Rainbows and Grad School in Turkey
I’m taking a break from reading Aristotle’s Politika to write this blog entry and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, which is one of the things I really miss from the States. As I typed, I heard a small, rustling sound. I immediately grabbed the broom and started hunting for the small animal or large insect that must have invaded my apartment. When I crossed into the dining room, I happened to look out the window, and realized that instead of a rodent in my flat, hail was falling from the sky while the sun was still shining! Unfortunately I couldn’t find my phone to take video before the hail became rain, but when I finally found my real camera, there was a rainbow! In Ankara!
I love rainbows. My brother, who lives in Hawaii, used to joke that I came to visit the rainbows and saw my family on the side. I assure you this isn’t the case, but now whenever I do see a rainbow, I’m reminded of all the great times with family in Hawaii.
Ankara is much prettier in the rain, at least from the elevated vista of my flat. On the street, instead of getting dusty you get muddy, and the rate of car and pedestrian accidents goes up. As I look out my window, though, all of the ugly concrete buildings look almost golden, and I almost let myself believe that a shiny wet road in the distance was a river lined with trees. I opened the window to get a pleasant whiff of rain but can’t drown out the horns, brakes, sirens and shouts – it’s no idyllic paradise.
I really meant to write this post about graduate school in Turkey. Now that I’ve got a few classes under my belt, here’s my take so far.:
After about seven months of formal Turkish lessons and another few months of fitful self-study, I am taking two graduate classes at Cankaya University. The Master’s is in Political Science with a focus on International Relations. My first two classes are required courses, however, so right now I’m taking Political Theory and the Modern Political State.
This means that I read a lot of boring old stuff. So far, I’ve been reading mostly in English, since we have yet to encounter any Turkish writers and I figure a translation is a translation. For instance, we read Plato’s Apology and are in the middle of his State in the Political Theory Class. The Modern State professor is a huge fan of Terry Eagleton, who writes about the lost art of literary theory. I absolutely hated literary theory in high school and college, and talking about it in Turkish doesn’t make it any more interesting. I’m really looking forward to next semester when I can take classes that hold a little more interest for me.
Instead of a classroom, we sit around a conference table. The professor talks/teaches about half the time and the rest is mostly discussion. I’m amazed that I can understand as much as I do – I’d say about 80% right now. My weakness is during the discussion, especially when students talk over each other. I have an advantage in that I studied all this stuff my freshman year of college, and usually I can manage to remember the key points that a professor is trying to lead the discussion to; unfortunately my Turkish speaking isn’t as good as my listening, and sometimes I feel like a 10 year old explaining Plato’s problems with democracy.
We have no syllabus. At some point in the class the professors give our reading assignments for the next class. Throughout the week, one of the professors emails additional books or articles that he wants us to read and it really piles us. I’ve spent a lot of time at the kindle store and elsewhere online looking for pdfs, and visited several used book stores looking for obscure titles. I’m not sure how the guys who work full-time are going to read everything.
One professor gave us the point breakdown for a grade. We have a final paper due at the end of the semester and a presentation due sometime in December, topics TBD. I have no idea how we’ll be graded in the other class.
Despite my bitching about the all the dry reading, I’m actually enjoying the classes. Both professors are dynamic and engaging, and my classmates are all pretty interesting. The one other girl has a major crush on our professor and isn’t shy about flirting – this provides for lots of laughter. We also have a kid who got into a lot of trouble for internet piracy and has pretty much taken the role of the class criminal. He’s always willing to copy books or find assigned movies online and share them with everybody. The other night while we were discussing Kafka’s father complex, this kid’s dad showed up to make sure his son was actually going to class every night!
Besides a Russian in one class, I’m the only other foreigner. I am now the expert on American politics, history, and culture although I can’t vouch for the truthiness of my information. When they asked me where Shirley Temple Black served as an ambassador, I assumed France. I was corrected by google on somebody’s phone; she was ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Who knew?