The Second Time Around

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I’m only one week into this second year of teaching and it’s already been crazy.  In true Turkish fashion, all of the schedules were released at the last possible second (I’m talking the morning of…when there were already classes that were supposed to be in session), no classrooms assigned for said classes (resulting in hordes of confused kids wondering where to go), and the class groupings were all mixed up – so to recap, we had the wrong kids in the wrong classes and no classrooms to put them in.  Last year, I would’ve probably collapsed from a heart attack.  This year, I brushed that dirt off my shoulder and rolled with it like a champ.  What a difference a year makes!

It feels so good to finally be in this place because a journey like this one is never easy.  I can’t believe how enormous the gap between being a first and second year teacher is!  I’m so much  more organized.  My lesson plans are better.  I’m so much happier, which means I’m so much more capable of being present both in and outside of the classroom so I can be there for my students when they need me…because they really, really need us sometimes.  Our school is a gifted school, so a lot of the students here are very hard on themselves and therefore prone to depression and anxiety.  It’s also difficult at times because it’s a boarding school, and many of them go months without seeing family.  I’m seeing so much  more clearly this year how important my role as a teacher is in this environment.

I’m also taking much better care of myself.  As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.  Last year, I pretty much worked all day every day during the school weeks and then jumped into hard core traveling during all of the breaks, with absolutely no in between…not healthy.  I’ve been committed to going to the gym every evening.  I’m cooking at home most nights instead of eating at the cafeteria and actually getting some fruits and veg into my system.  I’m trying to write more and create more art.  Sometimes I just lay  on my new rug and watch T.V.  I don’t know how I ever survived last year without all of these things.

I’m really looking forward to being a better human this year.  I feel so lucky to be where I am and to be able to do what I do.

Traces of Yesterday

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Some places never really leave us.  Somehow, even after countless journeys through renowned cities in over a dozen different countries, this tiny town tucked into the Flint Hills still takes my breath away.

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Emporia, KS.  This place has a permanent spot in my heart.  This town shaped so much of who I am.  The moment we set foot in our old stomping grounds, I was flooded with a rush of happy memories of old times.  Being on the old college campus was especially  nostalgic.

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We only had one night there, so we wanted to make the most of it.  One of the highlights of the trip was discovering that Emporia actually has an Airbnb place and booking a room in an old Victorian house right by the downtown so we could walk to all of our favorite places.  If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, it is a must!!  It’s usually much cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel with the added bonus of  local hosts who usually welcome you and clue you in on your surroundings.  We had a great time chatting and swapping travel stories!  Nothing feeds the soul like meeting fellow travelers.

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In addition to strolling down memory  lane, we also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at some of our old favorite restaurants.  Stop #1 was Radius, a super tasty gastropub that opened right before we moved.  It’s soooooo good!  I’m really going to miss American food in a couple weeks!

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Porter-infused creme brulee = best dessert ever!!

After stuffing our faces, we walked around downtown a bit more, sorry that we couldn’t spend more time there.  It seems crazy that it’s only been a little over a year since we left Emporia, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago.  It feels different and exactly the same all at once.

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We went to both of our favorite local coffee shops and picked up beans to take back to Turkiye!

Being back where all of my crazy dreams started to take shape really made me want to conquer those dreams all over again:  reading more, writing more, teaching better, and studying languages.  Oh, and definitely more traveling!

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Forever a Hornet!

It was so great to be back in our former home.  I’m looking forward to going back again next summer!  My heart is happy and recharged with new ambitions for the year ahead.

 

10 Things I’ve Learned About Working at a Boarding School

 

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I am a little over halfway through my first year as a teacher at a boarding school, but sometimes it feels like it’s been a whole lot longer than that.  There have been so many ups, downs, and in betweens in the past few months that I can hardly keep all of it straight.  I’ve had a lot of questions from various friends and family members about what it’s like to work in this kind of environment, so I thought I’d share a few of my observations for those who are curious.  In a nutshell:  it isn’t easy.

Work-Life balance is a constant struggle

When you live with your students and colleagues and your office is just across the parking lot, it is really hard to feel like you are at “home.”  You might be chilling out with a cup of tea, looking out the window, and then suddenly spot that student who still hasn’t handed in that essay, or that teacher you’ve been meaning to talk to all week.  It is SO HARD to step out of work mode when you are constantly surrounded by your work and it is easy to guilt yourself into doing more work  than you really should.  I really have to force myself to take breaks and to make time for myself, even if it’s only thirty minutes.  Otherwise, opening my front door really wouldn’t be much different than unlocking my office, and that definitely isn’t healthy.

You are more than just a teacher

Being a boarding school teacher is a lot different than being a regular teacher because your time with them doesn’t end when class is dismissed.  There are evening duties, weekend duties, after school activities, meals, and meetings.  In addition to that, while many students do spend time with their parents every weekend, an equal number of them may not see their parents for months because they live too far away.  In the absence of their parents, we teachers must take on the role of looking out for the physical and emotional well-being of these students, both inside and outside of the classroom.  It can be a really great thing, especially because I feel like I am able to get to know my students very well, which helps me to be a better teacher for them.  On the other hand, it can be difficult and intense to be so emotionally invested in these students’ lives, especially when they are struggling.  It also means putting in a lot more hours than you’d expect.

A support system is everything

Just as the students need support from teachers, teachers need support from each other and from the administration to deal with the immense workload that’s in front of us all the time.  I honestly wouldn’t have survived thus far without the friends that we’ve made here.  It’s important to have people around who can truly understand what you’re dealing with and who can help you out, give advice, or simply just lend an ear.

There is always something going on

You never know what we’ll be lurking around the corner at a boarding school, especially after classes.  Being in such a remote area without the usual access to video games and TV (both of which are pretty strictly limited here), students really know how to get creative with their free time.  Concerts in the corridors, origami in the empty classrooms, plays in the parking lot…I’ve pretty much seen it all and it’s probably one of the things I love most about this school.

Learning is everywhere

When you’re in an academic environment pretty much 24/7, all that collective knowledge tends to surround you like an aura.  On an average day, I usually hear at least four or five different languages being spoken, see dozens of books littering the hallways, and overhear all kinds of interesting conversations.  I am learning new things all the time and the opportunities to do so are endless.  On top of that, being in such a unique and challenging environment forces me to learn a lot about myself and about life in general.  While  it sometimes makes me feel intimidated and inadequate, most of the time, I feel inspired and motivated to be my best self.

It feels weird to be alone 

Before coming here, I was very used to solitude.  I came from a small, quiet town and only lived with one other person, so I was accustomed to having plenty of uninterrupted “me time”.  I am also, by nature, an introvert.  The first few weeks here were a struggle because there was constant noise and interaction and I felt like I  had no space.  After a couple months, however, I started to embrace having so many people around.  Now, it doesn’t seem like so much of an invasion when one of our friends randomly turns up at our lojman, or when a student stops me in the hallway for a chat.  In fact, it feels alien to have so much silence when school isn’t in session and I find that I’m eager to be quite the chatterbox after a long break.

The students are like siblings

This seriously cuts down on classroom management issues.  When a whole bunch of kids are basically forced to spend every day with each other, both in and outside of class, they naturally become very close and rarely have any enemies.  You really can’t afford to hate anyone in this kind of environment.  I find that almost all of my students are good friends with each other and don’t follow the usual segregation patterns I have observed at other schools.  In other words, they won’t just hang out with the same two people all the time, but will naturally mix themselves up, which  brings a lot more liveliness into the classroom.

The lack of commute will ruin any future jobs for you

I love that it only takes about a minute and half to get from my lojman to my desk.  No need to plan for traffic, winter weather, or changing lines.  I just need to wake up, get ready, grab my coffee, and go.  I doubt if it will ever be that easy again.

Friendships are inevitable…and making time for them is a must

When you live in such close quarters with so many people, you’re  bound to get to know them well – especially the ones you work with directly and see nearly every day.  We’ve become fast friends with most of the teachers in our department and a few in other departments as well.  When you’re all in the same boat, there is a strong sense of understanding, which makes it that much easier to share the experience.  While it can be easy to get absorbed in the work (because there’s so much of it), it’s also important to remember to make time for a social life, particularly when you’re as isolated as we are (tiny village by the sea in the middle of nowhere…)  It’s nice that our friends and colleagues also happen to be our  neighbors and that we can always throw plans together to hang out.

Escape is essential

As I’ve mentioned before, being at a boarding school can feel a lot like living in an impenetrable bubble.  It’s a culture all of its own and can be all-encompassing if you let it. While I love my job and my students, there are also other parts of my life that I love and need to make time for – especially traveling and quality time with my other half.  These last couple of months, I’ve been making more of an effort to get out on all the weekends I don’t have duty and it’s made a tremendous difference in my focus and my happiness.  It’s pretty much just like the adage says:  absence makes the heart grow fonder.

It can be so hard to explain what it’s like to work at a boarding school if you’ve never experienced one.  Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what to expect before I got here.  In some ways, it’s been better and easier than I expected, and in others, it’s been more difficult.

For any readers out there:  Have you ever worked at a boarding school, or did you attend one?  I am curious to see how my experiences compare to others’.

An Ode to Emporia

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Ah, Emporia, KS.  It’s hard to fully sum up the way I feel about this place.  It’s really nothing special, but yet it really, really is.

We were 18 when we first moved here.  Barely out of high school, we decided to come here for school on a whim, thanks to cheap tuition rates and a burning desire to leave our hometown in our rearview mirror.  We had next to no money and no job prospects lined up, but we came anyway.  Whether that was naïve or brilliant, it’s hard to say; probably a little bit of both.

I remember how excited I was the day we moved here for good, as the Emporia water tower grew larger and larger as we pulled in from the highway.  We had spent our whole lives under our parents’ roofs; now it was time to have our own.  Everything felt so exciting that first summer; shopping for groceries, failed attempts at cooking, walking around town, scoping out restaurants we didn’t have in Pittsburg – heck, even paying bills felt exciting.  It was our first taste of the adult world and we couldn’t get enough.

By the time school started, we were already in love with Emporia simply because it wasn’t Pittsburg.  As time went on though, we began to appreciate Emporia for what it really has to offer:  the community.  While the ESU campus may be a bit drab compared to other, larger universities and the town basically dies at 6:00 PM, Emporia is a town with a lot of heart.  From our very first day, we noticed how friendly the people are.  (For example, the Walmart greeters actually greet you here…with a smile!  In Pittsburg, they sigh and give you a glare that is the equivalent of a middle finger for daring to walk in their store and give them more work to do.)  At ESU, we had AMAZING professors who actually cared about their students, knew our names, and were always there to provide support when needed.  Our campus jobs gave us both so many opportunities and introduced us to so many fantastic people, and will probably forever be some of the best jobs we’ll ever have.  We made so many great friends, and as a result, many great memories.

Slowly but surely, this town has molded us from a couple of clueless teenagers into a pair of semi-competent young adults.  It’s hard to believe that our time here is quickly coming to an end.  In the coming days, we will be packing up the few belongings we haven’t already sold and will never live here again.  Though I’m ready to move on to bigger things, it will be hard to leave a place that has meant so much to us.  As the sand runs low on the hourglass of our time here, I want to acknowledge this place that has forever changed me and shaped who I am and I want to thank all of the wonderful people and places who have been a part of that.

Thank you to all of our fabulous friends throughout the years here for the love and the memories.

Thank you to all of the faculty and staff at ESU for a great education and unending support.  Thank you for treating me as a person, not a name on a roster.  Thank you for encouraging me to challenge myself and for being there for me when times were tough.

Thank you to the Office of International Education for teaching me the value of working hard at work worth doing.  Thank you for being amazing, and for all of the wonderful memories and experiences.  I will cherish that time forever.

Thank you to our first landlady for helping us move out of our apartment and cancel our lease when we suddenly had to move back to Pittsburg.  Thank you for your kindness and understanding.

Thank you to the community who rallied around us without a second thought during that darkest hour.

Thank you to our current landlord, who gave us the last available apartment at a discount, even though there were others who wanted it who could pay more.

Thank you to FHCHC for giving me my first shot at a “real” job and for believing in me, despite the fact that I still look like I’m in high school and had little experience when I started.  I have grown so much these past two years and have been privileged to do such important work for an awesome community.

Thank you to the people at Planet Sub who always know our order and top our salads generously.

Thank you to the Granada for not being Starbucks and for having great coffee.

Thank you to Radius for having alcohol on Sundays.

Thank you to all of the lovely parks and walking places for being a constant source of relaxation and inspiration.

Most of all, thank you for teaching me that home isn’t really about a place at all.  Home is a state of mind.  Home is about people, experiences, memories, and love.

Thank you, Emporia.  It’s been real.

10 Things I Can’t Wait to Experience in Turkey

When I first tell people that I’m moving to Turkey, the reaction is varied.  Of course, there’s the paranoid, xenophobic “OMG you’re going to get beheaded by ISIS” response.  I don’t think my eyes can physically roll as hard as I’d like them to when I get that one…*sigh*…ignorance.  I have also gotten the “I don’t know where the hell that is…but I bet they have great Turkey!” reaction.  Still a bit ignorant, but at least it’s less blatantly prejudiced.  There are, thankfully, those who have some idea of where it is we’re going, or at least a general appreciation of travel and culture who congratulate us and wish us well.

I still remember when I was initially drawn to Turkey, and looking back, it kind of feels like it might have been foreshadowing.  I just happened to read this article, and even though I’m not a parent yet, it really struck a chord with me in a way I can’t quite explain.  Something about the friendliness of the people, the food, and the lovely vibe of Istanbul seemed very inviting, and I remember instantly thinking, “I need to go there someday.”  That little spark of interest carried into our job search, which started just a couple months after reading that article.   While we were keeping our minds very open about where we went, Turkey was high on my wish list.  When we landed an interview in Turkey, I was super excited, and when we landed a second interview and then got the jobs, I was in full on dance party mode.

Turkey seems like a seriously amazing place, and now that we’re going, I couldn’t imagine starting this adventure anywhere else.  The more I read about it and talk about it, the more awesome it seems.  As we prepare for departure (just a few months away now!), I thought it would be nice to reflect on some of the things I’m most looking forward to.  Not only will this be really cool for me to look back on once I’ve actually experienced these things, but hopefully it will also show those who are reading (probably predominantly friends and family, but still…) a little glimpse of what Turkey has to offer and why it’s a place worth knowing about.

1. The Food

Okay, this is probably #1 on my priority list for most of the places I travel to, but in the case of Turkey, I mean it tenfold.  Turkey is rumored to have some of the best food in the world; kebabs, fresh veggies, Mediterranean foods, baklava, not to mention all the tea and coffee!   Seriously – Google some pictures of Turkish food and try not to drool.  I have a feeling there will be a lot of blog posts about food once I get there.

2. The People

Pretty much everything I have read or been told about the people in Turkey has been positive.  Turks have a reputation for being very friendly, welcoming, and hospitable.  The best way to really experience a place and its culture is to interact with the locals (which I seriously can’t wait to do) and it’s ten times more enjoyable if the people you are interacting with are actually happy to see you (not always the case, unfortunately).  I really can’t wait to see who we meet on our travels – both from the area and from afar!

3. Istanbul

Huge, sweeping generalization, I know.  Istanbul should really have its own list because there is SO MUCH I can’t wait to see and do there.  The Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus Bridge, The Grand Bazaar…the list goes on.  It’s a very diverse and exciting city that is chock full of history and has seen a lot of change since its inception.  It has also developed a very unique culture, having been influenced by both the East and the West.  Having spent my whole life in podunk Kansas, it’s pretty unreal that we will be living thirty miles from one of the coolest cities in the world.

4. Cappadocia

I’m a huge sucker for breathtaking geography.  That’s one of the main reasons why we chose Iceland for our honeymoon last summer.  The Cappadocia region in Turkey is home to some very unique rock formations, affectionately referred to as “fairy chimneys”, and one of the most common ways to experience them is via hot air balloon (sign me up!)  Cappadocia is also where they have recently discovered a massive ancient underground city, which is equally awesome.

5. Pamukkale

As you can probably guess based on the aforementioned fact that we honeymooned in Iceland, I’m also a huge fan of hot springs.  When I found out about this place, I immediately put it on the bucket list.  You generally can’t go wrong with hot springs, but these have the added bonus of being very aesthetically pleasing (again with the geography nerdom).  The white, terraced formation of the springs looks like something out of a fantasy realm.

6. Travel Opportunities

Obviously, there’s tons I want to see and do within Turkey, but it’s also pretty awesome to be located in Europe, where you can pretty much hop on a plane or train and be in a different country within a couple of hours.  We plan on spending at least three years in Turkey and will have plenty of breaks throughout the school year, so obviously my brain is going haywire over all of the potential places we can go.  Greece and Bulgaria are close enough to be weekend destinations and the rest of Europe is easily accessible during longer breaks.  I also would really like to explore a couple of Middle Eastern places, like Jordan or Egypt.

7. The Language

Those who know me know that I’m a HUGE language nerd.  At this point, I should probably just admit that I’m a nerd in general, but it’s especially true for languages.  I have loved and studied languages pretty much from the time I could talk and am always looking to add more to my arsenal.  One of my major life goals is to speak five languages (not including English) fluently before I die.  Right now, I can speak French and Spanish, but seldom get to put those skills to use.  When we first looked into teaching abroad, I vowed to myself that I would not choose a country where English was the primary language or was widely spoken.  Not that Anglophone countries aren’t worth visiting or living in, but for my first time living abroad, I really wanted to be able to immerse myself in a new language and vastly different culture.  I was very excited to find out that many people in Turkey do not speak English well and that we would likely need to learn some Turkish to get around.  Challenge accepted!

8. The School

I have always loved school, so making the decision to become a teacher was very natural for me.  I have also always loved language and literature (read #7).  The fact that I will be living abroad and teaching a subject that I love is honestly a dream come true.  On top of that, this particular school has a couple things going for it that make it even more awesome.  First of all, it is a school for gifted students, which means I will have the privilege of teaching very bright and motivated individuals.  It’s also a boarding school, which means that I will have plenty of opportunities to bond with the students and other staff…the whole concept kind of makes me think of Harry Potter, which is a win-win in my book.  I’m really hopeful that it will become our home away from home.

9. A Sense of Home

Speaking of home…I’m going to be honest; the last couple of years have been weird and rough in many ways.  It all started about two and a half years ago, when Dakota had a stroke over Winter Break, just three days before I was supposed to start student teaching.  We suddenly and unexpectedly had to move out of our apartment, put everything we owned in storage, and move back in with our parents.  Dakota also had to drop out of school for the semester.  At that point, we had lived in Emporia for three years and it very much felt like home.  It was horrible to have to give up our apartment (which had been the first place either of us had ever lived on our own) and to leave behind all of our friends, most of whom were soon graduating and leaving.  Living with parents was a huge help during that time, but it was not easy to adjust to after being on our own.  Even though we were back in our hometown, it felt like anything but home.  All I wanted was to be back at our school, in our apartment, with our friends.  After seven, long, horrible months, we were finally able to move back to Emporia, but we quickly realized it was not the Emporia we had left.  Almost all of our friends had moved.  It was also weird no longer being a part of campus culture.  I suddenly felt very alone and out of place.  While the last two years here haven’t been awful (certainly better than living with parents in P-town), it hasn’t felt like home like it once did.  I’m hoping we can finally build a feeling of “home” again in Turkey.  I think it will feel good to have a fresh start.  We also plan to be there for a few years (which is more stability than we’ve had in a while!), and while I’m certain there will be some initial culture shock and some “OMG why did we do this?” moments, I’m looking forward to feeling like I belong somewhere again.

10. NO. MORE. CARS.

#9 was a little on the heavy side, so I feel the need to end on a lighter note.  This might actually be illegal to say in the Midwest, but I HATE cars…or at least being forced to rely on them.   Seriously.  Unless you have a small fortune lying around or don’t mind taking out a huge loan, it’s difficult to own a reliable car.  I can’t count the number of times we have had a car break down on us, usually resulting in a few hundred dollars’ worth of repairs and a week without a car.  The whole idea of towns being designed so that you can’t function without owning a vehicle is ridiculous, but that’s how it’s done here.  I also have an absolutely horrible sense of direction while driving, so I won’t miss that either.  It will be pretty nice to have easy access to public transportation.

So there it is.  I’m really surprised that I managed to fit this list into an even ten items.  I’m also extremely curious to see how all of these things unfold in the coming months.  In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep daydreaming.

To anyone out there reading this:  Have you been to Turkey?  If so, what do you recommend?  If you haven’t been to Turkey, but want to go there, what’s on your top ten list?  I’d love to hear other perspectives.