Ayse U is a 2011 TEFL Professional Online graduate teaching in Ankara, Turkey.
"'You’re moving where???'
That was the common refrain when I informed my friends and family about my decision to teach in a foreign country.
'Yes. Turkey. I’m moving to Ankara, the capital city' was my response.
The next most common refrain was, 'Wait a minute, isn’t Istanbul the capital city??'
And so, the last few weeks preparing for my big adventure included not only fitting the entire contents of my life into 23kg of allowable weight but also telling people a little bit about this wonderful country and its people.
Alright – so here are some basic facts: the actual name of the country is the Republic of Turkey. The spoken language is Turkish. It’s a fairly young country; founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The main religion is Islam. It’s a democratic and secular country (well, kind of) with a population of approximately 74 million. It is the 37th largest country in the world in terms of land size (when you compare this to Canada which is the 2nd largest country in the world with a population of only 34 million it’s a little bit mind boggling!!).
So now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let me tell you about places that are NOT Istanbul. Don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is an amazing and wonderful city, but everyone goes there! I want to tell you about a few places in Turkey that are off the beaten track.
One of the most interesting places I’ve visited so far is Sanliurfa (or Urfa for short) in the southeastern part of Turkey. The history of this intriguing city goes back to about the 4th century BC – however, there have been archeological discoveries dating back to 9000BC! This city is reportedly the birth place of the Prophet Abraham and also Job. BalÄ±klÄ±gol, or Lake of Fish, is a serene and beautiful place of worship built in the 1100s AD. Legend says that when Abraham was being persecuted, his arch nemesis Nimrod threw him to his death into a pool of fire. Only, the flames turned into water and the wood into fish and Abraham survived. The mosque and pool are built on the site where this event supposedly happened and the fish that live inthis pool today are considered to be ancestors of these original fish. Local legend also says that eating these fish will cause blindness."
Close by to Urfa is a small village called Harran. This is the only place on Earth where you can still see original ‘bee hive’ style houses. Although not really used for daily life they still dominate the landscape. They are designed to keep the warmth in during the cold desert nights and to keep cool during the hot, dry, desert days (although, when I visited in December, and slept in one of these bee hives, there was a distinct lack of heat...). Harran is also the site of Islam’s first university. Built in the 8th or 9th century, it was a centre for translation, astronomy (the astronomy tower still stands today), and medicine. One of the pivotal battles during the Crusades was also fought in Harran.
Moving further west, there is a village called Kayakoy near the city of Fethiye, which was completely abandoned after 1923. The history of this village dates back to the 4th century BC. It was built on the site of the Lycian city Karmylassos and was populated by Greek Christians. After 1923, these Christians were forced out of their homes and back to Greece during a “population exchange”. The city today is protected by the Turkish Government and UNESCO as a historical site.
By far the most interesting place in Turkey is Kapadokya – the Land of Fairy Chimneys. This place is so unreal you feel like you are on another planet when you arrive. After miles of flatness on the drive from Ankara, you start to see some undulating hills and valleys, and then as you turn a final corner, you are greeted by spectacular natural fairy chimneys. These chimneys are actually a result of volcanic ash covered by basalt. They are a spectacular natural wonder, however, what makes them even more interesting here in Kapadokya is that they were hollowed out and used as homes and churches. Göreme National Park is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is definitely worth exploring!"
Ayse U is a 2011 TEFL Professional Online graduate teaching in Ankara, Turkey.
"Coming from Canada, winter is one of my favorite seasons.
Especially, I love to ski!
Many of my friends wondered what I would do when I moved to Turkey in order to replace my beloved sport. Oil wrestling (the national sport)? Camel racing? Football? Well, friends, the answer is this – I didn’t have to give up my favorite sport! It turns out that there are many people here who love to ski and there are many places for us to practice our wonderful hobby!
I want to introduce you to another unknown gem off the beaten track in Turkey – Sarikamis.
SarÄ±kamis is in the Eastern Anatolian region of Turkey. It is rather easy to travel there because of cheap cost of transportation – a return flight was the equivalent of $90CAD. The flight is about an hour and half. You can drive there as well – but, it takes about 12 hours through the mountains.
Sarikamis was part of the Russian empire for most of its history, but is now within Turkey’s borders. The architecture reflects the Russian influence. Its claim to fame is a hunting lodge that used to belong to Czar Nicholas and a sprawling yellow pine forest (from which the town takes its name) that was planted in honor of Catherine the Great. SarÄ±kamÄ±Å is also historically significant in military terms – during the Battle of Caucasus in World War I, between 60 to 80 000 Ottoman soldiers froze to death in its forests. This was the biggest loss ever suffered by the Ottoman army.
Despite this somewhat grisly history, the forests of Sarikamis are vast and proud. They provide the perfect backdrop for one of Turkey’s premier ski areas – now, you West Coast ski aficionados, think East Coast premier, not Rocky Mountain premier! Sarikamis does however have snow that rivals anything I’ve skied in Western Canada – champagne powder as we call it back home! And it is also the home to one of Turkey’s longest pistes, measuring in at 7 kms. The best part of skiing here was that most Turkish people prefer skiing on-piste so the snow in the trees was deep and untracked! Blissful!
Some 80 kms from Sarikamis, at the end of the last highway in Turkey (literally, the highway comes to a dead end here), on the Turkish-Armenian border, sit the ruins of the medieval city of Ani – another fascinating historical area not often visited (even by the Turks!).
Ani had a very colored and storied history. In its heyday, it rivaled Istanbul and Baghdad as the centre of Middle East. It was sacked and conquered time and again. It started as an Armenian stronghold, and then it was surrendered to the Byzantines. After a time, the Seljuk Turks conquered the city and sold it to a Kurdish dynasty. The Kurds lost it to some Georgians who gave it back and forth to the Kurds for a few years. The Armenians won it back but then lost it to the Mongols. Eventually, the Ottoman Turks won control of the city, and it stayed that way for several hundred years. In the 18th century, the city was abandoned completely for reasons not quite known. The city started to decay and nearby villagers started to pillage stones and other materials to use for their own farms and buildings. The army used the ruins for target practice and several earthquakes further devastated the area. Because of its proximity to the Armenian border, up until 2004, photography of this area was strictly forbidden and you needed governmental permission to visit the area – you could say that tourism was not really encouraged. Now, the Turkish government is doing its best to rehabilitate the ruins and rebuild tourism in the region. In fact, some of the money collected for admission is used towards restoration and conservation. I recommend visiting Ani if you are interested in medieval churches and Gothic architecture. Some of the best examples I have ever seen exist in this region.
So for you skiers out there who have a hankering for some history with your sports fix, check out this hidden gem in Eastern Anatolia – you will not be disappointed with the snow or the scenery!"
Harry M is a 2010 TEFL Professional Online graduate. Since his arrival two years ago, Harry has successfully opened his own English school. In this interview, Harry shares his experiences in his new European home.
TEFL Institute: Where are you originally from and what were you doing before you got into TEFL?
Harry M: I'm originally from Colorado Springs. My father was military and I went to nine school in the first 12 years of school. So traveling, moving, and re-locating has never been a problem for me. My career has been very diverse. After finishing high school I spent 4 years in the Navy. I then went to 6 universities and community colleges over a ten year period. I ended up with four degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Graphic Design. I've worked in the oil industry in Louisiana, the medical and dÄ±ving industries in Houston, the Electronics industry in Colorado Springs and the aerospace and defense industry in Denver. After the space shuttle blew up in 1986 I started a career as an artist working with Harley-Davidson for 12 years then 6 on my own. After September 11th, my busÄ±ness stopped. I realized that I was too old to go back into the engineering business and the market for technical Illustration no longer existed. I had to review my options and re-invent myself.
TEFL Institute: What attracted you to TEFL and Turkey in particular?
Harry M: Two years ago I received a decent Income Tax Return and had to make a choice. Either payoff my credit card or invest in the TEFL certificate. I think I made the right choice. I initially was not attracted to Turkey specifically. Once I completed my certification I started sending out applications and resume all over the world. My logic was that because this was my first teaching gig, I would accept the first reasonable offer. Getting the first job in any profession is always the hardest and I didn't want to limit my options. I had 3 or 4 possible choices offered: China, Korea, Russia, Mongolia, and Turkey. I found this job on Dave's ESL cafe. After talking to the owner of the private school and getting a good feeling overall, I accepted the position.
TEFL Institute: What were your initial experiences teaching in Turkey?
Harry M: I teach at a private school to children grades 1 through 8. The parents of these children are professors, doctors, business professionals, and political leaders in the community. The children tend to be either very intelligent focused students or problem children that were not allowed in the state (public) schools. Generally Turkish children are much louder and less focused than my experiences in Colorado. Girls are by far better students than boys as the boys are encouraged to be sports/physically oriented. These are the offspring of the gentry of the city and tend to be an only child in a family of above average means. As such they are coddled, and fawned over.
The Turkish culture can be quite different than the 'typical' American lifestyle. I am located in a very conservative, religious part of the country. The western part is much more modern, cosmopolitan, and open than here. Here the family dictates the lives and goals of these children with many of them going to school even on weekends.
The educational system has some real flaws including an intense pressure to succeed. Testing and standardized exams are relentless. When I ask the students about their goals they tend to all want the same occupations: doctors, lawyers, engineers, or police/military careers, which tend to correspond with their parents careers. I have yet to hear any student wanting to be journalists, writers, astronauts, artists, musicians or (God forbid) dancers!
Classes start with one teacher in first grade and continue with the same teacher until 6th. This creates an extended family but also the children become dependent on each other to the point that exam taking usually involves getting answers from each other. This is not considered cheating but 'sharing' as the class as a whole is expected to exceed.
Because this is a Muslim country the outlook on life, individuality, and community can be quite different. It has taken me a good year to temper my expectations with the cultural norms. The owner of the school told me that 'the students should love me'. It took me awhile to understand what this means. It is more important for the children to have fun and not be disciplined because they should never 'loose face' or exceed the rest of the class. Generally the only escape most children have from this obsessive pursuit of success is video games.
Before going to any country I always read on the Internet about the country. A couple of things I learned about Turkey was that it has one of the highest rates of sugar diabetes, salt hypertension, and respiratory problems. Once here you begin to see it everyday. The children run to the snack bar that every school has between every class and load up on the candy, chocolate, and sodas (with the parents and teachers blessing). The food is almost all over salted and more added before tasting. Smoking is rampart with young children being exposed to it in every facets of their lives including schools. Coal is still the preferred methods of heating houses and during the winter so the air has a haze. My apartment has a lÄ±ght layer of black dust throughout the winter even though the windows are shut.
TEFL Institute: Why did you decide to start your own school? What is your school like?
Harry M: I am the first and only American/native speaker in this region. There is an American military base 500km south of me. Other than that, I am the only American east of Ankara (the capital city) and there maybe some US soldiers in Iraq. I am somewhat of a personality in the region. I was approached by one of the Turkish English teachers at my school about the idea of starting a language school. Together with the owner of the private school and one other English teacher we explored the idea.
English is taught in the schools here but it is substandard. Grammar and sentence structure is taught but speaking is not. The Turkish produced books are full of flaws. There is a real need from the professors at the local unÄ±versity for conversational instruction as well as the business people who deal with the west. Also I do a brisk business editing research papers for these professors. One of our partners is the regional rep for Oxford Publishing and we spoke to them about working with us as well.
After searching around the city we found a quite neighborhood near the university. There are two other schools in town but they tend to have large (25-30 students) classes and do not have native speakers. We listed all the faults of these schools as each of the owners and our staff teachers (we have a total of 7) have worked in the public, private, and language schools. We wanted to make our school a special experience and a place where not only you could learn in an environment that allowed you to learn quickly: small classes of no more than 10 or 12, and personalized attention, but we also created clubs for people to join such as a horse riding club, bowling, art, and acting. We have also created clubs for various professions: teachers, business, and professors. My back ground allowed me to design a 24 seat theater that is acoustically incredible! I installed a 7.1 surround sound system that I modified based on the acoustic formulas used in recording studios. These were given to me by friends in the industry back in the states. Our goal is not only to have a business but to create a place where people could come to have a cup of tea, a sandwich and meet friends.
We officially received our permit from the Ministry of Education in September of last year and if the numbers are correct, we will have the business paid off and in the black this June. So it's been quite an accomplishment. At present we have just over 60 students. The irony is that I had to leave the US to become a capitalist! We have an option to rent the upstairs of our building in the future. So hopefully by next year we will expand. All of our rooms have smartboards and sound systems. The theater also can used as a classroom or conference room. We have a large balcony in the rear of the building that is beautiful at night and we have classes there as well. The website photos will show all of this.
TEFL Institute: What were some of the challenges of starting your own school?
Harry M: Our biggest challenges were dealing with the substandard quality of workmanship in the construction business. The other major challenge was with me. Being the first native speaker here, no one in the government knew what to do with me! It took the local bank about 6 months to figure how to give me an account and credit card. I had to have a business and resident visas to satisfy the police (who are national not local). That took a good six months and would have taken longer but the owner of the private school is well connected with the government. Here it is more important to know people than anything else. Also it was an issue for a non-Turk to be a partner in a business, that was another series of hoops to jump through. I bought a motorcycle recently and 'offically' I am not allowed to own without permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we titled it through the business. This is a country of rubber stamps and connections.
TEFL Institute: What have been some of the greatest rewards?
Harry M: The rewards are obvious! But also the friendships and my credibility that I have established here. Speaking to the top political leaders, the senior professors and department heads of the local university. Having people seek me out for advise and counsel has been satisfying as well. I have a fun and interesting career and life in many ways. Typically the changes in my life have been beyond my control. For example, I truly loved working in the oil industry, but due to a market crash, I was layed off. Due to the explosion of the space shuttle, I was layed off from that career. Due to September 11th my art career ended. Due to the recent economic downturn, my teaching career was grinding to a halt as well. So every time I was too comfortable in a situation, fate has dictated a change. This new life has given me yet another opportunity to raise above the norm.
This part of the world is in a very dynamic growth phase and the next 10 to 20 years are going to be exciting on many different levels. I have been discussing alternative energy, photovoltaic and building optÄ±ons with a couple of my students who are engineers and several of the political leaders about recycling some of the vast amounts of trash laying everywhere in this area. I fully intend to leave a legacy of not only teaching English to these people but also I hope to direct an awareness of a 21st century lifestyle free of dependency on fossil fuels and clean alternatives.
TEFL Institute: Any words of wisdom for new TEFL teachers getting ready to start their own international journey?
Harry M: Most TEFL teachers I see on the various websites are young, and fresh out of school. Most are looking for the romance of working in a scenic city having a cappuccino in a cafe overlooking the various postcard vistas. The average teacher seems to be in this line of work for a few years, enough time to collect memories, photos, and stamps in their passport. Then they will disappear into relative obscurity given a certain amount of time. So the advice I would give is to enjoy the situation you are in, but never opt out for the well worn path most take. Take chances and challenges. Look for your pearl in an oyster that other pass over. Being the only American means needing a certain amount of self image, self worth, and self assurance. I sold, gave away and left behind a life and came 14,000km with only 50 pounds of clothes. I have created a new life for myself with no instructions, no guidance, and no prior knowledge, it can be done.
After completing her TEFL Professional Online course in 2010, Angela M taught in Ankara, Turkey for one year. She is currently teaching in Italy.
I have always been interested in traveling to different countries and experiencing many cultures since my first trip abroad at the age of thirteen. Eleven years later, I am fortunate to say that I have been to almost twenty countries around the world. Each country has its own culture that I find interesting and intriguing.
The country that I have spent the most time in is Turkey. I was there for one year. In that year, I had wonderful times and difficult times. The difficult times were in response to the culture shock that I had experienced at my school. Otherwise, their culture was very similar to ours.
The shopping centers are huge malls. They have a lot of them in every city and you can find everything there! The only food item that I had a hard time finding was peanut butter. They had soymilk but it was ridiculously expensive. They also only had limited pork products and they were very expensive too. Otherwise, you can find most food items there. In every shopping center you can find an American/International store that will carry American products. The prices are awful but if you need that can of cranberries for Thanksgiving it could be worth it.
The people are very hospitable, kind, and generous. When you go into their homes, they give you everything they have. On the street, you can ask anyone for directions. They will give detailed directions and are willing to help anyone. Taxi cab drivers are the best for this too, they know where everything is and are always willing to help.
Turkey has a rich history. There are many places that are mentioned in the Christian Bible that are real places and located throughout Turkey. Cappadocia was my favorite. It was one of the first places where Christians lived and hid from persecution. They lived in caves in the middle of Turkey. When you explore the caves, you can see where people had their bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and dining rooms. It is a very fascinating place. Efes (Ephesus) is another great place to visit. Near there is Mary’s House (Jesus’ mother’s house), where they claim she lived until she died. So much history!
Turkey, for me, was very different than America and that made the adjustment period last a little longer. The biggest difference for me was religion. Turkey for the most part, is an Islamic country, whereas most of the countries I usually travel to are predominately Christian. On the surface the first difference you see is that there is a mosque where there is usually a church. Then, you hear the prayer through the loud speaker where you would usually hear church bells. Sometimes, you can see women wearing a headscarf, too. Otherwise, you could think you were in any other European country.
The religion difference had the largest impact on me at the school where I was teaching English. I taught 3-6 year olds English. I had a difficult time adjusting. I was in a religiously conservative private school. None of the other Turkish teachers spoke English and when I started I only spoke a little Turkish. Communication was an issue. It was stressful and this is where I had a difficult time adjusting to the culture. I like to get things done quickly and that is one thing in general, Turkey moves slowly. I did adapt to the Turkish way of life, but then I left a few days after.
The other hard part for me was the holidays. I like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter. I taught children and this is the best time to celebrate these holidays, but because I was at a religiously conservative school I wasn’t allowed to do anything. It was very hard on me. I even had egg dye because I thought it would be good to do with the kids but I wasn’t allowed. Christmas, in Turkey is celebrated to a certain extent. In the shopping centers, they have Christmas decorations, Santa Claus ringing the bell near the door, and you can buy Christmas trees and decorations. But, for Turkish people, Christmas is December 31st, New Year’s Eve. I had to explain this over and over to them that Christmas was December 25th. I was fortunate to have been there when Christmas was on Saturday so I had the day off work already, otherwise I would have had to request time off. Overall, I survived the holidays, although I think I am going home this year because I miss my family and my holiday traditions.
Turkey was overall a great experience. I had a blast! There are a lot of things to do. I was in Ankara, the capital. In Ankara, there are over 10 shopping centers, all new! They have many lakes to go to for a picnic on the weekends. There are movie theaters in the shopping centers as well as McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Arby’s, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Little Caesars, and Popeye’s in the food courts. And, if you don’t want to go to the shopping centers for your American food fix, there are many scattered across the city that deliver! Yes, McDonald’s will appear on your doorstep!
My teaching experience was an experience and I am glad I had it, although I know there are many other places in Turkey that offer a great teaching experience. I had many friends that kept telling me that not all the schools were like mine. So for those of you out there looking to teach in Turkey don’t be discouraged. There are many opportunities for you and they love American English. A lot of places will offer you a job on the spot if you are from America. They won’t even look at your references. They will hear you speak and offer you the job. I know several instances where this actually happened. So there is hope!
In Turkey, they push their citizens to know English. Turkey wants to be competitive in the business world and they view English as their way to get into that market. While I was there, buildings were constantly being constructed, unlike America. So if you want a job in Turkey, go for it! They are waiting for you!