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April 8-10: Antalya, Side, and Alanya

April 21, 2011

I have read that our strongest sense is our sense of smell.  Apparently, it has the capability of eliciting the fiercest memories from the simple aroma of fresh baked bread, the gentle waft of citrus plants, or the ever so familiar deep fryer.  Never has this assertion been made more clear to me than this weekend.  Antalya is the “Turkish Riviera” of the Mediterranean.  It is pristine, beautiful, and charming–a perfect get-away.  Besides the well-needed sun and social interaction, what I noticed most was the distinct fragrance of blossoming lilacs, which immediately relocated me to summer in the South and the smell of magnolias.  Few things indicate summer to me like this tree’s blossoms, dissecting a honeysuckle to eat, or an orchestra of crickets at night.  I don’t think I have missed home as much as I did this weekend.

But, thankfully, I was preoccupied with sights like this:

January 7th-9th

April 13, 2011

I left you with New Years in Amasya, land of Apples, Ottoman houses, and apparently, Turkish Santas. 

The week after, I flew to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  Technically, the UN doesn’t even recognize Ercan Airport, but nevertheless we flew our invisible plane onto an invisible landing strip and somehow managed to navigate our invisible way through customs.  Cyrpus has got the whole “natural beauty thing” on virtual lockdown, and though our weekend here was short, we managed to pack in some ruins (essential to any rendezvous along the Mediterranean coast), Gothic abbeys, ancient castles, and quaint port cities. 

An example of how history should be written:

Obviously, we could use some editing at St. Hilarion Castle.

 

Kyrenia, a cutesy port city with a charming natural harbor.

We even succesfully managed a border crossing into the Greek side of Cyprus.  Pretty cool.  Pretty weird, too, considering that the crossing point was in the middle of a commercial center [aka bazaar].  The border guards looked at us with confusion, stamped our passports, and had themselves a good chuckle when we returned 30 minutes later.  Ah, nothing like a new passport stamp to liven up a morning.

Well hey there

April 12, 2011

When I was re-reading Beowulf for the third time in my junior year at UVA, I had a professor who repeatedly stressed the importance of why the story started with the word “So.”  The poem—epic in proportion, boring in scope—enumerates the importance of oral tradition and storytelling as much as it does the traits of a hero.  Apparently, “So” sets a stage, invites a reader, creates a scene, establishes a rhythm.

So, dear Reader, I return to you.  My story is neither epic in proportion nor decidedly boring in scope.  At least to my Mom.  I was told at a young age to never ruin an apology with an excuse, so instead I will offer you an explanation as to my absence.  Turkey, as it turns out, has an aversion to Blogspot.  When I arrived, youtube had been banned due to some insult levied upon Ataturk, and though it was lifted within 3 or so months, it appears as though someone in the blogosphere has done some serious damage to a Turkish ego, and the ban has stuck around.  Alas, my conversion to WordPress.  Could this have happened earlier?  Probably, yes.  Have I been preoccupied?  More than I actually could have imagined.  This semester of teaching is sweeping along, and it’s hard to believe that I have about 8 weeks left of classes here in Turkey.  After a serious staring contest with my University authorities (an end to which all negotiations in Turkey inevitably come to), I convinced them that this semester, I would resume my speaking courses teaching new students, new faculty, old students, and old faculty.  I was asked to teach a course for Administrative Personnel but told it would have to be in the evenings, as they get off work at 5:30 anyway.  My hesitation of “Well, technically, I’m not supposed to teach night classes” (salary disputes, general Program worries after some unfortunate incidents that have happened to a few of the single female teachers—myself being one of them) was assessed and quickly overridden.  I now teach one night course from 6-8 on Tuesday evenings.  My typical response in Turkey:  “Tamam.”  Ok.

Minor disputes aside, this semester has been infinitely better than last semester.  I feel as though I have finally hit my stride in teaching, and it turns out that the classes I was most nervous to teach last semester  (those to Professors) are the ones I have grown to love the most.  To explain the phenomenon, I should probably explain a few facets of the Turkish Education System.

At the age of 18, high school seniors take an entrance exam, much like the SAT.  Except unlike the SAT, this entrance exam determines where students will go to University and what subject they will study there.  Yeah, Welcome to Turkey.  So, at the ripe age of 18, the basic trajectory of a student’s life is laid out for him/her.  About 1.5 million students take the exam every year, and about 20% of those matriculate to University—based solely on their score.  The highest scores enter the Medical Faculty—a 6 year program where they graduate with a medical degree.  The not-so-high scores enter socially “lower” faculties—Tourism and Management, Technical Vocations, etc.  As you can imagine, this current format of education does not a motivated student make…

That, and the fact that students get something like 30 excused absences a semester makes the learning environment…strained…for an inexperienced [read:  flying by the seat of my pants] teacher.  So, I spend most of my time navigating conversation subjects that will keep professors and students intrigued and talking.  For the most part, this is no problem with my professors.  In fact, getting them to take turns speaking is more of the problem I had.  The other day, one research assistant actually suggested that I time each student for 10 minutes, and that we go around in a circle discussing ideas in that format.  When I interjected that our classroom was more informal—more conversational—and that I wanted to get real time actions and reactions from other students, Emre Bey got a little huffy, threw his hands up, and answered, “Fine, my teacher.”  You can bet that I was extremely democratic the remainder of class.  And….Yes, yes sometimes it does feel as though I’m passing out Animal Crackers to a class of first graders.  My students, on the other hand, are remarkably less chatty.  I have to pull it out of them, and the “class break” that I rarely utilized first semester for fear I would get in trouble for “wasting time” is now a steady go-to for a 10-15 breather.  In our discussion on comparative education systems last week, I tried to explain to them that while I studied English and Spanish, I had indeed taken lots and lots of science classes.  I believe the phrase “whatever your little heart desires” was used when I detailed that, yes, a college student gets to design his/her own course of study.  I was met with blank stares.  Apparently, the phrase doesn’t translate, but I think they got the basic idea.

I’ve got tons to update you on, including my weekend travels, some lesson planning, a visit from my Dad, and a slow but sure conclusion to my semester!  Stick around because I’m back and energized by the budding sunshine of spring.

Things I miss:

-School.  Only a year out, and I realize how much I miss going to class.  Would I be speaking differently if I was still there right now?  Probably, but I can honestly say that nothing makes you miss the integrity of the American Education like teaching abroad for a year. 

-Not being seasonally depressed.  Today, it snowed for 5 minutes.  That’s all I’m saying.

-The ability to do my own laundry.  Who knew separating lights from likes was so cathartic? 

-An oven and a stove-top.  I’ve formed an improper and seriously deluded attachment to my hot-plate, Mr. Beads, that could/should have my committed.

-filtered coffee

-Writing a paper with a well thought out argument.  Nothing can quite compare to the moment before you begin writing a paper when you have your quotes gathered, your ideas collected, and all potential counter-arguments defended in your mind.

-the smell of magnolias

-Science. 

New discoveries:

-Cheese curls and yogurt covered pretzels, recently sent by my aunt. MMMmmmm delicious!

-That if I rotate grocery stores ever 1-2 days, the girls that work there won’t be so seriously disturbed at the amount of food I buy.

-Ipod Podcasts!  I love Terri Gross and NPR’s “Fresh Air Podcasts,” along with Steven Grubman at “Freakonomics.”

-I can order gozleme (delicious cheese quesadilla-style wraps) and have them DELIVERED TO MY HOTEL ROOM.  I NEVER HAVE TO LEEEEEEEAVE! 

On the agenda this weekend:

-Kars/Ani/Rize…and a potential trip to Georgia!