I’ve been in Turkey for almost two weeks now… here’s the recap.
I’m Flying Away
My flight took me from DCA, Reagan National Airport, to JFK in New York City, to Rome, to Istanbul, and finally to Ankara. I met one of my fellow Fulbrighters in JFK while waiting to receive boarding passes, and from there our group kept growing with each flight. BY the time we arrived to Istanbul, there were at least 20 of us all traveling together. It was a bit of an ordeal there: we had to go through customs and collect all of our baggage, then re-check it all on a domestic flight (Istanbul to Ankara). This was my first time attempting to speak Turkish to native speakers. I was able to (somewhat) successfully use basic greetings, numbers, and direction phrases to check and pay for my baggage, find my next flight, and navigate the airport. From the airport in Ankara we took a shuttle bus to a bus station, and then shared taxis to our hotel.
Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, was the location for our ten day orientation program, arranged by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Niza Park Otel, in Çankaya district, served as headquarters for our massive group of 77 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). We shared rooms in the hotel, were served fabulous buffet meals consisting primarily of authentic Turkish foods 3 times each day, and had orientation meetings and training sessions from 9-5 in a basement conference room. The sessions were grueling, but very thorough, intensive, and necessary. They spanned a range of topics, including the history and current political climate in Turkey, the structure of the Turkish educational system, intensive Turkish language instruction, and workshops and training related to our purpose here in Turkey, namely, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). We had the opportunity to have frank and enlightening conversations with Turkish educators and political scientists as well as American diplomats about various ongoing geo-political concerns. We were given a number of supplemental teaching materials during orientation, 2 novels about Americans in Turkey, and a beginner’s Turkish textbook and workbook.
I’ve been having a lot of fun learning Turkish. It is an agglutinating language, meaning that suffixes are attached to words to modify and create new ones, as in German. While the grammar is very straightforward, with very few exceptions, it can be daunting to face down long words with seemingly endless strings of consonants. In addition, Turkish has systems of vowel and consonant harmony which is essentially a formula that determines spelling for suffixes (more to come on that later… I understand the concept but definitely haven’t mastered it in practice yet). It has also been fun for me to discover shared vocabulary and cognates between Arabic and Turkish… though the grammar is quite different, I think it is definitely giving me a leg up on vocabulary in come contexts. For example, the TV show currently on in the background is called Intikam, which I knew to mean “revenge” without having to consult a dictionary. You can expect to read much more about the Turkish language, and its parallels with Arabic as my year here progresses.
Field Trips and Nighttime Escapades
My time in Ankara confirmed the cliché that sometimes the best learning happens outside the classroom. In addition to our daytime “dungeon sessions,” as they came to be known, various excursions were also organized on our behalf. One evening our group walked to the home of an American diplomat, where we had a lovely reception and were able to speak with people with a wide range experiences in the Foreign Service. This reception was followed by a delicious authentic Turkish meal in a restaurant, complete with meze (appetizers), a main course with meat, dessert, and rakı, an aniseseed liquor I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with previously in Lebanon, where it is known as araa’(k).
We also took a trip during the daytime to Anıtkibir, the mausoleum and museum dedicated to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The massive complex is visually stunning, and includes the War of Independence Museum, dedicated to Ataturk and the founding of the Turkish Republic more generally. The museum included items belonging to Atatürk (the jewelry, household items, and clothing were my favorites) and murals and artifacts depicting the battle at Çanakkale, and more. I also loved the intricate mosaics which adorned the ceiling of one portion of the site.
In addition, we visited 2 other museums. One was the private collection of Rahmi M. Koç, who we were told we could think of as something of a Turkish Rockefeller. It is an industrial museum, with various cultural collections related to industrialization, education, home life, pop culture and more. For example, one room consisted entirely of model trains from various eras and places; another began with typewriters and ended with Atari video game sets. At this museum, which was housed in an old, beautiful çengelhan, we also had an elaborate restaurant meal.
We also visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. I particularly enjoyed this museum because I spent my time there glued to the side of a fellow Fulbrighter who had studied Hittite language and culture for her major at the University of Chicago. Exploring this museum with her was the dual experience of having a personal tour by an expert, and watching a kid in a candy store… but with 10 times that excitement level. Because we only had a short time there, I intend to go back to the museum again with her when we are all gathered in Ankara this winter for our mid-term session with the Commission.
I learned from my time in Beirut that the fastest and most effective way to meet new people and get used to trying out a new language is by hitting the town. Beginning on my very first night, fellow Fulbrighters who’ve spent time in Ankara before helped show me the ropes and take advantage of everything Ankara has to offer, introducing me to local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Ankara is especially known for its live music scene, and I got to hear many different examples of this, including Turkish pop and rock (sing-alongs, maybe the equivalent of the way my family sings along at the Village Idiot in Maumee), something like a funk-soul jam band, covers of American pop by a live band, DJs, and an epic heavy metal band with a badass female vocalist! Hearing all this awesome music must have inspired me, because I even got the nerve up to sing karaoke at a nightclub in the trendy Kızılay district. Turns out that even around 3 a.m., Turks know all the words to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics… I only wish all the Chasers had been there to harmonize the breakdowns with me! Groups of us Americans made some awesome memories exploring Ankara in this way, and I was able to make connections with some people that I hope to strengthen throughout the year (it’s only an hour away).
Every day has been full of excitement, challenges, epiphanies and memory lapses (they say you need to use new vocabulary 10-15 times in context before it sticks!). Though sometimes things are not always ideal, I am making a concerted effort to view the silver lining in each new circumstance as it arises- not a bad way to approach life no matter where you are. (A gross example: my new apartment has only a Turkish toilet… my legs will be much stronger upon my return!) A few weeks before my departure, when I was very stressed and anxious, my friend, colleague and roommate gave me some very sage advice. He said, in effect, Tess, you can either sit here making yourself sick with worry, or you can start to take measures, however small, to prepare yourself. He was absolutely right, and I’ve needed to make that attitude something of a modus operandi here so far. When that isn’t sufficient, I engage in the Turkish practice of taking a break with a cup of tea or Turkish coffee. My friends here and I keep reminding ourselves how hard we will laugh at ourselves when we look back on these first few weeks at the end of this adventure…
I’ve settled into an apartment with a very sweet Turkish colleague of mine here in Kırıkkale, and as of today I have internet access here at home. (Yay!!!) Expect much more to come (hopefully with more regularity) on the Turkish language, the city of Kırıkkale and its university where I will be teaching (classes start Monday!), music, culture, my travels, and, of course, food. Until then, as we say here, güle güle (bye bye!) and iyi gecelar (good night!)