This report aims to reflect my Erasmus+ internship as a teaching assistant at Kadir Has University’s Prep School in Istanbul. The first chapter summarizes impressions about the city itself, and serves as a guide to common problems such as the residence permit and finding accommodation. The second chapter describes the workplace which the amazing university campus. The third chapter introduces the internship details, such as working hours, tasks, payments etc. It also evaluates the internship period with reasoned pros and cons. In the final chapter, the report is briefly summarized.
2. Istanbul: Connecting Continents
Istanbul, with both of its European and Asian side, has lots of sightseeing to offer. The Galata Tower, Hagia Sophia Museum, Büyük Camlica are amongst the most popular ones. However, every district in Istanbul is worth a visit; Eminönü, Ortaköy, Beşiktaş Kadiköy, Bebek, Uskudar, etc. If one needs a break from the metropolis’ overcrowded streets, the four beautiful Prince’s Islands (Adalar), are perfect for chilling, picnicking and swimming. It is surprising how easy it is to understand Turkey’s history just by walking through its streets, whether it is Ottoman mosques or Roman ruins. Religion is an important part of Turkish culture, as will be noticed from the loud calls to prayer and the endless mosques in every corner. To my surprise, however, I found that most people in Istanbul do not practice religion.
The first question that comes to mind when thinking of Turkey is the question of safety. It is undeniable that it had its share of terror attacks a few years ago, but right now it a peaceful and safe place in which you do not need to worry. Pickpocketing is an issue just like any touristic city in the world. However, I cannot deny that I faced difficulties here in Istanbul, such as the fact that the majority does not speak English at all. Coming to the important part, cuisine! Besides the famous dishes as the likes of Adana Kebap, Midye and Kumpir, my personal favorite was: Çig Köfte, an interesting mix of raw bulgur and greens, topped with lemon juice, pomegranate syrup and spicy sauce, by far the best sweet-sour-spicy vegan wrap!
Furthermore, it is not as hard to find accommodation in Istanbul as one thinks. The university itself offers dorms, but they are mono-gender, have early curfews, do not allow you to host or have anyone as a guest at all, not to mention that they are overpriced. A better alternative is to join flat share groups on Facebook and write a post like mine, because the people who find your criteria applicable will message you and save you the time and effort to read all the offers as it can be very overwhelming. Finding a place where one can live alone is either impossible or very expensive.
Moreover, there is only one formality that is very time-consuming and it is applying and receiving the residence permit card. Gathering the tax number (obtained at a tax office upon arrival), health insurance, a certificate of enrolment of receiving institution, two biometric pictures, a valid home address in the host country, some information about one’s studies, etc. All of this data will be uploaded to a website (e-ikamet). Once done and printed, it must be brought to the office after taking an appointment. The residence permit must be carried at all times, one cannot even leave the city without it and it is required at check points or random police stops. The Istanbul transportation card with a low fair for students is a life saver and a must-have.
3. Kadir Has University, its Prep School and the iLearning Center
The university has a breathtaking location along the Golden Horn route, not only giving the classrooms a wonderful window view of the sea and Galata Tower, equally mesmerizing by morning and night, but it also means it is very easy to travel from and to it. Just at the main entrance, there is a bus station (Unkapani / Kadir Has University) with over 10 different frequent buses. A ten-minute walk from campus also leads to a metro station (Haliç). Not only is the building itself a very nice one, it also rich in history. It used to be a tobacco factory run by Kadir Has himself, turned into a tobacco museum later until it finally became a campus.
Despite the wooden antique interior, it is now is a modern home-like campus, filled with comfortable sofas and tables and chairs, hot/cold water dispensers and vending machines on every hall. It even has a Starbucks, Simitci and a Kahve Dunyasi, very affordable places to sit, snack and drink. Moreover, there are two cafeterias with warm food and good deals. The campus has a garden, a gym, a really nice and resourceful library, places to sit outside, a football field and a gender center. The staff, if they do speak English, are very friendly and always willing to help. The only thing it lacks is clubs non-Turkish speakers can join and most importantly, rubbish bins!
Luckily, there is a growing number of international students at KHAS, and there are about 50 Erasmus and 50 exchange students every semester, and they are all well taken care of. The International Office as I have experienced is very warm-hearted and helpful towards all. There is also the ESN, a group that will become your family when you are in Istanbul. They are a group of open-minded, fun-loving students and volunteers that add Erasmus and exchange students to a Whatsapp group and plan amazing events, from domestic trips to party nights and everything in between. There is an ESN group in most universities in Istanbul, and these are all combined into one group when there is an event.
The iLearning Center at the main campus (where I studied two obligatory semesters, luckily also funded by Erasmus+) is mostly responsible for English language courses and helping students with writing their papers, practicing written and verbal communication. The Prep School is another building next to the main campus. It is basically an obligatory preparatory year for all Turkish high school graduates, in which they only learn English grammar, speech and comprehension for a minimum of two or a maximum of five semesters before they start university. The students are divided according to their proficiency levels into what are called Tracks 1-5.
Because studying English with the same group of students with the same teacher every day from 9 AM to 2 PM Monday to Friday (35 hours with barely any breaks) can be overwhelmingly boring, the conversation groups were invented. These conversations groups encourage students to speak English and practice verbal communication without a teacher, outside of an academic context, with teaching assistants around their age. These casual, fun conversations were held four times a week from 2-4 PM.
4. Internship Details and Evaluation
The internship itself was an easy and amusing one. It was supposed to be in the time frame of the spring semester (February to June). My expected working hours were about 20 hours a week, this including preparing study material and debate topics. The actual teaching time was one weekly session: Tuesdays 2-4 PM. My boss, Teoman, was an excellent teacher and mentor. Prior to taking this funded internship, I had volunteered to work with him in the iLearning center. The five semesters under his surveillance were an amazing time to grow and improve my teaching skills. He is very easy to communicate with (has a British Accent that is adored by all on campus) and always gives positive yet constructive feedback. It was a very low paid internship, but with the Erasmus+ funding, I could not complain.
The Prep School is exactly what one imagines it to be; loud and messy, yet extremely fun. Because the attending students were fresh high school graduates aged 18-20, it was hard to keep them in place, they often had that cliché “too cool for school” attitude. However, it was nothing I could not get under control. In these conversations groups I usually had 8-12 students, on exam week hardly 3 and on days in which classes finish early and they had a nice lunch&smoke break up to 20 students show up. The picture on the right shows a weekly track sheet that I had to submit to Teoman. Before the students gather I arrange the chairs into one or two circles to ease communication and eye contact. The schedule of a normal conversation class would be this:
2-2:30 PM Chitchat: talking about everyone’s day, previous and next weekend, etc.
2:30-3 PM Introducing a discussion topic, inspired by trending news, new released films etc.
3-3:30 PM screening a music video, short film, etc. to discuss
3:30-4 PM debating controversial topics in groups of with and against, death penalty, etc.
I could follow this schedule most weeks? However, sometimes one session takes longer than expected or the students are not in the mood for one or the other. Despite most of them being very motivated and obedient, in very rare cases there were ones whose English was very weak, ones who were too shy to speak, and ones that spoke so much they wouldn’t give anyone else a chance. Over the five semesters doing this I have learned to deal with these issues to give each and every student the space and courage to have part in the conversation. As a teaching assistant and leader of the conversation groups, my tasks were the following:
- Organizing and leading curricular and extracurricular activities for students of the university
- Organizing and leading debates and English study and conversation groups
- Helping students of all levels of English language competency improve their language skills
- Sharing contrasting experiences between home and host cultures therewith serving as a cultural bridge between Germany and Turkey
The place, time and tasks of the internship are all ones I rate 9/10 because they not only helped me improve myself but also really brought me joy. Competences acquired were the following:
- Further teaching skills such as preparing activities, leading, providing guidance and feedback
- Ability to establish communication and build good relationships with other teachers, assistants and students
- Further developing intercultural competence through daily contact with mostly Turkish multinational students and school staff
- Improved ability to navigate different and diverse opinions and predilections while sharing own points of view
- Improving Turkish language skills and learning more about the cultural elements of Turkey, learning to read, write and communicate in Turkish
- Proving dependability, punctuality, responsibility and the ability to work independently
- Accepting feedback, directions and constructive criticism
- Demonstrating creativity in approaching tasks, solving problems, and overcoming obstacles
- Seeking out resources and help when unsure about how to proceed
- Taking initiative and opportunities to contribute by offering opinion and suggestions
The biggest pro and the dearest to my heart is the love and support I received from my students. Not only did many of them become my friends with which I shared laughs and memorable times, but they also flooded me with teacher-love. They constantly praised my fluent English, admired my communication skills, and always said things like “my goal is to be like you!”, which I know then can, and they will. Also, the corner with the yellow armchair is basically my office!
However, the one minus point was due to outside forces. Because of the unfortunate outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID19), the university decided to permanently close its doors for the rest of the semester in mid-February. Having turned some of my students into dear friends, we decided to continue our beloved conversation groups elsewhere. When the government issued a complete lockdown a month after, it was hard to carry on with them, the suggestion of doing it online over zoom did not seem to impress many.
To conclude, I must say this exchange experience has not only helped me on a personal level, by forcing me to be independent in a place where I knew no one, but has also strengthened both the theoretical and practical sides of my cultural and ethnographic studies, seeing as I could observe and study culture in simple daily context for a whole year. This will definitely be a great core for my plans of building bridges between the East and West, bringing them together and slowly ridding each of stereotypes and preconceptions, and therewith contribute a small bit to world peace.