Week number four: complete! This place is beginning to feel more and more like home. I’ve never lived outside of Oregon, so it’s odd that somewhere so incredibly different than my home can feel so comfortable. Thank goodness for that!
Each day has been full of new challenges and opportunities. The most important milestone has been taking what I’ve learned in my teacher training and applying it in a classroom setting. I’ve now taught six 50-minute sessions with my first group of students. When I say students, you probably imagine a bunch of children. On the contrary, I taught a group of retired Turks who have nothing better to do with their free time than learn English for the sake of bettering themselves.
First, I want to give a shout out to all the teachers out there! I had no idea how much work goes into lesson planning. I have a newfound respect for my teachers in the past who put their hearts and souls into their lessons only to hear us students shout, “This is soooo boring!” The thought of all our terrible comments makes me cringe.
On the contrary, my group of students is wonderful! They are eager to learn and participate in all the silly activities I plan throughout my lessons. However, these aren’t my permanent students; they are English students from other schools who have volunteered to attend our practice lessons. As of this week, I am done with my observed teaching hours and am a certified teacher of English. Crazy!
My plan now is to take one month off to travel around Turkey and Europe before I start applying for a full-time position. Unfortunately, most of the people I’ve met since I’ve been here are in school, so I can only travel on the weekends when their classes aren’t in session. This weekend, I’m headed to Bursa, Turkey, with a Turkish friend whose family lives there. At the end of the month, a bunch of us are going to a weekend music festival in Antalya, Turkey. I also have some plans for Greece, Italy and France in the mix, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Let’s take few steps back and talk about what I’ve been up to other than teaching. First, I got the keys to my new apartment! As stated in my previous post, the flat is adorable and is centrally located to the rest of Istanbul. Ashton and I are ecstatic that we don’t have to sleep in a single-sized bed or on the floor anymore! This is only a temporary living situation, but it should hold us over until Ashton moves back to the states in June.
School has taken up most of my time, but I did have a chance to visit Dolmabahçe Palace, which reminded me of the Palace of Versailles in Paris for those of you who have been there. Construction of the palace began in 1843 and it took 13 years to build.
It was home to many sultans and Turkey’s first president, Ataturk. It’s also home to the largest chandelier in all of Europe. After visiting the palace, we went to French Street, which is a cozy side street in Taksim. The winding steps led us past several brightly colored cafes until we decided on one for a game of tavla (backgammon). I’m still not very good at the game, but I’m getting better quickly!
I forgot to mention one of the highlights thus far: Last weekend we boarded a small boat that escorted us to a man-made island in the middle of the Bosphorus! The local soccer team Galatasaray owns the island and rents it out for special occasions, so we danced the night away to celebrate one of the girls’ 21st birthdays. I’ve been fortunate to see some of the ritzy sides to Istanbul, as well as the more common areas.
Speaking of ritzy, one afternoon, my friend Jon took me for a drive along the Bosphorus through Ortakoy and Bebek, which are two of the wealthiest areas of Istanbul. As we were stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he started waving frantically at a man in the car next to us. The man waved back with a large grin from behind the wheel of his vintage Bentley. Jon explained that was one of the richest men Istanbul: Ali Ibrahim Agaoglu. Pretty cool.
Another highlight was spending the evening at Bogazici University, which sits high atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus. I was joined by a bunch of Turkish students who are fluent in English. We sat on the benches looking over the glowing lights of the city until about 2 a.m. as they practiced their English and taught me some Turkish. This was my first experience as the only native English speaker in a group, so it was different, but great.
A quick note on food: I’ve been eating a lot of chicken, rice, vegetables and fruit. I’ve also tried a lot of new foods like manti, baklava, memen, muscles, gusleme and kumpir, but my favorite has been the waffles, which are smothered in nutella, white chocolate, nuts and fruit. Mhmmmm.
Needless to say, I’m having a wonderful time and becoming more comfortable in this wonderful place as each day passes. I don’t know much Turkish yet, but so far I’m managing with hand motions and broken Turkish phrases. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Turkey beyond the walls of the city. Istanbul is considered the New York of the Middle East, but the rest of Turkey is still very traditional. It will be interesting to see the contrast.
I’ll try to post more regularly because I already know I’ve missed a lot of details. I hope everything is going well in the states!