Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Country-Two Very Different Schools

I've been at work here in Izmir for just over two weeks. And I've now taught two classes of delightful 6th graders who are new to this school. I'm still getting my feet wet and learning the ropes. The teaching portion is not too bad, but I'm really having to polish my technology skills to meet the demands of the job. As a matter of fact, if I compare the two schools here to my last school in the United States and drew a line with the right side being heavy in technology and the left side being light in technology, I would say this school falls on the far right, my American school in the middle, and my previous Turkish school on the far left.

So here are the expectations:
1) All lessons are uploaded to the school website each evening including all Power Points (we are supposed to make lots of these) and class handouts. Students who are absent have no excuses for not completing homework.
2) Most communication between staff and parents occurs on the school website. The campus is very large so it's necessary. If parents telephone, we are encouraged to have them use the website.
3) There is a television studio for production of videos.
4) All printing and copying is completed through a central copy center and all documents must have pre-approval from the department head and a 3 day lead time for copying.

Here are my challenges:
1) My school provided laptop has a Turkish keyboard. I can change the keyboard to English but I must use "touch typing" pretending I know where the English keys are. This works pretty well except for symbols. The @ symbol, parentheses, commas, and question marks are so difficult to remember. Symbols are also difficult to use on the Turkish keyboard because there is an "alt/gr" key to access the keys that actually have 3 symbols on them.
2) The printer is in a building far away so I'm having to adjust to never seeing hard copies of anything. I'm saving trees, but not confident in my proofreading skills.
3) Most of my classes are in the high school building but I have two classes in the middle school building, a long 10 minute walk away. I'm living out of my backpack.
4) Most administration emails are in Turkish. Google Translate is my new best friend and it gives me the gist of most communications. But, a translator can only go so far and some things just sound funny.

The good thing about this experience is that I'm improving my technology skills...

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Thanks to the Ramadan holiday, I didn't have to work this past week. As this holiday fell so close to my summer vacation in the US, I decided to use this time to explore the area around my new home and to get settled in before I get too busy with work. What could have been a long, boring,lonely week turned out to be a wonderful vacation. Here is my travel journal in bullet point form:
*Weekend in Greece (3 hours away by bus and ferry not including wait time) - swimming, visiting historical sites, listening to local music and eating local food.
*Befriending the apartment manager and getting all kinds of apartment repairs completed. * Early morning jogs on the Aegean Sea watching the fishermen, cats, and sleeping dogs.
*Shopping for a cute tennis skirt and then wearing said skirt to the nearby courts looking for a "quality" partner. (As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the proper attire helps buy credibility in tennis...So, mission girl who hits the ball well and a group of locals who play every Saturday and Sunday and invited me to join them)
*Figuring out local bus, subway, and dolmus transportation to IKEA for inexpensive kitchen supplies.
*Taking the ferry to Alzancah to meet friends from Turkey and Germany. (Alsancak is the cool part of town with the bars and cafes) to sip tea and/or coffee and talk.
* Being introduced to the local Wednesday Farmer's Market. (It's huge and amazing...a "must go" every Wednesday for fruits, veggies and homemade gozleme.)
*Spending an afternoon at a newlywed's house for tea and Turkish coffee.
*Joining my first late night bike ride with the EgePedal Bike Group. (Ege is Turkish for Aegean)
*Inviting a colleague and her Turkish boyfriend to my apartment for a swim and backgammon by the pool. Then learning how to order pizza for delivery. ( first delivered pizza in Turkey!)
*Biking to Foca, a beach town north of Izmir (90km round trip) and spending three hours swimming, drinking beer and sunbathing with some Turkish bikers...three who are women and two who are my age!!
*Eating the best kofte of my stay here in Turkey at a cute little Lokantasi (restaurant) on the way home...It was one of those places I would never try on my own, but now I'll take all my tourist friends...(hint, hint)

So, I'm sipping a small glass of wine and heading off to bed thinking that I am so lucky to live in such a nice place for a staycation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Traveling with the Turkish

I recently from a weekend in Samos, Greece traveling with a Turkish tour group. It was an interesting experience to say the least, and the beaches, towns and historical sites are beautiful and interesting. There are plenty of pictures to view on Facebook so, rather than be repetitive, I thought I would share my thoughts about being an American in a Turkish group.

The Turks have not been welcome in Greece (and vice versa) for many years, but due to the economic crisis in Europe and the very poor economy in Greece, all tourist dollars are now welcome. My tour was organized by a man who had visited Greece and was now an "expert." I learned about the tour from some Turkish English teacher friends.

My friends had me spend the night at their house. After 3 1/2 hours of sleep we woke up at 3:30 am to meet a shuttle bus to take us to the main bus station where we boarded the coach that drove us 1 1/2 hours to Kuşadasi which dropped us at a bus station out of town where we caught a taxi to the ferry terminal at 7:30 am. (Four hours of traveling to go about 100 km...a car would have given us another 3 hours of sleep...)We then waited another hour to meet up with some more Turkish friends and the "tour guide". Luckily the ferry terminal is located at a major cruise ship port so I enjoyed a nice Starbucks coffee to help me both wake up and pass the time.

After handing over our passports to said "tour guide" who would buy our ferry tickets and secure our visas, we waited another 1 1/2 hours in the baking sun to board the ferry. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. but with the Ramadan crowds and all...well let's just say it didn't run like a German train. About 9:45 am we left the dock.

The ferry ride itself was uneventful and the scenery was beautiful. We pulled into the Greek port of Samos at about 11:30 a.m. and jumped off the ship eager to start our island adventure. Our eagerness was met with the efficiency of Greek passport/customs control. In other words, I finally found a government office that takes more patience than those I've experience in Turkey. I was wondering Greece was implementing "austerity measures" to stick it German Chancellor Merkel, or if they were seriouisly welcoming 400 Turkish tourists with only one custom's agent. Being stuck waiting on the baking hot pavement for over an hour so "the man" could scan our passports and "the woman" could dig through our luggage, did not encourage my fellow tourists to open their wallets and shop and the many tourists stores lining the quay. The European Union passengers (of which there were about 8) got their own private custom's officer and breezed through in under five minutes. I, traveling with my American passport, was stuck in the Turkish line, although I was ushered through with much less scrutiny. And, because it's not in my nature to shove and push, I was one of the last to actually make it through the line.

It was now 1:30 pm and time to rent a car. Did we want a Suzuki/open air Jeep like thing, or a car with air conditioning? Oh, and by the way, because it's Ramadan the price of cars has doubled. So much for the "reservation" our "tour guide" made. Thankfully, my travel companions chose the air conditioning. As much fun as the topless vehicle appeared, not once did we ever stop and sunbathe, and the topless car would have greatly contributed to the dreaded, avoid-at-all-costs, Turkish suntan...

The car rental process only took about 1 1/2 hours so we were just in time for a 3:30 pm lunch and cold beer. Let the vacation begin!...

Checking into the hotel was a little stressful. Before we left I had already indicated that, "No, I would not share a room with a young man from The Netherlands." After discussion about putting 3 beds in one room and giving me the single, (which makes me look like the bad guy but you can bet that they wouldn't ask a Turkish woman to share with a strange man!) the manager came up with the solution of an additional room at no extra charge. (No duh!I'd already asked for this a week ago and been told it wasn't possible. I'm sure the "tour guide" never asked. And, after we checked out on Sunday, the "tour guide/scammer" collected an additional sum from me for the extra room, when in fact I'm sure the poor hotel owner never saw an additional cent. I would have happily paid the hotel owner, but not the "tour guide".) Long story single room was beautiful!

Minus the "tour" or lack thereof, the rest of the trip was delightful. Our original group of 18 split into smaller groups. We were a group of 9 in two vehicles including two lovely Turkish couples about my age who love hiking, could speak a little English, and who had traveled before on this island. They introduced us to hidden beaches, interesting touristic places, and local food and music.

I did learn many things from this experience. 1) I don't need a Turkish tour guide to book a hotel, buy a ferry ticket, or reserve a car. Actually, I knew that before but I was joining some nice young friends who have not done a lot of traveling so I was being a good sport with a driver's license. 2) I do need Turkish lessons because the cost of not being able to advocate from myself is getting too great. Between the "let's fleece the American" and my inability to "argue back", I probably paid enough additional Euros this past week (Greece and Turkey combine) to pay for about 4 weeks of Turkish lessons. 3) I'm not a fan of waiting for buses and taxis at 3:30 in the morning and I prefer the independence of renting my own car. 4) If I spoke Turkish, I could open shop as a tour operator and do a really good job.

Anyway, I'm back in Turkey planning/plotting my next adventure.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Could Hug My IT Guy

Six weeks, many phone calls, and lots of helpers in both Turkish and English later, and I now have internet. This is been a frustrating 6 week long nightmare.
1). There is the internet provider call center that has an English option that says, "For English, please dial 99". Unfortunately, after dialing that number the response is in Turkish and I later learned means "You have dialed a wrong number." This happens every time I call.

2)Because I don't have a land line associated with my account, I have an account number that, when entered at the command "Please type your account number" comes with with a "You have entered a wrong account number". I taught my Turkish friends the "dial 0" trick to by-pass the automated messages.

3)On Tuesday after I got the technition to come to my house to turn on the internet, I got a call the next day from the internet provider that said, "We know your internet is turned on, but when you are at your computer you need to call us at this number to enter some more numbers so your internet will actually work." My response is, I'm at work and when I call your call center in the evening, I get problem number 1 above. He says, "We have that problem fixed. You can call back this evening." I get his name, just to be sure. That evening, when I call back at the number I said, I get problem #1 from above...(not fixed.)

4) I have an amazing Turkish expediter who calls the internet provider and gets frustrated and yells for a long time After 4 days of phone calls she doesn't know what to do. To make things worse for her, she has a problem with a 2 week old gas leak in her newlywed apartment so is stressed out and frustrated with the lack of competent service as well. (At least I won't die from my problem.)

5) I start crying today at work when someone asks if I have internet and the IT guy sees me and feels bad and offers to drive me home after school and fix the problem which he did.

I LOVE computer engineering/math geeks who run school IT departments and help distressed middle age women. He even let me give him a hug.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thanking God

This morning my goal was to attend church. Aside from the one visit in Istanbul last winter, this would be my first time in a year. Both the School Handbook for Native Speakers and the Greek man I met at the pool mentioned St. John's Anglican Church as a place to meet expats. I left my house on my bike at 9:00 a.m. dressed in running shoes, my "biking skirt" and a light t-shirt. I also wore my backpack with my laptop because my second goal of the day was to find a Starbucks with internet after church.

I enjoyed a beautiful bike ride along the Aegean Sea to the ferry terminal. I had just missed the ferry to Alsancak (the terminal closest to church) but I hopped on the ferry to Konak (near the old center of town) and figured riding the extra distance up to Alsancak would be faster than waiting for the next ferry, which it was. I arrived at St. John's at 10:02. Luckily the church ran on Turkish time so it hadn't even started. For the first five minutes I wiped sweat off my brow and chin and hoped no one noticed.

The service was mostly in English with the Collect and Gospel repeated in Turkish. Interestingly enough, most of the people attending were Turkish (Armenian) which was interesting to me. I was unaware of meeting any Armenians in Malatya.The substitute rector started off the day praying for all Syrians but especially for those relatives about whom there has been little information. I learned that Syria was almost 17% Armenian especially near the northern border with Turkey.

The homily was about the importance of honoring your father and mother. There was what appeared to me to be a bold statement when the rector mentioned that in some places in the world there are still places with slavery and where women have no freedom and control of their own destinies. (think Malatya.....)

After the service I attended the typical Anglican coffee meet and greet. I don't usual do this but I was eager to gather information and meet two of the women who appeared to be of my generation or older. I introduced myself to one of the aforementioned women and had a delightful conversation. It turns out that she is Muslim and married to the rector. I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say both had spouses who had died, their families had been good friends for years and they married. She is an active member of the Soroptomist society and helps battered and abused Turkish women. She cited a story about teaching a 60 year old woman to read which opened up lots of freedom including being able to ride the bus. Before learning to read, this women could not go to town alone because she could not find her way back home.

The second woman, it turns out, has been living/teaching in Istanbul Turkey for almost 30 years. She was fortuitous for me to meet as she is the dean of students at a high school in Istanbul that sponsors the Model United Nations program and chooses which schools to accept to the competition. It just so happens that I will be one of the club sponsors at my school for TIMUN and considering I know little about this program, I am delighted to have a resource.

Thank God for the freedom of religion in Izmir and for this opportunity to live in such a beautiful, interesting place.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Strength in Numbers

It's extremely nice to be one of six new native teachers. Not only is there opportunity to speak fluent English, but the school assigned three Turkish teachers and a driver to help us navigate the various agencies required to establish residency and begin the application for the work visa. Here is the day:

1) Find a translator. Drop off copies of the following documents for each of six teachers: passport, university diploma, transcripts, English teaching certificate.

2)Drink chai or coffee with said translator. He will not have the documents translated until Monday but he had time for a chat and to feed his 6 cats on the balcony of the house where we sipped the beverages. I did not breathe through my nose.

3) Walk to the Police station for Tax ID numbers. Get told that we live closer to a substation so we catch a dolmuş to the other end of town.

4)Fill out papers for a tax ID number. Wait for the papers to be processed.

5)Take a dolmuş back to the city center to open bank accounts. We have to show we can support ourselves with enough money in the bank in order to get our resident permits. The accounts are opened for three of the teachers (I already have an account...see earlier post)with a zero balance.

6)Call the school to deposit enough money in the accounts to make it look like we can support ourselves. The money will be withdrawn again on Monday and transferred back to the school.

7) Take a ferry to the heart of town to go the main police station and apply for resident permits.

8) Get interrogated by the officers. We're tourists on holiday. We show our bank account balances. We get sent to make copies and pay some money. Our passports are taken. We are told the permits will be finished in 10 days.

9) I lose my patience because now I can't travel. I tell them I have a trip to Greece planned. They put a "rush" on my passport so it will be done next Friday at 5:00 p.m. (Next Friday is equivalent to the Friday before Christmas guess is they will close early and I'll be out of luck.)

10) We are issued a 1 1/2 inch square of paper that says we are applying for a resident permit.

11) We leave the building, walk to a taxi stand and negotiate a price to a popular Friday pub.

12) We drink of pint of Efes and enjoy each other's company.

13) We catch a ferry back to of side of the bay. (It's amazing how a pint and the sea breeze takes away the stress.)

14)I catch the bus from the ferry to my apartment, hop in the pool, swim some laps, hear a man speaking English, introduce myself to Stavros from Greece who was most helpful in giving me the name the apartment manager who speaks English an solves all kinds of problems....Who knows: I may get internet yet.

n.b. except for the lack of internet and the releasing of my passport, today was not stressful because we were accompanied by wonderful Turkish expediters. There's something to be said about strength in numbers.

Life is Good

It's been a long time since the last entry. I used the past month to visit with family and friends and to recharge my batteries for another year in Turkey. I really enjoyed myself and was so happy to be with everyone that it was hard to leave. I have to admit that I was fighting back tears at the Dulles airport because I was very apprehensive about heading back. It's not that I wasn't enjoying living in Turkey. It's just that everything is more difficult and I was enjoying the break and relaxation of being back in America where a red light means "stop" and "tomorrow" means exactly that...There is no qualifier like "inshallah."

As it turns out, most of my concerns were unfounded. Granted, as of today Aug. 10, I still do not have internet in my apartment and my passport was taken until next Friday for my resident's permit so I probably won't get it back in time for my trip to Greece. (Back to super annoying Turkish bureaucracy) But, greeting me at the airport upon arrival were two lovely Turkish sisters who wanted to make sure I was met at the airport and then helped with my bags on the metro ride and walk to my apartment after 13 hours of travel. (Back to super friendly, extraordinary Turkish hospitality.) Not only did they make sure I was safely settled back in my new apartment, they made sure I didn't have time to get homesick by organizing the next evening of "movie in the park" with many Turkish friends. Already my arrival in Izmir far exceeded my expectations and helped me feel comfortable and secure.