Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The EFL Roadshow: A Post In Which I Wax Philosophical About Life And Other Stuff

So here it is again, a new month (almost) and I'm managing to meet a non-work, non-kid related obligation. I can only manage this because the kid is getting big enough to fetch his own stuff from the kitchen, but it's a wee milestone of sorts nonetheless.

The EFL Roadshow this month is being hosted by Ted, at Ted's TEFL Newbie. The topic is "Succeeding Abroad." Here's my answer:

I wish I knew. I don't know a damn thing about succeeding anywhere. Mostly all I know is I've made a lot of mistakes, mistakes I would have made even if I read someone's blog telling me not to make those mistakes.

But what the hell. Mistakes are half the fun, sometimes. Other times they just suck.

The fact that I'm still abroad, and have been so for 10 years come February, isn't really so much that I've succeeded abroad. It's just that I'm still abroad because I'm still abroad. Bit of a tautology there, sorry. See the subtitle of my blog if you have any questions about that, and apologies to Anne Tyler, which I should have done a long time ago.
Remember this? I do.

I guess the fact that I'm still abroad really means I haven't failed yet at being abroad, so I guess that's saying something. Failing at being abroad would mean, I guess, going back home with my tail between my legs.

Bad dog!
And I hate failing. Maybe that's why I'm still abroad, because going home would be some sort of failure. But it isn't just that. I've been here so long I can no longer envision a life at home. I don't even know what people are talking about half the time over there. And I've developed some really bad manners, like jaywalking in one of the most pedestrian-friendly places on earth and pushing people out of my way and cutting in line. Oh, and also sometimes at home I forget that everyone speaks English so I can't say whatever I want. LE says whatever he wants too, but he sort of can get away with it for now because he's little.
What could it be?

Plus now I have all this business I have to take care of over here that will probably take forever, but that's a long story that I won't get into right now. I assure you it's deeply unpleasant, and I hope one day to exploit the lowdown of my latest miseries for your entertainment and edification.

So. Succeeding at being abroad. Here are a few things to ensure you won't go running back home within a few weeks:

Feel free to leave your job if it sucks. The Stayers all get pissed off at people who do runners, but in a lot of cases there's not much shame in doing a runner, especially if you've got something better set up on the sly. It's not always easy determining if a job is any good by phone or Skype interview, particularly if it's your first time abroad.

Don't mentally change how much things cost into dollars, or whatever your valuable home currency is. It usually makes things seem cheaper than they are, if you're getting paid in local currency. Your money will last longer this way.

You'll get good at existential crises.
In most teaching jobs, it's better not to think too much about how pointless you actually are in the grand scheme of things, in terms of integrity and grades and educational standards and stuff like that. It's worth mulling about it once or twice a year in a delicious existential crisis, but otherwise, carry on and do the best you can, operating in an imaginary Shangri-La of ideals where the administration Cares and the students Want To Learn. If you let the existential crisis get you down, you'll get really depressed and fail at being abroad, and it won't be long before your co-workers don't want to listen to your bitching anymore. They're working too hard to keep the veil over their eyes. And that takes a lot of effort.

Sucks everywhere.
Don't keep banging on about how everything is done at home. We all know the way everything is done at home is great and organized and transparent and fair. We remember it and we liked it so much we all left home. Nonetheless, everyone in your host country has managed to get by just fine, often for centuries, without your input. No one is going to change entire systems because of you, no matter how sensible and right you are.

Trust me, it rocks.
Eat the street food. Sure, you might get the runs a few times, but that just toughens up your Western bowels weakened by too damn much hygiene and strictly enforced, incorruptible food safety laws. Okay, sometimes street food makes you really fucking sick, but that could happen anywhere. Street food rocks.

Snuggly like this, but in a bad way.
Remember when you were at home and something was frustrating or annoying, how you blamed it on this or that or the other thing, or maybe even on your own damn self? Well, that applies abroad too, and there are lots of things to blame. If you blame the foreign country and the people in it for everything that pisses you off (and I assure you, it's really, really easy to do that), it causes that problem to compound upon itself, and every new problem snuggles into the old ones, and it just makes everything suck a whole lot worse. I only know this because I've made this mistake ever so many times, seriously.

Seriously, cut it out.
You're making me this guy.
Note to you youthful Americans fresh off the plane: It's not a fucking question. Just quit fucking talking that way all the time. It's so annoying you wouldn't believe it. And I know I'm old, but I'm not that fucking old. Just some things send me straight to Andy Rooney country and that's one of them.

Here's a teaching tip for teaching abroad: Think about your standards and ethics and stick to them for a few weeks. The lower the bar. Then lower it some more. Then lower it way lower than you ever thought possible, find the humor in it, and suddenly you'll find that everything is working out fine. Also, your students will probably still think you're the strictest and meanest and most unreasonable teacher ever, so that's okay too.

Here's a bit of wisdom that maybe only hit me after having a kid, because when a beloved colleague said it to me when I was fresh off the plane, I was all, "Yeah, sure, whatever." This is it, and it gets me through the day often enough: Find a way to love your students. Most of them, at least. And I don't mean loving someone's haircut or belt. You have to love them a little bit for real, for it to work. Of course, there are always a few it's never gonna happen, but let it just be a few.

And whenever things get really, really fucking bad, spend a moment to think how much worse they can be and see if that makes you feel any better. Sometimes it does and sometimes it just makes you mad, but it's worth a shot.
This kid is escaping the Chinese across the Himalayas in Chucks, so quit yer bitchin'.

And that's enough goddamn pretending to be smart for the day. Thanks for reading.


Bill said...

And really, it's all sort of true even if you're not an ex-pat. Except our street food is nowhere near as good as the street food in other countries.

Anonymous said...

Love love love!

pisipati said...

Hello Stranger,you are not a failure.First of all you are really an open minded person,this alone is enough for not being a failure.After 9/11 if I were an American,I don't think I would step a foot on any muslim country's soil,let alone to live in it.But you are here for years.Also recently I've chosen Turkish men as the world's hardest to deal with men,and you are married to one.The world needs more people like you,really.
Anyway I will change the subject.Recently I've found a cafe in Yeniköy.This cafe's atmosphere lifts my spirit up whenever I go.It's called Molka Cafe I hope you can go there one day.And this song goes to you from me sergio mendes feat. India Arie timeless

Stranger said...

Aw, thanks pispati!

I'll look for that cafe-- I've been jonesing for a nice place to sit, and I can pretty much walk to Yeniköy.

I think there should be a lemon law for Turkish men, where you can just send them back to their mothers if they prove to be unacceptable. It would make everyone happier.

@Bill, it would be cool if they had street burritos and street samosas here though...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

What, in particular, is wrong with Turkish men in a way that sets them apart from the others?

Stranger said...

Hey, Bülent. I kind of expected you to nail me on that one. Rightly so.

The flip answer is just that I was being bitter.

The flipper answer is that the lemon law should apply to all men.

The longer answer is that it isn't just Turkish men-- the stuff that makes me mad about Turkish men is probably true of many men from macho cultures (or shall I say patriarchal cultures?). They expect more subservience and obedience from women than I find acceptable, they place too much importance on intangibles like "manliness" and "honor," without regard to logic or whatever emotional fallout might result in reality. Extreme jealousy to the point of violence is more acceptable in macho cultures, and then there's loving the drama more than actual solutions. The whole mama-love thing is more pronounced, too.

When I watch how many spouses here interact, I think I could just as easily be living in 1945. It's really frustrating for so many facets of my female identity to be a source of amusement for men.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Actually, I was genuinely curious. I think you are right about the culture overall. It is enforced by both sexes it seems. EG: Whenever I do something that'd usually be expected of my sister, women appreciate what I do but it makes my sister look bad in their eyes and they are not shy about letting her know.

I got that 1945 remark in a different context from an American woman (living in the US) who's married to a Turkish friend of mine. She'd observe that our (both her husband's and mine) culture and approach to things in general were more like that of American men of her father's generation. I think the context was our aversion to waste and showiness, deep-rooted conservatism surfacing against fashionable stuff etc. (It may also have been her horror at hearing our desire to acquire and wear elastic-waist old-men-style pants. Dunno. I'm sticking with the first explanation.)

Stranger said...

I think that other angle of the 1945 thing is, in some ways, one of the more positive aspects of Turkish culture. Aversion to waste and showiness, in some generations and social classes, for example. Even conservatism, in some ways. There's also a politeness to strangers that's dying out in the US, here too, like giving up seats to older, pregnant, or holding-small-child people (I've taken to bawling out students on the minibus who don't give up their seats to the above-mentioned), or the old-fashioned goodness of the service industry (you'd have to be paying a lot in the US to get the kind of sincere good service you do for a 3.50YTL dürüm in a lot of places here).

If only people still wore hats in Turkey, like they did in 1945. Maybe I'm getting conservative in my old age, but I'm pretty sure that hat culture would do a world of good for everyone.

And I wouldn't object much to being able to wear old-man pants, either :) Especially the plaid ones.

But, yes, for patriarchy to work, there has to be the complicity of the other side. In fact, as politically incorrect as it is to say, for any kind of -ism to work (racism, classism), the underdog has to go along with it and enforce it to a certain extent, and underdogs can be pretty ruthless towards one another. I remember in the 70s it was my grandmothers going on the most vocally about the evils of feminism (I think the idea of the "femine backlash" was about this somehow), while the grandfathers were too busy chuckling about the silly women, and waiting for their damn dinners.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Ok, I think we're on the same page. I don't know if the US changes as fast as Turkey does[1] but if it does, speaking from experience, I can tell you you'll have a very interesting time if you go back and live there again.

Anyway, I'll quote something from an interview with Alev Alatli on her new book which may help you with the Turkish vocabulary you might employ as you wag your finger to the misbehaving youth here:

Paçoz, kendi çıkarları için her yolu mübah sayan, küstah, peş para etmez, sokak kurnazı, zevzek, müptezel, basmakalıp, palavracı, rüküş, hoyrat, içtensiz, pespaye, nekes, terbiyesiz, aşağılık, ahlaksız, kalleş. Dostoyevski 'Puşlost' (Poshlost) der. Topluma musallat olan, iblis ayarlı, paçozluktur, Puşlost. İşte kitap paçozluğun hikayesi. Puşlost tüm bu kavramları içinde toplayan tanımlama. Bizde de Ömer Seyfettin'in Efruz Bey tiplemesi, Nesin'in Zübük'ü kısmen buna yakındır. Ama benim ele aldığım paçozluk süreci Puşlost'a daha yakın ve korkum o ki, bu iblis Türkiye'ye yerleşmektedir. Paçozluğun dini, ırkı, sınıfı, cinsiyeti, ırkı yoktur ve giderek Türkiye'ye yerleşiyor.

While I understand where she's coming from, it annoys me that she's aiding the spread of the insane 'White Turk' expression/characterization by using it in the book title. So perhaps she isn't spared from the very process she's complaining about? (The full interview is here. The Russian word she uses has an English Wikipedia page too.)

[1] I imagine it doesn't since, for starters, the median age is 10+ years older and it doesn't have a sharp change like that of the post-1980-coup, newly-TV-dominated Turkey.

Stranger said...

Ok, now I have some work to do...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

OK, on a lighter note, let me link in a clip with a teyze who has complaints about her share of Turkish men.

Jack Scott said...

Sound advice. It's not just younger Yanks who talking in questions. Aussie do it too, Yes, it's really annoying but then I'm English and we like to whinge.

Iman said...

Great post S; And also Bulent, I'm always interested to hear your perspective on things but I'm curious though what are the objections to the so-called "white Turk" characterization?

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Iman, the white/black Turk thing didn't exist up till recently and I wasn't here when it was introduced and apparently adopted. So the real reason may well be my grumpy/reactionary attitudes. But I will try to give you a half-way plausible story.

It doesn't make sense in the Turkish context and it really doesn't make sense as an analogy with some explanatory power. If we want to understand and expose stuff by using analogies, we usually employ something simple and well-understood to explain something we wish to understand. What, outside of dubbed/subtitled movies, is making the white/black situation well-understood here? So, you may say, let's assume that this imported culture can be treated like an ancient parable in the sense that it has no bearing on anything real but the moral is well-understood. Then I would say why pick something based on physiognomy? You cannot go to school or change your religious attitude to change your or your kids' skin pigmentation. (Yes I know in its original context the issue is more complicated than pigmentation. I cannot easily understand it having not grown up with it and it is not the kind of thing I am really curious about. I just giggle at observations like this one.) It seems like intellectual laziness on the part of the introducers of this concept and spinelessness on the part the first adopters/spreaders that brought the term into common-ish use.

It would have been bad enough it were just a flawed analogy, but it doesn't end there. Recently, Ilber Ortayli said something to the effect that very few people here are well-bread, well-educated enough to be 'white.' What happened? Some people got mad at him, and tried to convince him and everyone that they were indeed white. So that kind of segregation idea is apparently just fine with these people even though it makes little sense. Once some bogus hierarchy is introduced, our wonderful superior people [with no functioning brains to speak of] will just have to have their status recognized. Going back to the conservatism theme, this kind of thing was 'ayip' in this country in recent history (I am not 50 dammit!) and badgering people to get an already 'ayip' status confirmed/validated is obscene. If anyone came to ask me stuff to get their whiteness confirmed I'd tell them they were an ass that's painted painted orange with purple polka dots (but in the latest and most expensive fashion with brand name paint). I fear that only more manifestations of this kind of idiocy will result from the continued use of the expression.

Anyway, this is what I could come up with before heading out. I also wish to register a complaint with the management for the use of the f-word here on this blog -- it is harder to keep your prose clean when you know the blog owner doesn't mind.

Stranger said...

I never realized the "White Turk" thing was actually based on the US notion of black and white. I kind of understood it that way, but figured I was wrong.

So that whole thing is a bit sicker than I thought.

When you check the "White" box in the US, it actually says "White/Caucasian." Interestingly, I bet a lot of Americans people who wouldn't consider many Turks as "White," even if you explained the location of the Caucasus Mountains to them...

Sorry about the f-word. It's just too much fun to use, and helps prevent anyone from taking me seriously.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Stranger, no need to apologize for the f-word. I meant to say you were tempting me and not that I found it offensive.

I never realized the "White Turk" thing was actually based on the US notion of black and white. I kind of understood it that way, but figured I was wrong.

My understanding is that it is. I understand why you think you were wrong to think so, but that's naivete and perhaps generosity on your part -- you don't know how shallow and weak the drivers of the public discourse here are. Concepts and expressions are adopted and spread without much thinking and if they are imported and come with movies and literature for free, so much the better.

Another example that is in some ways similar but not in as widespread use is the employment of that 'first they came ...' poem attributed to M. Niemuller to produce alarmist talk about the goings on. That's another kind of laziness IMHO. It doesn't fit the recent history here either. What Niemoller says about what people did when 'they' came for the communists is not what happened here. We know what many people did here when the leftists got hit: they went 'good riddance, they had it coming.' What would fit our situation then or now is that Muslim/Christian/Yezidi tale that's local. I'll link to one version but there's another version where the 'Aga' gets the others to help as the beats them up one by one. There are many examples like this that I have been noticing, but this is too long already.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

OK, so I clicked around more:

-- A pre-made search to see some usage: click here.

-- I also found a clip with Alatli and Ortayli in it about 'conservatism' and her book here: Muhafazakarlaşıyor muyuz?