By Jeremy Bender (Ankara, Turkey '11, 2011 CLS Alumni Ambassador)
|Jeremy in Amasya, Turkey, with two Turkish instructors|
When I received the news that I would be going to Turkey as a Critical Language Scholarship recipient in 2011, I couldn't quite believe my luck. In fact, until about the second-to-last week of the program, the fact that I was in Turkey still hadn't truly hit me. It seemed so unreal and magical – here I was, abroad, alone for the first time in my life, living quasi-independently and completely happily with a Turkish family I had only just met, and yet knew intimately.
I can't say that the CLS experience was not a stressful and challenging time: my commute to and from class in Ankara proved grueling, and there were times when I felt as if I would never be able to improve my language skills. However, I can say that upon reflection, the summer I spent in Ankara proved to be a truly pivotal life moment for me. Although I returned to America burned out and travel weary – I had gone to China for an additional month after the program finished for my brother's wedding – I soon began to miss many of the things that I had taken for granted in Turkey: Turkish breakfasts, the culture of never-ending tea, and the friendliness of the Turkish people.
So, with this small fire of desire to return to Turkey quickly growing, I applied to teach English in Turkey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. When the news arrived this past May that I had received a Fulbright ETA award and would be returning to Turkey, I again couldn't quite fathom what that meant. This time, I would be living in Malatya and teaching at İnönü University. Even now, five months after coming to Turkey for the second time, I am still sometimes dumbstruck by the realization that I am truly here; that realization is always accompanied by a second wave of euphoria.
I again can't say that my time in Malatya has been completely perfect – there were annoyances like having to acquire a Turkish cell phone and residence permit, which almost always were accompanied by a feeling of despair that my Turkish wasn't good enough. But all of these negative feelings passed once I began to integrate myself into daily Turkish life and started teaching.
|Jeremy's students enjoy a Thanksgiving celebration|
Teaching English through the Fulbright ETA program might be one of the most rewarding things I've done. It is inspiring to look at the amazing strides my students have made in four months, coupled with their desire to become even better. My students often invite me to a cafe during a class break, where we can have unstructured conversation practice or they teach me new phrases in Turkish. They are also extremely interested in learning about American culture, leading to some wonderful holiday exchanges – we had a Thanksgiving Party in class, for instance.
Prior to receiving the Fulbright I had no real teaching experience whatsoever. But I quickly learned that the CLS Program had helped prepare me for this experience in many ways – and not just linguistically. Remembering how my Turkish classes were structured at the TOMER Institute in Ankara, I've tried my best to incorporate many of the elements I found the most enjoyable and beneficial into my curriculum. For example, I try to make use of music and lyrics in my classes whenever a fitting song comes to mind.
As a Fulbright ETA, I have also appreciated the program's active encouragement to travel throughout the country. My host university graciously provided me with three-day weekends so that I could make various weekend trips. Thanks to this, I have managed to complete one of my major bucket-list goals – seeing Mount Nemrut. Currently, I have plans for a weekend trip to the southeastern regions of Mardin, Batman and Diyarbakir with some of my students.
|Jeremy at the top of Mount Nemrut with two fellow Fulbrighters|
I cannot imagine what life would have been like had I not received the CLS or the Fulbright awards. In much the same way, I cannot imagine how life will progress after the completion of this program. But for now, I will simply focus on enjoying and appreciating my time in Turkey.