Quiet Adventures: Bookworming

20170212_182948[1].jpgIt’s always so hard to adjust back to the grind after a long vacation.  It honestly felt a bit like Narnia; we stepped through a portal into this magical land full of adventure and sunshine, and then came back as if no time had passed.  If it weren’t for the photos and massive piles of laundry, I might be convinced it was only a dream.

After coming back and hitting the ground running with grading, lesson planning, and duties, we have honestly just wanted to relax and lay low the past couple of weeks.  We’ve been cooking (for a change), rearranging the lojman, playing  video games, keeping the coffee pot going, and diving into some good books.

I hate to say it, but being a teacher can really kill your desire to read.  When you have to read so much to prepare for lessons, the last thing you want to do when you’re off work is read some more.  Still, I realize that my Goodreads list isn’t getting any shorter and it felt good to lay back on my carpet and escape without moving an inch.  My husband and I even decided to read a book together, something we used to do in college (especially in the summers!).  We settled on The Alchemist because we both have our hearts set on Spain for Spring Break!  So far, so good.  I’m also on the second book of the Miss Peregrine’s series after months of my students urging me to read it.  The premise is pretty cool and they are quick reads!

It seems I’m slowly recovering from my reading allergy.  Has anyone out there read anything good lately?  I’d love some recommendations.   

 

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

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Yes, I know it’s a bit early, but here at the school we always celebrate Halloween on the closest Friday, so here we are.  This year was ten times better than last year, mainly because I actually knew what I was doing this time around.

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We started off by decorating the main part of the school and doing some good, old-fashioned pumpkin carving.  None of them had ever done it before, so it was a doubly fun experience!  I loved how delightfully creepy these pazar pumpkins were!  It totally added to the atmosphere.  I think my favorite part was the look of pure disgust on all of the students’ faces when I demonstrated how to rip the pumpkin “guts” out from the hole in top with their bare hands.  So much fun!

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After lots of decorating, carving, scary movies, spooky games, and photo ops, it was time for the trick-or-treating!  This year, we decided to make huge batches of hot chocolate with heart-shaped marshmallows (a.k.a the hearts of students who don’t do their homework) instead of candy. It was quite the undertaking, but totally worth it.  Our kitchen looked like Victor Frankenstein’s lab by the end.

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After loading up on sugar, we had a costume contest and it didn’t disappoint.  We have a lot of theatrical and creative students, so many of them had a performance in addition to their immaculate costume.  It’s always hard to choose the winners.

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I stepped up my own costume game this year, which was much needed to keep my energy up to entertain 200-something teenagers all day!

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Happy Halloween, everybody!

 

 

Nöbetçi: A Day in the Life

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Only two weeks into the school year and it was time for my first 24 hour weekend duty of the year…yay!  Honestly, it’s not so bad – especially in this nice weather – but it can get a bit dull wandering around an empty campus all day.  I decided to spice my long day up a little by documenting it in photos.

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Rise and shine!

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Breakfast time! (I love my simit with a little butter and honey)

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Coffee to the rescue, courtesy of my husband!

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I love being surrounded by art!

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Admiring local wildlife

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I could hear my husband’s music blaring from across the parking lot!

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A visitor

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Lunch, with lots of red pepper

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A tunnel of pine

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No kids?  On a day like this?

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From the top of the hill

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It just wasn’t a blackberry summer this year 😦

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My favorite word in Turkish…look it up…you’ll see why

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Doodling my way through study hall…

What a looooooong day it was.  I couldn’t wait to come home at 10, kick my shoes off, and sprawl out on the floor.  At least it’s one duty down now.

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.

Back in the T.R.

DSC_0001After an amazing two months with our families in the U.S., I’m pleased to say we made it back to Turkey safe and sound.

I really wasn’t sure what it would feel like to leave and come back again, but I can honestly say both went better than expected. I was sad to leave people and food behind, but nothing could have prepared me for how happy I was to see our apartment again! The smell of home and our own bed! No more living out of a suitcase! (at least for a couple weeks ;))

Tomorrow we are back to the grind with some teacher in-service meetings, which means summer is officially over…but I have a feeling it’s the start of a great year!