Friday, July 30, 2010


Şebek (shebek) is a Turkish word meaning baboon. Turks also use this term to describe a clown-like entertainer. In my understanding a şebek is a person that makes other people laugh, but those people are laughing at the şebek rather than at some funny joke he/she recited. That being said, a şebek must be someone that doesn't mind being laughed at. It wasn't long into our recent road trip through Turkey that I was labeled a şebek.

In my language learning adventure with Romanian I have learned so much about words, expressions, and accents. Even though learning a new language can be extremely tiring and stressful I have found ways to have fun with it. Many of us have heard the funny Indian accent of gas-station clerk on The Simpsons, or the countless comedic Chinese accents in so many movies including "Dude Where's My Car." We have also been able to laugh at other English accents, for example the Wisconson accent of "Fargo", or, my favorite, the southern accent of "Talladega Nights." Speaking in a foreign language, I have come to accept and even enjoy the entertainment that I offer others when I attempt to speak. In that rare occasion that I don't make one of the many possible grammatical mistakes, I still bring an interesting accent to the conversation that often times elicits a snicker if I'm speaking with somebody new. It brings a smile to there face, my face, and more often than not, it's understood. I had quite a bit of language fun in Turkey and this is in large part why I learned the Turkish term "Şebek" so fast.

I went to Turkey knowing some basic words from my last visit (hello, how are you, I'm very good, numbers, goodbye). I was excited to use some of those words and maybe even learn a few more. Soon into our visit I realized that our stay in Turkey would be quite the language learning adventure. Our hostess who speaks English well was unable to go on the road-trip with us, leaving us with a hostess who knew only basic English, so I thought. I say "so I thought" because up until that point I hadn't really spoken with her, only some google translater copy/paste action over skype. Monday morning we set off on a week long road-trip along the west coast of Turkey, two Americans, and one Turk.

In the 25+ hours spent in the car we all did some language learning, but for the most part site-mate and I were the teachers. Mama D, our hostess and friend, works incredibly hard to learn English. Since we last saw her in February she had made significant improvements. She would rarely get discouraged even though at times the fatigue of language learning and driving showed.

At first site-mate and I thought that the trip with mama D would be a bit tiring for us all trying to communicate with each other. Despite our doubts about the communication we vowed to go into the trip with a positive attitude. No matter what we were on vacation in Turkey, and we would have fun. The trip was a complete success largely to do with our positive attitudes, mama D's determination with the language, and Turkey's natural beauty. By the end we had developed an incredible relationship and made some lasting memories. Once again I noticed that when you're traveling it's the people you are with, rather than the place, that make the experience unforgettable. I also noticed that even when you are Şebek, attempting to learn and speak a foreign language goes a long way. Not only do you make people laugh but you also earn there respect by showing an honest effort to communicate rather than expecting them to speak English fluently.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

3 weeks gone

Three weeks and a few days ago I finished up my first school year and left site that night to start my 3+ week stint away from site. It only took a couple of days to pull together my busy summer schedule. As soon as I found out that I was accepted to help out at practicum I started knocking weeks down scheduling English camps and a vacation. I was excited to get out and explore during the summer but when the time came to leave site I had a different kind of feeling.

When it came time to leave site I didn't really want to leave. I remembered the uncomfortable heat and mosquitoes of the south. That last week in PST was one of the hottest that I've endured and here I was in one of the cooler places in the country at 600m above sea level. Even though I was teaching up until the day that I left my hours had reduced and I was only teaching 9th grade that last week. I was spending more time at school in the teachers room chatting with colleagues. I was also spending more time after school with some of the recently graduated 12th graders. That last week I enjoyed watching a couple incredible thunderstorms roll through my area where I saw more lighting bolts per minute than I've ever seen before. I fell asleep nightly with my balcony doors open listening to the sound of the stream below my block. That last day at site I had train rides and a 2 week hotel stay to look forward to. I was trading in the sound of the stream for the sound of cars and dogs.

The next day many of my fears of missing site were set at ease when I was reunited with some great PCV friends in Bucharest. No longer was I thinking about trading my site life for south life but instead trading time with good people at site for time with good people elsewhere.

Practicum was a great, interesting, and stressful experience the first time through and here I was returning to see it from a different perspective. No longer did I have to worry about lesson planning and performing in front of 30 strangers with someone in the back scribbling judgments on a paper. I saw the new group go through a lot of the same torture that I went through a year earlier. Some of the torture included...
coming in on a Saturday to plan, learning how to work with others that may have incredibly different teaching/planning styles, loosing students in the middle of a lesson, receiving negative feedback, late hours of planning followed by early hours of teaching, planning over a drink at the omb, stressing on the language, and dozing off in afternoon sessions.
Despite the torture a lot of good comes out of practicum. People with zero previous experience in lesson planning get the opportunity to jump-start their skills through practice and careful observation of there more experienced colleagues.

Working at practicum I had a great experience to spend some time with the new group of volunteers, some of which I got to know pretty well over world-cup beers. After 2 weeks of observing them and helping them through practicum I feel confident in there up-coming services. I observed a lot of unity, positivity, and willingness to adapt, all qualities valued in a PCV. I came out of my second practicum experience having learned a lot both about teaching and the new group, allowing me to reflect on my PC experience until now.

After practicum I spent half of a day and a night traveling to Timisoara to take part in my first English camp of the summer. TETA was a two week camp but I only worked there for the second week. It is a camp entirely taught by Peace Corps Romania TEFL volunteers but organized and supported by an incredible group of Romanians that made me feel both appreciated and supported during the week I was there. I had the opportunity to teach younger students which is very different than the high school teaching that I'm used to. Classes were fun, the students were wonderful, and I met some great Romanians that were helping us out with the kids.

After 4 hours of teaching each day I typically returned to my dorm conveniently placed in the center of the center of Timisoara. The great location of our housing and our relatively short teaching schedule opened up the city to us, allowing us to see Timisoara without limitation. Timisoara is a beautiful city peppered in historical monuments and gorgeous parks. To top it off, The Festival of Hearts began on Wednesday night and occupied our last three nights in Timi. Festivalul Inimilor brought together traditional music and dance acts from all around Romanian and even from other countries. Thursday night we saw acts from Sibiu, Turkey, and Costa Rica. After six days in Timi I got to know at least the center of the city well and now it is harder to pick my favorite of the large Romanian cities. Despite the incredibly positive experience I was happy to get on that early Saturday morning accelerate(train) back to site.

Today's overcast weather is allowing me the chance to stay in, relax, and reflect on the past several weeks of traveling, meeting new people, working, and living out this Peace Corps experience. Even though I have been a bit stressed at times, in a rush at times, moving around, the past 3 weeks have been both busy and productive and I don't yet regret this busy summer schedule. Now its on to the next adventure.

1: one of the practicum groups doing an egg drop for their lesson.
2: two of my wonderful students at the TETA camp.
3: Timisoara Opera House in Piata Victoriei.