example, I’m teaching 20 hours a week in Duzce, & I’m only an “English Teaching Assistant”. Last semester some of the full time instructors were teaching as much as 36 hours a week…and that’s only the time spent in front of students, no prep time included. At the private universities, full time instructors teach 20-22 hours a week, and although they have office hours on top of that, it would be nice to be able to plan my lessons in an office instead of during whatever time I can find when I’m not traveling, waiting for buses, or attempting to have a social life outside of school. Another major plus for the private universities is that most classes are actually taught in English all 4 years of university. That means that students actually have a reason to learn English! (They can’t begin their major classes until they place out of the hazırlık program.) The way things are at Duzce, students have to spend a year in the hazırlık program, but if they don’t pass, it doesn’t matter since all of their courses will be in Turkish for the next 4 years anyways.

One of the many reasons I'm fairly certain I belong in Izmir...

There are many more positives I can think of, but the most significant one would be actually LIVING in Izmir! Out of all of places I’ve visited in Turkey, Izmir has been, by far, my favorite city, and one that I could definitely see myself living very happily in. (It has many palm trees, it’s right on the water, it’s full of young people, good public transportation, I have friends there…I could go on!) And while Izmir is my top choice, if I ended up in Istanbul, I know I could be happy there as well…just a little bit colder in the winter…

I’m sure you’re wondering why, exactly, I want to stick around for at least another year. A lot of it’s because I really love teaching, & I know that I’ll have the chance to do that in Turkey. There’s really no guarantee that I could find a legitimate teaching job if I returned to the US, and I don’t really have the desire to return to the States quite yet anyways. At least for as long as I was in college, I always wanted to live & teach abroad, & that dream never included coming back to the US once I left. That doesn’t mean I’m looking to settle in Turkey either, just that I want to gain more experience teaching in this setting, & learning more about this country. Nine months is clearly NOT enough time to learn the language, & in a lot of ways I’ve definitely been more of a traveler in Turkey than someone who’s established a place for themselves in a community. (I think this is most obvious in the fact that honestly, most of my friends in Duzce are either students or colleagues, & I really haven’t had many opportunities to meet Turks my age or with similar interests while I’ve been here.) I feel like once I have a legitimate teaching job with clear responsibilities & expectations, I’ll be able to establish myself more, & have things like a normal social life & friends who aren’t associated with my job.

It’ll still be another month before I find out if I’ll be offered a job from the university I’m hoping for right now, but there’s a chance I could still have more interviews & other opportunities that arise in that time too. Until then, I’ll just be trying to enjoy the (almost) Spring weather, & my last few months of teaching in Duzce. Until next time…=)

Americans in Turkey

•March 26, 2011 • 1 Comment

Jess, Christa, & me reunited in Istanbul:)

If the delay in a post wasn’t enough of a hint, I should tell you that I’ve been going non-stop for the past few weeks with very little time to think about anything other than school, visitors, & my professional future! I’ve been SO very lucky to have 4 friends from the US come to visit over the last month and a half, to have a great start to the 2nd semester, & several job opportunities open up. I’ll try to make this a quick summary of some of the adventures that have come my way recently =)

My A class & guests:)

In February, classes started again, and I was very happy to see my students again after almost a month of vacation. While the classes were pretty normal, I made a few changes to how I was teaching & what I would be expecting from my students. One of the things I decided to do was start a blog for my B class, where I would be posting selected written assignments I started giving at the end of each unit we covered. Even though it’s just a small thing that I really just wanted to use as motivation for my students to actually do the homework & to encourage them to tap into their creative juices, it’s something I would love to share with all of you because the assignments really give some insight into the cultural values & English abilities of my students. (The link is http://www.duzceb11.wordpress.com Please feel free to comment on the posts because it’s a huge encouragement to my students to see & realize there are native speakers who are checking out the blog too:)

The Cell Phone Jail.....

My A class isn’t doing a blog, only because the department is putting a lot of pressure on us to move faster through the curriculum (which is a terrible idea in my opinion because the material’s already over their heads, & going faster through the book isn’t going to help them retain anything more!), and it means that there definitely isn’t time for extra assignments or projects on top of that. Even though it’s a challenge to be constantly rushing through the curriculum, I’m still enjoying my A class so much. They’re just such fun students! One thing I recently learned in that class though is that I have a new nickname from them… I’ve gone from being ‘Catherine Teacher…the American’ to being ‘Catherine the Merciless’! After my crackdown at the end of last semester, which I’ve continued to enforce in the new semester, I now have a reputation for not tolerating tardiness or cell phones. And unlike many of the other teachers, I give more than just a verbal warning (locking late students out, & throwing cell phones into the cell phone jail), which has earned me my new title. I love it! And even though it might sound terrible, my students actually use it with quite a bit of affection;)

Christa, Jess & me in front of the Blue Mosque

So while classes have been going well, probably the most exciting part of the semester for both my students and me have been all of the American visitors who have crashed my classes! At the end of February, Christa & Jessica, two of my wonderful friends from college, came to visit, starting with a weekend in Istanbul together, followed by a day and a half in Duzce, & then us parting ways as they went to Cappadoccia while I stayed behind to teach in the Duz. It was such a treat to have them come to both my A & B classes, and especially to integrate them into my lessons. It was also a pleasant surprise to see that 23 out of 25 students in my A class actually showed up for class the day they came (lately it’s been more like 10-18 students who actually come) which was definitely more than a coincidence! Even though Christa & Jess were only there for one day of classes, it was so great to share my little part of the world with them over things like my daily 5-6 cups of çay, and playing ‘okey’ & backgammon in the café with my students:)

Even if the Fulbright experience hasnt been all positive, at least the friendships weve formed have been awesome!

After Christa & Jess left, I only had a day before our big Fulbright mid-year meeting in Ankara. All of us Fulbrighters were almost shocked that they wanted to get all of us together to tell about how our year was going. (Ali & I have honestly had relatively few problems compared with many of our friends, considering that we have good housing- the heat not working aside- and the fact that our university really wants us there.) During our meeting we were asked to share our experiences & any recommendations we had to improve the program…and they DEFINITELY received an earful of recommendations! Mostly people were saying ‘send Fulbrighters to this university next year’ or ‘don’t even think about it’! We were all also very honest about issues like making sure they had a plan to pay us before we arrived, the fact that we really need Turkish lessons to be provided since most of us are the only Americans in our entire city, and giving a realistic description of the program on the Fulbright website (which they DID recently update, fyi) since the program most of us applied for was NOT the program we actually found ourselves in. Overall, it was good to be able to voice our opinions & feel like we were heard (although YÖK seemed to be the root of most of the problems, and is it surprising that there wasn’t a single representative from YÖK present at the meeting? Not really.) It also helped that they were trying to butter us up by holding the meeting in the Hilton, with the best water pressure, beds, hot tub, breakfast, & nightlife that many of us have experienced since arriving in Turkey.

Go Beşiktaş!!!

The NEXT weekend was also packed full, this time with my friends Haim & Eric coming to visit! (I met Haim & Eric in a bus station in Peru 7 years ago when Eric’s camera had been stolen on a bus, & they needed a translator to help them file a claim with the police. That day they dubbed me their ‘Translator in Shining Armor’ & we’ve remained friends ever since!) Anyways, I met up with the two of them in Istanbul, where we spent a few days together before heading back to Düzce for my week of classes. I would have to say the highlight of our time in Istanbul was definitely the opportunity to go to my first ever Beşiktaş game! We had an amazing time pre-gaming & getting our Beşiktaş gear with a handful of current & former Fulbrighter friends, & then got to experience the football craze that’s so awesome in this country:)

Eric playing spin-the-bottle with my students....in a completely educational way!

Once we got back to Duzce, Eric & Haim were special guests in my classes, & all of my students LOVED getting to know them. It warmed my heart to see my students, like Ahmet, having in depth conversations with Haim about airplanes (involving diagrams of engines drawn on the board), and being able to have ‘manly’ conversations with both of them about topics I really have no knowledge (or interest) in! My initial plan had been to send Eric & Haim on a couple of day-trips away from Düzce since I figured they’d get bored with classes & my ordinary life…but then it snowed in the Düz. And this was the most intense snow we’ve had in Düzce since I’ve been here! My students were kind enough to inform me that they wouldn’t be coming to class that Thursday because of the snow, so we had a self-declared snowday:) It snowed without stopping for over 24 hours, resulting in several feet of the most perfect snowman building snow that has ever existed. And so, a snowman we did build! And not just any snowman, but the PERFECT snowman, depicting the PERFECT man (as anyone who spends any time in Turkey quickly learns): Atatürk! It truly was perfection, from his bright blue eyes to the typical Turkish man-stance…;)

Haim & I with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk! (He lives!)

Anyways, other highlights from their time in Düzce were the dinner we enjoyed on the Black Sea (fresh hamsi/anchioves, calamari, & shrimp), as well as a trip to Burger King with my students during the ‘blizzard’, and a glorious snowball war. I’m sure there would have been more if we’d had more time in the Düz, but when Friday rolled around, we packed up and headed to Cappadoccia for the weekend!

Adam, Abdulaziz & me

There were soooo many things that made Cappadoccia incredible…starting with my fellow Fulbrighter friends, Adam & Abdulaziz:) They were kind enough to let us crash in their apartment, make a mess of their kitchen every day, use their students as tour guides, and just have a phenomenal time while we were together. Our first day there, we met up with 3 of their students who were studying tourism & who jumped at the opportunity to practice giving a tour in English to a group of Americans. We saw the amazing cave churches & fairy chimneys that were places where people actually LIVED during the 11th & 12th centuries.

Tour guides, teachers, & tourists all together!

We even enjoyed the local mealtime specialty together: testi kebap! I wasn’t really sure what to expect…but Turkish testis are quite a memorable experience! When they brought our food out, we all admired the testis before the server came around to break each testi open in front of us. We then dumped the contents out over some rice, & enjoyed the flavor of this delicious meal. And in case you didn’t realize, a testi is a special kind of clay pot the food is prepared in, not to be confused with its common English homonym, which is something entirely different!

Eric riding along the river

Our second day involved some wine-tasting at one of the famous Cappadoccian wineries, followed by horseback riding with a new friend we made on the bus from Ankara to Nevşehir. On the bus I was sitting next to this girl named Dilek, and after talking with her for a little while I learned that she was a lecturer at a university for aviation students in Mustafapaşa (one of the many small towns that make up the region of Cappadoccia). Her English was wonderful, and she was extremely friendly, especially when she found out that Haim & Eric were both pilots:) She ended up inviting us to go horseback riding with her if we had the chance, which we were able to do that second day of our visit. I, for one, really enjoyed the horseback riding…especially since it had been years since I’d been on a horse! (That’s a sad fact coming from a girl who grew up on a farm & used to ride horses every day when I was younger!) Of course it all came right back to me, & I was happy to hear Hasan Bay (our guide) pointing out in Turkish that I was the best rider in our group, & ‘a natural’…lol…I should HOPE so! After riding along the river & admiring the mountains from atop our horses, we headed back to the stables, & Dilek took us to her university for a quick tour.

Me & Dilek

I was blown away by how gorgeous the buildings were! Mustafaşa is known for its Greek architecture, which was evident as we walked through buildings with multiple levels and open courtyards in the center, but all built out of sandstone & marble. She told me if I needed a job for next year, I should apply to her university because they would LOVE to have a native speaker like myself working there. After our tour, we drank some Turkish coffee together before enjoying an amazing dinner. Yet another wonderful day! The next day was bittersweet as I had to say goodbye to my friends and head back to Düzce. I’d hoped to attend one of Adam’s classes before leaving, but with the bus times, I had to leave Nevşehir by 8am. I parted ways with Haim & Eric as they headed further South in Turkey, and returned to my ordinary, old lady life in the Düz.

Of course there’s so much more that’s happened since then, but I’m going to end this post here, & hope the next update takes less than 2 months to write!

Winter Break (the 2nd half)

•February 10, 2011 • 2 Comments

In front of the Colosseum!

After spending my first week and a half of vacation with Tracy in Spain, France & Turkey, I set off to meet up with some of my Fulbrighter friends in Italy:) I flew into Rome where I met my friends Michael and Sarah…& we spent 3 wonderful days exploring the city together! I also spent a day in Florence on my own, & then returned to Rome to spend one more evening with Michael (because he had been planning on traveling to Egypt until the riots broke out…), & then wound up with one extra (unplanned) day in Rome on my own. So here’s my Top 10 list, again, in no particular order:

I want to BE this statue... (my favorite fountain in all of Rome!)

1. The many, MANY fountains scattered throughout the city! I felt like everywhere we went we would randomly stumble across a gorgeous fountain…whether it was in the middle of a park, the center of a traffic round-about, at the entrance to the metro…they were EVERYWHERE!
2. Quarters, our adopted cat-friend. After spending a few hours wandering around the Vatican Museum (where the Sistine Chapel is along with many other treasures), we decided to enjoy some hot chocolate/cappuccino/tea in one of the gorgeous courtyards off of the museum. As we were sitting there, this black cat wandered up to our table. I happen to have a soft spot for black cats…so I was petting it, but he made it pretty clear that he wasn’t really interested in my attention. However, as he walked away from ME, he took one look at Michael (who isn’t exactly the biggest fan of cats), and  jumped right up into Michael’s lap/arm & made himself comfortable. Michael had absolutely no say in the whole ordeal, but concluded that as long as we could call him Quarters, the cat could stay;)

Gelato....aka- Heaven!

3. Gelato- As a person who doesn’t like ice cream, I need to be clear that gelato is NOT ice cream! My favorite flavor I encountered was ‘Mon Cheri’…a delicious chocolate & cherry combination…mmmm!
4. Il Fontana Trevi- This is probably one of the most famous fountains in Rome, & it’s certainly unforgettable! We ‘accidentally’ stumbled across Trevi Fountain as we were wandering through the backstreets of Rome one day. We were just walking along, minding our own business, when we suddenly heard the sound of running water. Sure enough, a few meters later we looked to our right & there was the massive fountain built into the front of a building! Beautiful! It’s rumored that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you guarantee your return to the city. I tossed 3 coins, just to be sure;)

Il Fontana Trevi at night.

5. Il David. I would have been so disappointed if I had gone all the way to Florence and NOT seen The David just because of its famous reputation…but Oh. My. Goodness! That statue is absolutely mind-blowing! When you look at it, you feel like David’s about to stroll away at any second. Every detail is perfect, from the veins on his arm, to his toenails. After taking my time viewing the statue, I walked away to look at the other paintings & sculptures…only to walk back to the statue at least 3 more times to get ‘one last look’ at this incredible piece of art. Well done, Michelangelo!

Beautiful Florence from Brunelleschi's Dome:)

6. Il Duomo at noon. One of my main priorities in Florence was to climb to the top of Il Duomo for that famous, picturesque view that’s in every text book & on postcards of the city. I reached the top just before noon, & little did I know that that’s exactly the place you want to be when all of the church bells in Florence strike up their own melodies marking midday! It was amazing!

One of the beautiful 'Funerary Monuments' inside St. Croce

7. Basilica of Santa Croce. This was one of the many well-known churches in Florence, partially due to a devastating flood that buried much of it in mud & driftwood in 1966, but mainly because of the impressive tombs of the famous Italians laid to rest inside. I got to see Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, & many others I didn’t know who they were…but they must’ve been important to keep that kind of company!
8. Getting lost in Rome at night. We returned to Trevi Fountain one evening to see it lit up at night, & ended up staying there for a good hour before finally heading back to our hostel. We looked at our map for a second, decided it would be an easy 10-15 minute walk back to our hostel, & took off. An hour and a half later…we finally made it back to our hostel. But during that time we ‘stumbled’ across another gorgeous park, sprinted down the paths to more gorgeous fountains, saw a ghost (which then tripped Michael & me & sent us sprawling on the path as we tried to run away), and discovered another part of the city we hadn’t seen before:)

One of the many galleries inside the Vatican Museum

9. The Vatican Museum. This is the home of the Sistine Chapel…which of course was breath-taking, but the entire place is filled with fountains, paintings, sculptures, & relics that are awe-inspiring on their own…making it almost a sensory overload to see them all together!

La Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica...again...nice job Michelangelo!

10. Vatican City. Tombs of past popes, La Pietà, St. Peter’s Basilica…let’s be honest, the Vatican is probably the most powerful institution in the world. How could it be anything less than impressive!

The entire week was wonderful (except for one terrible day when everything that could’ve went wrong did)…but even that day ended & I’m left with so many great memories of my vacation instead. And it should come as no surprise that Rome was filled with palm trees;)

Winter Break (the 1st week & a half)

•January 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Barcelona loves me so much they gave me my own letter 'C' in the center of the city:)

Today is the first day of the spring semester at Düzce Universitesi…as well as THE GLORIOUS DAY I WAS BORN 26 years ago =) =) And while my winter break flew by MUCH too quickly, I’m happy to return to the classroom. For fear that if I don’t post something now I might not post anything at all about my winter holiday, I’m going to lessen the words & increase the pictures to share with all of you:)

Barcelona

Running through the backstreets...;)

The best way I could have possibly started my vacation was by going to Barcelona…which was beautiful for SO many reasons! I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I sat on the airplane taxiing down the runway, & my joy only intensified as I heard (and UNDERSTOOD) beautiful Spanish words filling the air around me. And as the plane landed in Barcelona you’d better believe I was one of the people who applauded as we rolled to a stop! Things only got better as I was reunited with my best friend from the States, Tracy, & we promptly got lost in that vibrant city:) That evening we were also joined by my friend Haim (a good friend I met in a bus station in Peru when I was an exchange student in Bolivia), and his friend Karen. Together we explored so many things in Barcelona, & every day was wonderful! (And guess what? Barcelona is a city with MANY palm trees! This palm tree system for rating cities seems to be dead on so far!) But, I’m trying to make this short, so I’ll only list my top 5 favorite things about the city in no particular order!

Our reaction as we walked up the stairs from the metro & turned around to be greeted by the awe-inspiring view of La Sagrada Familia!

1. La Sagrada Familia- This is perhaps the most famous cathedral in Barcelona, designed by Gaudi, who is known for his bizarre edifices that are largely inspired by nature…and are absolutely breathtaking to see in person. I honestly believe that seeing this cathedral has ruined every future cathedral experience I could ever possibly have because it was just THAT amazing!

La Sagrada Familia...and just know that pictures cannot do this cathedral justice!

2. Cheap, delicious wine! After four months in Turkey, where the motto I find myself repeating to students, colleagues, & strangers is “I don’t drink in Düzce” (although not entirely true, it preserves their judgment of my character at least)…it was a beautiful thing to be surrounded by so many varieties of wine just by walking down the aisle in the grocery store. Especially when even the wines that cost less than €2 were good quality!

Sittin' pretty in Park Guell:)

3. Park Güell- Although we never quite figured out exactly how to pronounce the name of this Gaudi-designed park (it’s a Catalan word), the moment we laid eyes on it we knew we’d come across another treasure of Barcelona! We happened to reach the park just before sunset & were able to experience beautiful views of the city & sea as the afternoon sky transformed into evening. It was so inspiring that we decided to come back again the next day to explore the park in broad daylight.

Dining with Eric (a mutual friend of Haim, Karen, & mine who couldn't be with us).

4. Cooking delicious meals in our hostel alongside a feisty group of Italian travelers. While I can’t claim much credit for most of the cooking, or even socializing, Haim in particular, bonded with this group of Italians & ended up with a plateful of their perfectly prepared spaghetti & an invitation to come visit them at their home in Venice!
5. The very first place we went for breakfast I was so thrilled to get to practice my Spanish again, but was struggling with certain Turkish words that had completely infiltrated my vocabulary (such as yes, no, ok, please, thank you, etc.). This, however, proved not to be a problem as I spoke to the waiter in Spanish, only to accidentally say ‘teşekkülar’ instead of ‘gracias’…which lead to the discovery that he was Turkish!! What a small world!

Paris
After saying goodbye to Haim in Barcelona, Tracy & I headed to Paris for a quick tour of this iconic city before heading to Turkey. We only had 2 days there, and while it could have been the fact that we visited in January, or possibly that Tracy was fighting what we thought was a nasty cold (she later discovered in was bronchitis & a sinus infection at the same time!), I can’t say that I loved Paris. We had a nice time there…but I have a feeling I’ll have to visit it again before I can give a final judgment on it. And I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, but Paris does NOT have any palm trees. Now for my top 5:

Under the pyramid at La Louvre

1. La Louvre- Such an incredible museum! Although we spent hours there, Tracy & I were only able to explore 2 out of the 3 sections. However, those 2 sections were mind-blowing! I loved the sculptures & Tracy loved the paintings, so together we both had more than enough to keep us captivated for our whole visit.
2. The Eiffel Tower- Yes, it was cold. Yes, it was windy. Yes, it was a mother-load of stairs to climb. And yes, it was absolutely worthwhile! We had beautiful views of the city, and with our perfect timing, when we arrived it was broad daylight, & as we were leaving they had just lit up the lights for the evening.

The Eiffel Tower, all lit up!

3. Metro Moments- There was one day where I just had to laugh on the inside as I observed some of my fellow commuters on the metro. There was an old woman who was clearly homeless & probably crazy who kept swatting people away from ‘her’ pole while snapping at them in French. While that in itself was humorous, I think what made it even funnier to me was that just as she began her swatting, an accordion player began playing in the connecting car, adding a bizarre melody to the bizarre scene unfolding in front of us.

The Mona Lisa...and fyi- I definitely think she's smiling!

4. French bread & cheese- Both of these are already famous around the world. All I can say is that they’re just as incredible in person as they are in rumor!
5. While there’s a noticeable divide in how people interact with one another in France (between races, socio-economic classes, Parisians vs. Non-Parisians, etc.) one moment that made me feel really good about the people there was when I saw an older white man on the metro drop a bill on the ground, & a younger black man picked it up & ran to catch the man to return it. It turned out it was a €100 note…which is a LOT of money! The older man’s gratitude was as evident as the younger man’s awkwardness at receiving his thanks (and a few Euros to buy himself a cup of coffee), but it reminded me there are a lot of good people in the world who choose to do the right thing when they don’t have to every day.

İzmir & İstanbul

Eating midye with Seyma in Izmire:)

We KNEW that İzmir was going to be wonderful long before we got there…partly because I’d been there before, but mainly because we would be staying with Şeyma & her family for our two days there:) And after being in İzmir, we headed directly to another city I love, but had yet to experience as a tourist: İstanbul. Top 5 favorites:
1. Şeyma’s entire family! We’ve loved Şeyma ever since we met her in Fredonia last year, & I already had a special bond with Musti abi, but while we were there, we also got to meet Şeyma’s mom & dad too! They were so wonderful to us, treating us just like family, & even though communicating was tough (broken/no Turkish with non-English speakers) I can’t imagine two kinder or more welcoming people in all of Turkey! It was also really special that I was able to meet Şeyma’s dad because she had told me last year that MY dad reminded her of HER dad, which I thought she was saying just to be nice…but it’s absolutely true! I felt like I was spending time with my own dad in Turkey, and bonds like that are few & far between.

One of my favorite people in Izmir supporting my favorite football team in Turkey. Perfection:)

2. Shopping with Musti as our body guard. Seriously…lol. It was really funny because Tracy & I knew that Musti didn’t really want to go shopping, but Şeyma had to study for her final exam the next day, so we were just wasting a few hours until she was done, & Musti insisted he would come with us to the mall. As we were walking around we started to play this game where Tracy & I would slowly separate in the store until it was impossible for Musti to see both of us at the same time…because he would get this slightly panicked look on his face as he had to choose which of us to ‘protect’! I was glad to see he would usually go to protect Tracy (with her blond hair, blue eyes, & no Turkish, she definitely needed the protection more than me;).
3. Basilica Cistern- I’d only ever seen pictures of this in Istanbul before, but the Basilica Cistern had this beautiful, peaceful, & slightly eerie vibe about it that I just loved!

The Basilica Cistern

4. Finding the perfect leather jacket for Tracy:) Long before Tracy’s plans to come to Turkey were finalized, she decided she wanted a leather jacket from Turkey just like mine (although mine’s definitely fake leather…lol). We ended up spending an entire afternoon looking for one, finally finding one that must’ve been made just for her at one of my favorite stores in Turkey. There’s nothing quite like the taste of sweet success:)
5. All of the great food I got to introduce Tracy to! It was beautiful knowing that every meal we ate in Turkey was going to be another one of my favorite dishes. She got to try beyti, midye, guveç, sutlaç, kumpir, manti, döner, susamli fistik…& so many other things. And if you don’t know what these are, I recommend you come to Turkey so I can introduce you to them too:)

Now that was only the first part of my vacation…but this is already another novel…sorry! So more to come later!

“Life is a teacher, and we are its students.”

•January 21, 2011 • 2 Comments

This is a quote that one of my students said in class just before the semester ended. I’ve gotten used to having my students say things that make me laugh, whether because it’s something that’s been slightly mistranslated or simply sounds really strange because the meaning’s been lost in translation…but this time I was floored by the simplicity & depth of this one little sentence. I can just see myself standing in front of my class with my head tilted, mouth slightly open, as I was swept away by these words. I thought about how that’s exactly why I wanted to spend another year of my life in a foreign country, so life could teach me about another culture, another language, and who I am as a teacher. I snapped back to reality, a little embarrassed that I’d been so affected by these words, asked my students if that was a quote she’d seen somewhere, & when she said no, told her it was beautiful & continued with class.

Every update I post on here I feel like too much has happened to be able to share it all. So this time I think I’ll share a few of those things that life has taught me so far since I’ve been in Turkey. First, the culture. Little by little I’m realizing that some things are slowly seeping under my skin, in effect, making me more Turkish. The çay thing is a sealed deal. I already start every morning with a cup of çay, & anytime I’m not sure what to do, I usually end up getting a cup of çay (with my students, colleagues, friends, by myself, whatever).
One of the not-so-obvious cultural things that I’ve learned to use more effectively is what it takes to get things done. After the whole 3 months without being paid ordeal, I realized that while politeness and patience are absolutely necessary parts of this culture, there are definite times & situations when forcefulness must be used. Everyone over here seems to know/wants to know the details of my life. (This became blatantly obvious when I met another colleague for the first time & he already knew that I traveled practically every weekend, still hadn’t been paid, & had been without heat in my apartment. And none of this info was brought up by me!) So while there’s this intimate concern by everyone, very few people actually seem to have the power to do anything. Anyways, shortly after Ali & I were finally paid, I came home one day & realize that I had no heat…again. I immediately told our contact person & let the Department Head know about the problem, but after 6 days had passed & there was still no heat, my Turkishness kicked in. I finally went to my Department head and told him there was no reason for my heating not to be fixed yet, that no one else, including himself, would ever think waiting a week to have their heat fixed in the middle of December was reasonable, & that I was depending on him to help me since I was alone in Turkey, unable to speak the language, and incapable of communicating the problem in any other way. Lo and behold, by the time I got home from school my heat was fixed. Possibly to prove that this Turkish quality is now a part of who I am, when I returned to Duzce after 1 ½ weeks of travel during my winter break, my heat was again, not working. This time I immediately started calling & texting people with the same message (this is a big problem, not acceptable, no one else would have to go without heat in January, I’m dependent on you to help me, etc.), and by the end of the day someone came to fix my heat. Lesson learned.

Now, onto the language. Although I’m constantly frustrated with how little Turkish I can speak & understand, I’m always reminding myself that it’s only been four months. And while I know learning a language is a long process, I can measure my progress in tiny milestones too. First of all, as my New Year’s resolution, I have officially switched my cell phone over to Turkish. This means that now there are a bunch of options that pop up that I don’t understand, & I’m still not quite sure why my phone alarm goes off every Monday at 5:30pm, but I can make enough sense out of things to navigate without having to switch it back to English:) This also means that I’m texting a lot more in Turkish. Although I was trying to text in Turkish before anyways, now I can use the correct characters from the Turkish alphabet, & I’m learning the proper spellings of words thanks to predictive text. For example, I just discovered that the word for ‘same’ in Turkish is actually spelled ‘aynı’…I’d been spelling it ‘eine’ for the previous 3 months!!
Another milestone with my Turkish came in the form of a conversation I had in Istanbul. My friend Tracy & I went into a café, & even though most people in that touristy section of Istanbul speak English, I decided to begin a conversation with the guy working there in Turkish, knowing that I could switch to English if I couldn’t get what I was saying across in Turkish. Guess what?! I didn’t HAVE to switch to English!! Eventually we did start speaking in English so Tracy could join the convo too, but I was so psyched to have communicated so much in Turkish!
The next big milestone came when I walked into the bus station back in Düzce. Early on, I got used to walking up to the ticket counter to purchase tickets & having all of the workers exchange glances that said, “Oh great. We have to struggle through this interaction again with the foreigner who doesn’t know any Turkish!” This time, I walked in & was pleasantly surprised as the man behind the counter smiled in recognition of me & started off with a warm, “Welcome! How have you been? Where are you going this time?” AND I was able to understand & respond perfectly:) So even though these are all just baby steps in the whole process, this ‘life is a teacher’ thing is showing me how to survive with the language!

As to who I am as a teacher, this is an area where I can see the most growth in myself in just 4 months of teaching. Probably the best advice anyone has given me about teaching so far is that you should never try to be anyone other than yourself. This has helped me a lot, because probably the most recurring advice that every future teacher hears is, “Don’t smile before January.” While I can definitely see the wisdom behind the latter, it would be a big problem for me. I am by nature, a happy person. Even when I’m angry, I’ve found that I still have a smile on my face. During a presentation in high school, I lost only one point on the grade…and it was for being too giggly, which is apparently how I respond to being nervous. One of the teachers I worked with during my student teaching pointed out to me that even when discussing topics that are shockingly horrible, my way of showing disbelief at something is to laugh. Therefore, I knew that not smiling before January would be impossible for me. Instead, I entered the classroom determined to be myself, which meant I wanted to get to know my students, I wanted my class to be fun, and I wanted to have rules that everyone would respect. For the most part, things started really well. The first day of class we went over the ‘classroom expectations’ & I brought this list of rules with me for the first 2 weeks of classes. When it seemed like I didn’t need to bring them to class anymore, they found a place in the closet in my office. I can honestly say that I’ve gotten to know my students pretty well (thanks to volleyball matches, impromptu lunches together, random weekend excursions, and being a makeshift soccer-mom at some of their futbol matches). I can also say that classes are generally fun. While my B class just seemed to get better & better (which I’m sure is a result of them being a group of the more motivated students working with a curriculum that’s the right level for their English), my A class was slowly turning into a jungle! Honestly, the curriculum is too difficult for their level of English, & while it would be less frustrating to cover the units at a slower pace than we do with the B classes, it’s a school-wide policy that all classes are at the same point in the books, especially because there are random unit quizzes that are given whenever the Department Head decides it time for a quiz. This means that while I’m frustrated with teaching something that’s over my students’ heads, THEY’RE frustrated too, but it gets manifested in the form of complaining during listening passages, poor attendance, students putting their heads down in class, and the magical distraction of cell phones.
All of these were becoming a big problem, & even though we’d discussed these problems, I’d reminded them of our classroom rules, & I’d even asked students to leave class when they couldn’t seem to keep their head up during the lessons, things didn’t seem to be improving. Two weeks before the end of the semester I’d finally had enough when Ali & I had decided to reward our students for all they’d accomplished so far by letting them watch a Christmas movie upon their request (in English, of course). We put so much effort into making it happen, finally deciding upon Elf, that I was shocked when we started the movie, & almost instantly my students were putting their heads down, pulling out cell phones, & complaining because they didn’t understand. After the movie was finished, we still had an hour of class left…which was a disaster. By the end of the class I was so frustrated I didn’t even want to waste my time guilt-tripping them or yelling or anything, so I just said, “We’re finished. Go home.” and packed up my things and left. I knew they felt terrible because the next few days I kept getting texts from various students apologizing, & every time I saw them during breaks between classes they would say, ‘I’m sorry my teacher!’ but I wasn’t going to blow it off & pretend like it was ok. Instead, I decided I was going to crack down on EVERYTHING the next time we had class. To be honest, I was a little nervous because I knew they would either respond by acknowledging there were problems & that we needed to try new solutions to overcome them…or they could roll their eyes, shirk all responsibilities for the problems, & start behaving worse than ever, especially if they felt like they were being treated like children. THANK GOODNESS they responded with the former option!
The first thing I did in class was tell them that what happened on Monday was NOT okay, and we had some big problems in the class. I made sure to remind them of the classroom rules we had from the beginning of the semester, & then to use specific examples of what problems were, & how they needed to change. I told them that starting Monday, I would be locking the door & not letting people enter if they arrived after the lesson had started. I told them no more friends were allowed to come to class with them. I told them if they were sleeping in class I would send them home. And the last thing was that I introduced them to the Cell Phone Jail! They had all been really excited when they saw me carrying this big red box that looked like a Christmas present into school, so they all asked me if it was a present for them. I laughed & told them ‘Nope! It’s a present for me!’ So when I showed it to them, & they saw that it had a picture of a cell phone behind bars on it, they weren’t sure what to make of it. Next I told everyone to take out their cell phones, turn them off or silence them, & I collected EVERYONE’S phones. Even as people walked in late, the first thing I did was put their phone in jail & told them that if they came to class late on Monday, the door would be locked & they would be absent. I was so surprised with what little resistance I got from everyone! I also told them to tell their friends about these rules, because after Monday, I was going to be a lot meaner!
Overall, the crackdown was a HUGE success, & the remaining week of classes was great. My students were even asking to put their phones in jail so they wouldn’t be a problem! I guess the real test is to see if this lasts in the new semester, but just like the title of this post says, “Life is a teacher, and we are its students!”

Christmas & New Year’s, Turkey style!

•January 5, 2011 • 1 Comment

Our Christmas Tree & Santa

Well I can certainly say that Christmas & New Year’s in Turkey are nothing like the holidays in America! I knew they would be different, especially since Christmas is a Christian holiday, & Christians are something there aren’t very many of here. However, both Christmas & New Year’s proved to be incredibly wonderful & special as I got to celebrate them with other Fulbrighters, some Europeans, & even a few Turks thrown into the mix:)

Our Fulbright Family Foto:) front: Michael, Ali, Eli; back: Me, Olivia, Brit, Tracey

For Christmas, Ali & I decided to make the 7 hour bus ride to Balıkesir where our friend Michael is ‘stationed’. We met up with our friends Eli & Olivia, and were also able to meet Tracey (the Fulbrighter who had been in Balıkesir for the past 2 years) and his girlfriend Brit. There were so many great things that happened in the 2 days we were together, but these were some of the highlights:
1. Michael had a beautiful mini Christmas tree in his apartment that was complemented by a Santa statue Tracey brought, some Christmas lights contributed by Ali, & various presents we had all brought to share with each other.
2. Christmas Eve we all wound up sprawled around Michael’s living room, wrapped in various blankets, reading a short Christmas story to each other in the glow of the Christmas lights.
3. I got to Skype with my dad & step-mom for the first time since being in Turkey! I think the funniest thing about it was that after my friends heard us Skyping they commented, ‘Wow! You definitely aren’t from New York City!’ (Definitely a reflection of my dad’s country-boy way of speaking;)

We came bearing gifts to the Christmas Party!

4. We had a Christmas party with some Europeans who were also in Balıkesir, & had a Secret Santa gift exchange. At one point, I wound up with a live fish in a tiny fish bowl! I named him Alan Iverson (after the Beşiktaş basketball player), & thankfully, it wasn’t the final present I went home with!
5. The delicious food we all made for each other, including Christmas cookies, Christmas morning melemen (I can proudly say I’m an excellent breakfast chef in Turkey too!), and the random finger foods & snacks that appeared throughout the weekend.
Christmas was definitely wonderful, & far busier & more special than I had been expecting it to be. I think that once again, it was a testament to what a great family of Fulbrighters I have over here to share this experience in Turkey with!

Nothing says 'Tis the Season' like a hot drink & Starbucks for some holiday cheer!

Now on to New Year’s! While Christmas was great in the sense that we were all able to celebrate in our own traditional way, we wanted to celebrate New Year’s in what we thought was the biggest, best possible Turkish way ever: by going to Istanbul! New Year’s Eve in Taksim Square in Istanbul is supposed to be the equivalent of New Year’s Eve in Times Square in NYC, so we headed to Istanbul ready to ring in the New Year with the best of them! While we DID end up having an awesome New Year’s (not in Taksim, but in Beşiktaş where our friend Tracey lives), I think we brought a little more of America to Istanbul instead of vice versa:) At midnight we had a decent sized group of Americans, Europeans, and a few Turks all down on the waterfront to watch the fireworks over the Bosphorus, & at midnight, we were the only ones cheering & celebrating! Even though there were plenty of other Turks around, they all seemed to just look at their watches, go ‘Oh. Guess it’s 2011 now.’ and quietly continue on with their lives! Needless to say, we were a bit of a spectacle, but we definitely enjoyed the evening to the fullest! The next day we were able to meet up with even more Fulbrighters as we enjoyed Taksim Square & Istiklal street in the evening, but everything came to an end too soon.

Along with New Year's Eve came the realization that our Residence Permits we went through so much trouble to obtain....are now EXPIRED!

The next morning I was on my way back to Düzce by 9am, and was lesson planning for the week after lunch. Even though it’s difficult to snap back to reality after great weekends like these, these are the moments when I’m reminded of just how much I’m truly living, and how lucky I am to live this life & all it has to offer!