It's Friday, July 1st, and my third full day being in Turkey is coming to an end. I am in Ankara (please make sure you accent the first syllable of that word), the capital city of this nation that has been in existance since just 1923.
For the past three days, we have definitely been talking Turkey. I mean it! My Fulbright colleagues and I have pretty much been attending lectures given by local university professors since our arrival. From what I have been able to gather from my colleagues who have attended these Fulbright Hays Seminars in the past, this is the basic structure of the program: intensive lectures for the first several days, then the tour of the country.
I'll be perfectly honest: these lectures totally feed my "inner nerd." There is a part of me that longs to be an intellectual. I always thought the best job in the world must be that of a college professor. You just sit around thinking great thoughts, pontificating, and having intellectual discussions and debates. Right?
So far this week we have had two Turkish language lessons (in the second lesson I learned how to ask "how much...." the problem, however, is that if I were ever to really ask this, I wouldn't understand the response). We have also had many seminars led by professors from the local universities. Here are the titles of all of the seminars on our agenda for the week:
1. Transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic
2. Class, Gender, and Identities in Contemporary Turkey
3. Migration and Displacement: A Troublesome Interaction of Ways to Modernity in Turkey
4. Main Contours of Turkish Foreign Policy: Relations with East and West
5. Political Parties and the Electoral Process: Historical Background, Current Issues and Challenges Ahead
6. Current Economic Crises from Turkey's Point of View: Homemade or Imported?
7. Milestones in Turkish Modern Education: Conflicts and Resolutions
8. Introduction to Islamic Mysticism and Spirituality: The Case of Sufism
9. The Ottoman Art of Painting
10. Anatolia: The Crossroads
And because I am the consumate nerd, I have nearly filled the equivalent of a yellow legal pad with notes that I have taken during these seminars. At the time of writing this post, we have only finished the first eight seminars. Tomorrow we get the painting and the crossroads.
If I were to reflect on each seminar that I've taken so far, the following would be my thoughts. (Numbers below correspond to seminar topics as numbered above.) You will notice that what I write below may be a summary of the main idea or most important facts. Or it may be an opinion that I formed based on the seminar. Or I might connect what I've learned to something from my prior experience. Or... you might just be surprised.
1. Ataturk is the main man. His image is everywhere you go: on the money, on the walls of buildings, on statues. He's the George Washington of Turkey. To keep this response to just a sentence or so, I can't go into any more detail!
2. Turkey is a nation-state where "Turkishness" is determined by common language and culture and is defined by territory. Secularization and Westernization were/are key objectives. What is the real issue surrounding head scarves for women? Is it religious, social, political? (interesting discussion point)
3. A mish mash of statistics. Everybody's moving: within the country, into the country, out of the country, for a whole host of reasons.
4. The European Union and Turkey's place therein. David presented nearly the exact same seminar to me over breakfast at Julie's in Acton in December. Who wants Turkey in or not in the EU, and why? Does Turkey even want to be in when their own economy is doing relatively well and the PIGS threaten financial stability?
5. Alphabet soup of political parties. I confess: I could hardly stay awake through this one, so I wrote nonsense notes to myself to stay awake. My colleagues thought I was completely engaged with the topic. Ha!
6. Economics presentation. My old friends monetary and fiscal policies, risk and exposure, elasticity of demand, the IMF. And what would an economics lecture be without loads of graphs? Ahhhhhh, just like in college.
7. Teaching and learning at the elementary and secondary school levels. National curriculum, Ministry supplied textbooks, teachers appointed by the state, up to 60 kids per classroom at the elementary level, more teachers than available positions, extremes in the world of education.
8. Simply tried to soak up everything to know about Islam. Most interesting comment: Jesus is mistakenly most often compared to Mohammed (the claim that they are both prophets). However, the better comparison would be Jesus to the Koran, since they are both the Word. Very interesting.
On to Ottomon Art of Painting tomorrow. I hope it's "hands-on!"