After.. a while?

Ordering a pizza not only without any problems but also asking for some additional ingredients and warning the lady that my doorbell doesn’t work hit me with the sudden realization of how far I’ve gone in being a foreigner. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a language related problem in stores, pubs or any other public places. I guess fully adopting to the environment should be normal at this stage, yet it was exciting for me when I thought about it. I’m planning to apologize from all the people I’ve bored during this adaptation period with questions like ”where is that?, where do i buy it?, where can i…?, what?” Then I stopped thinking and did the laundry. Besides a really unusual first time teaching experience, the assistantship gave me the opportunity to learn to live on my own. I’m doing all kinds of housework without any laziness. I only knew how to cook pasta and eggs before I came here, now I’m creating wonders in the kitchen. Well, maybe not wonders but at least I can make sandwiches with billions of different combinations. I’d call this progression while others might choose the word desperation.

Alright, back to G2. Things are more or less the same in the school. I don’t know is it my delusion or not but the students are looking more cheerful these days. I’ve decided to reason that with the arrival of Spring. Even I’m more cheerful nowadays, greeting good old sun in joy. There was an interesting day to celebrate Spring’s first day. I’ve been told that in this day students get to dress and act like teachers. I went to the school to observe but many students didn’t show up because they didn’t have to. I decided that I’d do the same thing if I were them and went back home. My mentor, who happens to be the best mentor alive by the way, informed me that there will be more of these days with different themes in the near future. I’ll observe them too. 

As nothing unusal happening these days, I want to talk about the past for a while. The other day, I saw the other assistants complaining about doing nothing culture-oriented in their schools and looked back to see what I’ve done in this regard. Majority of them were saying there have been no demand for a cultural event at all since their arrival and justifiably unhappy about this considering the whole point of the program is cultural interaction. Unlike them, I can count myself lucky in this matter. I had the opportunity talk about my country and culture and answer some questions in the beginning. Then I prepared a presentation and presented in lots of classes. The most interesting question I’ve been asked after my presentations was this: ‘Your country is so beautiful, why did you come here?’. I guess that’s the result of leaving the bad sides out and just talk about beautiful things about the certain country. I believe nobody cares about my political opinions and struggles during daily life, so I’ve been trying to leave out my personal opinions out of my presentations as much as possible. Hopefully that’ll result with a few additional tourists to my country during summer. It’s a great country for tourists anyway, I don’t think anybody will regret choosing Turkey. Besides the presentations I’ve prepared a showcase with materials from Turkey in the school. I’ve also tried to establish a cultural hour once a week but the students were too busy to participate. So, instead of doing that on regular basis, we decided to do occasional thematic events in the future. I’ll try to convince some students to participate in a traditional dances event just for fun. A Turkish movie projection and even a food tasting event (if i get good enough at cooking) are also in my plans. There’s a Turkish week in Warsaw starting on April 23rd, i’ll also go there and try to obtain new ideas to apply in our school. I’ve also been invited to another school to make a presentation and it went well. They’ve cooked Turkish food and they all tasted great. I even asked for recipe of one of them ashamedly. Unfortunately, two hours wasn’t enough to tell everything on my mind and answer all of their questions, so we agreed to meet once more before I leave Poland. That’s one of the cons of talking about the cultural aspects of a country full of cultural diversities. The required time is never match to the time given. But seeing the Spring has shown its beautiful face, I’ll devote more time on cultural aspects.

And now for something completely different, I’ve moved into a new apartment really close to the school. I can see it from my balcony and it feels really good. The name Kilińskiego is becoming an unforgettable part of my life.  

That’s all for now, do następnego razu. 

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After some more time

Considering that I have left more than half of my assistantship period behind me, I believe I can underline a few basic differences between Polish and Turkish educational systems. Learning the Polish way and blending its beneficial aspects into my future career as a teacher was one of the main reasons of me wanting to participate in this programm. As I superficially indicated in my last post, there are no ‘game changing’ big differences between them. I though about its reason for some time and the most logical explanation I could think of was that Gimnazjum nr. 2 was one of the common schools and as an unexperienced teacher and a member of an upper-mid class family, I’ve spent my whole life in common schools. My definition of ‘common schools’ in this context refers to those schools demanding no spectacular amounts of money in return of a whole new level of education quality. These are the public schools majority of our populations go, hence we all know how their system works. I didn’t expect huge differences when it comes to teaching approaches or overall student managament methods used in the schools. Approaches are international and the ones we supposed to use in this century are the ones proven good by experiences of last centuries.

The biggest difference between two systems is the amount of years students study. In my country after 8 years of primary-secondary education students start high schools and spend 4 years in these schools. Until immediate past we had divided primary and secondary education (5+3) but now they’re combined. Here in Poland, students start Gimnazjums after the first phase of their education and spend 3 years in these. They are taking an exam at the end of their Gimnazjum education and go to high schools where they have to study 2 more years. After high school, university starts. As far as I know, their success is a plays a great role at determining on which universities they can go. In Turkey, students take have to take university entrance exam in order to start a university and their success level has a minor effect on this matter. They can easily finish their high schools without being a successful students or having good grades but they can still have the right to choose best universities if their university exam point fits to their minimum expectations. And if they fail to get enough points to go their dream university or department, they have right to wait as many years as they want until they get what point they want. I’ve been told that it’s impossible to go upper quality universities for students whose grades have been below average grader throughtout their school years but I’m not convinced yet. I’ll ask about this more and get a precise answer.

Now for some in-school differences, for starters, the students in Gimnazjm nr. 2 are not wearing uniforms. As person who had to wear a tie and ugly gray fabric pants for 4 years in high school, I envy them on this matter. However, I’m well aware that the sociological aspect of this matter is the biggest reason why uniforms are still obligatory in most of the Turkish schools. There has been an argument over the students’ teenage hearts since my childhood and many people say that wearing same clothes over and over in a uniform-free school can hurt their feelings because some families just can’t afford to buy brand new clotes for every day of the week. As this argument has been going on for a long time and still has no concrete solution, I’ll drop it here. I’m just letting interested parties know the reason behind this uniform rule.
Here, the students have also lockers and their own entrance to school. They use their entrance when they arrive to the school, leave their stuff in the locker located in the basement and move in the school without having to carry their burden. As far as I know, we don’t have a similar system in my country. Students carry their rucksacks wherever they go.
Another thing is, after each lesson, classes move to another one related to their next lesson. They have classes for every lesson. This praxis is new in Turkey and not many schools use this. When I was in highschool, every class had their own classroom and had been spending their whole day in them. Teachers were moving between different classes instead of students. Luckily, the authorities saw the need of a system like this and trying to apply this in every school nowadays. It’ll take some time to get used to it though.
Lastly, a topic majority might find insignificant but I couldn’t help mentioning. In Turkish schools, we a ceremonies in every morning and in the end of Fridays. In the mornings, all of the students gather together in school’s garden and repeats an oath called ‘Students’ Oath’. In this oath, they say things like ‘we are students, we are hard-working, we are the future, we will behave really good, we will not disappoint our country, we will do our best to become good individuals etc.’ And after schools on Fridays, they gather together again and sing our national anthem. For me, this ceremonies are nothing but waste of time and encourages monotony among students but not many people thinks the same as me. I’ve made my point anyway.

When it comes to general student attitude in school, I see no difference. I only see teenagers trying to have some fun and it makes me feel good that they are having good time. The students in Turkey acts the same way as the Polish students, because they’re teenagers and no matter where they live or what they believe, they share more or less the same life styles.

It’s getting late and I should prepare some material for tomorrow’s lessons. I’m leaving for now but I’ll be back soon with exclusive news from Gimnazjum nr. 2.

Na razie.

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After One Semester

Alright, the time gap between my first post and this one is longer than I planned. I had 3 more months in the meantime and when I look back to those now, I admire time’s capability of flying. Half of my given time in Elk is now behind me and I’m here to sum the last semester up for those who are interested.

Firstly, I’d like to proudly announce that I survived the ruthless winter of Northeastern Poland. I hope it’s not too early to assume it’s over, but it looks like it’s over. What I have to say about winter may not make any sense to people who got used to it since they were born in it, molded by it whereas I merely adopted it (i love putting movie references). I’ve seen snow only twice in my hometown before I came here and for a person like me, this heavy snow thing is kind of a big deal and I just can’t shut up about it. During the winter I’ve lost two pairs of gloves, some of my respect to my father for sending me bermuda short and hawaiian shirt pictures while I had to wear lots of clothes and meanwhile gained a little weight because of not going outside.

But how did my first half of assistantship go? I can put it like this: ‘amazingly fast’. According to Einstein’s relativity theory, we feel ‘wow that was quick’ about good things (he explains it in a more scientific a complicated manner), so I’ll say it was really good. I’d remember if I got bored at some point, but I don’t. And it’s most logical explanation for me is that there were more new things to experience than I imagined. This was my first time in a foreign country, I was in a small part of this country where most of people couldn’t speak any foreign languages, therefore their daily lives had purer reflections of Polish culture, there was a school I had to work in and I couldn’t interact with its students in their mother tongue which got me in trouble during lessons on many occasions, there was this winter people have been constantly speaking of, there were people ringing my doorbell and trying get in to talk me about some religion, there was a whole new student attitude in my school, there were cars on traffic stopping on pathways just to let me pass, some foods with scary looks and so on, I can expand this list to eternity and beyond. And all I got was this: ”Nie rozumiem po polsku :(”

In between all these things I didn’t have time to get bored or miss my old life.

I still remember my first day at the school. I got in from the front door and my tutor showed me around. There was a primary school part on the right half of the school, which was strange for me, because we don’t have this kind of schools in my country. The students were all looking at me. Because of my unusual height people looked at me on public places whole my life, so I was prepared for that. Can’t say I don’t hate being in the centre of attention, but I’m used to it. I was warned that there can be kebab references in the beginning since it’s the most popular thing about my country in other countries and some students adressed me as kebab on the hallway. They obviously found it funny. In fact, some of them still doing it and still think it’s funny. As every other person who was a teenager once, I don’t see the point of questioning teenagers’ sense of humour, so I’m not even reacting to it. Then I was introduced to other teachers. One of them assured me that I’d feel myself at home after spending one month in there and it turned out she was right.

I spent my first month observing the lessons and trying to figure out the approaches Polish teachers use in classes. It wasn’t so different from the language education methods used in my country, so I didn’t have any troubles adopting it. The main problem for me was the language barrier. I’m well aware that modern language education approaches strongly encourages teachers to use only the target-language in the classes but having a real classroom experience showed me it wasn’t as easy as they taught us in the university. There are nearly 20 students in each class and that means so many individual diversity. Teachers have to make sure they all learn the subject and the learning models of each student makes it hard to use one single approach. They all have to be taken care of and this is where we need mother tongue. I, naturally, can’t have that advantage in the classroom and I have to use the target language only. Putting a foreign language speaker in classes could actually be good idea to strengthen the pupils’ listening and speaking skills but the lenght of the lesson won’t allow it. There are lots of variables and perspectives in this manner and I saw my ideas of a perfectly effective lesson plan I had in my mind during my university years shattered. And I’m really glad they did. Being in the reality itself makes you think of more realistic solutions and sharpens your teaching skills, I guess. This realization alone, can be the reason why I won’t ever regret participating in this program. I would’ve realized it sooner or later in my country as well but as an unexperienced teacher, working in a whole new environment, having to use the target language all the time was way more effective. I am not having those hesitation moments, where I don’t know what to say, as often as I used to in the beginning and it’s just getting better as I gain confidence.

This was a brief summary of the effects of my assistantship period on my overall teaching skills. I wanted to mention them as they were the main reason of me having this period but they are not only posivite effects I experienced. I’ll write about them later. When it comes to negatives, the first thing comes to my mind is having to get up early. I was an ordinary student without any concerns about working life and suddenly, I had to buy an alarm clock. This is a big change in ones life. I chose my alarm clock by it’s price and bought a cheap one. Its ticking is louder than its alarm. I should’ve believed the man who said ”I am not rich enough to buy cheap things.” Other than getting up early, I can’t think of any negative sides of my assistantship period. Which is a good thing, huh?

I’ll try to write more frequently from now on and my next post will be about the cultural interaction we had in our school.

Until next time,

Do widzenia! (The students enjoy it when I try to speak Polish.)

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After one month

First of all, I want to thank god for giving me fingers. Without them I would starve because they were my only way to communicate in shops and markets.

Poland… The land about which I’ve heard a lot. Most of them were positive things and mostly about it’s natural beauties. After spending one month in this beautiful country, I can’t say that the stories I heard about Poland were lies. Well, maybe some of them were. ‘’You’re going to Poland where everything is cheaaaaaaap’’ they said. No. They were wrong. Clothing and eating is even more expensive than I used to. So, I’ll leave this as a warning for those who are excited of coming here with full of hope for shopping cheap.

Polish people are all warm and friendly as I expected. Even if I don’t know their language, they tried to communicate, which I find very nice of them. But I can’t generalize Polish people behaviours towards foreigners since I’ve been to Warsaw and Ełk and obviously there are two different perception of strangers in those two. Warsaw is just an ordinary metropolitan and doesn’t need much explanation. I’ll focus on Ełk since I believe the country’s culture is more pure in smaller towns.

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 In a small city like Ełk, you don’t have the luxury to walk on the streets unspotted. Especially if you have a beard, which seems to be unusual for Polish men. You just have to embrace the looks focusing on you as you walk down the street and try to act normal. This is where general Polish people behaviour enters the scene. Their attention doesn’t make you feel embarassed. It’s a well-known fact that there are places in which being a foreigner is hard because of the local people’s actions. But in Poland, I never felt bad about this. They give you the impression that they’re looking at you just because they are curious, not because they don’t want you to be there. And this absolutely quicken the adjustment period. After a certain point, you know that they all know you and you expect no harm from them. You can just start to act like you do in your own country.

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 I have things in my mind such as Polish cuisine, daily routines, habits etc. but I’ll need more time for observation to tell them from my point of view. That means, I’ll be back with certain subjects and continue to share my impressions and experiences. I tried to focus on being a foreigner in Poland fort his first review and I can sum up my sentences like this: ‘’Poland worths a visit.’’

Stay safe.

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