Sunday, February 22, 2015

Settling in at Bilkent and Such

There's a sweet dog that hangs around campus at Bilkent.  I noticed him within my first few days getting my bearings around the place.  He's medium sized, mixed breed, and runs around all three campuses like he owns the place.  Sometimes he'll tolerate students who want to talk to him and pet him.  And if you've got food, he's your best friend for about 10 minutes.  Usually he just patrols the grounds, happy to have a job to do and, clearly enjoying his freedom.  Occasionally he's got a buddy, mostly he's alone.  He looks like the happiest dog in the world, and when I see him I smile and think all dogs should have lives like that.  I guess all people should, too.  Anyway.... it reminds me of the groups of dogs that would run around together in Ankara about 2 years ago when I was first here.  They'd join up in the evening and have a grand old time running around the neighborhood, playing in the water fountains.  Such great entertainment.

Time is speeding along and I'm woefully behind in writing about what's happening here.  In the last several weeks I've met with my classes, of course, and I've also opened up my bank account, got my Turkish ATM card, Bilkent I.D., Bilkent email address, met some of my Fulbright colleagues situated throughout Ankara, and otherwise continued becoming "legit" in Turkey.  One Friday morning was spent at the main polis station in Ankara applying for my residence card.  Luckily, one of the kind personnel people from Bilkent took a Ukrainian researcher and me to the huge, imposing station and did "the rounds" for us while we waited in the "foreigners" area.   It was sort of like sitting at One Police Plaza in NYC to get your fingerprints and conduct report, except with several more layers of bureaucracy, about five different places to go to fulfill various steps in the process, and way more people buzzing about -- many of them whole families with several small children who may have been refugees (hard to tell since I don't speak any of the languages, but you get the impression) getting their paperwork together.  It was clear that if we hadn't had expert help to do it for us, we could have been there many more hours, even days (well, you know what I mean), trying to figure out all the documents they require, the proper payment, enough passport photos, and the correct number of copies.  The funny thing to me is that, once you apply, it can take up to three months to get the card.  And that will be just about the time I'm coming back to the U.S.   Meanwhile, I carry around the piece of paper that says I've applied so that when my original work visa expires I've got my papers and I can leave the country and come back again.   All of this in itself is such an education.  And only a tiny fraction of what U.S. immigrants must go through and feel like all the time--new place, foreign language, foreign customs, trying to get a sense of structure and familiarity.  I get it (on a much smaller scale).

As for teaching, it's going well.  My undergraduate Media Literacy class has about 13 students and my graduate Media Ecology/Digital Media class has 5 students.  I meet in the same room for both classes in this great building that also houses architecture and design classes.    The students are very like BC students in some ways, and in some ways unlike them.  We're still getting to know each other, and there's very little language barrier, though I'm always trying to make sure I"m using references that make sense to them, and asking them a lot about their media and media use so I can understand them and the Turkish system better.  The toughest part sometimes is not knowing how much they already know or have familiarity with, and how much is just brand new stuff to them.  I trust they'll let me know, but sometimes I'm worried that they're being a bit too polite to say anything.  So I forge ahead.  I have a very quiet office all to myself in the adjacent building, but students haven't stopped in yet with questions or concerns.  My biggest challenge in all of this is figuring out the Moodle stystem.  Everything is to be posted online.  Another good thing for me to be caught up with.

One fantastic thing about being here is that Jimmy is spending lots of time with me here right now.  He's working on a few book projects of his own so we have a nice, relaxed pace in our lojman yuz bes.  Last weekend we hung out in the oldest Ankara neighborhood (with luck I've got pictures posted), and just yesterday we came back from 2 days in Safranbolu, just north of Ankara on the way to the Black Sea.  Those pictures and description soon to come.  Spoiler, though..... one of the cutest places I've ever seen in my life.  Ever.  And my first haman experience (I was a slippery hunk of mud-covered flesh on a marble slab at the mercy of a kind yet muscular young Turkish woman who really knew her way around a 450 year old steamy spa cavern).

As for learning Turkish: the new beginner's class was cancelled because only three of us were signed up and the other one conflicts with my teaching.  So, I'm working on my own version of "Turkish to get by and not feel like such an idiot all the time," which so far allows me to greet people, say a polite please and thank you, count to five so far, understand the entrance and exit to a building, order food, , ask for the check, and find:  coffee, water, the toilet.  Not bad, you say?  What gets me by is other people's patience, not worrying that my pre-school Turkish probably grates on the ear, and lots of smiles and general pleasantness on my part.  Being raised in Minnesota helps an awful lot on that score.  Oh, and I'm drinking more tea because, well because you just do.  And there's the baklava.  And food in general.   My appetite-- for everything-- is enormous.  

I just miss my kids crazy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting settled at Bilkent University

On Tuesday, Feb. 10th, it will be two weeks since my plane landed on time, and unceremoniously, in Ankara, Turkey, where I was greeted by an efficient driver and whisked to my new apartment at Bilkent.  I knew about one word to say to him, Merhaba, and that exchange of greeting was our only verbal communication on the 25 km drive to the University from Esenboga.  When we got to my apartment building, Blok 105, he took both of my incredibly heavy suitcases (a bulging brand new suitcase had already fallen open all over the street in Brooklyn on the way to the airport), one lifted with each arm, and proceeded straight up to the second floor apartment.  I followed behind heaving my other book-filled bags up two flights.  The quiet and efficient driver opened the door, handed me the keys, and was gone before I could even say thank you... tesekkur ederim... my only other Turkish phrase.

I was exhausted from my flight, completely out of my element, and all alone in my new....wait... this is a really nice apartment!  Yes, it's spare, but its large, and comfortable and bright and very modern, and has a washing machine.  I don't even have one of those in my Brooklyn apartment.  And, best of all, it's really, really warm.  I'm a fan of warmth and light and they do both very well here.  Now I just have to stay awake for a few more hours so I don't completely screw up my schedule.  Unpack, check out the kitchen (they had supplied me with water, cheese, juice, rolls, milk, tea and sugar), the bathroom, the two (yes two) bedrooms.  And there was my lifeline..... a wifi box set up next to the desk so I could go online.  There's no TV set, but I'm digitally connected to the rest of the world.  Ahhh.

The sun was getting very low in the sky, it was about 4:30 pm, so I grabbed my bag and set outside to make my way to Bilkent Center, the big shopping area at the bottom of the hill, just outside the campus, that I noted as we drove in.  A modern hunter-gatherer by nature, I needed to find out where the food was, and to get my directional bearings, before I could settle back into my new home for the first night.  When everything is brand new, including the language, the signs, the driving patterns, and the landscape (and everything else), your instincts are on constant high alert.  The fresh air and 20 minute walk downhill to the gigantic (Target superstore meets Whole Foods meets Big Top Liquor) Real megastore revived me, and I timidly made my way through most of the aisles so I knew what they had, how much it cost, and what I needed to buy just for tonight.  I settled on another big bottle of water, some fruit, bread and hummus. The trek back home with a bag of food was almost all uphill, a steep hill on a narrow sidewalk, in the dark.  Breathing hard and back at my apartment blok I had to figure out my keys for the first time.  There was a brief moment of panic when I couldn't figure out the front door key, and it was dark because most of the lights are motion sensitive (a very smart energy-saving idea here... I wish they did much more of in the States) and my motion hadn't turned on the light yet.  Finally, it worked.  I'm inside the building, now I'm at my own door.  A second key attempt got me into my apartment.  This is now home for the next 4 1/2 months.  Food, a glass of wine (I thought ahead at duty free), then finally I could safely try to sleep.  It was only 8 pm, but close enough.   The newness, the pangs of missing home already, the all alone-ness, the fear, the excitement.  I needed some escape, and sleep was my escape.

Since that first night I've experienced a whirlwind of learning....the campus, my colleagues, my students, the bureaucracy involved in setting in and figuring out a new system and new administration.  And a new language.  Fortunately I teach in English, but I'm living in a Turkish culture, and language class starts tomorrow.   More on that, and other stuff, soon.......

Bilkent, Ankara, Feb. 8, 2015