NC, You can still make me proud

North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately and it’s not because of the sports or state fair. Unfortunately, it’s been because of Governor McCory and his determination to avoid all good advice. It’s been two and half years now since I’ve lived in North Carolina, one and a half of which has been out of  the country. It can be hard to keep up with everything that’s going on back home, but it has been almost impossible to avoid the constant updates about the North Carolina government.  And I’m not just talking about Facebook feeds–no, it’s on Digg, Slate, Education blogs galore, and even a sadly truthful article in The New York Times. When I first started looking at coming back to the States, Moral Mondays had just started. The decline of the public education system due to test-driven administration is nothing new, but arresting educators who are fighting for their students is just appalling. Now I don’t mean this to be a Democrat or Republican argument. It’s just that, as an educator, it’s hard not to get caught up in the reforms that McCrory wants. And now the governor is focused on voting rights and limiting them so that certain parties or candidates have a better chance for the election.

And I’ve heard the rumors. North Carolina and the South already come with a slew of stereotypes portraying the people there as uneducated, unworldly, racist, and fake. But I can speak from personal experience that this is not the case. Of course there are some people who fit the stereotypes, but there are more people who do not. Now when people look at North Carolina, it’s masked by the Governor’s efforts to fit some disillusioned agenda. They see North Carolina as crazy and backwards, which of course would again fit the stereotypes. But I want to reassure you that people are fighting. People are trying to make a difference and trying to make things right. The people of North Carolina do not all agree with what’s going on and they are smart, they are interesting, they are lovely, they are determined. And they’re starting young.

 

The expansion of nerds: how HP made me realize I am one

A couple of months ago I got into a heated discussion with some friends about what qualifies someone as a “nerd” This is something I’ve debated with other friends as well, mostly ones who would either be classified nerds but would also proudly claim the title as their own. The difference about this particular conversation, however, was that I greatly disagreed with one of my friends on what she said made a “nerd.” In sum, she described a nerd as someone who is socially awkward, gets uncommon references, is good with math and computers or things like that. I admit that there are specks of truth to what she was saying, but after debating it for a few hours, we still ended agreeing to disagree.

Kirk

Well last night I downloaded Travis Prinzi’s Harry Potter for Nerds: Essays for Fans, Academics, and Lit Geeks. I was particularly excited about reading it because I’d used one of his other books as a reference for my thesis on language and perspective for the Harry Potter series and found it enlightening and incredibly applicable to what I was writing about. So after finishing the most recent Dave Sedaris novel, I clicked on Prinzi’s book, starting with (as collections do) the introduction. And it was here that I stumbled upon this quote:

“But I’m noticing, with many others, a cultural shift in the perception of nerds, geeks, and dorks. J.K. Rowling followed up her comment about ‘obsessives’ with this:

And I did think if people like [Harry Potter] they would probably like it obsessively. I just never…but I thought that it would be am obsessive few—I never guessed it would be an obsessive many, as has happened.

The ‘obsessive many.’ What a great phrase. Notice the set-up: ‘It would be an obsessive few’; in other words, a small gathering of nerds. It turns out there are a lot of us. And much like Harry discovered wizard status from Hagrid, many of us have discovered our nerd status from Harry.”

27425And I know that, at least for me, this is true. I started reading Harry Potter at the age of 12 and became one of the obsessed. In addition to writing a Master’s thesis about it, I presented on it at multiple conferences—one of which was in Orlando  at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Of course it wasn’t just Harry that did this to me. Growing up, I’d watched Star Wars and Monty Python with my family; when I was grounded, my books were the first to go since I was usually grounded because I’d been reading instead of doing chores or homework; I knew the combos to Mortal Kombat and where to find a whistle for Super Mario 3; I would play Legos forever or I would set up my stuffed animals in a mock classroom and play “school” on the chalkboard easel my stepdad made me.

But it wasn’t until I started relating to other Potter fans that I realized I could classify myself as a nerd. And though I proudly identify with this title, many would still disagree with me. Many of my friends might say that I am simply not deep enough into this subculture to be able to identify with it.  Yes, okay,  there are thousands of references I will never get. Any day I don’t spend on Reddit will prove that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fall somewhere on the spectrum between nerdy and non (notice I don’t say nerdy and cool, because I don’t believe that those are always opposites).Dr. Who snickers

I agree with Prinzi. There is a cultural shift in the perception of nerds and nerdy doesn’t necessarily mean uncool. The stereotypes that you see on Big Bang Theory do not accurately reflect all nerd culture. It has, in fact, become a spectrum, on which many can fall. And despite the efforts of those who have claimed this title for decades (I’m talking to you Firefly fans), it’s almost insulting to not only say that a nerd has to be antisocial, but that anyone can be nerd. These are the elitists, the purists of the nerds, if you will. But thanks to folks like J.J. Abrams, things like Star Trek are reaching a much wider audience. (We’re going to ignore his involvement with Disney’s takeover of Star Wars  for now.) For example, my brother, Kirk, now gets why I’ve been calling him Captain his whole life.

And what about the internet? Yes, just all of it. Memes and LOL cats and Buzzfeed and an infinite amount of horribly amazing puns. It’s almost impossible to not be a nerd. So I want you to be careful before you dismiss the idea that the definition of “nerd” is expanding. I know plenty of nerds who are social and horrible at math. We’re simply outgrowing these clichés.To me, it just means that you are passionate about something that you can gush and talk about it for hours—whether the person you’re talking to shares that enthusiasm or not. So if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go finish my leisure book with analytical essays about my favorite series of all time.

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Don’t mind if I do…

Four things Turkey has taught me about myself

In the fall I applied for graduate school programs, but did not get in. In January, I told my current job that I wouldn’t be returning next year. In the spring, I began to apply for jobs back in the States—39 in all, but I did not get an offer. In fact, some schools did not even send an acknowledgment that they had received my application at all. I signed up with a teaching agency; they are incredibly helpful, but told me that prime hiring time had passed. Although, they did help me figure out how to make a video resume.

Then, just a couple weeks after school ended, my boss called and offered me a position with the high school. Another teacher had decided not to stay and they wanted me back and were willing to negotiate with me. After talking with my family and the agency, I have decided to stay. I like Turkey, but was ready to go home and still do miss the States in a lot of ways and I plan to return after this next school year (with more experience, skills, and money). I have a new apartment, I’ll take Turkish lessons, and I’ll get to travel a bit more. This decision was not easy, however, and made me really reflect on the past year. So here are some of the things Turkey has made me realize:

  1. Somehow I’ve done something right in the friend department. I’ve had so many friends take the time to Skype, put together care packages, send post cards or letters, or even fly thousands of miles to visit. When you’re that far from home, something as simple as a letter or a few minutes on Skype, or even an email, is incredibly rewarding.
  2. Believe it or not, I’m fairly good at getting context clues and reading certain situations. I have managed to learn a bit of basic Turkish, but there are still instances almost every day where I have no idea what people are saying to me. And telling them that I only speak a little bit of Turkish either makes them try their limited English or just speak more Turkish, but also use more hand gestures. When the latter occurs, all I can do is guess. And it turns out that my guesses are right 90% of the time. And 80% of the time my broken Turkish responses seem to be enough of a response. I thought this has to be something that everyone can do, but then I started dating my boyfriend and let’s just say that he’s much better at memorizing the vocabulary than I am. I keep him around for reading things, but he lets me do the talking.
  3. I take a lot of things for granted. Here are just a few: shower stalls, trees and scenery, internet freedoms, ranch dressing (and a variety of other foods), being able to express myself to anyone (ie doctors, parents of students, hairdressers, the clerk at the clothing store), having a car and the freedoms that come with it, being able to find books in English, all the difficulties foreigners have to deal with in the States.
  4. I can be more diligent that I have been. I’m working on it, but I’ve been getting a lot better about writing more regularly, taking initiative to continue learning, reading more, etc. Of course I’m not where I’d like to be, but being in Turkey has forced me to think about what I want and not waste my time. I watched two episodes of The Office before writing this blog post, though, so I’m still working on it.

Of course this isn’t everything, but it’s just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of this previous year.

Oof Ya

I apologize (yet again) for my lack of recent posting. There has certainly been enough to talk about. Perhaps that was the problem–too many distractions. Well I would like to update you on the past couple of months and I suppose the best place to start would be March. I apologize in advance if my next few posts seem rushed as I’m trying to catch up.

Ok, March. the biggest adventure of March was Passover. My goodness, what an ordeal.

When I first moved to Turkey, I was unsure of the level of anti-Semitism, so I was careful with what I said or did. But as I became more comfortable and opened up to people, I received nothing but acceptance and support. So far I haven’t experienced any more problems than I did living in the South. A friend of a coworker even lended me a menorah for Channukah and there are plenty of other teachers who take off for holidays, which leads me to Passover. I decided that this would be my first venture into a foreign synagogue. I looked up temples online and found a couple on the Asian side, but when I called to find out service times, my limited Turkish was about as helpful as the other person’s limited English. After finding someone to help me translate (I was at least able to provide the Turkish word for Passover; apparently they also just say Pesach), I was told that I needed to fax all my information to the high rabbi of Istanbul.

Apparently there were bombings at a couple temples years back, so they are very serious about the security. That made me feel both safer and more nervous at the same time, but I went ahead anyway. I sent in a copy of my passport, address, phone number, and which temple I wanted to go to. Then the one lady in all of the Istanbul temple workers  who could speak English called me back to let me know I’d been approved. I talked to the same woman who lent me the menorah and asked her how conservatively I should dress. She told me that what I was wearing at the time (a short-sleeved dress and boots) would be fine. So I asked off work, washed that exact outfit, made sure to write down the address of the temple, and had my roommate order a taxi for the morning.

I woke up very nervous and excited (perhaps anxious would be a better word?). I dressed in my dress, boots, and a cardigan and made sure to grab a scarf in case I’d need to cover my head. I then met the cab driver outside the apartment and I was on my way. The cab driver was chatty (they’re usually very chatty or very impatient) and I spoke what I could with him, but was trying to pay attention to where we were going. I was only vaguley familiar with the area. He turned off the main road and we started to pass a lot of apartment buildings. I looked at the address again–this was the street where the synagogue was, so I started matching the numbers. Finally, he pulled up across from number 3, which was the correct address, but it was an apartment building. I looked desperately at the sheet again and back at him. He pointed to the sheet and explained that this was number three. This was  where I’d asked to go. I wanted to tell him, “well, yes, I can see that, but this isn’t where I want to go.” Instead, I just said thank you, paid him, and stepped out of the car. We were close to an intersection, so I walked to the corner and checked the street signs. Again, this was where I was supposed to be. Service started in 20 minutes and I had no idea where the temple was. I walked back to number three, but it was still just an apartment building. I was Harry looking for 9 3/4.

So I called my roommate. She tried to help, but the address she looked up was the same I had and she needed to go to work. So I decided to use my Turkish to try to ask for directions. I probably asked about five people. They each seemed to know what I was talking about and all pointed me back in the direction from which I’d come. It was frustrating not being able to tell them that I’d already been there and there was, in fact, no synagogue. They could obviously see the confusion on my face and always started talking more and faster, which was no help at all. So I just (again) thanked them and walked away. Finally I called my friend from work. I explained the situation and she said to go into the apartments. After the bombings, a lot of synagogues made it harder for people to find them, so it was quite possible that I was actually in the right place. So I went inside with her still on the phone. A guard came up to greet me and I understood “Kim,” which means who. So I thought he was asking who I was. I showed him my passport (as I was told I would have to do) and he took me to an elevator and up to an apartment room. The whole time I’m on the phone, narrating, and inwardly wondering how small this synagogue must be. The guard knocked a few times and said something to me. I nodded. A woman answered the door in her robe and I knew that we’d had a miscommunication. I handed him the phone, resigned that I was failing at communicating.

It turns out that he thought I was looking for the other foreigner in the building. My friend explained the situation to him and he also tried to tell me where it was, but even my friend didn’t understand. She called the synagogue and called me back. Apparently, thank you Google, the online adress was wrong. I was off by about 30 and needed to walk further down the road. She said that the guard at the synagogue was now expecting me and would be outside the security box waiting for me. I thanked the guard at the apartment building and again walked down the street. I saw the white security box and nervously went up to the man standing next to it.

“Synagogue?”

“Amerika?”

“Evet.”

“Pasaport?”

Thank God. I handed him my passport and he smiled. He spoke into a little microphone and another guard came out to escort me. At this point I still did not see a synagogue. And at this point, service has already started. The new guard led me past an apartment building and through a locked fence. He opened another locked door and I went into a hallway. (Mind you, I still have no idea what the outside of this place looks like. It was behind buildings and shrubbery.) I then had to go through a metal detector before we were buzzed through another door at the end of the hallway. Once through the door, it beautiful. Huge, marble, bright, colorful, and full of singing. I followed the guard, but wasn’t really paying attention to him. I was taking in my surroundings, happy that I’d finally made it. We walked toward the back of the building where he talked to an older man and pointed to me. The man then led me to a staircase, which brought me back to reality. This could not possibly be a staircase to…

A women’s section.

When I reached the top of the stairs, there was only one other woman–an elderly lady. She was sitting right in front of what appeared to be a balcony looking down on all the men. I was suddenly much more conscious of my skirt with no leggings or hose. I buttoned my dress up all the way, took my scarf off my neck, loosely wrapped it around my head, and sat down next to the woman. She smiled at me and wished my happy Passover. I smiled back and wished her the same. I managed to find a prayer-book, but had no idea what page we were on. My Hebrew is about as good as my Turkish and while I can recognize and recite prayers when I hear them, I certainly can’t read them or the Turkish transliterations. I looked down into what I like to call the “man pit” and watched as the men moved freely, greeting each other, kissing both cheeks, adjusting their shawls. A few more women trickled in over the next few hours and we just watched as the men sang, stood, sat, kissed the Torah. All things I was used to doing, not viewing.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had during this experience. It was nice to hear familiar prayers and songs (even if the melodies weren’t the same). It was nice to be with other Jewish people, excuse me, women, even if we couldn’t really speak to each other. And it was nice to be in a place of worship on a holiday. But I was removed and upset and fighting these feelings the whole time. I was not really allowed to participate and I resented it. I didn’t feel free or comfortable. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t celebrate the way I wanted to and as much as I shouldn’t have, I felt sorry for the other women there. They were all modern looking women. Some didn’t even cover their heads while they were there. But I would hate to teach my daughters that they need to be seperated from what’s going on and I fully disagreed, but I knew it wasn’t my place to do so.  After all the work I put in to get there, I was too distracted and distraught to enjoy it. I made it three hours before I left.

I don’t think I will do it again, but I can say that I appreciate the experience. I was hoping for something familiar, but I have never been so out of my element.

2012 Review

Last year I decided that instead of making resolutions that would never come to fruition, I was going to try to make attainable goals, while still trying to challenge myself. I realized that I needed to find a happy medium between striving to be better and being realistic. The result was a lengthy blog post and a few goals for the new year. A year later, it’s time to reevaluate these goals, determine how realistic I really was, and decide new goals for 2013.

2012 Goals

Read at least 30 books

I’ve been keeping track of all the books I read this year and I am disappointed to say that I did not reach 30. However, I did reach 17 and I guess that’s not too bad. It was fun always keeping this goal in mind; though I enjoy reading and usually read more than many (I think), I think that having this goal in the back of my mind pushed me to read a little more than I normally would.

Write at least 10 short stories

…I may have fallen way short on this one. I wrote one short story this whole year. As they say in Turkey, “oof ya.” (That’s a phonetic interpretation, of course.) I need to work on this

Submit at least 3 things for publishing

I submitted one thing for publishing. While it’s not three, it’s more than zero. I definitely need to work on this for next year.

Move to Istanbul

Check. Done and done. I accomplished one of the biggest goals I set for myself. Not too shabby.

Reach 200 blog posts

The main purpose of this goal was to make sure that I was continuously writing. Last year was the first year in 13 that I was not in school and that I didn’t have someone telling me to write something. I needed to make sure that I could maintain some sort of writing schedule (be it an erratic schedule) on my own and that I wouldn’t get lazy just because the teachers were gone. Final result: 107 posts. No, it’s not 200, but I don’t think it’s a horrible number either. It shows me that I don’t need teachers to make me write and that I am capable of pushing myself. However, I want to push myself even more next year.

Challenge myself more

Check. I have done nothing but challenge myself this past year. I worked at a job where I was solely responsible for the whole department. I traveled on a low-budget, pushed myself to get a teaching license in a new state, moved to a foreign country, started learning a new language, started a new job, and retook the GRE and have been working on PhD applications. Not to mention I lived through an apocalypse. I think that counts.

Take advantage of what’s available to me

I feel that I am still working on this one. While I took advantage of plenty this past year, I don’t think I took advantage of as much as I could. Now that I am in Istanbul, I realize that I missed out on some things in the States. I need to actively work towards going out and experiencing what’s around me.

2013 Goals

So now it’s time to decide what to focus on for 2013. While the below goals may not be everything I want to do for 2013, they are at least some things I can try to hold myself to.

Read at least 25 books

Reading goal, take two. I’m hoping that by dropping it by five, I will be more likely to reach it. I will again keep track of them on my “books read” page, but I won’t hold myself to writing reviews of them.

Submit at least 3 things for publishing

Yes, I’m going to try this again. I’m not going to adjust the number, though, because this is when I have to tell myself that I am completely capable of this, but I must manage my time better and not be so lackadaisical about things I want to achieve.

Write at least 100 blog posts

I have to say that I am impressed with myself and how much I actually posted this past year. Though I didn’t reach my goal, I did make a greater effort to post more regularly and my numbers were much greater than last year. True, the posts are not masterpieces or my best writing in any way, but they keep me writing and researching. So this year only leaves room for more improvement.

Continue to challenge myself more

Since I’m living in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, I don’t think this should be too hard. I just have to make sure that I don’t let my friends help me with things when I can easily do them for myself (such as order my food or ask for change). And I also plan to travel as much as possible this year and continue to go places I have never been before.

Actively continue my learning

This goal is something I do anyway, but I want to hold myself to it. I’m always listening to podcasts, reading the paper or essays, and am currently trying to learn Turkish (though this one is more of a necessity). Perhaps in this new year I can take some additional classes or try to learn some new skill. But as a teacher, I think it’s vital to always continue learning.

Christmas in Istanbul

Well I woke up today, which is good news. I can call my family back home and let them know that we’re seven hours ahead here and the world is still fine. So don’t worry–I will be able to celebrate my Christmas in Istanbul.

I have been told many many times that Turkey is a secular country and I’m starting to believe it. Because even though there are mosques abound and some women choose to cover their heads or wear a burka, I have been surprised by the amount of Christmas spirit I’ve experienced in Istanbul. Little Christmas trees and lights have popped up in stores and in homes all around the city. Even our school placed a large, beautiful tree in the entryway. We’re having a Christmas party at work, secret Santa and all. We even get Christmas Eve and Christmas off. The most interesting part to all of this, though, is that most of our children aren’t even Christian.

Let me back track a minute. Perhaps I should have prefaced this with the fact that I am not Christian either. I am Jewish and even celebrated Hanukkah this year with a borrowed menorah. But I still love and celebrate Christmas (just a more secular version). I love the trees, the lights, the songs, the food, the company, the spirit, the stories and yes, the presents. So maybe some of Turkey feels the same way I do.

And as if determined to prove my point, it snowed yesterday. All day yesterday. The school let us go early and canceled classes for today.  That means that I have a mini-Christmas break. So yes, I woke up today, despite the Mayans predictions and planets colliding or whatever. But what I want to stress is that I woke up to a snowy day in Istanbul on my first day of Christmas break. I think I’ll go out for some tea and do some Christmas shopping at the Grand Bazaar…just because I can.

Happy holidays.

Banana Cake and Berlin

My roommate’s dad is very sweet to us and since he knows I like bananas, he is always bringing me some. The problem is that they usually go bad before I can eat them. The easy American fix for this is banana bread. However, I didn’t realize this was an American fix (or maybe it’s just not a Turkish one–I haven’t quite figured it out yet) until I made some the other day. In fact, since there were so many bananas, I made two batches and decided to share most of them. When I took some down to the family I tutor for, she looked confused as to what it actually was.

“Mus ekmek,” I explain, which is the best I can do. It’s literally banana and bread, but with all the suffixes in Turkish, I have no idea if it’s right.

Mmm, banana cake sprinkled with brown sugar.

“Bread? Is this not a cake?”

Well, no. In English, we call this bread. But if you look at it, it does contain a different consistency than most regular breads. It shares a closer consistency to cake in my opinion and it is sweeter, but hadn’t thought of it until she actually pointed it out. Which, if it were bread would make it some form of Mus Pasta, as pasta in Turkish is actually cake. I know, I was confused too.

Either way, the smell of it baking reminded me of home and if I were in the States, I would be stuffing my face next Thursday with Thanksgiving foods. And for the record, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Ever. Who doesn’t love a holiday that centers around food? Alas, I will not be home for Thanksgiving this year, but I will be in Berlin with a friend from the States. So it will be fun to see how we can celebrate it together in a country that doesn’t celebrate it. Maybe we’ll have some mus pasta.

Packages from home

I don’t care what technological advances the world makes, there will be nothing like getting snail mail. It always makes you feel good to make you know someone is thinking of you and turning those thoughts tangible. Right before the Bayram I got a package from mom and although my friend called it “diabetes in a box,” I was pretty stoked about it:

And recently I received this package from a friend from college:

True, this one is also mostly food, but I love that people are responding to my longing for Oreos. If only they could send me an enchilada. And in addition to packages, I’ve received cards, postcards, and even handwritten letters. When I got home from work today, there was a notice on the door for yet another package to pick up. I cannot believe how supportive and thoughtful people have been. Living in Turkey is an incredible experience, which is never short of adventures and learning opportunities, but it’s always nice to know that people are still thinking of you back home.

I’ve only managed to send out a handful of postcards and one birthday present so far. The post office is often closed by the time I get home from work. Hopefully I’ll be able to send out more soon. To those who have sent something (or more than one thing in some cases), even if it’s just a handwritten letter, it means the world and always puts a smile on my face.

**As a quick side note, one of my best friends from the States told me today that she can visit in April. I’m super excited! Maybe by then I’ll be fluent in Turkish and can show off my amazing skills. Or you know, at least be able to order her lunch.

 

Gay marriage and pot, oh my.

Four more years.

For some that is a joyous announcement, and for others it is cause to drink away their sorrows. (Ok, perhaps not that bad, but you get the point.) Outside the States, people are having a jubilee. And I must say that Romney gave an honorable and polite concession speech. I congratulate him on that matter and congratulate Mr. President on a reelection. But whether you are for or against Obama is not my point today, because what is also making the news is that the United States continues to make history with every election and this one has been no exception.

In Maryland, voters approved the MD. Dream Act, which would give tuition breaks to students who were brought by their parents as illegal immigrants. According to The Baltimore Sun, supporters of the act argue that “the tuition breaks would help young people who were brought here by others to become contributing members of society.”

Maryland voters also voted to legalize same-sex marriage (this vote upheld the law that was already in place). Voters in Maine also approved same-sex marriage, “making the two states’ voters the first in the country to approve the measures by a popular vote” (The Washington Post).  Minnesota  and Washington are voting whether to approve laws that would allow same-sex marriage (The Huffington Post). And while we’re still waiting for results, at least it’s a close race.

In other historical news, Colorado and Washington have become the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. It will be interesting to see how this works out, because while the new laws will make it legal for anyone over 21 to possess up to an ounce (without a medical marijuana card, which has been the case so far in CO), and for businesses to sell it, the drug is still illegal according to federal regulations.

According to ABC News, “even though the issues have passed, they are likely to meet legal challenges very quickly. In 2005, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.”

Yes, times are changing, and in my opinion, they are only getting better. Life has been rough for many people recently and I can only hope that things continue to improve for everyone. And it’s times like these, when people come together for the greater good and recognize that we are not alone in our problems, when people are allowed to marry who they love and families can–legally–be together, when children who want to get an education are not punished for actions out of their control,  and when opposing sides can gracefully acknowledge the others’ strongpoints, that I become hopeful. And whether you are for or against legalizing marijuana, it is the idea that people are open to listening, open to change, that forces me to fully appreciate the beautiful diversity that builds our country.

And today as I sit in a classroom in Istanbul, Turkey, and watch events unfold back home, I celebrate how far we have come, but am aware of how far we still have to go. I hope our president will fulfill his duties and lead us to strength and recovery, with the world watching. And as cliche as it may sound, it is days like today that I am especially proud to be an American.

I am illiterate

I currently live with two friends from grad school: a Turkish girl, Esra, and an American guy, Stephen, both of whom were in the English department with me. The Turkish girl and I lived together in the States as well and we all now live together in Istanbul. While Esra’s English is almost native, neither Stephen nor I knew Turkish before we moved here.

This past weekend, we all went out with friends of Esra’s and a friend of mine from work. Though my friend is Canadian, her family is Turkish and therefore she speaks the language fluently. She asked me and Stephen what it was like to move to a foreign country and not know the language. Stephen said he’s had a difficult time articulating exactly how it feels or what it’s like. Together, we decided that it is frustrating, exciting, alienating, and rewarding. All those words are fitting, yes, but still do not accurately describe the sensation. I stopped listening to the conversation for a minute and looked around the restaurant we were in. There were signs and menus and containers and lots of people talking or messing with their phones and that’s when it hit me and I rejoined the conversation:

“It’s like being illiterate, well, because technically we are.”

I cannot read the signs. Sure, I can recognize certain things: thank you, good morning, hello, one, three, fish sandwich. But the rest is a mystery. I can’t read the newspapers or books. I don’t understand many of my colleagues, the baker, the cashier, the tailor, the hairdresser, the nurse, the radio DJ. I can’t ask directions, discuss the news, or tell my waiter that I didn’t order the cheeseburger. I wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation with a kindergartener. And even worse, that kindergartener would have a much better language acquisition than me. Imagine that you are living where you do currently and suddenly you can no longer do any of these things. As I said, it is incredibly frustrating and alienating.

But once you catch on, it’s also incredibly rewarding and exciting. Continue reading