Update & Next Year’s Plans

I know I’m been past due in updating this blog. Exciting things still happen, I hope to write up some old stories soon. My camera still is out of commission.


My Fulbright Grant finishes in June. Afterward I will attend a colleague’s/my Turkish teacher’s wedding. Then, I’ll be flying to Rhode Island — the next Dratz Adventure!

In Turkey, local elections are Sunday. Each party has a car, printed with the name and party of its candidate, the cars drive around the city during daylight hours blaring music and campaign slogans. Large campaign rallies take place at train stations, Hunger Games Style. Different forms of social media have been banned and unbanned the last couple weeks, including Twitter and YouTube. Some believe, social media will all be back after the elections. Others believe elections will set off another season of protests.

Thunder Snow began last night in Erzurum and has continued today, there may be a foot of snow on the way.

Funniest thing that happened in class this week was when I played Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, two of my boys slow danced with each other, one with his head on the other’s shoulder. Entirely platonic.


A Cow, My Birthday and “Game Over”

Here is a cow, being led through the city center of Erzurum. The holiday of sacrifice is coming…
Cows say "Muuu" in Turkey, not "Moo". My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

Cows say “Muuu” in Turkey, not “Moo”. My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

I started teaching on Tuesday of this week, following last week’s extended bureaucracy and cups of tea. My students range from eager and curious to completely disinterested and unwilling.

My first day of teaching was actually my birthday as well. I wrote “October 8th” on the board. My first class of students said “month, day. you birthday?”
I replied, “Yes, my birthday. What day is today?”
“Yes! What date is today?”
No one knew. We went through all the months of the year, counted up to the 10th month and then there was a look of sudden comprehension and a resounding, “Teacher! Your birthday! Today! Happy Birthday!!!”

I had my students ask each other questions and then introduce each other to the class. One of my students motioned to me that he was finished. I find it often helpful to play dumb and asked, “What?” He told me, “Game over!” Everyone picks of bits and pieces of English somewhere these days.

The way the calender works this year, all of next week is a break for a religious holiday (the one that will likely be the end of that cow). Three days teaching, one week off. Beginning English speakers in Turkey are quickly sentimental. Some of it is the Mediterranean show of emotion versus the more reserved German-ness that pervades large sectors of the US, some is that Turkish has the same word for “like” and “love, and some is a warmness toward foreigners that Erzurum is imbued with. The second day of class, one girl at the end of class said, “Teacher, I miss you! Long holiday. I miss you!” The rest of the class nodded sadly. No matter how loud they can be, teaching in Turkey means having such sweet students. It’s probably messing severely with my self image, but I love them for it. And for the continuous snacks and nuts.

My birthday was Tuesday! I was surprised with lots of creative gifts. David made fried rice and Emily carved up a pumpkin to make delicious pumpkin pie that I got to share with my closet friends. It was a nice mix of Turks and Americans and of both languages all evening. The next day one of my Turkish friends invited me over, she and her friends had made me two cakes and dinner and sung half of Happy Birthday in English, half in Turkish! 11 of her friends were there, one girl told me she loved me. It doesn’t surprise or weird me out quite as much as it did last year, and neither does kissing 36 cheeks upon entering and leaving an apartment (3 per person, per direction going). My Turkish is pretty passable in social situations at the point, though my grammar needs serious help. My friend gave me a clock in a pretty box with candy and a Qur’an, surprisingly the first Qur’an I’ve gotten since moving to Turkey. She promised to buy a New Testament so we could talk about them together. At the end of the night she and her friend walked me to the bus stop, but instead bundled me into a car with a young engineer and an old woman who took me home and fawned over me.

Starting to teach again has showed me how much I’ve learned since last year. I know so much better how to explain things, conduct a class, react to student affection and noise, and adapt to different circumstances. I hope I can say the same about how much I’ve learned 12 months from now.

I will be in Cappadocia next week, land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. I’m in the process of resolving my camera issues. In Turkey there are few solutions but many processes.



Teaching, Living, Coalescing (TLC)

Erzurum Beauties -- while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

Erzurum Mountains — while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

This is my fourth week of teaching back in Erzurum, Turkey a little mindblowing for those Americans on/after Spring Break. It’s great to be back with all of the same students. Each class has really created its own personality and I’m trying to do better at catering to each class’s interests and needs, rather than having a set regimen. My least favorite class has been pulled into shape, and most days their dubious amounts of energy are directed in the general direction of learning English.


My favorite English learning mistake was when a group of students were explaining a game show to me. One guy said:

“There are two persons. One asks questions. Other person push…. (confer with friends) …. push Ben-jah-min.”

“Benjamin? Push Benjamin? I don’t understand.”

“Yes! Benjamin!” (confusion).

Me: “Ooooooh. Button. He pushes the button!”

“Yes. Yes. Benjamin Button.”

I haven’t traveled since returning to teaching. Somehow, I’ve found reasons to stay in Erzurum each weekend. I went to the mall with students who wanted to play air hockey (there now exist 36 pictures of me playing air hockey) and go GoKarting. Last weekend I stayed the night at my friend Sevda’s house, each time I go she invites a near infinite number of people to come meet me — anyone in her life that’s ever expressed a desire or capacity for learning English. This time, there were six girls sitting around a low table making manti (the pasta/dumpling that’s so delicious). The friend from the theology department and the English teaching department were explaining and grilling me about Fethullah Gülen, Islam, and Christianity. I’ve also done a much better job of sustaining one on one friendships that seem to have more depth, especially as my Turkish edges forward and they continue to learn English.
155974_10152617531540640_232740878_nOne weekend I went skiing for the first time in 10 years. It turns out you can see my apartment from the slopes. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day with fresh powder on the group. The group of us that went got lessons from someone our colleague termed “the best”. Only a couple hours in did I learn that this was an Olympian (competed in Salt Lake) teaching us beginning skiing. Well he took us down the green run lots of times and then a yellow run (Turkey’s different, yellow = slightly harder then green). Then he told us it would be the last run he did with us and asked who wanted to go down the hardest black. I raised my hand, since I’d much rather go down it with him than by myself. It really was near vertical, and I was unprepared. I didn’t fall, but the instructor also held my hand on each turn back and forth and therefore I survived. That was my private lesson from an Olympian.

I’m attending the Turkish version of 12th Night tomorrow, and hurriedly reading the play so I have some idea what’s happening. I’ve really settled into living in Erzurum and am enjoying both that every day is different, but also that their is rhythm, and I can anticipate some things. There are good days and bad days; good weeks and bad weeks. For the most part I really enjoy my job and living here, especially since it’s only bitterly cold some of the time. My definition of normal has changed such that my life now falls within the realm of normalcy.

I definitely want to stick around next year.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Turkey! It can be difficult to live in a country where most people don’t know when Christmas is, much less what it celebrates. Anyway, I didn’t start teaching until October, so it shouldn’t be too much of a shock to teach on and through Christmas. In Turkish fashion, Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
The last couple weeks have brought new challenges and successes. Taylor was here for a week a and a half, and that was absolutely wonderful.


We went to Kars and Ani for a couple days and stayed with Cat, resident honey tourism starter of Kars. Cat’s a Coloradan, former-Fulbrighter, National Geographic young explorer seeking to start up a honey tasting tour business (like wine or cheese tasting…but sweeter). We stayed in her house as she explained the difficulties of starting a business in Eastern Turkey. It was great to go see Ani in the snow, hear some conspiracy theories and history, and go to a hamam with Taylor.

I teach a new class now, doctors in their 30’s-50’s. It’s amazing the difference a small class size and highly motivated students have. They have a lot that they wish to be able to communicate, and I learn a lot about medicine and Turkey in the process of teaching them some English. My students have decent medical English but nearly zero conversational English. My first class I asked if they had children, one guy told me he had two children, “a son and a doctor.” “Oh how old are they?” My son is 12, my doctor is 8.” “…Oh! You have a daughter!”

Giving tests to my 18 and 19 year olds was a real struggle, since cheating is blatant and rampant. I’ve decided to give oral exams from now on, which I’m doing this week — so I’ll see how that goes.

I really enjoy the relationships that I’ve built these last couple months. Watching movies, building “gingerbread” houses, eating lunch, celebrating brithdays — Turks seem to know how to focus on the people rather than the event.

Zeynep and I

Turkish Sleepover and Small Classes

My Turkish sleepover involved two very nice Kurdish girls who speak as much English as I do Turkish. That meant it quickly spiraled into three word sentences, lots of dictionaries, smiles and confusion. However, it was highlighted by about 10 glasses of tea, great food, pomegranates, dancing, and them doing my hair. There was also a midnight trip to get sunflower seeds, getting lost and the singing of love songs. I was also quite confused by whether a phone call one of the girls got was a wrong number, a stalker, or a potential suitor. Perhaps all three? All I know was that there were at least six calls from him, and several long conversations some with him, some about him. The next morning, after waking me nicely in Turkish they gave me all the food in the house of 5 girls since they were leaving for Bayram — which equaled about 20 servings of food and 8 loaves of bread. And I feel like this food could have fed five thousand. I was also invited to come milk cows, bake bread and bring my boyfriend to her house.

Each of my Monday and Tuesday classes were attended by 3 to 5 students. What could have been strange, but was actually quite a bit of fun. It’s only in those small groups that the quietest students open up, talk and are willing to make mistakes. In each class I could feel their fear and tension at the beginning of class (always punctuated by “Fine thank you, and you”), but through each two hour class we broke through that — playing bananagrams, me over-acting in ways they thought hilarious, or simply drinking tea together. I also played some pretty awesome ping pong with my students.

Turks are amazingly gracious even as students. Each class I told I would buy them tea, and, while they’d let me feed them chocolate, none of them would let me buy a round of tea. In some classes, one student would take it upon themselves to order everyone else to sit down, other classes would each get money out and compete for who could catch the çay guy’s eye to pay first. One class told me to stay in the classroom and that they’d get it (and chocolate) and bring it back up. Another class all wanted to take a smoke break but didn’t want to leave me behind. We went outside, and they showed me why they bring their books to class: to put atop the cement ledge and sit on, as insulation. Chivalry is far from dead in this land, there was a lending of a coat, opening of doors and always the guys rushing to pay for everyone involved.

A student told me the Iluminati killed Michael Jackson, Dan Brown should be proud. Also Eminem was a part of the Illuminati, but isn’t anymore.
Also there was a festival in the main square on Sunday with roller hockey, taekwondo, ping pong, volleyball, and Erzurum bars dancing. The organizers did some serious blasting of “Eye of the Tiger”.

My Turkish is crawling forward as friends, acquaintances, students, and passersby all take it upon themselves to teach me a word in a store, a phrase over çay, or a grammatical construct on the stairs. I’m going to Georgia (and possibly Armenia if there’s time) for Bayram, so a brief break from Turkish, traveling somewhere with an incomprehensible script and difficult language. Walking around the city today, I saw a man pulling along a sheep with a bunch of parsley in the other hand. That’s meat and vegetables, Erzurum style. I’m peacing out on the blood in the streets tradition, at least for this year.

Teaching Has Begun

It’s been awhile dear readers, it will come as little surprise to you that when you start working, you have less time to do things like blog! I’ve taught two full weeks of classes now and next week in the Muslim Holiday of Kurban Bayrumu (i.e. six day weekend). This holiday, as my students tell me, “cut sheep, eat sugar, kiss hands, mother father.” By which they are imparting that this is the Festival of Sacrifice that commemorates Abraham sacrificing a sheep instead of his son (Ishmael, not Isaac). To celebrate each family kills a sheep and gives the meat to the poor. As well, it’s like Thanksgiving, students go home, eat lots of food and desserts. It’s also tradition to kiss the hands of your elders and they give you money. Pretty sweet holiday.

Teaching has been great fun so far. I love my students and they tell me on a daily basis, in Turkish at the beginning and now in English, that I am sweet or sweetness. I have a feeling that some of them will find this blog, as 8 of them have already found my facebook, so I won’t tell too many stories about them. My students all have learned some english previously, but few have spoken much English. So my job is more to encourage them to speak, re-teach them vocab, and create a positive class atmosphere than anything else. I teach two engineering classes and two tourism classes listening and speaking. They take all sorts of other English classes: grammar, reading, movies, etc. It’s fun because my students are engaged, most seem pleased to be there, and they always say things you don’t expect. There’s a 10 minute break in the middle of each 2 hour class and my classes like to use that time to teach me Turkish, ask me questions or teach me how to Turkish dance. Also, for anything out of the ordinary that I do, they’ll clap and cheer — anything from reading a dialogue in different voices to saying a Turkish word. I think my favorite part of being in Erzurum is my students and teaching, which is pretty great.

On my first day of class, no one came because they didn’t know their schedules. Second day, half of them came. I took pictures of my students to try to learn their names then. After that I told the class they could leave and I was waving at the door. They thought I meant I wanted a class picture, so I went with it. Here you go.I’ve also started to create real friendships with Turks, which is really exciting, but still full of cultural miscommunications and difficulties. It’s surprising the number of friendships that blossom with a dictionary on each side and half English and half Turkish, but I feel like that’s where my Turkish will actually come from. It is good to be getting to know my English teaching co-workers who are Turkish as well.

I went to a conference last weekend that had people from countries on the Silk Road. Which means it included everything from the water policy of Tajikistan to distance learning in Bangladesh to Medical School policies in Iraq. Afterward there was an exhibition of Turkish dancing. I will try to post a video of that soon.

Tonight, I’m headed to a sleepover with Turkish girls. On Wednesday, I’ll leave for Georgia (and possibly Armenia) on a bus for five or six days.