It’s been a long time since I’ve had a full-time job, and when the alarm wakes me at 6:30 on Monday morning, I wonder what I am getting myself into. Will this job become tedious? Will I regret giving up my leisure time? Will I be an effective English language teacher or will the challenge be too difficult?
I arrive at Ozyegin Universitesi at 8:30 am. Only three years old, it occupies a large, attractive building on the Asian side of Istanbul, though a multi-building campus is being constructed elsewhere. My boss, Narges, welcomes me and introduces me to a bevy of smiling teachers and administrative staff, more women than men, more Turks than expatriates.
As part of a structured orientation, I am given course books to review, and I sit down in a spacious office that houses ten other instructors. I soon discover that the talkative young woman sitting at the desk across the aisle is a fellow Minnesotan, a St. Thomas graduate from Bloomington!
One worries about lunch on the first day of a new job. Will anybody ask me to join their table, or will I eat alone? I figure the Minnesotan or perhaps a friendly British instructor will include me, but before noon, two pretty, impossibly petite Turkish instructors scoop me up and accompany me to the cafeteria. Typical Turkish thoughtfulness.
In the afternoon I observe a fellow teacher evaluate two students’ speaking abilities while the rest of her class works on their own. I haven’t positioned myself very well to watch the evaluation, and I self-consciously edge my desk closer to the action, all the while noting that the rest of the class seems to be doing little work. Two students, male and female, seated with their desks close together, have actually started canoodling.
The class period is almost over when a student sitting close by taps my shoulder and asks where I am from. Hearing Minnesota, he exclaims, “I lived there!” and goes on to tell me that in high school he was an AFS student in Deer River, MN, located between Duluth and Bemidji (I check the map later and he is correct: the litte town is not far from Grand Rapids). He goes on to describe how disoriented he felt as a resident of ultra-urban Istanbul relocating to a town of only 800 and settling on an isolated farm, where he was expected to help with chores. The Deer River folks, he says, were freaked out about a lone Muslim in their midst, even more so when he told them his grandparents had moved to Turkey from Iraq. I consider all the unsettled feelings his move undoubtedly caused, and decide all of them were positive. “You had a big effect on a small place,” I tell him. “Good for you.”
On Tuesday I observe Giti, a colleague who happens to be from Iran (she is pictured above on the right). She is about forty years old, with a face that looks like it came off a Persian miniature. She speaks four languages fluently, and boy, can she teach! She bounds around the classroom, teasing her students to wake up, following up their answers with more questions, and exclaiming, “I love you!” when they answer correctly. This group of students sits upright and alert throughout the hour.
I am beginning to see that our Turkish students, despite being only 18 or 19 years old, have a strong presence. There are more young men than women at this university, the only two majors currently offered being business and engineering. They are not shy or reticent; instead they comment enthusiastically, and vye for the instructor’s attention. And the contrast between their pale faces and their thick dark brown hair and beard stubble is sharp, making them look more manlike than blond, Minnesota freshmen. As I reflect on two days that were more positive than I expected, I realize that my biggest challenge will involve being sufficiently assertive, not retiring or wishy washy. Not Minnesotan.