U.S. Fulbright

Turkey: The Home of Ancient Monuments, Legendary Folklore Heroes and Eternal Hospitality, By Rebecca Anderson, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Turkey

July 30, 2012


I’m a Fulbright cliché. Like many alumni, my Fulbright experience was life-changing. My first visit to Turkey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at Pamukkale University enriched my development as a global citizen in unexpected ways. Living in the industrial city of Denizli, my colleagues, friends and students shared perspectives that continue to influence me both personally and professionally.

I applied for a Fulbright ETA grant to Turkey to assistant teach English and explore how Turkish culture has influenced folklore tales featuring a trickster-ish character known as Nasreddin Hodja. American and British translations of the Hodja tales are the focus of my dissertation project.  By using my analysis results of how these translations reflect resistance and receptiveness to Turkish culture, my project aimed to create a global citizenship pedagogy. The teaching approach involved students using Turkish Nasreddin Hodja tales and Western folklore as investigative tools, and identifying story themes highlighting similar and different cultural patterns. For example, although there are big differences in their motivations, the queen in Rumpelstiltskin and Nasreddin Hodja both use trickery to achieve their goals. The students and I then worked together to apply these identified patterns to contemporary local and global events. These exercises not only helped students’ critical thinking skills but their ability to negotiate and articulate their roles as global citizens.

My ETA assignment immersed me in the kind of cultural engagement that my dissertation – and the Fulbright Program – promotes. I assistant taught hundreds of students in the Hazırlık (English Preparatory Program) using my department-wide, cross-cultural studies approach.  Instead of simply relating anecdotes and facts about American culture in the classroom, I focused instead on exchanging information and perspectives. I created a series of interactive PowerPoint presentations on a range of American cultural topics (such as important historical events, contemporary family and community life, the educational system, popular books and body language) which served as a model for my students. They, in turn, reciprocated with PowerPoint and video presentations about similar Turkish cultural topics. We found many commonalities between our countries and cultures (not the least of which is the popularity of the Twilight series!). The end result of these exchanges was that we developed new understandings about being global citizens in relation to each other’s culture.

My schedule was busy, but when a colleague mentioned that the understaffed department needed a discourse analysis instructor, I volunteered, excited to help create a course about analyzing the construction of meanings in communication. My colleagues appreciated the help and I was pleased to develop further my dissertation research on discourse analysis.

My relationship with my colleagues changed after this. Previously, it had been mostly social; now, my colleagues began inviting me to university workshops and international conferences located in such beautiful historic cities as Efes (Ephesus) and İstanbul. Workshop collaborations with one of my colleagues cemented a valued friendship. When I returned to Turkey during summer 2011 to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program, she and her family welcomed me to their home in the beautiful coastal town of Çeşme.

Students and their families also extended generous hospitality. On learning about my plans to visit Konya, the home city of one of my students, Ferhat Ak, he and his family appointed themselves my tour guides to the city’s beautiful mosques and gardens. They also invited me to their second home in nearby Akşehir, the purported birthplace of Nasreddin Hodja. Ferhat and his classmates explained that my interest in the Hodja tales had made them feel proud about a part of Turkish culture that previously hadn’t been very important to them.

By my assignment’s conclusion, my interactions with students, colleagues and so many others helped me realize that the Fulbright experience is about more than promoting mutual understanding between cultures; it is about individuals extending and receiving support for each other’s cultures and values.

A few application suggestions:

  1. Be flexible and open to new ideas.  Make sure your application reflects that you are both.
  2. Give yourself ample time to draft and revise your application components. Ask at least two or three people (I asked several professors) to review and comment on your drafts.
  3. If you are applying through an institution, take your institution’s Fulbright committee’s critiques of your drafts seriously. I did, and my application benefited.

Photo: Rebecca Anderson, 2009-2010, Turkey (center), with the Ak family and a friend in their rose garden in Konya

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