February 18-20, 2016
Once again, 104 Fulbright grantees gathered at the famed (or infamous) Niza Park Otel. We were all summoned here for a mandatory, 3-day midyear evaluation meeting. The purpose was to check in with grantees, give updates, and discuss some ways to overcome issues we might be facing at our sites.
The thing with the Fulbright Program is that no site can be comparable to another. Each university is different, each city is different, and therefore each Fulbrighter is having a unique experience. This also means that there is a wide spectrum of positive and negative experiences at each location. Some folks, for example, do not have good relations with their university representation; some are struggling to get Turkish lessons, even 2 hours a week; some universities, like ours, are strict with international travel permission while others let their Fulbrighters go to a different country every weekend. Some Fulbrighters are actually teaching the 21 hours/week contractual obligation, some are teaching 2 hours to nothing (like us). Some are struggling in the classroom because they have no teaching experience, others are thriving. Some love their bustling cities, others are not fond of their conservative towns. Some wish the Fulbright Program provided more professional skills to advance their careers, others love the “year off” mentality.
The agenda was similar to Orientation, with speakers and panelists, briefings and updates. Something unique to the midyear evaluation meeting was the singing performances, in which I also participated, and the talent show. The talent show was amusing. I’m impressed that my fellow peers had learned Turkish songs, instruments, and dances.
Overall, it was great to see some of my peers and chat with new friends. With a cohort as big as 104, it’s absolutely impossible to know everyone on a personal level. People chatted about their travels and shared their awful university situations. There were opportunities to empathize, sympathize, and even pity or envy. We got cool blue t-shirts, though the company made the sizes too small. Everyone complained. I got a small, for example, and I felt like I was wearing a 6-year-old’s tshirt! I switched to a medium immediately, and even that was tight. Oh well. Another gym tshirt to add to the collection I suppose.
|With hotel roomie Erika Prince, placed in Ankara.|
We had the same hotel roommates, and I loved sharing a room with Erika Prince. She’s stationed in Ankara and shared her experiences of being in the capital with two bombings already. We also exchanged some “fossip” (Fulbright gossip) and vented about things in our cities, especially within our school. Unfortunately, similar to our situation, Erika and her roommate are underutilized at their university. They were told they would be helping prepare a classroom curriculum; not only did that not happen, they also had no students to teach for the first few months. It’s really disheartening to hear that, like me, so many of my fellow Fulbrighters are not having a meaningful professional experience through this prestigious program. If I were a recent college graduate, perhaps I would have enjoyed this year off; but I am a 20-something young professional who likes being challenged and doesn’t like her days to go to waste. On the flip side of that, I know I’ve gained some really spectacular cultural and travel experiences which have been very valuable and enriching. Sometimes we don’t always get what we sign up for, but it’s important to make the most of the situation and count our blessings.
One aspect of midyear that I really enjoyed were safe-space workshops organized by Fulbrighter Sarah Khan, who is placed in Sinop near the Black Sea region. She single-handedly organized topics, questions, and sought out facilitators for the following workshops: experiences of women of color in Turkey, faith and religion in Turkey, and identity discovery in Turkey. It was really chilling to hear some of the experiences that my fellow Fulbrighters were having, especially those of harassment, struggle with trying to convince Turks that they’re “American” (something I can relate to), and how some have gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the religion of Islam.