On Friday morning, after sleeping in and taking the morning routine very slow, a few of the students piled in a taxi to visit the elementary school where our Turkish teacher, Mehmet Bey, teaches English. We’ve visited the school before, for Halloween and to teach English for an afternoon. Each time involved a significant amount of chaos and yelling, but the disorder was balanced sweetly with huge hugs from troops of Turkish children and fun games on the playground. This time, we spent an hour with the eighth graders doing reading exercises. Whereas the younger children are overwhelmed by our presence and react by yelling and laughing and pointing, the older kids’ excitement was much quieter and calmer. The boys asked questions about zombies, and the girls laughed when Jack said he is going to play for the NBA.
It’s definitely culture shock – in a full, genuine kind of way, more so than what I experience when walking around ancient ruins or when chatting with people, probably because of the energy and excitement of the kids. We stepped out of the cab and immediately a small kid (the student “on duty”) ran up to us to say, “Hello.” As we were walking into the building and up the stairs into Mehmet Bey’s classroom, children were looking at us in awe and yelling, “Hello!” and trying to lure us into their classroom instead of Mehmet’s. Usually when we come into Mehmet’s classroom, the fourth graders are jumping and laughing, but the eighth graders were seated and calm when we entered. The Georgetown students led a reading activity straight from their textbook. Granted these students had been taking English classes at school for over three years, but the topic to me seemed very difficult given that the students had trouble interacting with “How are you?” “What are you doing today?” questions. They were learning about the War of Independence, munitions, armistice, occupation, and protestation and answering questions such as, “What are the disadvantages of war?” “What are the qualities of a national hero?” It was very impressive, and also an interesting insight into the way students are taught. Mehmet Bey acknowledged that these students must do well on an exam at the end of the year in order to place into a good secondary school, so he must teach to the test – a phenomenon not unknown in the United States, although it seems manifests in a different way in the U.S. After reading about the war, though, we talked about Thanksgiving – the Georgetown students described the food we eat in America on Thanksgiving, and the Turkish students could not fathom that there is no kebap at Thanksgiving (and basically in the U.S., although we explained barbeque). The Georgetown students explained how we watch (American) football on Thanksgiving, and the Turkish students asked about mascots and players. Even though the Packers don’t have a mascot, I told them that cheese represents the team – compared to the lion of Galatasaray or the broncos of Denver, it brought out a lot (a LOT) of laughs.
During the ten-minute break in class, we stood in the playground and were surrounded by crowds of 13-year old Turkish kids. Many wanted to take pictures with us, some asked about the price of an iPhone in the US, everyone said, “Hello! What is your name?” But, for many students, I think this was the extent of their English – when I answered or asked their name, they often just stared or ran away. Mehmet Bey told us that the kids love having us visit their school, that they are so excited to see us and meet actual English-speaking people. Usually, I’d be compelled to brush off such comments – but every time I go to the elementary school, I’m overwhelmed with the happiness of these students and their huge smiles. Even though I’m not sure how much English they’re absorbing when I talk to them, it’s amazing to know that over a month after I taught a song about numbers that the fourth graders can still recite parts of it and the gestures that went along with the song.