My husband and I met nearly six years ago at college in New York. He was an exchange student and I was a junior trying to figure out if and how I could study abroad. When we started dating, we were both trying to figure out how it would work, I mean I didn’t even have my passport yet! What an ordeal it was for me to get that (that’s another story).
In short, he was just the push I needed to help me pursue my studies abroad. If you’ve been following me for the past few years now, you’ll know that I went to Pisciotta, Italy for a summer semester then visited Istanbul for the first time in the summer of 2012 to stay with my husband (then boyfriend) and his family. After my fall semester in Urbino, Italy we both met up again at our university in New York and graduated together that spring. We were stuck on how to continue seeing each other though. After all, transatlantic relationships and plane trips aren’t exactly cheap and easy.
Then I figured it out. While working a waitressing gig, I also took a TEFL course and powered through it in order to go back to Turkey with him that fall. I started teaching English to kindergartners and preschoolers in August of 2013 in Istanbul. My second year there, I moved to a different school and my husband and I moved in together in our own apartment. We adopted some kitties, got engaged, and then got married. It all just seems peachy-keen, right?
Here comes the hard part. We decided it’d be best for him to get his U.S. citizenship. Now, for anyone currently doing this or who has been through this process, you know this is no walk in the park. It’s a long and grueling, expensive, lonely, stressful, and damn near cruel process. The U.S. does not make it easy for people to immigrate here. In order for him to immigrate here legally, I have to prove domicile (a place to live), a steady job with a certain income, and our relationship. Seems easy enough you say? Just wait. Even once all the items are gathered and double, triple, and quadruple checked, it then takes months and sometimes and years for everything to be checked over by the government and when you try to call to ask for a status update, no one has any sympathy. I will write about the process in steps to try and help others who are going through the same thing.
I’m sick of this. I’m sick of living in fear every day. I’m sick of the growing panic. I’m sick of my fears coming to life every passing day as something else happens. I’m sick of the media here keeping everything hushed. I’m sick of the media in the rest of the world not saying enough. I’m sick of the lack of compassion or care for this country…. in this country. I’m sick of being restricted. I’m sick of being told what I can or cannot wear, where I can or cannot go, when I should or should not go. I’m sick of being told that I should not speak English in public for fear of being attacked simply because I’m American (thanks Trump for making that even worse and for making the situation even more dangerous for Americans abroad!)
Turkey is not getting the recognition that it needs because it is a country stuck in the middle. It is in between progressive Europe and the conservative Middle East yet most of the world just throws it into the Middle Eastern category. Why? Because the majority of the country follows Islam? Because most people couldn’t point out Turkey on a map? Because most people think Turks still wear fezzes and ride around on camels in the desert because that is how it’s been represented in the past in cartoons and the like? Nobody knows much about Turkey except for the fact that its name is the same as the bird that they eat or just maybe if they stayed awake for that one week in history class the Ottomans kind of ring a bell. So why should they care? It’s just another one of those desert countries over there that is always fighting, right? The world isn’t properly educated on these matters. But these matters matter. A car bomb here, a suicide bomb there, another here, another there, just another day… the more it happens the more jaded people become. They think it’s just a normal occurrence. The world media covers it less and less, and the fact that the government is controlling (censoring) the media makes it even harder for news to get out. People fail to realize though that cities like Ankara and Istanbul are not just some desert cities in the middle of nowhere. They are constantly busy, overpopulated, traffic burdened, work driven, family oriented cities just like NYC, Paris, London, San Francisco, Miami, and the like. People get up every morning, brush their teeth, kiss their families goodbye, rush out to work, sit in traffic, slouch in their desks at work, grumble through their days, live on coffee and tea, have a quick lunch break, get back to work, try not to fall asleep, finish the work day, and try their best to make it home. But Sunday, that didn’t happen for everyone. Sunday, near a bus station filled with hundreds people, men, women, children, teens, the elderly, a car bomb exploded ending the lives of at least 37 individuals and injuring over 100. Countless families’ lives were destroyed on Sunday and the world hardly flinched.The night went on, the morning came, people went to work, children went to school, and aside from a brief moment of silence held in some schools, it was as if nothing had happened the night before. If this had happened in any of the aforementioned cities, the world would have come to a halt, changed their profile pictures to mach the country’s flag, and sworn solidarity with that city. Even if it happened time and time again. But here? Apparently, it was just another day…and that’s all it ever will be until the world wakes up. I know that I’m just another blog post in the wind, yet another voice and cry for help that will go mostly unheard, but if I can educate at least one person out there, then I’ve been at least somewhat successful.
On a side note, I must say though that I am privileged. I am American, and I can leave at any time. I’ve got my passport, and if I feel unsafe, I can hope on a plane and go home to a land that has rarely felt the pain that this country goes through constantly (and when we have, we unite with the utmost passion). My fiance, my students (my children), and millions of other do not have that privilege. They are stuck here. They cannot just hope on planes. They need to go through a long and costly visa process, and that’s just for the tourist visa! We Americans do not realize how spoiled and privileged we are.
Well, the first month is done. It’s been a whirlwind of a month. Getting to know the students and teachers and constantly changing schedules takes a lot out of you. I’m tired, I need a lot more coffee, but I enjoy the classroom teacher position. It’s nice to just focus on just one class and on just fourteen students as opposed to six classes and over a hundred students like I had last year at the same school. It’s also been a bit of a make-shift beginning of the year, because as per usual here the books came very late and some did not come at all. So, I’ve had to make do with the resources that I have at the school and online resources. For English resources, I have an endless supply because the office has to have thousands of books. I photocopy what I need for the day or week and that’s that. For the other subjects though such as social sciences and math, I’ve had to work a bit harder. Pinterest is a teacher’s best friend for sure; it not only offers crafting ideas, but there are also lesson plans, worksheets, and pretty much anything I could ever need. Teachers are very creative people are love to share with one another. Another great resource that I’m utilizing more is education.com which has some amazing workbooks that go over exactly what we’re doing in our classes. Learning about place value? There’s a workbook for that. Learning about the world, maps, and directions? There’s a workbook for that. Trying to teach about rhymes and sentence structure? There are books for that as well. Absolutely wonderful resource. There are also some games and videos on the site that I need to look through that could be very useful. I’ve found some interactive math sites which are also amazing for my children because they can’t understand everything that I am saying so having something that they can touch and visualize helps immensely.
Behaviorally, of course, there are a few problems, but there will always be problems especially in a school and culture where any sort of discipline / consequence is frowned upon. Even setting up simple routines can be hard to do because of this. Take for example morning reading hour, when the students are supposed to come into the room, put their stuff away, pick out a book, and read silently until breakfast time. Every day we go over the routine, we ask and we tell the children to please get a book, stop fooling around, stop talking, and please read. It doesn’t matter which language it is said in, they have yet to once be able to do this successfully. Then, when all the children actually are quiet and reading, another student comes into the room and the talking starts again. It’s not like we don’t give the children time to talk. We give them plenty of time to talk. Breakfast time is free reign and they can talk as much as they’d like. Their break times between each lesson they are allowed to talk, play, run around, dance, and do pretty much whatever their little hearts want to do.It is something that my co-teacher and I will have to talk about again because I think reading hour is actually very important building both their Turkish skills and their English comprehension. Parent-Teacher meeting is next Sunday I believe, and if the parents ask, I will tell. I do not and have never sugarcoated things and lied to the parents. Ask and you shall receive 🙂 Some may get angry, but the truth is the truth. If the child does not respect his or her friends or teachers, how do you think that they will act when they grow up? I do as much as I can to teach manners and respect in the classroom, but there is only so much a teacher can do. The rest is up to the parents at home because they are their children’s first and forever teachers. I’m not saying all of my children are disrespectful, I’m just saying this as a general statement.
For the most part, the children pay attention and love to participate, though, I do have to encourage some more than others to participate or pay attention. I involve them all and try to be fair to all. I try to liven things up a bit and do some activities because I understand that 2nd grade isn’t easy for them. Now that they finally know how to read and write, the workload is harder and more intense. English especially is hard right now too because it’s time to focus on proper pronunciations and spelling. They get away easy in Turkish because Turkish is a very phonetic language and what they hear is how it is spelled. As we all know, English is not like that at all. So, yes, there is a lot of writing this year in English which I know the children tire of after some time. This is when I try to liven things up a bit with activities or songs or dances or even simple fill in the blanks where they don’t realize that they’re practicing their spelling or sentence structuring. On the subject of gateway activities, my students love to dance. I’m surprised because my class is made of mostly boys, but when the music comes on or the dance video come up the boys are actually in the front row and the first to dance. They’ve certainly got some moves (and a huge surplus of energy that I wish they’d transfer to me)!
All in all, though, I got lucky this year. I have the smallest class in the school, I have students whose English comprehension is pretty decent, I have a wonderful co-teacher who I love, and I have parents who are very involved. I could be in the position of others at the school which would not be fun.There has been a lot of chaos this year in the English department and, well, everywhere else. I won’t go into detail here though. Perhaps at a later date. I just have to think positive thoughts for now.
This upcoming week should be a fun week because even though Halloween was this past weekend, we will be having our Halloween party on Thursday. I, of course, will be doing a few activities and songs throughout the week. If I can, I’ll try to set up a few extra special activities, but that depends if I have the time and can find the resources. The children have been asking me about the Halloween party since the first day of school! They are super excited for it. I think it’s because it’s something unfamiliar to them because it’s not normally celebrated in their culture. It’s fun and the kids get to get dressed up and play games. Who wouldn’t find that fun? It’s the one day a year where you can be anyone or anything that you want. Plus, getting free candy is always awesome as well. I cannot wait until the next big holiday… 😉
The new school year is nearly upon us teachers over here in Turkey. We’re starting a bit later, September 28th, because of how a certain religious holiday falls this year. Though the students get some extra vacation time, we teachers still must come to school. We have meetings and such, most of which are in Turkish so it is hard for us native English teachers to attend. Some teachers are also teaching some summer English classes which I had to do last year, but now that I am a classroom teacher, I do not have to. I’m currently busy decorating my classroom and will continue to do so until the school year starts. I should actually say my shared classroom, since I will have a co-teacher. I’ve met her, and though her English is very little, she seems very nice and I think we’ll get along just fine. I just need to learn how to share. I have to keep in mind that it is not just my classroom; it is our classroom and we both should have an equal share of the space (and the responsibilities!). I don’t want there to be any tension this year. She’s taking English classes apparently, but I’m sure we’ll teach one another more than a class ever could. I have most of my decorations up, now it’s time to help her put up some of hers. We are excited to start the year and get to know our students.
We’re finally starting to figure out what the first units are that we will be teaching, so I want to start to plan accordingly. As I work at an IB PYP school, I have to plan a certain way. I do like the IB way of thinking, so it should be interesting. This year might be a bit more intense because our school is being evaluated. Our first unit for 2nd grade is, ‘Where We Are in Place and Time’ so it’ll be a bit of a geography unit and history unit. Both things I very much enjoy.
Central Idea: Various factors contribute to change within communities over time.
Key Concepts: Change, causation, connection
Lines of Inquiry: Changes in communities both past and present, How actions impact the future of a community
Effects on communities over time
It will definitely be interesting to co-plan lessons with my co-teacher. We’ll have to learn things like how to divide some of the lessons or if we want to do a lesson together, etc. This is a bit of a difficult topic to explain to young learners, especially in a language that isn’t their first. I will definitely need the full cooperation of my co-teacher.
Though I am sure there will be quite a few challenges this year, I think it will be fun and also very educating for the both of us. I’m hoping for a wonderful school year with a wonderful class. I will have about fourteen students… eleven of which will be boys and only three girls. It’ll be interesting to say the least, but I plan on having fun.
I know and will admit that the situation in Turkey isn’t the best financially or the safest, but I am in an area that is away from many of the things that are going on. I’ll try to keep this blog more up to date to let everyone know what is going on. For now, though my financial situation is absolutely horrible because of the exchange rate, I’m safe and in good hands.
Last week, my boyfriend and I, finally were able to take our vacation. We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to go. This mostly had to do with him being able to get time off. You see, unlike back in America where most big person jobs allow you advanced notice of vacation time, here we don’t know until literally the last minute. So we were sitting in our apartment that we had just recently moved into and using up all the data on our phones to look for last minute hotel deals and buses to a vacation spot for the following Monday. It wasn’t easy, but we found a nice hotel and splurged a little more than we should have. The next problem was finding bus tickets as most seemed to all be sold out. Awhile later we were able to find some tickets (though more than likely we were overcharged as it was last minute). We were excited for our trip to Kaş, but not so much for our twelve or so hour upcoming bus ride.
After we packed up our vacation bags and dropped off our kitten with his sister, we headed to the bus station. As usual, we were early and check-in was easy enough. We waited upstairs for a bit using up all the free internet that we could get. We went downstairs to board our bus, but, after frantically looking all around the terminal, we could not find it. We soon found out that like nearly every other bus at this company’s terminal, the bus was delayed because it could not get in. Two hours of waiting later, we were finally able to board and were on our way. We kept stopping every fifteen minutes or so for about ten minutes at what I can only guess were mini bus stops. When we made our first actual pit stop on the road for the bathroom and food we realized that we were way behind schedule. Not only had the bus been late, but now it was going slower than it should have. To make matters worse, toward the last leg of the trip, the bus started to overheat, so instead of stopping for a few hours to let it cool down the bus driver just kept stopping at every gas station along the way to soak it. The last two hours of hour trip were hot, long, and smelly. Finally, we arrived in Fetihye and to rush to catch a minibus to Kaş. We ended up getting the last two seats on the bus (my seat wasn’t even a real seat! I had to sit in the hostess seat), and reached Kaş about two hours later. The next step was finding our hotel. It should have been easy enough, but we were hot, sweaty, exhausted…you get the picture. The bus station is only about ten minutes or so from the location we needed to walk to…but we walked up a giant hill, got told to go another way, walked back down, were called back and told to walk back up and keep going just a little further. Eventually, we reached our hotel, Sea View Otel. It was amazing. The service was wonderful. Everyone there was beyond nice and I would go back there in a heartbeat. They were so helpful and nice from he time that we booked the hotel to when we got there to when we left. A bit pricey for my age group but if you’re looking for a nice place to stay in Kaş that has a beautiful view of the sea (and the Greek island of Meis), very friendly and accommodating service, comfortable rooms, etc. this is your place!
After we showered and changed, we went back into town to stock up on a few items. Even though it was already at least six it was still scorching hot, so when we returned again we sat in the beautifully air-conditioned room a few more minutes. We decided to try out the hotel’s dinner since it had really good reviews all around. We were not let down. We had a stuffed calamari appetizer (not fried) that was delicious, crabbed stuffed chicken, and a shrimp risotto. Their food was wonderful as was the view. It was night time and the restaurant part of the hotel is situated on a deck overlooking the sea. Even at night we could see how clear the sea water was. My boyfriend was very eager for the next day to come so he could jump in. We went back to the room, had a few drinks that we had previously bought (because we all know how expensive it is to have even one drink when going out especially in a vacation area), and then passed out from sheer exhaustion.
The next morning, we had the hotel’s included breakfast. Let me tell you, if you like breakfast, Turkey is the place for you. The amount of food that Turks consume for breakfast is insane. The hotel had everything. I’ve never been to another hotel in Turkey, but I assume that hotels here are not allowed to have a weak breakfast considering how much they normally eat in the morning. This hotel’s food was just as great as the night before. When we finished, we went down to where we had eaten dinner the night before, except now it was an area for lounging in the sun with a sea view and sea access. We sat for awhile, roasting in the 90+ degree weather, and soon decided it was time for a swim. When we finally got into the water we were not expecting the random cold patches. The water was freezing when we first went in, warmer as we swam out, and random cold patches of water all over. Apparently, somewhere around the area there is a spring that empties into the sea. It was refreshing to say the least. The water was clear as glass and we could see straight down to the bottom (which I recently found out was anywhere from 10 – 25 meters; a fact which I am very glad I did not know at the time). We swam for a bit, sun bathed a bit more, ordered two delicious drinks (a watermelon mojito and a passion fruit margarita…my margarita was out of this world!), swam some more, sat some more, repeat, then showered and went into town in the sweltering heat.
For lunch we went to Meydan Pizza & Kebap and had some pide, hummus, and calamari pizza. It was all pretty decent. Not too amazing, but I wouldn’t mind eating there again. We then explored the town, trying to walk in the shade as much as possible. There must be hundreds of little shops lining the streets, all of them selling interesting souvenirs, rugs, nazars (the eye), mosaic / tiles, etc. Many of the stores were copy-cats of one another, but it didn’t make them any less interesting. I picked up a nazar keychain and magnet because we didn’t have any in the new apartment yet and here that’s bad luck. After we got a feel of the town and picked up some more things from Migros (one of the main chains of grocery stores in Turkey), we headed back to the hotel so Burak could swim a little bit more. A bit later we headed out again, this time for dinner.
Before going to dinner, I had decided to check out reviews and ratings of the restaurants in the area on Tripadvisor and I’m glad that I did. We ended up going to Turkuaz Meyhane which was rated number one and we weren’t let down. We arrived just in time because there was live music (some traditional Turkish music) and we ended up getting one of the last tables. For an appetizer, we had some fried mussels and some little dip to go along with it that was great. Then we had a shrimp casserole / stew/ soup thing that tasted very yummy though it was a bit small. Then came the swordfish (kılıç). I have never had a fish cooked so perfectly before. It was absolutely amazing. Grilled on the outside, juicy on the inside, amazing flavor. Wow. And, of course, we accompanied our meals with a little bottle of rakı.
After freshening up and changing, we went back out after dinner to see how the night light was. Again, we were not disappointed. The first stop was Red Point Bar (it reminded me a bit of a mix between Murphy’s and P&G’s bars back in New Paltz). It seemed empty at first but quickly filled up with twenty-somethings and a few random older people. We didn’t stay too long there simply because we wanted to see some other places. The next stop was Hi-Jazz Bar. We loved it. The drinks were great (though expensive, but that’s to be expected) and there was a live band. This bar reminded me very much of Oasis Cafe plus a little bit of Snugg’s thrown in there back in New Paltz. We ended up staying here the rest of the night because of the atmosphere.
The next morning we somehow ended up getting up early (probably because we had to since we booked a boat trip). We packed up our sunscreens, but on our bathing suits, and headed to breakfast before heading into to town for the boat trip. We decided to take the longer boat trip so that we could see more of the coast which meant we had to be driven to a certain area (Üçağız Village) and then get on the boat from there. Once we boarded the boat, the journey around Kekova Island started. About ten or fifteen minutes into the ride, we made our first stop at what I think was the Aquarium Bay. The water was, again, blue blue blue and crystal clear, but this time it was warm and so salty I barely had to do anything to stay above the water. We made a few stops like this visiting different gorgeous bays around the area, seeing a sunken city in the water and above, we saw an old castle on top of a giant hill that we ended up hiking up…the view was breathtaking, having some homemade ice cream, enjoying a BBQ on the boat, swimming a lot, being caked in salt because of how much of it was in the seawater, seeing two sea turtles, and just enjoying the sun, sea, and beautiful sights around us. When we finally returned to the hotel around six that evening we were exhausted and ended up taking a quick nap before going back out into town to find some dinner.
When we did find dinner though at Zeytin Restaurant, we weren’t all the impressed. I’m sure it didn’t help that the power went out for awhile before we received our food (apparently the first power outage of the summer…lucky us), but the food just didn’t have the amazing taste that we had experienced at the other restaurant. Burak made the mistake of ordering swordfish again (I had told him not to since there was never going to be anything like the one we had eaten the night before) and I had a steak in an apple cream sauce. My steak and sauce wasn’t actually all that bad, but there was just something a bit off about it. The potatoes that came with the meals though were very nice though, so at least there was that. We didn’t end up going out that night because we were so tired from the day’s activities, so we stayed in and relaxed.
The next day we decided should be a relaxing day. We woke up, had another lovely breakfast, and went down to the beach area. We sat and swam until the early afternoon sipping on another peach margarita, yummy but not quite as delicious as the previous passion fruit one. We took a break from the sitting and swimming to go get lunch in town. We found a place called Sarpedon’s Burger (Sarpedon was a Lycian Prince and son of Zeus, hero during the Trojan war until he was slain by Patroclus…just a little bit of extra information for y’all) and sat down to look at their interesting selection of burgers. All the burgers looked tempting, but I settled on the Speedy Gonzalez Burger and Burak got the Hangover Buger. Both were cooked really well and had great tastes. We had also order cheddar fries and were a bit confused when they first came out as they weren’t what we were expecting. Instead of cheese on the fries as we had thought, they were regular fries but with a delicious cheddar dip (made from real cheese I think!) We then order some frozen yogurt to try and beat the heat and headed back to the beach for a little longer.
The next dinner we ate was at another restaurant that I had seen on Tripadvisor: Natur-el. We were seated near the fan which was great. I had wanted to try a certain dish that I read about but was torn between it and another dish that I ended up getting instead. I got the home made stuffed ravioli, filled with goat cheese and a tomato cream sauce. Burak got the homemade stuffed ravioli filled with sauteed lamb and mushroom and a mushroom cream sauce. Both dishes were amazing and we both agreed that this place and Turkuaz were the best restaurants in Kaş. This restaurant even served us bread and dips with our meal (common place in America but not in Turkey), so it was a nice added gesture.
The next morning was out last in Kaş. We packed up all of our stuff and checked-out. The hotel was nice enough to let us leave our stuff there throughout the day though since our bus trip back home wasn’t until 730 that evening. We sunscreened up and walked all through the town that day, exploring as many shops as I could. There were so many things that I wanted to get but obviously couldn’t. For one, I wanted one of the Kaş cats. They’re huge, practically dogs and have amazing patterns on their coats. My favorite cat looked like a cow. Obviously I couldn’t bring home one of the famous Kaş cats, so I settled on a dark turquoise cute kitten statue. I added a nice Kaş spoon rest and turtle nazar magnet to my collection of things. We had some nice pide for lunch and then a little later we stopped at the Kaş Bio Tea House and some frozen drinks. We stayed there for a bit, out of the sun before continuing to venture around the town. Again, trying to avoid the sun, we sat in an area shaded by trees and ordered some tea. A bit later we tried go to Turkuaz one last time for the amazing swordfish. Sadly, they weren’t open yet, but they told us to come back in an hour and they’d have the stuff ready for us. So, we went back to the hotel, got our stuff, and went back to the restaurant. To our surprise (and the bartender’s) there was no one there when we returned. We were annoyed to say the least but didn’t let this disappointment spoil our day. We ended up going back to Natur-el since we had such a nice time there the night before. This time I got the pomegranate walnut chicken that I had wanted to get the previous night and Burak got some sort of fresh fish (sea-bass I think) which they de-boned in front of us. We accompanied our last meal with a last drink of Efes (Turkish beer) each.
We then made our way to the bus station. On the way to the bus station I somehow made a friend in a stray dog (looked like a black lab) who wouldn’t stop following us and kept barking at people to get out of our way. It was quite interesting and a bit funny. We were not expecting that. The bus ride back to Istanbul was much smoother than the one to Kaş especially since there were no transfers. The bus did not overheat and we made it back just in time for Burak to catch his class that he’s taking.
The whole trip happened so fast and we want to be back there now. It was amazing and definitely a place to revisit. The only things that make me believe that the trip actually happened are my pictures and my bank account plus my little trinkets that I picked up. If you want to visit Turkey, but huge crowds and city life is not for you, go to Kaş. I loved it and cannot wait to return.
What will you see on the streets when you come to Istanbul? Well, there will be the usual guy on every other corner selling simit (a kind of Turkish bagel), sometimes a guy selling rice, and you’ll also see vendors wherever there is a spare patch of space selling all sorts of knick-knacks such as toys, pens, socks, scarves, black market DVDs. But what else will you see? You’ll see things that may startle you at first, but eventually, just like the rest of the people in this city, you’ll ignore them. You will see the beggars, the cripples, the Romani (gypsies), and, most recently, the Syrians.
When I first came here, I noticed the Romani and I really didn’t think much of them. I had gotten used to them when I was in Italy and, to me, the ones here didn’t seem to be badgering me as much. Yes, they would go and sit on the street constantly saying something about money, food, and God; the usual. In Italy, they’d follow you around and wouldn’t leave you alone. One woman even almost stole my camera out of my buttoned up pocket as I was walking into a church. One thing that was the same though was the fact that in both countries and probably elsewhere, they always use their children to try and the get the most out of you. But, this is their way of life. This is what they know and the only thing that they have known for generations upon generations. Not to say that it’s the life that they’ve always wanted; these are people who have been persecuted for centuries. The Romani don’t bother me much, though I wish I could take all the children and send them to get proper education and live the lives that children should be living.
Aside from them, the Syrians are becoming more and more unable to be ignored. It started out that you’d see a few here and there, but now? Every time you leave the apartment you can’t go a block or two without seeing at least one whole family of Syrians. Most Turks I know, get angry at the sight of them, curse them out, and want them to go back to their own country. At this point I have to bite my tongue, and sometimes I don’t. They say that it’s the Turkish government’s fault that they are here. Well, these people are not here by choice. These people, these families are here because of war. Because the only home that they have ever known is being destroyed. Their families and their neighbors are being killed. Their houses, markets, and streets, are being blown up. They’ve had no choice. Leave or be killed. But then people like to say, “They have refugee camps. They should stay there. They don’t belong here. They don’t belong on our city, on our streets.” Sure, some of them do stay at these camps. Take a minute here and think. There are probably a little under a million Syrian refugees in Turkey (maybe more now), and there is only room for a about a little over 200,000 of those refugees in the camps that are provided in Turkey. Think about the homelessness problem in America. People often say, why don’t they just go to a shelter? Well, many of those shelters are so bad (theft, deplorable conditions, insane rules, abuse, rape, etc.) that people would rather stay on the streets at night. Now think of it here. These refugees camps are probably even worse. Not enough food or water, not enough space, not enough anything. And it is highly unlikely that they’re safe. Some people say that when they see the Syrians on the streets they give them looks of hatred and disgust to let them know that they are not welcome here. They are probably more than aware of that fact and would much rather be back in their pre-war homes with their pre-war families, friends, and lives. Yes, I am sure that there are plenty of refugees who are taking advantage of the system (there are always those who reinforce the stereotypes), but there are also plenty who are just trying to live. This is not the kind of life that they want for themselves or for their families. It’s not something you wake up one day and think, “Oh, hey. Yeah, you know what will be great? I’m going to go beg on the streets, in a foreign city with a language I barely know, where the people hate me, and I’ll take my baby too. Let’s sit in this 90 (32C) degree weather all day, rain, shine, dirt, spit… It’ll great! People will glare at us, spit at us, humiliate us, treat us like we’re dirt.. yes, that’s what I want to do.” No, people do not wake up like this. This is something that these people are doing out of desperation. A last resort. Maybe they saw Turkey as a get away from everything. Maybe they saw Istanbul as the the city of dreams (many Turks do as well which is why so many people move here). Maybe they thought how could it get any worse than the hell they’re living in their war torn country? Well, they came, they’re here, and they’re living a whole new kind of hell.
I always say to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes and don’t judge. Just imagine being at the very end of you rope. You have nothing except maybe your family if you’re lucky. Other than that? Nothing. But you need to eat. You need to sleep. You are a human being and you have basic needs and you should have basic human rights. And your family too, your babies. Maybe your family is your driving force. But others around you don’t seem to think you should have those rights. Imagine how desperate and finished you would have to be to give in and beg. Some say it’s a matter of pride, but when you’re left with absolutely no other choices and your child is starving in your arms, I don’t think you’d really care about your pride. It could be worse. They could be violent. But they’re not. They sit there, and they ask for money or food, anything that you could spare. They say words in their broken Turkish that can make you feel bad such as, “How can you just walk by? Look at my children!” It makes you feel uncomfortable? It should! And that angers you? Why does that anger you? Because deep down you actually feel bad, but you don’t want to feel bad. You’re mad at them for being in your city, for wanting your money that you earned; you’re mad at them for making you feel bad. But yet this country talks so highly about its religion and its loving god. Would your god be happy with you for walking by dirty, starving children? You don’t think so? Aren’t they mostly of the same religion as you all are as well? All of these contradictions in this city frustrate me to no end. They are people just trying to live, the same as you and me. Except they seem to have it harder than we do at the moment. Why can’t people see that? It’s not their fault. They didn’t ask to be put in these positions. Stop blaming them and maybe aim your anger at the actual source of the problem. The government. Their government. This country’s government. The surrounding countries’ governments. None of them truly want to deal with the problem, so what do they do? They set up a few camps here and there to make it look like they’re doing something when they’re really doing next to nothing. Some of them may even use them as a ploy to win elections or to start a war. I’m not saying I know what to do or how to handle this, I wasn’t a PoliSci major or anything of the sort, but, please, just treat these people as if they’re actual people and do what you can to help. Don’t be part of the problem.
On 12th June 2014, I did what only six year old Angela thought I would do; I completed my first year of teaching. Though, I don’t think six year old Angela thought that she would be teaching half way across the world. I did it though. And not only did I complete one year of teaching at one place, but, a week and a half later, I completed my first year teaching at another place as well. Yes, you read correctly. I taught five days a week at my main school and I would also teach on Saturdays. I’ll get back to that later though.
It was definitely an experience filled with things I expected and things that I did not expect. As much as I absolutely loved my children (and still do), they beyond wore me out. Let’s get something out of the way here. In America, or in England, when one thinks of a private school automatically strict rules and discipline come to mind, right? Well, not here. A private school here, especially the one that I was teaching at which was a conservative (religious) private school is kind of the opposite. In these schools, the kids (or rather their parents) rule the school. The private schools in this country, for the most part, are nothing but businesses. They advertise and promote constantly creating a false sense of, “Wow! This school is amazing! My child will learn so much!” When, in reality, it’s not so much like that. There is a high turnover rate for teachers; especially for the English teachers. Everyone gets paid very little for the amount of work that they do, especially the Turkish teachers who not only work late every night, but who also must come in on the weekends as well. Aside from the fact that the turnover rate is high, these “schools” are also fairly new which means that they aren’t quite set in their ways. There are no set curriculums or curriculums that work. These are chain schools that could do really well if they focused on the actual education of these students and not when and where they’re going to open up a new school. If they focused their time, energy, and money on a school (and with the amount of money these schools have) the kids would flourish. The children that I taught have so much potential and I hope that it does not go to waste. Aside from all of this, the children are spoiled, never corrected or disciplined, and are free to essentially do whatever they please. In the beginning of the year, I was very close to quitting to be honest. The teachers who are there, though mostly lovely and nice women, don’t know how to handle children how they should. I don’t think they know the proper psychology behind everything and will constantly yell at the children (or certain children that annoy them) and call them names. Apparently though, that is the way that things are done here. When it came time for English class, though, they expected every lesson to be a strict lesson where we drilled English into their heads, but fun at the same time, and not boring, and make the children listen like little angels at the same time. Well, it took me almost half a year to corral the children and have it so they would actually sit down and listen in class. Being that they’re kindergarteners though, I knew that they also need fun time and play time or they get antsy and won’t listen. Why did it take this long? Well, in this school, like I said earlier, the children win. The English teachers are never or are rarely shown any respect by the other teachers or even the teacher assistants for that matter, so the children mimic that behavior. The children are also spoiled brats and we’re essentially not allowed to discipline them. This means that even if a child hits another child or throws toys or a temper tantrum that nothing really happens. There’s never a phone call home about it because then the parents would complain and yell at the teachers or the school because nothing is ever their little angels’ fault. So, yes, it took over half a year of different methods and straining and grief to finally get these children to listen.
Three-quarters of the year passed and we then had the huge problem where most of the English department was let go and all of our lessons were switched around. I no longer had my shared five year old class and I no longer had my 6D class. Instead, I had 6A and 6C, which had reputations for making the teachers gray-haired. I tried my best though. Remember how long it took to get my other two classes to behave semi-normally and make them teachable? Well, I had half the time to try and do this. At first, they were ok, because, hey new teacher. But then, things became ugly. 6A was split between me and another teacher. They tended to listen to her more because she’s a bit more strict in her manners of teaching (not to mention she’s Turkish so she better at handling them) and I was just the teacher that they could walk all over some classes and other classes, if they felt like it, they’d listen and things would go smoothly. One of the main problems with that class though was that the room was too big. It was hard to get the children to focus in there. 6C was an interesting class. This is the class with the worst reputation. In the beginning, they listened. They knew practically no English whatsoever, but they listened. I was starting to wonder why they were the class that had such a bad reputation. But then, it hit me, and it hit me hard. This class will not listen to a lick of what is said if their homeroom teacher is unable to teach and the longer she is out (and she was out for like two weeks due to meetings and organizing things) the worse the class becomes. They just had a complete disregard for any authority figure (even the assistant teachers had had enough of this class and sat there in a state of utter defeat). So, I would try to teach every time, and I would fail every time. The only thing that seemed to work with this class was busywork. So, I had to have an endless supply of worksheets for these children. When I did, they’d do their work and listen…mostly. It felt like I was at the beginning of the year again with these two classes. And it didn’t get better because, as it was the end of the year, the classes were constantly interrupted for field trips, shows, or practices of some sort. So, there was no real schedule anymore. The children and the teachers all caught the end of the year fever. And then, just as quickly as it began…it finished. It was a sandwich of a year; crazy, hair pulling bread and smooth happiness for the inside.
I know I made a lot of progress with the children though. I am not the kind of teacher who drills phrases into the kids’ heads. I know that the children’s parents want to hear them speak, but they’re not at the age where they need to be learning phrases. They’re at the age that they just need to soak in as much English as they can. The drenched them in vocabulary and by the end of the year, some of them were starting to put things together on their own. Even half way through the year, I was getting some of them to have conversations. Albeit very one-sided conversations, they were understanding the things that I was saying and trying to respond with a few words and lots of gestures.
It was harder with my weekend children to get to this point though as they only had English lessons once a week. Finally, towards the end of the year, they were starting to understand some things and become more confident. The only problem I had with these children was the age differences. I had children from four to seven in this class. This meant that I had kids who could read and write and others who still can’t write numbers. It was a challenge, but three quarters of the year later I started teaching them all the English alphabet and the phonetics that went with it. It made for some more interesting classes and the children really seemed to like learning about it. Big numbers and the alphabet seemed to be a hit in that class.
All in all, it was one hell of a year. I taught and I fought and I taught some more. As much as these children drove me nuts, I love them all. There’s something special and unforgettable about your first students. They and the memories that I made with them will last a lifetime. I wish that I could check up on all of them in ten, fifteen, twenty years and see where life takes them, but only time will tell. This year is finished and new adventures await!