Home-schooling in Turkey

Friends,

I’m so exited to introduce a friend of mine, Jamie, who lives and home-schools in Turkey. Are you ever curious what it is like to live in another country, day in day out, the perks and the challenges? Read to find out…

Sofija: Tell us about your family.

Jamie: 
My husband James and I are both originally from California. We got married 10 years ago and since then have been busy figuring out life on the other side of the world and having kids. We have four beautiful girls, Elise (7), Marie (5), Clara (3), and Pearl (4 mo). All of them were born here in Turkey.
2. What are you doing in Turkey? What do you like about living there, what makes it challenging?
James teaches English at a high school here in Turkey. It is an absolutely gorgeous country. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it. I don’t even know where to start answering the question about what I like about living here. There really are so many things! I love the fact that I can drive an hour and be at Gordion, where King Midas lived and is buried. I love that I can drive two hours and visit an ancient Hittite capitol. I love that I can see ancient Ephesus, Pergamum, and innumerable other interesting old sites. Actually, there is an archeological dig going on right behind the Chinese restaurant that is down the street from my house! Living in Turkey has made me fall in love with history. I used to live in a city called Kayseri. My friend there was homeschooling her boys (my oldest was only a baby then) and as she was looking at their history book it mentioned a Hittite city where archeologists had found a lot of things that let them know about that ancient civilization. She looked at her boys and said, “You know, I think this is about 20 minutes away from our house.” How amazing is that?! Aside from the amazing history, Turkey has delicious food, hospitable people, and cheap, fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but every building in Turkey has a man who comes to your door to deliver fresh baked bread every morning, and take out your garbage every evening. I love that when we go on vacation we can drive to the Mediterranean and stay in an inexpensive hotel right on the beach. In fact just a few weeks ago there was a holiday so we took a few days of vacation. I was sitting on the nearly deserted beach, watching an amazing sunset over the Mediterranean while my kids played in the warm water, and eating a pomegranate that was grown right there. Can life really get much better?! I could go on, but I think you get the picture, and probably want to move here yourself! 
Of course living in a foreign country comes along with a host of challenges as well. We have been here over eight years now, so it is feeling more and more like home, and so those challenges are getting less challenging as we get used to them. We spend hours and hours at the police station getting visas, there is always a huge stack of paperwork to do and no matter how much you prepare and do ahead of time something goes wrong. Banking, getting phone/internet/electricity/etc is a lot of work, especially as a foreigner. You can’t plan nearly as much into your day as you could in the US because it just takes longer. Another thing I just can’t get used to is the lack of planning. People don’t even seem to know the day school will start or get out until a week or two before it happens. You can put a lot of work into something and then no one will show up (even though people said they would come), or maybe far more people than you planned for will come. You just can’t tell. It’s not uncommon for someone to go visit a friend on a whim and then stay for two months! Turks are so nice, but also feel very free to give way too much advice and criticism (at least from an American perspective.) Every time I go outside I am told 1) I have too many kids. 2) They are not dressed nearly warm enough. 3) They are all going to get sick. 4) Any other random piece of very personal advice (for example, “Get your tubes tied,” or my personal favorite, “Your butt is big, you should lose some weight.” Another challenge is just the fact that it isn’t my culture. I think I will always feel a little distance from friends because our backgrounds are so very different.


3. Why did you decide to home-shool?
The schooling decision just kind of fell in our laps. Elise (our oldest) was doing part time Turkish school (at the private school where James teaches) and part time home school. Because she was so little I wasn’t too worried about making sure she learned absolutely everything – reading in English and basic math were my only goals for her first grade year (last year). I mostly wanted her to become more fluent in Turkish and to feel more a part of things. Being Americans and speaking English rather than Turkish in our home can often make my kids feel a kind of separation between themselves and the Turkish kids in our neighborhood. I don’t like that, and one of the ways I tried to prevent it was by sending Elise to Turkish school. This school year we were planning on sending her full time. It is a very good private school and teachers kids can go for free. Unfortunately they only have so many of those free slots and they were already full. The administration was also not open to the part time idea this school year, and the school just isn’t affordable for us, and so in the beginning of September our schooling plan fell through. We did not like the idea of sending her to the public school for various reasons and so I suddenly found myself homeschooling. Thankfully, I have always been open to homeschooling, so it wasn’t a big scary thing to me. In fact, aside from the whole idea of increasing fluency and using schooling as being more a part of the community, homeschooling would have been my first choice. Anyway, I started by looking up California’s second grade standards then looked up some other homeschool friendly stuff online, downloaded some books on my kindle, and away we went. It has been very enjoyable thus far. Elise and I are both learning a lot!

4. Is this accepted in Turkey? What are some of the reactions you get?
No, not at all. It is a completely foreign concept and completely unheard of. For the most part I’ve given up explaining how we’re educating our kids. No matter what I say, no one seems to understand. People don’t understand how I can get my kids to listen to me, do school work, etc. They also have a “leave it to the professionals” type of mindset here, for example, you don’t paint your own house, you hire a painter, you don’t teach your own kids, you let a trained teacher do it. Honestly I’m so sick of trying to explain that I now just say that Elise’s education is tied to the internet. It is true, as that is how I look up standards, download books onto my Kindle reader, and she uses Khan Academy online for a lot of her math work. It generally satisfies people far more than the idea of me teaching her. Of course if they ask further questions I’m happy to explain the nitty gritty of it, but I find the more I explain the more appalled they become. I’m pretty sure it is so far outside the box that they just can’t imagine it being in any way a good thing.
5. What are your challenges of schooling in a different country? Do you have a support sytstem?
The main challenge is with curriculum. Some of my friends are using Sonlight or other curriculums and have had huge problems getting it shipped here… they not only have to pay for the books, but also fork out an arm and a leg for shipping costs. Unfortunately all too often it gets stuck in customs. I know people who have paid $100 – $600 just to get the curriculum out of customs. It is really difficult and frustrating for many. I decided to bypass as much of that mess as possible by ordering nothing but a math curriculum (Excel), and using books I could download onto my kindle, the children’s books we have brought over or my parents have sent over the years, and the small library on the US Air Force base that a friend can sign me into. It isn’t ideal, but it works. 
I have a great support system. My mom recently retired from many years of teaching, I use skype and talk with her several times a week. She is a huge encouragement and great at helping me with any questions I have. She also is happy to send me almost anything I think I need, which is great. I also know a couple of moms who homeschool here in Ankara. We all use very different systems, but it’s nice just to have those connections. Finally, there is a great online community for homeschoolers. I got a lot of my ideas for what books to read and what to teach by looking online. A friend recommended charlottemasonhelp.com and it has been a huge help to me.


6. Describe a typical day in your house.

Our typical day probably doesn’t look too different from your typical day, with exception of hearing the call to prayer five times a day, and speaking Turkish when we’re outside our home. We all wake up and get breakfast and James goes off to work. I try to get started on schooling anywhere between 8 and 9 am. I’m new at this so I’m still working out the kinks – what order to do the lessons in, how to balance schooling and taking care of the baby, etc. We keep at it on and off until we have lunch around noon and shortly after that we all walk about a block to a preschool where my three year old and five year old attend half of the day. We want them to be very strong in Turkish and not feel so much like outsiders and so our solution has been to do some Turkish schooling. We really like the preschool we chose. The teachers are very friendly and our kids are happy and making friends. The baby, Elise, and I go back home. I spend another hour to hour and a half with her finishing up whatever we didn’t get to in the morning (like I said, we’re still working out the kinks so some days it’s math, some days it’s me reading her history book aloud, some days it is reading some of the library books we checked out.) At three I put baby Pearl in the stroller and Elise and I take a 15 minute walk to a “kids club” where she will hang out until six. It is basically an after school day care type of place for kids to go, do their homework, and play until their parents get done with work and can come pick them up. We send Elise to ensure her to be in a Turkish environment regularly. We do have a playground nearby and in the past we just took her there all the time. Unfortunately she really does not feel comfortable making new friends and playing with kids, she loves playing alone making fairy houses in the bushes. I love this about her, but it has made it hard for her to get beyond the basics in Turkish, which has made it difficult for her to really embrace living here. The few Turkish friends who she feels really comfortable with aren’t available to hang out and play on a regular basis, so this year after our schooling plans fell through, we decided to put her in this after school program. Right now she’s doing what she can to boycott the idea by refusing to speak a word of Turkish to anyone while she’s there. I really don’t like that, but at the same time I kind of feel like this is just one of those things we have to be firm on and push through until she gets it. We’re still looking for other alternatives but thus far, this is the best thing we can find. It is a safe environment and she is getting used to it and I think she even sometimes enjoys herself (although she would never admit it!)
After three, I sometimes take a walk with the baby, sometimes I go visit a friend or neighbor, sometimes I go to the market and do the grocery shopping, sometimes I plan lessons for an English Club I help teach on the weekends or for other programs I’m involved in. Living in a big city has it’s advantages and one of them is that I rarely have to use the car. I can do all of the above on foot, which I love. James picks up all the kids on his way home, between 5:30 and 6:00, then its dinner and bedtime. Sometimes we stay home in the evenings, sometimes we go visit someone, sometimes Elise and Marie go up the elevator (we live in a 10 floor building) to visit their friend Selin who lives on the 7th floor. James usually goes back out after the kids are in bed, for various meetings, or to work on some classes he is taking online.


7. What are your plans for the future in regard to schooling the kids?
I have no idea! I love the idea of continuing to homeschool them, but I also love the idea of being involved in the community more by having my children in the schools. Next year we will be in California for the school year and I really don’t know if I will homeschool or not. It’s just something we will continue to pray about and make decisions as the time comes.

Thank you, Jamie. I enjoyed learning about your life in Ankara. Especially your typical day. I’m forever curious how other mom’s organize their day. I had to laugh about the comments you are subjected to on the street. Would you believe that I get a lot of the same comments from my family when I go to Germany?

Friends what do you think about those field trips to Ancient Hittites ruins? That is pretty hard to top. Turkey has just moved up on my “places to go” list. Jamie didn’t mention that she is an artist. In the last picture you can see her doing Ebru with her daughter. This an Ottoman painting technique dating back to the 16oo’s.

I hope to do this again soon.

-Sofija

Photos were taken by Matthew Will- all rights reserved.

Home-schooling in Turkey