The First Year: A Survival Guide

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It always helps if you stay caffeinated.  Also, don’t be surprised if they can’t figure out your name at Starbuck’s.

The first year of teaching is never easy.  Being a first time expat is also never easy.  Put them both together and you have a recipe for panic.

When I look back on my first year, both as a teacher and as an American living in Turkey, I am inclined to both shudder and laugh maniacally at how chaotic it really was.  I don’t even have the words to describe it properly.  Let’s just say the highs were high and the lows were low.

I know that no two people truly have the same journeys, but in the event that this advice reaches someone in the thick of it, wondering if they’ve just made the worst mistake of their life, it will have been worth the time spent writing it if it helps.

Expect to feel lost and overwhelmed

Sometimes just hearing someone else say they were lost and overwhelmed in the beginning is enough to make you feel better because you realize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.  Everything will seem a little batshit in the beginning because it’s all new.  Often, schools abroad are less structured than what you might be used to in the U.S. or similar countries.  You may have no curriculum.  Things might change every ten seconds and then change again.  Rules and policies may not seem logical to you.  Accept that this is normal and that you are going to have to learn to deal with it.  Some of the changes will forever drive you nuts and some you may come to embrace.  That’s part of the frustration and beauty of choosing to step out of the comfortable bubble of your own culture.

Let go of the non-essential

The first year is always a trial by fire.  Give up anything that feels like too much or adds nothing to your life, even if it’s only temporary.  I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pressure because I wasn’t doing enough.  I wasn’t planning fast enough, or grading fast enough, or reading enough, or keeping in touch with people back home enough, or learning Turkish fast enough…so many things were piling up.  Just stop.  If it’s stressing you out, it’s not worth wasting the energy on…at least not at that moment.  Let some things go and take things one day at a time until you get used to all of the changes.

Take care of yourself

On the other hand, don’t just let yourself go.  The first few months, I made the mistake of spending all my time working because I wanted everything to be perfect.  In doing so, I completely neglected myself.  I stopped cooking, I stopped exercising, I stopped pursuing hobbies…all in the name of work that never ended.  While it’s a good thing to be a dedicated teacher and to take the time to improve wherever you can, that is not the only thing that you are and it’s a good way to burn yourself out very fast.  Don’t forget that the work will never be over.  There will always be something else you could have done better. Let it go. You need and deserve to spend some time just being yourself.

Find a support system

I can’t emphasize this one enough.  If not for the friends that started the same year I did, I probably wouldn’t have survived last year.  The best case scenario is working for a school that has some kind of mentor system, or at least having a few experienced teachers at your disposal.  Unfortunately, our situation didn’t quite work out like that, but our fellow newbies ended up being our second family, and together, we made it through.  Ask for help, exchange ideas, and have fun  doing it.  It makes such a difference having friends and/or colleagues who can understand what you’re dealing with and can make the bad times seem not so bad.

Go out and explore

What’s the point of moving across the world if you’re not going to enjoy it?  Have adventures and live it up.  If you’re going to work hard, you might as well play hard too.

Get to know the culture

And this goes for both the school and the country it’s in.  Learning all of the nuances and “unspoken rules” of a new place can be tricky, but it’s essential.  Figure out what’s really expected of you.  Study the language.  Understand what is and isn’t offensive.  Make friends.  Try new things.  Engage with locals.  You’ll never feel at home if you don’t.

Remember why you’re doing it

At the end of the day, it’s really about the students because they are the reason that teachers stay teachers.  I truly love my students and I love teaching and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  Keep that love going, even when you are ready to pull out all of your hair and throw in the towel.  Too often the little bureaucratic details of a school can stand in the way of the stuff that really matters.

Sometimes it’s not about the place; it’s just about the day

This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received on being an expat, so I’m passing it on.  If it’s a bad day, just let it be what it is.  If you need to lay on the floor for a couple days crying and eating ice cream straight from the carton, so be it.  There will be bad days, but there will be good days also.  Remember that we all have bad days, regardless of where we live or what we do for a living.  Get yourself through the bad days however you must and rejoice in the good ones.

Know that it gets better

With time and experience, most things work themselves out eventually.  I can’t say when exactly, but after a little while, you will experience a moment that feels like breathing for the first time after an extended period of being underwater.  All of the sudden, things that used to get under your skin will go by unnoticed.  Things that were once so foreign will seem familiar.  You will feel more and more like yourself.  It takes time, but it does happen.  Just be patient.

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Emerging as a very happy second year expat teacher

 

Le Cinque Terre

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**WARNING**  This post  may contain picture overload.

My husband and I just returned from spending a few days in the beautiful, colorful string of villages on the Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre.  We decided we wanted to do something relaxing before school started and this place fit the bill:  beautiful geography, lovely architecture, fantastic food, hiking, beaches, and great wine.  My dad visited Cinque Terre a few years back and still talks about it, so we had to see what it was all about.

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We based ourselves out of the southernmost village of the five, Riomaggiore.  When we stepped off the train from Milan, we were instantly greeted with the stacks of colorful houses, blue water, boats, and the prettiest sunset.  I knew then we were in for a treat.

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The first order of business was to get our  hands on some FOOD!  I tried out this Riomaggiore pizza with shrimp, artichokes, spicy oil, and basil.  My husband ordered gnocchi Bolognese.

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Italian food is FLAWLESS.  I mean it.  I have never been somewhere that has so consistently exceeded my foodie expectations.  EVERYTHING I ate there was good.  Every.  Single.  Thing.  Also, it was surprisingly affordable.  5 Euro pizzas and pastas were abundant and no less delicious than any of the more expensive meals.

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After stuffing ourselves beyond capacity, we settled in for a good night’s rest before a long day of hiking the five villages.

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We decided to hike from North to South since the trails from Riomaggiore to Corniglia are currently closed.  We purchased all day hike and train passes for 16 Euro each and took the train up to Monterosso al Mare, about a 15 minute ride.

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Since you can’t start a hike without a good breakfast, we stopped for espresso and bruschetta after a walk on the beach.  Who says you can’t have anchovies and pesto for breakfast?

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The weather could not have been more perfect, albeit a little hot, and the views along the trail were stunning.  It was reminiscent of our hike on the Fira Trail, but more lush and colorful (and way more uphill!)

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How awesome is this?  This guy set up a little lemon/orange juice stand right on the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza.  Yes, please!

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The second village, Vernazza, ultimately ended up being my favorite!  It was so charming and colorful and the food there was fabulous, especially the gelato!  We were hot and sweaty after hiking for two hours (again, mostly uphill), so we were thrilled to see the little beach down below!

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Some food and a dip in the water was exactly what we needed before our next leg of the journey!

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The walk to Corniglia was much easier than the walk to Vernazza had been.  It was also a bit shorter.  We were surprised to see quite a few cars in this village as many of the villages have strict restrictions on vehicles.  We stopped for a fantastic dinner of grilled focacia sandwiches (prosciutto and pesto!) and I indulged in a glass of prosecco.  Seriously, why is Italy so delicious?

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Since the walking routes were closed, we took the train over to Manarola, where a whole bunch of kids were celebrating a birthday on the marina and playing soccer.  What a birthday party!

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I discovered this lovely thing called a marocchino and my life will never be the same.  Espresso and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  One place even added nutella!

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Also, panna cotta and strawberries.

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Exhausted, full, and sunburnt, we made it back to Riomaggiore in time for another spectacular sunset!

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We went back to Monterosso for a relaxing beach day the next morning.  The water was perfect!

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After swimming and lunch, we wandered the the village and picked up a few souvenirs to take back with us, mostly food-related!  Also, because my husband loves the song Postcards from Italy by Beirut, he bought a post card from every village!

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We also stopped on a different beach for a little bit of reading in the sunshine!

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It was so hard to leave!  As the sun was going down, we rode back to Riomaggiore, stopped for some take away pasta (think Chipotle, except with pasta!), a last glass of wine, and then turned in to pack our things for our early train ride out.

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It was a lovely, lovely, lovely way to kick off our travels for this year!  Bring it on, 2016-17!

Galata Kulesi

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We kicked off the Bayram by crossing off another item on our Istanbul bucket list:  climbing to the top of Galata Tower.  It’s one of those things that we’ve always wanted to do, but have never bothered because it’s usually ridiculously crowded and there are too many other interesting things in Istanbul to waste that kind of time in a line.  With the holiday, most people have ditched the cities for their hometowns, so it seemed like the perfect time.

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I’m seeing every day how my efforts to learn Turkish are paying off.  When I asked for tickets in Turkish, instead of getting the usual yabanci price, I got tickets for both of us to go up to the tower, plus the simulated helicopter ride downstairs for what it would have cost for one person just to see the tower.  Harika!

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As expected, the views of the city from the top were spectacular.  We tried to time it at sunset, which we did pretty well, though the sky was a bit cloudier than I would have liked. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves on this one.

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The helicopter simulation, while a bit kitsch, was a nice little addition to the tower tour.  Basically, it was a miniature iMax theater with 3D goggles that took you on a virtual tour of the whole city, highlighting all of the famous landmarks.  My favorite part was the mist when they feigned diving into the Basilica Cistern.  We weren’t allowed to get photos, but I would definitely say it’s worth adding to the agenda if you’re already going to the tower anyway – especially if you get the “Turkish” price.  I loved walking through all the winding tunnels down to the bottom!

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We rounded off our evening with some tasty falafel wraps (pesto + grilled eggplant + falafel = heaven…who knew?) and a stop at a juice stand before heading back to our hotel for some light reading by the window.  That makes me sound 25 going on 80, but I’m totally fine with that.  🙂

I’m looking forward to spending a couple more days in the Galata area before flying off to Italia!

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?

What’s in A Cup of (Turkish) Coffee?

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If you ever come to Turkey, you will soon become acquainted with Turkish Coffee, or as they call it, Türk kahvesi.  It is vastly different from what most Westerners consider to be coffee, so some people like it and others don’t so much.  I happen to be a HUGE coffee drinker and I love myself a good, strong cup of black coffee (which is a little hard to come by in Turkey), but luckily, Turkish Coffee has slowly started to grow on me.

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Turkish Coffee at Rixos in Eskisehir

Generally, Turkish coffee is served in a small coffee cup called a fincan with a side of Turkish Delight, otherwise known as lokum.  It is served in a small amount like an espresso and has a thick, somewhat gritty texture (which is what turns some people away from it) and a layer of foam on top.  It is also not the kind of coffee one can easily drink black.  I usually have at least 1/2 a cube of sugar in it.

I’ve been drinking Turkish Coffee pretty much since I got here, but only recently learned about the art of reading Turkish Coffee grounds when I noticed so many of the Turkish teachers doing it in the tea room at school.  Similar to reading tea leaves, Turks will look into their empty fincans for shapes and patterns left by the foam and coffee grounds to tell them what’s in store for their future.

Here’s just a quick little guide to reading your Turkish Coffee cup, just in case you  have access to Turkish Coffee and you’re interested in giving it a try:

Step 1:  Get your Türk kahvesi.  You can order it at a cafe or restaurant, or if you have a cezve, you can make it yourself.

Step 2:  Drink your coffee, but leave the grounds and just a tiny amount of the liquid to swirl them around.  I only mean a drop or two…otherwise it will all just fall out of the cup when you turn it over.

Step 3:  Put the small coffee plate over the top of your empty coffee cup and gently tip it over.  Leave the cup turned over on the plate for about five minutes.  The allows the remaining foam and grounds to drip down and dry up.

Step 4:  It’s time to predict your future.  When you look at your cup, you should see  some shapes and patterns, like so:

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In this particular cup, I noticed a mountain shape, which apparently means “a great ambition.”  The interpretation of symbols can vary according to the cup reader.  The best advice I’ve gotten is simply to have fun with it and think about what the symbols I find mean to me personally.

So far, I haven’t found any grims, so I guess I’m doing alright.  🙂

 

Ode to the Sun

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Nihayet güneş geldi

Derim ve keyifim ısıtır

Güneş çok seviyorum

 

Just a little haiku in Turkish to celebrate the return of the sun and warmer weather… as well as my progress in Turkish.  It’s 7-9-7 because Turkish words are super long, and I’m not 100% sure if it’s grammatically correct, but I’m going with it.

Goodbye U.S.A, Merhaba Türkiye

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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.

The school

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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

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.

The culture

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.

The food

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.

Ça fait longtemps

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View from the house, taken by my awesome husband.

So it’s been awhile since my last post.  I promised myself I wouldn’t get this behind on blogging, but what can I say…life happens.

Things have been an awkward combination of crazy and lazy these days.  Getting stuff ready for the work visa process has been stressful and has involved a LOT of patience and waiting.  I know it will all work out in the end, but still.  Patience is not my strong suit.

While we’ve been playing the waiting game, I’ve been doing my best to put my time to good use.  I’ve started studying Turkish on Duolingo and it is definitely more difficult than other languages I have encountered.  Nevertheless, I’m starting to get the hang of it and can’t wait to put it to the test IRL (that’s “in real life” for you non-gamers).  I’ve also been trying to brush up on my French because it has gotten very rusty!  As fate would have it, I ran into an old Congolese friend and started speaking French with him and found myself having to have him repeat himself way more than I would have liked! So in addition to my Turkish studies, I’m also going to try to commit to at least 30 minutes a day of French, be it podcasts or films (sans sous-titres!) or maybe even a good novel.  We shall see.

Most of this past week has been spent at my grandpa’s lake house in Council Grove since it’s so close to Emporia and we had some documents we needed from ESU for the visas.  Even though we were here on “business”, it has been a much-needed break from the depressing monotony that is Pittsburg.  I hate to be so negative, but that place just does not jive with me.  I have felt very stuck in a rut there, which is probably the biggest reason for my recent lack of blogging.  Hopefully this little jaunt will refresh that mindset.

It’s been a surprisingly amazing week here, full of beautiful weather, bike rides, kayaking, stand up paddling, paddle boating, walks around the river, and bocce ball.  We even got a couple of days with the house to ourselves, which has been AMAZING after a month of living with other people.  It really hasn’t been that bad, but it’s very hard to adjust to sharing space with others…especially when it isn’t your own.  I really don’t want to leave tomorrow at all, but I know we will be on a plane to Turkey before we know it, so I can’t wish time away too quickly.

Anyway, here’s to snapping out of my Pittsburg blues and to enjoying more of my last summer of living in the USA!

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.