Sunday, October 4, 2015

First Real Week of School


September 25 – October 2, 2015

Alex and I stayed home for the weekend after Bayram. I completed my domestic internship applications for the U.S. Department of State for summer 2016. This entailed updating my resume with the Fulbright experience and writing personal statements for why I am interested in two regional bureaus.

After a restorative week, Alex and I were looking forward to our first day of school of Monday, September 28th. When we got to the School of Foreign Languages, however, we met the two assistant directors and learned that our schedules were not yet created. Throughout the week, we went to school every day at 10am and spent time at our desks preparing lessons and taking care of other logistics such as getting our school-issued laptops.

Thursday was our first “real” day of teaching, as we were asked to serve as substitute teachers for level 1 English students. We were asked to teach three hours in the morning, but due to English placement testing, we taught for only one hour and instead helped administer examinations. After lunch, we were asked to hold a “speaking club” for our graduate students—some of whom we had met during our settling-in period. We are told that our primary task at Akdeniz University will be to facilitate after-school speaking clubs to help graduate students improve their speaking abilities before they go the United States or United Kingdom for master’s programs funded by the Turkish government. Just as we finished the speaking club on Thursday, we got a call from our administrator once again with a new task: to teach for another three hours (3:30-6:30) to a new class of level 1 English students. This was both exciting and stressful. Exciting because we were finally interacting with students, and stressful because we had to come up with activities on the spot. We engaged the students by having them play a game in which they had to list as many English verbs as they knew, and conjugate them in present and past tenses within 10 minutes. Not surprisingly, common mistakes included irregular verbs such as eat, grow, and hurry – our students conjugated their past tenses as eated, growed, and hurryed and learned that the proper conjugations are ate, grew, and hurried. As with every classroom, there were some students serious about learning English while others created distractions. Teaching with Alex was a great experience because she entertained the dedicated students while I disciplined the class clowns.

Another highlight of our first week at school was Elizabeth Bear, who arrived from the United States on Tuesday and has been staying with us as a guest. She was placed at Akdeniz University through another State Department-sponsored program called the “English  Language Fellow (ELF)” program. She is a sweet young woman, a few years older than Alex and me. She taught in Korea for six years so she brings a unique international and comparative perspective to teaching.

Saving the worst for the last: my medical emergency, part two. I believe in sharing the good, bad, and ugly from my Fulbright experience to demonstrate that living abroad is not always rainbows and sunshine (actually, Antalya gets quite a bit of torrential rainfall, so that alone proves my point). Anyway, my skin infection returned and I went to the hospital designated for staff and faculty—which, by comparison to the public university hospital where I went the first time around, was much cleaner and less crowded. Despite the better facility, I had a dissatisfactory experience with the nurse who was assigned to draw my blood for a blood test. Disclaimer: I have always been afraid of needles (hence my dreams of becoming a doctor ended quite early in my childhood), but I am brave enough to handle blood tests. After the nurse cleaned my left arm with alcohol, I felt a sharp poke in my vein and I could tell something was wrong. I gave her the benefit of doubt and patiently waited for a few seconds. When no blood was being drawn into the syringe despite her efforts, I asked the lady nurse to take the needle out. Ouch! It hurt so much! Then, with the help of another nurse, they were able to properly draw blood from my right arm and it was not nearly as painful as my left arm. I walked away feeling sad because my left arm was in pain, upset because the nurse wouldn’t give me a band-aid, and worried in case the results came back with bad news. I now have a lovely, big, purple bruise on my left arm to remind me of the terrible needle-poking experience.

When I described this week’s events to my family, my Dad—who was an economics professor in Pakistan and Qatar for a good majority of his early career—wrote back to me the following words of encouragement. They cheered me up and reminded me to be patient and flexible. After all, those are some of the most important traits of a good diplomat. I love Baba.

“Mariya Baita,
Sorry to hear about your arm. Hopefully you will be better soon. Don’t overreact to the day-to-day issues. Such things happen in third world countries. University life is always be like that as you are facing. Don’t compare their system with US. Try your best to adjust in that environment. Here, everything is ok. You have to take care of yourself and be extra careful in conversation.
God bless you,
Baba.”

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