Marichuy Gomez ’14 from Turkey

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Turkey is beautiful and Turks are some of the sweetest and warmest people I’ve met.
I live in Kirikkale, a very small and rural city located an hour and a half away from Ankara (Turkey’s capital). At Kirikkale University, I teach four English speaking classes to English-Turkish Translation students and a Speaking Elective class for Engineering majors. Additionally, I also lead four English speaking clubs open to all students.
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In the beginning of the semester, I found it difficult to help my students improve. During the Fulbright teaching orientation, we were trained to teach very basic English, but my students’ English proficiency is very advanced. I had to adjust my entire teaching approach, and in the end it worked. I even taught a few classes about “awareness,” restorative justice, and social contract political theory.
My colleagues, new friends, and especially my students have been the highlight of my experience. Most of the teachers in my department are smart, sweet, young women. Five of them have been trying to learn Spanish for a while, and they enjoy having me around to practice. In return, they support my efforts in learning Turkish.
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On top of my teaching responsibilities, I’m also taking an intensive Turkish course offered to Engineering students at my university. Most of them are Syrian refugees. They have to study Turkish for a year before they can start with their studies (B.S., M.A., Ph.D.). They meet 30 hours a week, but given my teaching schedule, I can only be there 8 hours. They are mostly male Arabic speakers. Some of them know a little English and try to help me understand the lessons. The other day, they were also teaching me the Arabic alphabet. It was hard!!! They are great people, and they have become my first group of friends.
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My students have been so good to me. They call me “Marimiz” which means “our Mari.” One of them has become my unofficial Turkish tutor, another one took me to get my hair done, and a group of them prepared me a surprise homemade Turkish breakfast last Sunday. I am very sad that next semester I will have new students, but I am hopeful that they will be as nice. The relationships that I’ve built make me want to renew my grant to spend another year teaching in Turkey.
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I included pictures from my experiences and travels in Turkey and in Northern Cyprus (a Turkish territory). I hope you enjoy them!
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Wishing you Happy Holidays and a New Year filled with prosperity and success!
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Thea Dennis ’15 from Belgium

I chose Fulbright because I wanted to have a meaningful gap year before jumping onto a career path.

 

When I got to my location, I first took a nap in my beautiful apartment that I found on AirBnB and then went walking around in my new city.

 

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I brought a lot of clothes that I didn’t want to wear once I checked out what the locals fashion choices were! But now I enjoy wearing a flannel shirt once in a while and having people ask where I got it.

 

In preparation for my trip I learned a bit of Dutch and tried to research what the city of Leuven would be like…but I’m glad I didn’t do too much research. I’ve enjoyed discovering for myself the quirks and customs of Leuven.

 

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Something I have never done before is cook for myself for a whole year. It’s going….ok…. I’ll be a lot better at it in June!

 

I was surprised by how much people were interested in hearing about where I was from in America.

 

I love sitting at a coffee shop or having a Belgian beer with friends and sitting and talking for hours without anyone bothering you about the bill or rushing you.

 

When I am doing my research I need to constantly remind myself that learning comes first and results come second.

 

At the end of each day I enjoy Leuven’s fabulous night life (a chance to meet new people), or I chat and watch TV with my Italian roommate.

 

When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far I could not be more grateful that I ended up in Leuven working with the people in my lab. This city is the perfect mix of fun and academics.

 

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I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright to absolutely do it. It is not as daunting as people make it sound and we are so lucky to have a Fulbright office to help us every step of the way! Really, just do it.