Two weeks of classes, two trips to Ankara, and one trip to the Aegean later, I’m finally starting to feel settled in Turkey. Here’s a quick rundown of my classes, life in Kırıkkale, and the miscellaneous fun I’ve been getting up to recently. I plan on elaborating on the first two subjects in later posts, but this should provide a general overview of what I’ve been doing the past several weeks.
Always double check your classroom schedule
My first day of teaching, I sat in my office for several minutes to review my schedule and muster up some confidence before class. I intended to march into the room and start talking to students in English, trying to engage them in conversation regardless of whether they understood me or not.
I had seen almost all of my previous language instructors use this strategy on the first day of class (just come in and start talking; I think it’s to ease the fears of speaking a new language), and I thought I would replicate it. Also, I had the element of surprise on my side because the students were not yet aware they would have Americans teaching their speaking and listening courses.
Well, it would have worked great had I not accidentally marched into the wrong classroom.
With much gusto and enthusiasm, I began speaking in English to the class full of utterly confused students (who were expecting a Turkish teacher, not a native English-speaking American). Though I noticed the strange looks on the students’ faces, I paid no attention and assumed that their reaction was to me using only English as opposed to me being in the wrong classroom.
Two minutes later, a knock came at the door, and my Turkish colleague entered the room with an equally confused look on her face. After an awkward pause, it became clear to me I was in the wrong place and that I had just let loose an avalanche of entirely foreign English to unsuspecting students who were not my own. I smiled awkwardly, cheeks as red as the Turkish flag, and said it was nice to meet them all before I darted out of the class to find the correct room.
I suppose this story works as a metaphor for my first few weeks of classes. Things have at time seemed in serious disarray, and most of the activities I plan are hit-or-miss (if the students can even understand the instructions I’m giving), but I think the students feel generally excited to have an American who is near them in age teaching English Speaking and Listening, which is a nice reprieve from their grueling Coursebook (grammar) classes.
The classroom dynamic here is something I will certainly expand upon in a later post, but so far I would say teaching has been surprising, exciting, and many times fulfilling. The students in the prep English program may lack the maturity of American college-aged students, but they also at times seem very eager to learn and seem to have fun doing it.
Either that or they’re continually amused at my silly attempts to convey what I mean through charades, which, I must add, I think I’m becoming quite the expert at.
“It’s a good thing you’re close to Ankara”
Nine out of ten times, if you ask a Turkish person about Kırıkkale, they’ll stare at you in astonishment and ask why in the world you would ever go there. The ones who don’t have this reaction either don’t know where/what Kırıkkale is, or they have been living there their whole life.
A running joke among some of the younger Kırıkkale residents is that there are walls all around the city to keep civilization out. In fact, there are no walls around the city, so this is clearly quite ridiculous. The jab that made me laugh the most, however, is this: “Evolution stopped in Kırıkkale 10,000 years ago.”
Now, let me be clear. I really do not agree with these criticisms. Maybe it’s that I’m from Montana, so I don’t expect a big-city lifestyle, or maybe it’s just that I appreciate the slower pace around here, but I haven’t had many gripes about the town yet. I’m told when winter comes that will all change, though.
Kırıkkale, or K-Town as we call it due to its unexpectedly difficult pronunciation (every time I hear a Turkish person say it, it sounds different), is nestled in the foothills an hour southeast of Ankara. The town is primarily known for being home to several state-owned munitions factories, and every Friday we are reminded of this when we hear a booming explosion echo around the city (weapons testing, I’m told).
There are actually close to 200,000 people living in K-Town, but you wouldn’t know this if you walked around after 10:00 PM. There are no signs of nightlife, but there are some nice cafes and restaurants that the English teachers often gather at to drink tea or eat dinner.
What’s really nice about the city’s location is its proximity to Ankara. We can very easily go there on the weekends and get our “nightlife fill” in then.
All in all, I have no problem so far living here. I get the experience of an entirely foreign culture without the overcrowding or traffic, and I constantly tell my young, Turkish colleagues that while I don’t blame them for harboring such negative sentiments about K-Town, I really don’t share them yet. Though, I must admit, if one of them were headed to America to teach and got stuck in Wyoming, I’d probably apologize to them, too.
Plenty more to come about K-Town as I continue to explore and continue to hear more complaints about its “suckiness” from my Turkish colleagues.
Despite the craziness of starting to teach several days after we arrived in K-Town, and despite the myriad tasks we have had to accomplish since we got here (like becoming legal residents, getting phones, setting up bank accounts, etc), we have actually had some time to travel.
We only teach Monday through Thursday, which is great because it allows us to take trips on the weekends. We were told our schedules were created with this in mind so that we could get away from the “horrible” place that is K-Town, no joke. Well, we’re taking advantage, and so far we’ve spent two weekends in Ankara and another in Muğla, which is a ten hour bus ride away.
Some of our fellow Fulbrighters are teaching in Muğla but are living a short distance away in Akyaka, which is in the beautiful southwest of Turkey right on the Aegean sea. Here’s a look from our friend’s place. Doesn’t hold a candle to my view in K-Town, does it?
We soaked it in as much as possible during our three days there, but it was hard to leave. The sun was out all weekend, the air warm and wet with the water blowing in from the coast, and the sea speckled with hundreds of curved, rectangular kites. There was a wind-surfing competition there that weekend.
Our primary excuse for heading to Muğla was that two of our colleagues were delivering a presentation at an ESL conference, so we went to support them at the university on Friday. The rest of the time was spent lounging on the beach, eating fresh seafood, walking above the lush, green coast, and gazing into the impossibly blue water.
We also hopped on a bus to Marmaris to go out dancing with some ERASMUS (European study abroad) students on Saturday night, which was great fun. The scene was certainly foreign to that of a K-Town Saturday night.
On the long bus ride back home, I watched as the dark green forests slowly changed to tan plains and foothills, which signaled our arrival in K-Town was nearing.
This weekend we head southeast to Malatya for a mini-reunion with a group of Fulbrighters and to visit Mount Nemrut, where some large statues are erected around a supposed 1st century BC tomb. Plenty of pictures and stories to come.
Where this is going
It is my hope that this blog will not just merely be a travel journal detailing my travels around the country. I will, of course, write about my trajectories and the people and places I come into contact with, but I also plan to do a fair bit of writing about my impressions of the culture, education system, politics, language, and other similar topics. I also hope to do some natural history writing about the different landscapes I encounter along the way.
So, thank you for reading, and please let me know if there are specific things you would like to hear more about in the comments!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are my own, and they in no way reflect the views of the Fulbright Commission, the United States or Turkish governments, or any other affiliated agencies.