To the few brave souls who still venture here

I’m sorry for the lack of updates. I was away for Kurban Bayram, then hamstrung by a broken computer charger. I’m going to Erzurum tonight to celebrate a late Thanksgiving with some of my American friends there. Two weeks of midterm exams just finished today at the University, so class (and I) should be back on a regular schedule next week. Inşallah you’ll be hearing from me soon.


Two Weeks, Two Pretzels

As usual, I’m a little late with this one. Or maybe right on time. The third week is just beginning, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my second week of work in Osmaniye. (Remember, thanks to the all-but-optional first week, week two was basically my first full week of teaching.) It was a solid week. 14 classes taught to at least 400 students. Though the constant flow of new faces was overwhelming at times, getting so much practice so quickly helped to alleviate the nerves that I felt on the first day. By Tuesday night I had a strong grasp of my lesson plan for the week and I felt prepared entering each class. Prepared except for markers, that is. I always forgot those.

Some classes were easier to teach than others, as you would expect. The smallest class I had was eight students, the largest fifty nine. Levels within the classes vary, with some students well acquainted with basic English and others unable to introduce themselves confidently. So that everyone will be adequately prepared for their midterms and finals (the ultimate goal of many of the students), I teach to (almost) the lowest common level in the class – an unfortunate necessity. The lesson for the week was therefore introductions and counting. They learned (or reviewed), among other things:

Hello, My/His/Her name is… I am / He/she is from…

The numbers 1 – 1000.

An introduction to telling time and talking about one’s height.

I had every student* introduce themselves to a partner and then introduce that partner to the class. This was somewhat of a struggle in the more crowded classes, but I think that it was useful to have had every student say at least a few sentences in English out loud, and to have personally interacted (even for a few seconds) with each of them. I teach the same lesson to every class (adjusted slightly based upon the general level of the students), which made me a veritable pro at teaching introductions by class ten. (Not really. It does, however, make my lesson much better and allows me to anticipate problems each class might have.) After reviewing numbers (and correcting such issues as “fiveteen”, “tirty” and differentiating between “seventeen” and “seventy”) I gave many of my classes a brief quiz in which they wrote down numbers that I said out loud. This quiz was intended to get them to focus and to determine whether they all truly understood numbers or if they only thought that they did. The quizzes went fine, though the students appear to believe that during quizzes I am neither able to see nor to hear. This is a topic for another post.

“Why two pretzels?” you might ask. As I collected my papers at the end of one of my classes, the last two students in the room came up to me. Shyly, each girl held in her hand a bag of pretzel sticks from which they had been eating during class. Though the contents of each bag was identical, both gingerly offered me a pretzel from their own. Nervous but smiling, the girls thanked me in their best English and told me that class had been very good. Then they left.

* In Turkish, a student is often referred to as an arkadaş, or a friend. The result is that – for a non-native speaker, at least – everyone sounds very chummy.

PS. For more great information about our first week teaching in Osmaniye, check out Latasha’s blog at

A Weekend in Arsuz

Last weekend, Latasha and I took a trip down to the town of Arsuz in Hatay Province to do some exploring and to take a break from the never-ending heat here in Osmaniye. Since this post is a week overdue and I’m trying to catch up, I’ll keep it brief. Upon first arriving in the town, three things were readily apparent: Arsuz was beautiful, welcoming, and Arab. Though Hatay has been part of Turkey for a little over seventy years, it is still ethnically a heavily Arab (and particularly Alawite) province.  As a result, the area felt culturally distinct from the other parts of Turkey that I’ve visited so far. Walking around town pieces of conversation in Arabic could be heard in cafes and among beach-goers, while the silence at night was broken by lively Arabic tunes blaring from a bar along the river. Many cars also bore Syrian license plates – I’m unsure whether this is a recent development or if Syrians have always frequented the region. Make no mistake – all signs were in Turkish, and the national flag and bust of Atatürk stood dutifully in the center of the town. We were clearly in Turkey, but a more multi-ethnic and culturally diverse version than we saw in Ankara.

The town is geared toward the water, bisected as it is by an emerald colored river lined on each bank with restaurants. Gazing up the river into the distance gives a view of large, rounded mountains reaching up to the clouds, while a glance in the other direction shows the open expanse of the Mediterranean. Not a bad place to spend the weekend.  The Mediterranean was once described to me by a French friend as “a large bathtub”. It was, I think, a very apt description. The water was clear, warm, and perfectly flat. The sand was fine both on the beach and in the water, and the slope of the land from shore to sea was so gradual that you could wade out 60 feet and remain standing. After the hundred degree heat we’ve had here in Osmaniye on some days, it was a great break.

The food was equally refreshing. In contrast to our meat and bread based meals in Osmaniye, our dinners in Arsuz consisted of fish, salads, and mezze – tapas-esque small plates like hummus, baba ghanoush, and cheeses – accompanied by glasses of rakı, the anise-flavoured national drink of Turkey. We also had what Latasha and I both agree was the best döner of our trip. The particularly juicy meat was spiced with cumin, apparently a regional specialty, and something we otherwise haven’t encountered here. Between the beach and the food, I think I hardly have to say that this was not be the only trip I’ll take to Arsuz.

Still, there is one somber note about the whole experience. Laying on the beach, it was immensely sobering to think that just fifty miles down the coast looking out over the same shimmering water were Syrians hoping for peace and security, unsure of what new difficulties their country. No matter how remote it may feel at times from my life here, a war is being waged just miles away.

Yeni Hoca

Today was the first real teaching day after the conclusion of the semi-official-but-actually-optional first week. Well, today is the first real day of class, I guess, because I haven’t yet finished. Teaching began at 9:15 am, and it will end tonight at 10:15 pm. During the first week of class, students tended to not show up, particularly if they were not in their first year. We seemed to have about a thirty percent attendance rate throughout the week. As a result, my colleagues (the English lecturers who I am assisting) limited themselves to presenting the format of the class and introducing me. Very little teaching occurred, and if it did I had little to do with it. This week, in contrast, I’m all alone. Since nobody from my 9:15 class showed up last week, nobody knew who I was this week. Unfortunately for them, due to a scheduling conflict, they also had not had any English language instruction with a Turkish professor yet this week. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plan, at least as of now, is for me to teach the practical section of sixteen different introductory English classes. All freshman take 3 hours of English a week during their first year. For almost all the students, this occurs as one block of three hours,once a week. The first two hours of these classes are taught in Turkish by a lecturer from the university. These two hours will theoretically cover grammar and vocabulary. I arrive for the last hour, which I use to practice the material and to give the students experience with a native speaker.

Since they hadn’t yet had a lesson in vocabulary or grammar this morning, this lesson didn’t go quite as planned. From the students perspective, I’m sure it was an overwhelming experience. They’re all in their first year of college, and have come from cities all over Turkey to a new place. This was the first class that they would have in university, and it was lead by a yabanci* who did not speak their language. I probably had it pretty easy, compared to them. We all did the best we could, and hopefully they enjoyed it, at least a bit. Inshallah, the scheduling issues will be hammered out by next week.

No matter what, I’m happy to finally be in front of a class. Months of waiting have built up to this. It feels good to get started.

* Foreigner. A term thrown about quite often in reference to myself and Latasha. Not a negative word, just an observation.

Fourth day, first words

It’s only my fourth day in Osmaniye, but this is my second dinner based around mantı. The moment I tasted it, sitting on a porch overlooking a cami* and the university gates, I knew that we would be fast friends. Prepared for us by a colleague’s Aunt, our mantı was seasoned with mint (nane) and red pepper (biber). The water from the cooking process was retained to make it a little more stew-like, while the spice was cut with a yogurt and garlic mixture. The mantı themselves are filled with sheep (or sometimes lamb) meat, and had a sweet and meaty flavor. These photos are from our attempt to recreate that dish the next night as our first dinner in the guest house. Though not up to the standards of the night before, we made a pretty good hash of it.

* The Turkish word for a mosque. In Turkish, the letter “c” is pronounced as an english “j”.