2 Years

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I feel like this day just snuck up on me.  That day at the school house-arranging flowers and lighting candles, curling my hair and trying not to kill myself in stilettos- simultaneously feels like it was just yesterday and a million years ago.

reddduecywedding-106 This second year of marriage has been one of the craziest we’ve ever had together.  It is not easy to try to fit your entire life into a couple of suitcases and start over on the other side of the world…but I’m so glad I married someone like me who was crazy enough to go for it.  I can’t wait to see what happens in year 3!  If it’s anything like the first two, I’d say there is a lot of adventure to come.

 

The Most Breathtaking Moments from My First Year of Traveling

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Now that I’ve nearly survived all of my responsibilities at the school this first year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.  In the moment, so much of it seemed like a blur, but now I find myself trying to look back on (and over-analyze) everything that has happened since I moved to Turkey.  There were some moments that felt so difficult and so dark that I didn’t think it would ever get any easier, but now that I’ve gotten through the biggest waves of culture shock, I can appreciate how amazing this opportunity really is and all of the incredible things I’ve been able to do that before seemed like a distant dream.  When I think back through this year, there are a few moments that really stand out.

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Crossing the Bosphorus for the first time

This is something that takes my breath away again and again and again.  I’ll never forget how blue the water looked or how magical the 360 view of seagulls swirling around the sea of minarets was the first time I took a ferry to Eminonu.  It has to be one of the most incredible experiences one can have in the world for under a dollar.  Even after almost a year, I still have a “holy crap, I can’t believe I actually live here” moment every single time I cross over to Europe.

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Hitchhiking from Perge in Antalya

I still can’t believe this happened only two weeks into our expat experience, but that’s also why I think it’s so memorable.  In that moment when we were deciding what to do, I remember a tiny voice reminding me that my mom would have a heart attack if she knew I was doing this, but I also had a voice telling me that it was cold and raining and the guy offering us a ride definitely didn’t look like a serial killer.  He ended up being an incredibly nice and genuine person and that experience really taught me the importance of trusting humanity when it comes to traveling.  Most people really are good.

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Experiencing a true White Christmas in Eskişehir

I had my worst bout of culture shock in the fall and I was so overwhelmed and unhappy that I really don’t remember much of that time period.  The weekend we spent in Eskişehir is kind of where my memory starts to kick back in because it was a spot of pure bliss.  It was obviously very difficult to spend Christmas away from home for the first time, but when I saw the first snow of the whole year happening on Christmas day?  I knew everything was going to be okay.

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Getting snowed in on New Year’s Eve

I saw my work/home in a whole new light when it was buried under a foot of snow.  This place is gorgeous in the spring and summer, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it is in the dead of winter.  I’ll never forget how happy I was when I read the email that lessons were cancelled and all of the students and teachers who couldn’t beat the weather out gathered together for a giant snowball fight.  Definitely one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had.

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Sipping hot wine at Buda Castle in Budapest

Wine is not a drink I ever imagined would be good warm, but it certainly is.  They were selling this stuff all over Budapest and I finally caved and had to try it when we were up at Buda Castle and it was FREEZING.  They add some fruit and spices that make it taste more like a warm sangria and it was the perfect way to warm up and relax while enjoying the incredible view of the Chain Bridge to Pest.

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Walking from Hungary to Slovakia on the Maria Valeria Bridge

Another fabulous moment in Hungary was the time we spent in Esztergom, a little town that is only a short walk away from Sturovo in Slovakia.  At first, we thought we might regret stopping in such a small place without much going on, but it ended up being one of the highlights of our winter break.  There was something that felt so cool about being able to walk from one country to another in a town that’s barely changed since the Middle Ages.

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Standing before the Library of Celsus at Ephesus

Our trip to Ephesus was our first taste of warm weather after a winter that felt like it lasted a billion years.  When I first laid eyes on the Library of Celsus, I couldn’t believe how intact it was after over 1,000 years.  The way the yellowing stone contrasts with the bright blue sky is truly mind-blowing.  It is an absolute must-see in Turkey.  I even want to go back, which is not usually the case when it comes to things like ruins and monuments.

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Hiking the Fira Trail in Santorini

The hike from Fira to Oia in Santorini is an unforgettable journey.  10 kilometers of the most beautiful white-washed buildings you’ll ever see and blue Aegean water that stretches out into forever makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen into a dream.  I’ll especially never forget the delicious Greek picnic my husband and I had on the side of a volcanic cliff.  It felt like we had the whole world to ourselves.

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Indulging in local hospitality in Naxos

I have never received a warmer welcome than the one I got at Hotel Kymata in Naxos.  It turns out the whole island is unbelievably friendly and hospitable.  Although a part of it is definitely due to a decline in tourism following the economic troubles in Greece, I still believe that hospitality is a central tenant of Greek culture.  Much of the hospitality came in the form of free food, which is my fave.

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Nerding out in a Sci-Fi bookstore in Stockholm

Stockholm was such a whirlwind trip that much of it seems very fuzzy, but I remember almost every detail of the incredible book store we found near the main palace.  I am a gigantic nerd and this place was designed for people just like me.  They had a very unique collection of anime, comics, sci-fi titles (mostly in ENGLISH!), board games, and all kinds of nerdy collectibles.  If I ever win the lottery, I’m probably going to buy one of everything in that store.

Watching my students blow their end-of-the-year performance out of the water

Being a teacher is exhausting and time-consuming, but somehow, the students make every ounce of the blood, sweat, and tears worth it – at least most of the time.  After a hectic first year, it was so satisfying to work on a big performance with all of my first students and watch them do such a great job.  It definitely ended my year on a high note.

I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience this year.  It was a lot of hard work, but it’s only proven to me how much hard work can pay off.  I’m already looking forward to the long list of adventures that are sure to come next year!

Nothing

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I moved to the mountain to get away from myself,

from all the voices that told me 

I was nothing.

 

I built a tiny white house on the edge of a cliff,

and in the process, I became

nothing.

 

Nothing to no one; I forgot my own name

But from afar, I could see

everything.

 

Violence, destruction, hatred, and pain

But also

Joy, love, hope, and prosperity

 

I moved to the mountain to get away from myself, but in the process

I found myself; the one who sees, but feels

nothing. 

Reflections of a First Year Teacher

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My #1 teaching tool.

Last night, my Prep Year students finished their end of the year performance (and rocked it!), which means that other than a little bit of grading, my first year as a teacher is over. It’s been a crazy first year.  I think anyone who teaches will tell you that the first year is crazy.  Make that double if your first teaching gig is in a foreign country with a completely different culture.  So much of it feels like a giant blur.  There have been ups, downs, and in-betweens, but mostly, a whole lot of learning.  Here’s just a small list of the lessons I’ve learned:

-They won’t always remember small assignments, but they WILL remember big ideas

Be flexible.  Sometimes you have to scrap the lesson you planned in the first five minutes because it just wasn’t the right lesson plan for that group/day/time/place.

Challenge them, even when they complain about it.  They will thank you for it later.

Lean on your colleagues (and let them lean on you).  Support is everything. 

Don’t assign anything that isn’t meaningful.  Also, don’t assign anything for which you can’t provide effective feedback.

Be creative and have fun.  As much as possible, teach what you’re passionate about.  If you’re not having fun, neither will they.

Never stop learning.  There is always more to do, more to know, and more room to be better.  Keep the ball rolling…forever.  

Be prepared to have your heart break a little when you say goodbye to a class, even though you know they are moving on to bigger and better things.  You can never fully prepare yourself for how much you will love your students.  

It has been a fabulous year and I have grown so much – not only as a teacher, but as a person.  Honestly, being a teacher has made me a better person.  I can’t wait for next year; there will be new ideas, more life lessons, and best of all, new students!

Bahar

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*It’s a short story kind of day.

She could practically smell the sun on her cotton summer dress as she ran through the lush green grass, the wind singing with her laughter.  Blossoms in rich shades of orange and buttery yellow appeared and bloomed before her eyes with every step.  She wanted to pick them – and yet, she didn’t because she didn’t want to ruin it.

 She paused for a moment to take it all in; butterflies danced above her head as she stood in awe.  She wanted nothing more than to lie down in the warm sea of vibrant colors and listen to the humming of the bees for the rest of her days.  For a moment, it almost seemed possible.  She reached out to draw a branch of honeysuckle in towards her nose to smell its sweet nectar.  It flickered, and in between the lines of time and space, reality and illusion, the familiar shade of lifeless grey spilled in, reminding her of where she really was.

She glanced back at her father, the disappointment glistening in her large, brown eyes.  He knew he was running out of time.  He couldn’t keep it going forever without anymore supplies.  Really, he couldn’t afford to be doing this now, but he also couldn’t afford to loser her – his little girl.  He couldn’t afford to lose any of them.  If they left…if they realized that they didn’t need him anymore…  

He stopped his train of thought and smiled as his little one twirled through the grass once more. 

Summer Bucket List

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Union Station in KC last summer

Summer is just around the corner.  It’s hard to believe, but before I know it, I will be on a plane back to America.  To be honest, I’m a little nervous.  I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of life in Turkey and going back will just make everything more confusing again. America feels like it was a million lifetimes ago and I know it won’t be the same when I go back because won’t be the same.  I’m just not sure if I’m ready for my first reverse culture shock experience, but ready or not, it’s coming.

More than anything, I’m looking forward to seeing all of my friends and family and EATING!! I am going to eat all of the Mexican food I can get my hands on.  In order to keep my summer from descending into unstructured chaos, I’ve decided to make a few small goals for myself to make the most of my time off in the good old U.S. of A.

Goal #1  Re-discover my old stomping grounds (and maybe a few new ones)

Now that I’m used to traveling all the time, I don’t think I can ever go back.  I want to travel as much as I can, even if it’s just small trips to local places on the weekends.  I have realized that there is always something new to discover in any place, whether it’s big or small.  I’m hoping to see the Motherland with a new pair of eyes.  I also want to use this space to shed a little light on life in the Midwest and the South since they are generally lesser-traveled parts of the country and where I will happen to be for most of my time there.

Goal #2  Sharpen my language skills

I’m not gonna lie…I haven’t been as productive on the language front as I was hoping to be this year.  It was really hard to squeeze it in amidst the chaos of being a first year teacher in a brand new and vastly different culture.  I’m hoping to hit the re-set button this summer and dedicate at least a few hours a week to studying French and Turkish.  Who knows…I may even try to throw in some Spanish…and even some English.  There is no such thing as learning too much.

Goal #3  Hit the books

Another thing I haven’t done nearly often enough  is read.  I did manage to read five books this school year, but I’d  like to have read at least double that.  I’ll have about two  months off, so I’m hoping I can get through at least two books per month…and ideally more.  I’m also going to try to make at least half of my reading in French.  I want to  make it into a habit so I can keep up with my Goodreads shelves more efficiently next year.  It doesn’t hurt that I’ll be spending a good chunk of summer within walking distance of the beach on the Gulf Coast.  It’ll be a perfect spot to chill out with a good book (or Kindle…which I will likely be investing in).

Goal #4  Step up my teaching game

One of the big reasons this year was so crazy was that I was part of a brand new teaching department (seriously…seven of us were brand new this year) with a new administration, so you can imagine what I was walking into.  I didn’t even know which classes I would be teaching until two days before I arrived (which was only two days before school started).  I didn’t have any time to plan any kind of decently organized curriculum and everyone else around me was equally lost, so it was basically a whole year of treading water for all of us.  Next year will be different.  I’m looking forward to doing some awesome, creative, and best of all, STRUCTURED things with my students next year.  I will be spending a lot of time on Amazon and in bookstores.

Goal #5  Get back in shape!

The craziness of being a first year teacher coupled with culture shock completely through me off track in terms of my fitness regimen.  In the States, I was eating fairly healthy and exercising almost every day.  Here, I’ve pretty much just eaten whatever the cafeteria was serving and have gone multiple weeks without hitting the gym more than once.  Not okay! I am hoping to re-center myself and start over with my old healthy habits and hopefully carry them through into next year.

Goal #6 Be creative

I have not been very good about pursuing my creative hobbies this year, so I want to change that.  I want to work on developing my creative writing skills more (I may even look for a workshop!) and I wouldn’t mind working on a little drawing or just some arts and crafts for fun.  Who knows…I may even convince my husband to finally teach me hwo to play the drums.  I haven’t had enough creative outlets this past year, so I’m looking forward to expressing that side of myself.

Goal #7 Soak up the freedom

Isn’t that what summer is all about?  I will certainly have some work to do, but I also want to detach from the part of myself that is always working and putting on my “professional” face, especially since I work in a boarding school.  I want to take some time to be a little wild and spontaneous and irresponsible.  There will definitely be impromptu plans, partying, long nights of gaming and binge-watching Netflix…  I desperately need to reconnect with that part of myself and remind myself that I’m still young and there’s a lot more to who I am than my job.

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Hoping for some of this!

I know summer will probably go by faster than I could ever imagine, and I know this is quite an ambitious list, but I’m feeling optimistic, so I may as well shoot for the stars, right?

To those out there reading:  What are your summer plans?  Any tips on dealing with reverse culture shock?

When Weekend Plans Fail…

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Enormous snail outside our front door

Life here has been…difficult lately.  It seems like it’s been one thing after another the last couple of weeks and all I have done is work, work, and more work.  I don’t even want to calculate how many hours I’ve worked in the last two weeks…it would just depress me further.

After a horrendous two weeks of nonstop duty, I was ready to ESCAPE for the weekend and we were just getting ready to book tickets to Bodrum and then, in true Turkish fashion, a last minute duty appeared.  The school is hosting an entrance exam for next year’s potential students, so all of us have to be here….for the THIRD weekend in a row.  I’m at least glad we hadn’t bought our tickets already…

We decided to turn lemons into lemonade and try to enjoy a relaxing weekend in.  Here’s what a typical “wild” Friday night at our place looks like:

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Getting into my slippers.  It is considered very barbaric to walk around inside with shoes on here in Turkey, so I’ve really forced myself into the habit of taking my shoes off outside the door before I step inside.  It is even customary to have a stock of “guest” slippers for when people visit.  Having some cozy slippers to wear around makes it easier to stick to it.

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One of my favorite snacks and probably my new favorite Doritos flavor.  Honestly, I had pretty much outgrown Doritos in the States, but I have kind of gotten hooked on the Turca ones.  They are tomato and sesame flavored and highly addictive, even though the package is 50% air.

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The adult version of Oreos and milk:  a strong cup of coffee loaded up with some Bailey’s. It is the perfect way to end a hectic work week.

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I bought myself this puzzle at a local bookstore recently because I actually recognized the place in it (which just so happens to be one of my favorite places in Istanbul) – the beautiful Ortakoy Mosque.  I’m something of a puzzle fanatic and hadn’t done one in awhile, so it was the perfect antidote to my disappointment-fueled angst.

We also binge-watched several favorite movies, including V for Vendetta, Jumanji, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I seriously can’t wait to have internet at home so we can use Netflix again.  We have SO many things to catch up on.

Here’s to hoping that next weekend’s plans don’t get foiled.

Doors to Nowhere

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***I’m breaking things up here with a little creative writing piece I wrote on a ferry ride in Greece, inspired by some beautiful doors I’ve seen throughout my travels.  Enjoy!***

She was always finding them.  Or, rather, they were finding her.  Doors that led to absolutely nowhere…or so it appeared.

The first one came to her when she was very young, leaning against a pile of overgrown brush in her family’s garden.  It was old and well-worn and looked as if it might crumble to dust against even the lightest of breezes.  This thought never even crossed her mind.  She was too curious for that.  She pulled on the handle and stepped through.

This, she soon realized, was where the fairies lived, twinkling brightly in their lush green abode.  They fluttered around her, whispering their secrets, made her promise not to tell.  They fed her honeysuckle nectar, adorned her hair with wildflowers, and told her she would always be welcome in their world.

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The next door came sometime later, when her family moved to a new house.  As she was hanging her many sweaters in her brand new closet, she saw it peeking at her, tucked away in the back corner.  Where did it go?  She wondered to herself.  The tiny knob popped open, revealing just enough room for her to crawl through.  A cluttered room buried in dust showed her its face.  It was there that she first met the ghost that lived in her house; the one that had been there for hundreds o years.  She told her her life story, her death story, and told her never to be frightened when she went bump in the night.

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She never really made a point of looking for them.  The doors, they just kept finding her.  Like when she went to her first party and saw door to an old shed swinging in the wind, beckoning her to go through it.  It was there that she first heard the wind speak as plain as day.

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Then there was that time she went backpacking through the mountains.  She stumbled upon it while she was hiking along the trail, carved right into the ragged rock:  an old door, like one might find on a house.  By now, she knew the drill; she couldn’t resist.  She was greeted warmly by a mountain troll, who graciously made her dinner over a campfire and guided her by torch through the mountain – a considerable shortcut to her final destination.  The firelight danced among the many glittering gems that lined the tunnel walls – the troll’s treasure stores.

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When she bought her first place, a tiny cottage in the meadow, she knew it was meant to be when she saw a single door propped up on a stairway, overgrown with daisies.  She put down her moving boxes to climb those stairs, going up and up, until she noticed that she’d already gone through the door and was now climbing right into the sky, as if on solid ground.  She kept climbing until she reached the clouds, where she waited until the sky grew dark and sparkled with starlight.  It was their that she first met her lover, and they met there every night thereafter.

Yes, the doors, they always find her.  Even as we speak, she’s standing before yet another abandoned door.  As other passersby walk on, ignoring the magic that stands before them, she reaches for the handle and wonders what lies in store for her on the other side.

Hello, Spring

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The “blackberry trail”, not quite ready for blackberries yet

Things have been a little quiet around here lately…mostly because I’ve had so much work to do (as usual).  It’s getting a little extra crazy now that I’m snowballing towards the end the school year.  Even though my current workload is significantly larger than what it was in the first semester, it somehow feels more manageable.  It doesn’t hurt that the weather has been perfect and the smell of flowers is in the air.  I’ve been spending a lot of time on campus lately, but I really don’t mind, because at least I can enjoy some fresh air without freezing these days.

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Pretty pink flowers that are blooming everywhere

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View from the tearoom balcony

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Views of the Marmara from the “Greek temple”

I generally only have two modes:  knee-deep in work or completely immersed in a new adventure.  There is seldom any in-between.  Because of that, I often fail to fully appreciate how beautiful my home really is because I usually associate it with work.  Luckily, the change of seasons has helped me see this place with a fresh set of eyes.