Yes, I’m still alive.
It has been just over two weeks since I arrived in Turkey and it has been insane. Classes started just two days after we landed, so between lesson planning and jet lag, I haven’t had much time (or desire) to devote to writing. With the beginning of the Kurban Bayramı (probably more commonly known as Eid in the U.S.), we have finally had a chance to catch our breath. The students have just left for the holiday, and lessons won’t resume until the week after next, so I have finally had a chance to sit back, relax, and reflect on my first couple of weeks here.
This is where I have been spending most of my time, so this is the easiest thing for me to write about at the moment. The campus is breathtakingly beautiful. You can see the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Marmara from every angle (including our bedroom window!) and the housing and facilities are reminiscent of a Mediterranean village, but with all of the modern conveniences. My heart skips a beat every single time I walk by a window (which is quite often).
The students here are nothing short of brilliant. This is a school specifically for gifted children and it has been a very eye-opening experience so far to teach students like this. I teach primarily first-year students, which has been a blast. The work I have to do in order to keep them properly challenged is 10 times harder than any time I’ve taught before, but it also feels very rewarding. It is a pleasure to have such motivated and talented students…I hope they stay that way.
The language barrier here has been more significant than I had anticipated. While English is pretty commonly spoken around Istanbul, Gebze and the surrounding villages (where we live) are more traditional and industrial, and it is very difficult to find people who can speak English here. While most of the students and staff speak English very well, getting around outside of the campus can be quite the challenge. We have plans after the holiday to arrange for one of the upper level students to tutor us so that we can (hopefully) speak somewhat proficiently by the end of the year, which would make our lives much easier.
I want to add a disclaimer here that it is impossible to fully understand a new culture in a matter of two weeks. However, there are a number of observations I have made so far.
The first and most challenging observation I have made is the total lack of structure here, especially with anything procedural. Rules, regulations, laws, dates, meeting times, EVERYTHING changes constantly and without any kind of notice. Basically, it’s chaos and anything can change at any moment, so you really have to learn to just go with the flow and do a lot of things off the cuff. For example, to get a bank account, we were told we needed to have a tax number, so we drove to a nearby city to do so. When we got there, they told us to go to a different place, and when we went to that place, they told us that the banks no longer require foreigners to have a tax number, but that the banks were unaware of the change, so we had to take a giant stack of documents explaining this issue (even though several of our co-workers got a tax number just a couple of weeks before.) This has been a major source of culture shock for us yabancıs , coming from places like the U.S. and U.K. where things tend to be planned out to the T.
One of the more pleasant things I have noticed about Turkey is that the people here are extremely kind and hospitable toward foreigners, which is definitely not the case in many other places. Despite our inability to speak Turkish and obvious confusion at just about everything, we have always found that people are very willing to help us and talk to us. Just yesterday, we went to get a phone and one of the employees at Turkcell who was actually on his day off noticed that we could not communicate well in Turkish. He happened to speak really good English and stepped right up to help us with the whole process, even though he was off the clock. Service is also exceptional here. If you are at a restaurant, the staff will go above and beyond your expectations, and often offer you complimentary coffee or tea, both of which are amazing.
OMG THE FOOD. It’s so good and soooo cheap. Honestly, I could kiss a lot of American food goodbye forever (except for maybe peanut butter…and Mexican food, which really isn’t American anyway). Any produce you buy here tastes about a thousand times better than their GMO-laden equivalents in the States and it’s less than a third of the cost. Chocolate, pistachios, and all kinds of delicious breads are staples here. Meatballs, kebabs…I could go on forever. I will definitely not go hungry here.
That’s it for now, I suppose. We have just two more days before our first official vacation here! We are headed to sunny, beachy Antalya. Stay tuned.