Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Orientation Day 1: Welcome & Cultural Openness

For the next two weeks, about 130 students including myself are participating in the Turkish Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Orientation. This number includes 90 new ETAs, about 15 renewal grantees, and staff advisers. I am quite impressed by how well-organized and structured it is. The Turkish Fulbright Commission (TFC) sure knows what they're doing. I prefer not to bore you with everything I'm learning during Orientation, but I'll try to briefly summarize each day.

Monday, August 31, 2015
Our welcome bag full of teaching & learning materials.
After sleeping in and taking lunch, we were welcomed by the TFC's program coordinator with whom we had been in touch via email countless times. We all received a tote bag full of "goodies" such as our orientation schedule, Turkish lesson books, English teaching books, and a notepad. After the warm remarks, we were divided into groups and played getting-to-know -- human knot, musical performances -- and I felt like I was at Bowdoin's freshman orientation again. Then, after sipping on some tea, we all took a Turkish Lesson placement test which I completely failed because I know zero Turkish. This is an ambitious goal but I hope to be fluent by the end of the program. As Baba always says, where there is a will, there is a way.

The day proceeded with a wonderful presentation from a group called Youth for Understanding. The presentation was engaging, intellectually stimulating, and quite reflective. We talked about how the definition of 'normal' varies from society to society, how stereotypes about nations and groups of peoples can lead to misconceptions, and how everything one does in their way of life is related to the culture in which they live. We then completed a group activity in which we were asked us to draw images that come to mind when we think of 'Turkey'. Each group had to present and explain their drawings; however, here are a few of the common images that appeared on almost everyone's posters:
  • Ataturk
  • Istanbul
  • tea
  • smoking
  • pomegranate 
  • homeless cats
  • football (soccer)
  • Ottoman Empire
  • hot air balloon
  • crescent/star on the flag symbolizing Islam
  • the evil eye
  • kebabs
  • mosques
  • rugs
Check out my group's poster compared to a slide that the presenter shared about how Turks stereotype America. On his slide were images of hamburger, Presidnet Obama, Nike, Statue of Liberty, fat man representing obesity, football, Ben Franklin, The White House, Hollywood sign, American flag, and baseball, among others. He joked that we should blame Hollywood if the images do not accurately reflect the U.S.

"Culture is like an iceberg"
I found this analogy to be quite resonating. Things like food, clothing, religion, and language are easily visible from the top, but what lies underneath -- the bigger part of what makes a culture so unique -- are values and attitudes towards time, leadership, family, history, and political ideologies, just to name a few. The presenter, a 20-year-old youth, demonstrated Turkish values by showing us binary comparisons of what different societies value. Here are a few things I jotted in my notes. In Turkish culture...
  • "we" is more important than "I" -- family, friends, tribes, city affiliation and networks matter (compared to the individualistic Western societies)
  • punctuality is not important -- a meeting at 14.00 means it starts at 14.20
  • a party is enjoyed with everyone, not divided
  • elderly life consists of spending time with children and grandchildren, not walking a dog alone
  • there is a boss, a leader for everything -- hierarchy is important and respected
  • restaurants are loud
  • hospitality is critical
  • people talk more than listen -- interrupting others is common
  • instead of resolving conflicts, Turks avoid the problem and forget about it a few days later
  • people are closely connected; everyone knows someone through some connect -- the taxi driver knows the friend of the friend of the neighbor's son
  • ego has little significance...people are not pigheaded
  • no one stands in a line, people are impatient -- HA! I know this was a Turkish thing!
  • Turks never get to the point; complexity of self expression
  • people don't show/display anger or sorrow -- they may be smiling on the outside but really sad on the inside, they don't like to draw pity or attention
The presenter left us with four pieces of advice:
1) Try new things, be adventurous and step outside of your comfort zones
2) Don't hesitate to get help from locals, everyone is very nice here
3) Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty, it's the best way to learn
4) Learning the language will provide you with a deeper understanding of Turkish culture

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