Everything you need to know about being a Fulbright ETA in Turkey
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
I'm going to try to blog more often (doubtful) but I remember desperately looking for resources when I was applying for my Fulbright in Turkey and finding maybe 2 blog posts and a Youtube video, so this is my attempt to close that information gap. I'll give some brief context, then talk about location/university placements, teaching jobs and responsibilities, Turkish classes, official logistics, travel, making friends, and cultural tidbits.
For context: I'm a recent grad who studied Urban and Regional Studies at Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Though I don't have a teaching degree, I have a lot of teaching experience and really enjoy making connections and creating experiences with people. I carried out community-based initiatives in Nicaragua with a local NGO, taught Mandarin in Houston through STARTALK (NSA program), and also taught English in Taiwan as part of AID (and Taiwan's Economic and Cultural Office). At Cornell, I was a Teaching Assistant for my favourite course, Designing Technology for Social Impact. I also speak Mandarin, Spanish, some Italian, and am learning Turkish now.
My placement in Alanya, Antalya.
I've been placed at Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University in Alanya, Antalya. Alanya is a small resort town, akin to Cape Cod (though arguably less stuffy) in the province of Antalya. Think of it this way: Alanya is to Antalya as Cape Cod is to Boston.
There are 12 of us placed in Turkey this year. There were a few more people selected as finalists for Turkey who dropped out due to various reasons (don't know, don't care), but the commission never selected any alternates. We've really been placed everywhere in Turkey -- we're in Duzce, Bartın, Eskişehir, Trabzon, Izmir, Antalya, Alanya, Sivas, and Kırklareli. Some cities have two ETAs, most cities just have one. Fulbright tries to place us in smaller cities/towns where our "impact" will be bigger. I also think it helps Fulbrighters forge better local connections as opposed to just sticking to other expats.
Personally, I really enjoy Alanya: most everyone speaks English (and if they don't, they speak Russian), it's a really beautiful resort town, and my home is a 5 minute walk from the free and beautiful Damlataş beach. There are nice cafes here for work or hanging out. I will write another blog post about my favourite cafes in Alanya soon. There are also some pretty nice restaurants that have good food in general -- but I'll be honest, it's no Gaziantep. On the other hand, since everyone speaks English, it's hard to practice my Turkish. Alanya is also one of the most expensive cities in Turkey (for context, I paid 2.5-4x more for rent than my counterparts in other parts of the country) because it is unfortunately teeming with tourists (mainly from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Denmark, Finland). It's very rare to find another American here -- but who cares, we're here to make connections with Turkish people!
UNIVERSITY PLACEMENT / TEACHING RESPONSIBILITIES
Okay, so who will you actually be teaching?! Fulbright ETAs teach English to first-year university students in the Preparatory School (Hazırlık). For context, my university's Engineering departments have a Turkish option and an English option. The students I teach are all going into the English option path -- meaning their computer engineering or mechanical engineering classes next year will all be in English. My students either 1) took a B1 level English test and failed or 2) want to take an extra year of English to bolster their foundation. Either way, most of them will have had very little exposure to English and it's expected that one will fail the exam and take a preparatory year of English. Almost all of my students are Engineers: by default, they are already at the "top", since there are only so many spots reserved for engineers. Some students will have had more exposure to English through music, TV shows (they all love Friends and HIMYM for some reason), and movies. My favourite part is learning about their lives and making connections with them in and outside of the classroom. I ended up connecting with a lot of them through pop culture (thanks, America). They are roughly 17-22 years old. I am close to that age and have yet to reveal my age to anyone here. My friends at other universities also teach students from the International Relations or English Language Teaching departments also going through a preparatory year.
I teach A1, A2, B1, and B2 level classes (Common European Framework). Most of the other Fulbrighters also teach at this level. To be honest, it's quite challenging teaching at the A1/A2 level: my students sometimes have no idea what I am saying. Even though they learned English in middle and high school, they only learned grammar and some vocabulary. They did not practice listening or speaking at all and have a very hard time producing the language (writing, speaking). If possible, you can try to advocate for yourself to teach at the B1+ level. Last semester, I had Mondays off; this worked out nicely for my travel plans. This semester, I have Tuesdays and Thursdays off which makes traveling a little more complicated. I also run a conversation club 1-2 times a week (which I started) in different locations so that students from other classes can come and practice speaking with me. All of my classes are mandatory and I take attendance (we have five 30 minute classes and five 10 minute breaks, but I usually block the first and last classes together). Almost all of us ETAs have mandatory classes and work around 20-25 hours a week. I teach from the Oxford English Files textbook and use wifi and a projector everyday. I also have an office that I share with 3 other colleagues (who are usually never in at the same time as I am) and all of us teachers share a tea station in our little building.
I had no prior exposure to Turkish beforehand and was eager to learn. Coordinating classes actually ended up being a really big problem for a lot of the ETAs. If possible, you should get Turkish classes set up immediately when you arrive at your university. Per the contract, the university is supposed to supply us with Turkish classes. I managed to attend an A1 (beginner) level course when I first got here and this helped immensely with my foundational knowledge of Turkish. The Turkish classes and your semester classes usually will overlap; for example, my A1 Turkish class lasted 6 weeks (I took an exam and passed) but my schedule didn't fit with the A2 level classes during the next 6 weeks. If possible, I would try to teach at a time when your classes don't coincide with Turkish classes. If you live in a remote area of Turkey, taking these classes might be crucial to your livelihood. Currently, I am in the middle of A2 classes and can do basic things like order at a restaurant, have a short conversation with a taxi driver, and explain basic things to my students -- but I can't go beyond a surface level conversation (lol).
View of Istanbul from Topkapi palace.
Turkey is seriously an amazing country to travel around. There are seas, ancient artifacts, valleys, mountains, ravines -- really anything you could want all in one country. I would highly encourage you to travel and to ask for either Monday or Friday off so you can take advantage of your grant period. Fulbright asks that we have one day off for traveling purposes, so be sure to advocate for a Monday/Friday! It's very easy to use the inter-city bus companies and to book tickets. I use Obilet (look it up on the app store). I've also flown (flights vary from $30-$60 round trip). Make sure you get a University ID card (your university needs to make one for you) because you get a massive teacher discount at every national historic site. For instance, I paid 30TL for my museum pass, which gives me access to every single national monument without having to pay anything else. So the 30TL will pay for everything you would want to visit. If you don't have this, you can use your Kimlik card (and pay 60TL for a musem pass) or pay toursity prices (e.g. 120TL for Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul). There is way too much information I have about travel so I will probably make another blog post (and link it here).
Expect a lot of paperwork. Like, a lot. If you have an excellent ETA University Rep (like mine, which unfortunately seems to be the exception), you will have little to worry about. Everything needs to be run by the commission (they rock, by the way) and they will help you get everything in order. Just make sure to get started early. Be sure to call your closest Turkish embassy to schedule an appointment ASAP to get a Work Visa. I would get a multiple entry visa (a bit more $) because you might need to leave the country and come back before your kimlik (work permit) comes in. For context, I called the NYC Consulate and left a message that I was a Fulbrighter who needed a Visa. They called me back on the same day and scheduled my appointment for the next. I waited 3 hours for my work visa to be ready and then went on with my week. I think this is an exception because everyone else had pretty average/bad experiences with their nearest consulate (waited 4 weeks for their visa, waited 2 weeks for appointment, etc), so I would try to schedule this ASAP.
FULBRIGHT GROUP / FRIENDS
A lot of times when it comes to troubleshooting, we turn to each other for help. The commission can help, yes, but remember they are also doing a million other things. We internally figure out a lot of things like how to link our vaccine to our work permit, how to request leave for international traveling, etc. Hopefully your Fulbright group will get along well; ours certainly does. The ETAs are usually more "close-knit" than the researchers/Masters or PhD students because we all are similar in age and are doing the same thing. The researchers are on a different timeline and vary vastly in age. However, we all get along (most of us met up in Ankara at the US Ambassador's house for Thanksgiving) and nobody is unfriendly. It's very easy to make friends with everyone in the Fulbright group.
It might seem daunting to make friends at first -- I certainly felt this way, even though I am a big extrovert. I made my first Turkish friend by walking into a coffeeshop and chatting with the barista, who happened to speak English. We immediately hit it off and she really helped make Alanya feel less scary. She also introduced me to her friends and other places in Alanya. Most Fulbrighters have a similar story to this in which they end up becoming very good friends with someone they met randomly.
Turkish people are some of the most welcoming and friendly folks I have ever met in my life! Their hospitality really reminds me of the welcoming culture in Latin America that I have experienced. The further east you get, the more welcoming people become, apparently. For example, I visited Gaziantep and two of my students took me around; one of them even invited me to his family home, where his mother cooked us all a homemade meal. Everybody drinks tea after a meal and you will also learn to do this. You will most likely be the first American that any Turkish person has met (unless you're in Istanbul or Ankara). People are curious and very welcoming.
When I first started teaching, I was on the fence about the teacher/student relationship; Eventually, I decided that my role as a cultural ambassador trumped my role as a teacher and started hanging out with my students. They don't know my age, but I love genuinely hanging out with them. We speak in English and some of them have also come over to my house and taught me how to make traditional food! My favourite activity is hanging out with them on the beach and playing volleyball/frisbee/cards on the sand.
Please be aware of the financial/economic strain Turkey is in now; I would highly discourage speaking about the Fulbright salary and money in general, even though Turkish people love to talk about money. When people ask how much something costs, I usually say "it was a gift". Whenever I hang out with students, I usually pay for our outings ($20 max) because I know they/their families are financially strained even if they will not admit it.
I am Asian American (you know where this is going) so most people do not believe I am from America when I introduce myself. They will repeatedly ask "where are you from" when they do not hear the answer they want. It really frustrated me at first but apparently it's a normal thing to do here. You can keep saying "America" if you want or give in to their question (I do not). In Alanya, most people think I am from Kazakhstan (to be honest I could pass as Kazakh) but I just explain that America is made up of a lot of different people.
My students ask me this allll the time. I have some personal reasons for choosing Turkey, but much stronger impersonal reasons. Turkey is such a unique country in terms of its placement -- it's literally the middle of Europe and Asia. If you're interested in international relations or geopolitics, this is the place to be. It's amazing to witness this gradual cultural difference while visiting different parts of the country. I also love Turkish food and my expectations have not been disappointed. I love world history (who doesn't remember learning about the Ottomans) and am continuously fascinated with random archaeological finds I stumble upon here. Linguistically, Turkish also intrigues me with its vowel harmony and rules. Turkey also has the most amazing natural beauty.
Hopefully I've covered everything ... if you have any questions, drop a comment! I envision updating this blog post periodically as my grant period continues. My instagram is @sarvarnah and I also check that regularly.