The truth is, Istanbul is so massive that it’s able to be everything. It’s conservative. It’s liberal. Progressive. Traditional. Cheap. Expensive. Religious. Secular. A city of contradictions, maybe, but somehow, it works. Because there’s a bit of everything here, the overall sentiment seems to be something like “whatever floats your boat.” Wear your sleeveless top, short skirt and high wedges if you want. Show only the skin surrounding your eyes and the bridge of your nose if you prefer. Turn up the volume on the television while the call to prayer plays from the nearest mosque. Istanbul is exactly what you want it to be.
After my best attempt at answering “How’s Istanbul?” I have to say that I do love living here. I enjoy the big-city life — not having a car, being within walking distance to all conveniences, using public transportation. There’s always a new place to explore and more things to do and see. And as you can assume, this place makes for great people-watching.
Life here feels very normal. We have our routines and can (for the most part) easily get from one place to another. We have our regular spots for simit, börek, pide and groceries, and we’re starting to get recognized when we go. Even though the location isn’t perfect and we plan to move eventually, our apartment is nice, clean and comfortable. While there are many things I miss about home, I haven’t felt homesick yet.
Most of the "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore" moments come from the language barrier. Some people speak English, but not the majority. My supervisor at work and my co-teacher speak no English, which definitely adds to the normal struggles of adjusting to a new job. Everyone says they hate meetings, but there’s nothing quite like attending mandatory meetings held in Turkish with no translations. "Would it be rude if I played on my phone right now?" I always wonder during these situations.
Not knowing the language complicates every minor task, from ordering dinner to paying the phone bill. That’s obvious and expected. However, the frustrations from our awkward exchanges are far outweighed by the sense of victory we experience when we have a smooth transaction or learn a new phrase. Our Turkish is slowly but surely coming along. Everyday I learn something new and form connections I hadn’t realized the day before. I love that sense of productivity. You can feel yourself acquiring something you didn’t have before, and you imagine the things you can now do because of your increased ability to communicate. I can’t wait to see how far my Turkish gets by the end of the year.
I’ve been working for four weeks now. The first week was a six-day orientation for English teachers from different branches of the school all over the country. It was great for networking — I now know many experienced teachers who can field my questions, and we have places to stay when we visit cities outside Istanbul. The next week was the first week of orientation for new primary school students. As I was originally assigned to teach first and second grade, I spent most of the first week teaching a few lessons a day to the orientation students. Even though I may have freaked out a little over the lack of warning, it forced me to quickly get comfortable in the classroom and was good for getting my feet wet. But on the fourth day, I was told I’d been moved to kindergarten, which has a completely different structure.
As a kindergarten teacher, I will spend the whole day with a group of 17 5-year-old children. Most don’t know any English. I share a classroom with a Turkish homeroom teacher, who is also always present. My co-teacher is experienced and sweet, but she doesn’t speak English, which can make planning rather tough. We’ll take turns teaching lessons together and separately in just English or Turkish, but the idea is that the lessons will be 70% English and 30% Turkish.
My last two weeks have mostly involved readying the classrooms, but for three days last week the kindergartners came in for two hours a day to meet us and get used to being away from Mommy. Tomorrow they will have a full school day, but I’ll play more of an assistant role for the next two weeks. The children are young and not accustomed to school, so having a foreigner who doesn’t understand them is a bit intimidating just starting out. But when the orientation period ends on Sept. 29, I’ll have my hands full.
There are many pros and cons to sharing a class, but I’m hoping spending all day in a kindergarten environment will be an easy way for me to improve my Turkish. For example, I’ve already learned how to say what today is and what tomorrow will be just from being exposed to the calendars in the classroom.
Things change a lot around here, and “go with the flow” is now becoming my mantra, difficult as it may be for a control-freak planner like myself. Rolling with the punches may be exhausting at times, but it’s the only way to survive. I’m learning to laugh at the absurdities rather than stress over them, and not let my work life affect me personally.
I’m learning a lot, growing up a little and getting ready to face these Play-Dohing fiends for eight hours a day. Wish me luck!