Journeying to the States: Intro

 

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?

Wrong.

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.

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A Whirl Wind of a Month

Since my last update, there has been a lot that’s happened here. Due to the problems involving my school and the government there have been many unfavorable changes at my school and many others. Because of these problems way too many of our beloved teachers had to leave. We are all trying to wrap our heads around this surreal situation. One day they were here teaching with us, the next they weren’t even allowed to come to the school. Even though we are all still trying to figure this stuff out, fewer teachers means an obvious change in our schedules. Out of the five English kindergarten teachers there are only two of the original including myself and a third who used to be a coordinator. Actually, if you think about it, I am the only original left since the other girl has only been working with us in January. Aside from that, our schedules have been completely switched around. I used to teach 6B, 6D, and have a shared class with 5C. Now, I don’t have my 5 year olds at all, and I have lost 6D. I have added on 6A and 6C. These two classes are drastically different from what I’ve had to teach all year. Keep in mind that 6B and 6D have only had me as their English teacher all year. For 6A and 6C I am their fourth English teacher. They both have severe behavioral problems (6C being the one that is going to give me white hair). I have to go into those classes prepared for the worst, and I never know how I am going to come out. I know all of their names, and the kids somewhat know me, but they’re not used to behaving. For the most part, I have gotten 6B and 6D to behave and respect me. 6A and 6C don’t really know what that is. Luckily, I still have 6B who I’ve always considered my angel class. It is interesting noticing the differences in the dynamics of the classes and even how much English the class as a whole knows. Basic stuff that 6B and 6D know, these classes have no clue about. I used to be able to have conversations with 6B and 6D, but I can’t at all with these two classes. So, I am essentially starting from the beginning with these two classes as their fourth English teacher at the end of the year. One thing that boosted my teaching esteem was when the teacher who now has 6D told me that she loves them because they know so much English. That made me smile. And to think that I used to consider 6D my devil class! They don’t even compare to the new ones I have. I will try to do my best with these classes. I do want them to know what the other classes know, and there are a select few students in each class that really do want to learn and know a decent amount of English. The sad part, though, is that even these students who are smart and want to learn don’t listen that well simply because they haven’t had a stable teaching environment throughout the year. Well, I will have an interesting month and a half left with them. Let’s see what I can do even though the month of May and certainly June are known as the all fun and no work months in the school world.

Noticing.

I’ve been noticing some things about my children. For one, they’ve certainly aged over the two week winter break. It’s bittersweet. I don’t want them to grow up! I was skimming through some pictures I have of them from the beginning of the year and the ones from now, and the changes may not be noticeable to someone who doesn’t know them, but to me? Wow! They’re losing their baby fat, becoming more like little adults…It is strange to watch them grow up. During lunch the other day, some of the “big kids” came over to say hi to their brothers/sisters and some of the teachers. They looked so grownup even though they were probably only ten years old at most. A bunch of them hugged one of our English teachers because they had had her just three years ago. Then I started thinking about my little ones and how much they are going to change in just a couple of years. I confess, I did get a little teary eyed.

I’ve also noticed that some of them are really starting to understand more. They may have forgotten some vocabulary over winter break, but, in general, they are starting to understand more of what I am saying. For example, the other day we were playing Pictionary with the SmartBoard to review our animals. Whoever guessed the animal got to come to the board to draw. One of my children had already had his turn at the board, so I looked at him and said (with gestures as well) that he had already gone so if he could pick someone else to go instead it would be really nice. At first I didn’t know if he had understood because some of the other students had distracted me, but less than a minute later I felt a tug at my sleeve. He told me to, “Come,” and then proceeded to whisper into my ear the name of the child that he had picked to go instead of him! I was so proud of him. Not only did he understand, but he also was not selfish about keeping his turn.

As much as some of these children can drive me crazy, they also melt my heart everyday. The other day, when it was time to go home, the children would not let me leave. The circled around me, each one grabbing onto and hugging a different part of me. “Teacher, no goodbye!” Then one of my little cherub faces held my hand an wouldn’t let go until he was distracted. This has been happening a lot more lately. I certainly don’t mind it. It makes my day for sure. If there is one thing that I love about teaching in Turkey, it’s that unlike in the States, the children are allowed to hug and kiss you and you can reciprocate the actions as well. No one will call you out for it saying that you shouldn’t do that. In fact, it’s encouraged. Love, love, love and more love.

Speaking of love and noticing, I’ve found my nurturing personality to have really come in handy. My one student, who had been transferred from another school because his behavior was so bad and violent and been making improvements; well, at least he has in my classes. I decided that when he came, what he did not need was another person yelling at him. He needed and needs someone to give him a little extra attention and love. I can be firm with him, but I will not yell at him because I honestly believe that’s the only way he has ever heard his name. He’s obviously a hyperactive child who needs a different kind of care than the other children. This is something that the other Turkish teachers do not seem to realize. I constantly hear him getting yelled at or I see him sitting in the hall while the other children are playing in the play room. Now, yes, sometimes his actions do necessitate a consequence, but I also have noticed that a lot of the time he is unfairly blamed for things or they yell at him because even though there are other children out of their seats, he’s the problem child so they’ll automatically yell at him. I’ve seen this happen in my own class (the assistant teachers are sometimes in our classes during our lessons). I made sure at the end of that lesson to point out to the teacher that he had been good and that there was no need for punishment of any kind. It may take more than once, but eventually, he’ll listen to me. He’s no longer violent in my classes and, in fact, has started to randomly hug me. I can tell it’s not something that he is used to doing because of the way he does it, but it’s a start. Sometimes, in order to do his work, he also needs a little push. I’ll sit down next to him and start working on the project with him or I’ll tell him what needs to be done. More often than not, he’ll end up doing the work. He just needs some extra motivation.

So much love!

These past few weeks have been going really well at the school. I know I’m going to jinx myself by saying this though. For the most part the children have been very cooperative, and even…dare I say… somewhat respectful. They’ve also started to randomly run up to me in the hall, or shout, “Angela Teacher! Angela Teacher!” every time they see me and will not stop until I acknowledge and/or talk to them. I love them so much. I cannot describe to you how it makes me feel. Unless you teach children, I don’t think you’d be able to understand. The closest similar situation I can think of would be being tackled by a bunch of puppies. In a way, I feel it’s even more special because of the language barrier that there is. I can tell they’re learning more and more every day.

Break through! This week we were learning about germs and hygiene, and I thought to myself that this might be a bit difficult to do, but to my surprise, it’s gone over really well! The first day we started talking about it, I played a short video with a lot of English, but they seemed to get the general idea. They even kept going on about it in the little English that they knew. They were all very eager to try and say stuff. There was a lot of miming going on. And I found myself having conversations with them.

“Teacher! Germ..mmm…germ small small small!” 
“Teacher! Germs…germs is…mmm no..is bleh!” – Me: “Germs are bad?” – “Yes! Bad!”
“Teacher! Mommy doctor-doctor! Mommy *points to teeth*doctor-doctor.”
“Teacher! Me mommy doctor-doctor! *Achoo* doctor-doctor.”
“Teacher! Toilet..wash your hands!”
“Teacher! Germs *uses arms to show the whole room.*” – Me: “Germs are everywhere?” – “Yes teacher! *mimes cleaning the table*”

Now imagine these little phrases with the most adorable accents.

This week went pretty well. We did some crafts to go along with the germs and  hygiene. Germy hands, followed by wash your hands, and finished up with sparkling clean hands.

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Also, I started Turkish lessons about a month ago (they’re only once a week), and I and his family can already see huge improvements in my understanding of the language. The Turkish teachers at school can see it as well. It’s hard, but I’m trying. I wish I had lessons everyday, but this once a week is better than nothing. Having actual instruction is the only way for my brain to learn the language, because that’s how my brain has been hard wired. It’s a pain, but living in a house where only Turkish is spoken helps (and at the same time can be super stressful). I really just need to start memorizing more vocabulary. I cannot wait until we start learning more about sentence structure and verb conjugations.

I’ll try to update more regularly! I’ve just been really busy as of late. The big thing though right now is that my students haven’t been stressing me out as much as they used to, and I love it and them. They’re all way too cute for their own good.

Ronnie

The other day, as I was waiting for the train, I met a very interesting person. I was walking up the stairs to Track A on at the station, waiting for my train to the city, when I heard this old man laughing and telling some sort of story to this younger couple. I could that something was at least a little off with him though. The couple walked away and the old man, probably around sixty-five, kept talking. His speech was anything but clear and sentences would just drop. I think the only he knew for sure was that he had to get off at a particular station. He made his way over to where I was standing and asked me what time it was. This was his response after that, “8:04? Ok. Woah! Your eyes. You have my sister’s eyes! Those eyes… lemme see again!” So, I looked up again; this crazy old man was completely fixated with my eyes. “Again!” I went to go sit down on one of the benches, and he followed me. The other guy that was sitting on the bench got up and moved after he saw the old man sitting next to him. The old man waved his hand and, “Bah.” He continued to talk to me and was still extremely mesmerized by my eyes. “Those are my sister’s eyes. You’re my sister. I’m your brother. You don’t have to worry; I’ll protect you.” He said this all very quietly. He kept whispering.  “My name’s Ronnie. I gotta be quiet cause they’ll hear me. They’re always listening. What’s your name?” Not wanting to give out my actual name, I sputtered out the first name that came to mind, “Kat.” 
“Kat? Katherine? Katerina? Katerina. You’re nice. I like you.” He seemed pleased. “Alright, you’re my sister. We’re gonna get on the train and everything will be ok because you’ll be my sister. We’re awesome. We’ll be badasses!” Mind you, I’m twenty-two and this man is probably in his mid sixties, there’s no way anyone would believe him. Although, the badass comment intrigued me. He seemed to have been a “badass” in his time from what he was wearing. He had on a white and black flat brimmed hat that someone in my generation can typically be seen wearing, cargo shorts, a tan, gold studded vest, a pink plastic stethoscope, and black flip flops. Along with this man’s interesting dress, he was quite interesting looking himself. He had very old, blue eyes, with a yellow rings around the pupils, a hole on the right side of his nose, was about my height or shorter (which is about 5′ 5″), and surprising, he smelled pretty clean and was in decent shape for a man his age. There must be a place that he lives or someone that takes care of him. He told me that he always hangs out by White Castle and that I should come see him so he could give me a souvenir. Before he got off the train, he made sure to tell me that he loved me, but not the touchy kind of love. He just wants to protect me and be friends. When he saw a picture of my boyfriend, he was like, “Oh, he’s pretty. Is he nice? He is? He’s a good man? Oh, I can speak Turkish too: Merhaba.”
Now, this man did not necessarily seem dangerous, but I do not plan on visiting him by White Castle in the future. Although, I am very curious about him and his back story. I’d like to know what his life was like and how he wound up in this place physically and mentally. Ronnie’s definitely an oddball, but he must’ve had some interesting things happen to him in his lifetime. I’m also curious as to how he knows or if he really does know Turkish.

Making progress…

Now that finals and graduation are out of the way, I have been able to make some headway on my TEFL units. I have just finished Unit 7 and I am waiting on Unit 8 to arrive, which means that I am 35% done since there are 20 units altogether. It may not seem like much, but on days that I am not working at my new waitressing job in town, I can sometimes power through these lessons. The company only allows two units per day, but they do this so the student can let the lessons sink in. I would have to say that having studied a variety of languages in the past is actually helping me through some of these units. Because I have had a few years of different language courses, it is easy for me to pick up and learn the tenses since I have heard and worked with these terms so many times before.  The same goes with lesson planning; I know what activities work for me and which ones do not. The tutor who goes over my units has been giving me very nice remarks on the work that I have done. Well, now I must wait for the next units to arrive. Perhaps I should study some Turkish in the meantime since it’s been awhile.

I’ve made up my mind.

I am dead set on teaching English abroad, Turkey being the top contender at the moment. This summer I will receive my TEFL certificate, but before that I must register for the 120 hour course plus the additional 50 hour Business English course or Teaching English to Young Learners course. I would personally prefer the Young Learners course, but I know that the Business English will be much more advantageous in trying to secure a job in another country. I will have my Bachelor’s soon enough, and I can start on this.