Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Orientation Day 3: Logistics & Cultural Adjustment

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I apologize this is kind of a long post – for those of you who love details, read on. Today was eventful!

The morning started with an administrative panel which covered logistical topics such as obtaining our work permit, reviewing the emergency action plan, health insurance while overseas, and procedures to obtain proper permission to travel domestically and internationally. The program coordinator also reviewed with us the reimbursement process for our luggage fees, how to share teaching resources using Google Groups, and when we will need to open our bank account. I was scribbling lots of notes, as this appeared to be an important session.

We then had an in-depth finance session which covered in more detail the process of opening a bank account in Turkey, local currency and exchange rates, and overseas credit card usage. One thing I found to be interesting was that every credit card, either the ones we open in Turkey or our American ones from back home, has a PIN number associated it with it. In the U.S., we only use the PIN number when using a debit card at the ATM, store, or bank. I’ve never bothered knowing or memorizing the PIN numbers of my other credit cards—oops. The only down side to this session was realizing that the U.S. Government will be taxing us on our already trivial income. Probably the worst part about being an adult is paying taxes.

My favorite part of the day was the Renewal Grantee Panel. A group of returning ETAs spoke about their experience of finding housing, registering phones, social life, learning the language, and issues of identities such as race, gender, and religion. I found the topic about identity to be particularly poignant, as I applied for a Fulbright precisely for the reason to further explore and understand identity as a Muslim Pakistani-American woman. It will be interesting to see how I am perceived among the Turks and what new perspectives I gain. The panelists talked about struggling with questions such as “You don’t look American, where are you really from?” and being labeled by their parents’ country of origin even though they were born in the U.S. As for gender norms, they described Turkey as very patriarchal, by which I was not surprised given my own experience of growing up in Pakistan; for example, panelists said that men offer to hold women’s bags and if a female is escorted by a man in public, Turks assume the are dating. From a religion perspective, it’s easier to be a Muslim in Turkey obviously, but other religions are definitely respected. Turks assume all American-looking Americans (aka white, blonde, blue-eyed) are Christians—some ETAs just accept that label and do not reveal their perhaps atheist views while others have tried to bridge the understanding gap by openly encouraging religious conversations. For me, I’m excited for the opportunity to be surrounded by azan (call to prayer) and mosques and practice my faith more so than I have in the United States.

Dr. Ersel giving welcome remarks.
After a hearty lunch, our assigned university representatives joined us for orientation to answer any questions we may have about finding housing, school responsibilities, expectations of travel, city adjustments, and lessons. Before we got the opportunity to ask our questions, we received a second welcome from the executive director of the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Prof. Dr. Ersel Aydini who had once spoken to us on our first day. His speech was targeted for both the university representatives and ETAs, and emphasized relationship we have with our host universities will make or break our experience. He called our experience an “employment opportunity with Fulbright status” and encouraged each of us to make the most of it, noting that the reason this program exists is to make life more enriching and meaningful. But what resonated the most with me, however, was when he cited research (he is an academic after all!) about public diplomacy; more specifically, the impact of encounters and exchange programs. According to him,  it is not enough to have just a contact or an encounter with something; the nature of the contact matters in understanding others and prospering towards peace. “I realized my articles and books I wrote did not make a difference,” he said, “that’s why I’m doing this.”
“I realized my articles and books I wrote did not make a difference, that’s why I’m doing this.” ~Prof. Dr. Ersel Aydini, Executive Director of Turkish Fulbright Commission

Alex Pasqualone was also placed in Antalya.
Alex (my future roommate, also placed in Antalya with me) and my meeting with our university rep went really well. Our rep brought us lots of brochures of things to do in Antalya, and as we flipped through the pages awing at museums, theaters, beaches, historical sites, amusement parks, and cultural festivals, I became even more excited about my placement. I can see why everyone is envious of our post. This is going to be so amazing! But first, Alex and I need to secure housing so we explored Turkish renting websites to find a two-bedroom apartment. Our university representative is very kind to offer us assistance in this search and I am finally feeling confident that everything will fall into place. Can’t wait to start teaching and exploring!

Hannah Arrigi graduated from Bowdoin in 2015.
We got a short 1.5 hour break, during which I napped.

This long day ended with a fancy three-course dinner at the magnificent state house. Ataturk’s pictures were everywhere on the wall; he really is revered here. Folks chatted away and a public diplomacy foreign service officer made his way around the tables to greet all of us. I also got to see Ankara from the bus window seat…it looks so much like Pakistan. I am told that Turkey and Pakistan are best friends, and that many Turks have the lyrics memorized to the Pakistani song “Jeevay Jeevay,Pakistan” (Long Live Pakistan) by Shahnaz Begum, which is often sung on Pakistan’s Independence Day of August 14. I can’t wait to sing this with my students, ha!

Alrighty, off to do my Turkish homework and hit the bed.

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