The Beautiful, Bustling Basement of Niza Park Otel

Before setting our group of over 70 English teachers loose across Turkey, the Fulbright Commission gathered us altogether for ten days of intensive orienting in Ankara, the capital of Turkey and the second largest city behind Istanbul.

While there, we were treated to lavish Turkish buffets in our 4-star hotel, a reception at the residence of the Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and no less than 25 tea and coffee breaks. The trade-off was that we were mostly kept in the confines of the hotel basement/conference room for the duration of the program.

Within this while-walled basement, however, we began to explore together the history and politics of present-day Turkey and took stabs at learning basic Turkish with several local university professors. A number of reputable speakers from both Ankara and other cities came to tell us how Turkey transformed after its War of Independence in the 1920s and about the current political tensions in the region.

Turkey is an extremely dynamic country both politically and religiously, so look for more posts from me in the near future focused solely on these aspects.

While the first half of the orientation was focused on a comprehensive introduction to Turkish history and culture, the second half was a crash-course in EFL (or ESL) teaching. As many of you know, this will be my first time teaching English as a foreign language, so this part of the orientation is probably what I got the most out of, though there is a certain irony in being taught how to teach.

On two occasions, we were given respite from the all-day sessions to put on our tourist hats and go sightseeing. First, we went to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who, if you continue to read this blog, you will likely come to hear and know a lot about (he is the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey). Interesting aside: in almost every single office or public space that I have been in so far proudly hangs a painting or picture of Atatürk–a testament to his demigod-like status in Turkey.

The second trip was to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which exhibits Anatolian archaeology and artifacts from the myriad dynasties (Hittite, Phrygian, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman, to name a few) that spanned across present day Anatolia for over three millennia. Though I did enjoy my time there, I was surprised to find that Wikipedia claims the museum won the first “European Museum of the Year” award in 1997. It was pretty limited and is certainly not the most engaging museum I’ve visited in Europe.

Overall, aside from a few questionable speakers and from the somewhat ironic nature of a orientation that attempts to introduce Americans to Turkey by keeping them pent up in a hotel basement for 10 days, I think the Fulbright Commission put on a good program, and I was happy to have both a chance to meet all the other diversely-experienced and eager Fulbrighters as well as a small buffer period to ease my transition to life in Turkey.

I can’t say my Turkish improved that much, however, so that is still an ongoing adventure (to say the least). More on that and on my new digs coming up!

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.

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