Saturday, September 20, 2014

American Literature in Turkey

Disclosure: This is an excerpt from an email I wrote today to a close friend of mine in Flagstaff. Since it's also an overview of one of the classes I'm teaching, I thought it would be interesting to post it. After coming across epistolary literature for my American literature class, like Christopher Columbus's letters, for instance, I have a new interest in the medium. Ideally, I'm not breaching too many privacy concerns.

Yesterday I had my first day of teaching the American lit. class. I had a nice group of eleven students. Honestly, I hope I don't get many more students because I like small classes. My students are an interesting mix with regard to their nationalities: a South African, a Russian (the only male in the class); two Nigerians, a German/Turk, and a handful of Turks. It makes me wonder how one decides to up and come to Turkey for one's undergraduate education. I understand that the school offers a lot of 50-100% tuition-paid scholarships, so that's probably a contributing factor. Like PIE students, though, I can't imagine showing up to a place, having one year (unlike the PIE's two and a half) to become fluent in the country's language and enrolling in classes. Possibly it's easier if you are going into the English Language and Literature major, and you already know English.

In any case, my first class was a long one. The boss said not to give the syllabus and go (like many other teachers do and did); rather he wanted us to make use of the copy machines and keep the students there for the full three hours. And that I did. By the time I was on my fourth PowerPoint, I was like, Holy shit, I do not blame my students for looking worn out. (One of these PowerPoints was actually Syllabus jeopardy, which went really well; it may have been the most engaging part of the class.)

After a discussion of What is Literature? during the second hour of class, we got into Yankee Doodle. What a dumb song. It was one of the first songs I memorized on piano as a kid, and I have probably played it more than 1000 times. I still think it's totally dumb in spite of its interesting origins. Luckily, though, the ridiculous diction and tune didn't seem like it was apparent to my international group of students. Or, at least they didn't act like it was. They even listened patiently to a professional performance of it:

I guess the whole time I was viewing the lesson through the eyes of American high schoolers, who would probably have turned off at the notion of listening to what has become a child's song over time.

When I explained the original context of the song--from the Brits about Americans--one of my students said, "I think it's really sad." I asked why. She said, "You said that every American child knows this song, and it's about how stupid Americans are." That comment made me really happy. And it prompted an explanation of the American reappropriation of the song. I really wanted to say, it's like what rappers have done with the n-word, or what queer individuals has done with a slew of slurs. But without knowing how that explanation would go over, I decided to say it's like having a rock thrown at you, and you catching it instead of letting it hurt you.

I think some students got it. I wish I had a better diagnostic information about my students, but I'll probably get that with their first writing assignment which is due next week.

Anyway, thanks for listening to all this about my first day of class. It's simultaneously exciting and confusing, and it's also a ton of work. I feel like I would have told you all this while hanging out in the kitchen at the old Leroux house. Has the tradition of kitchen hanging out continued? I hope so. I guess it's still warm enough to be in the dining/living room, so maybe that's where you'll are these days.

Aside from work, life here is still an adventure. Lots of daily discoveries. Daily existence kind of reminds me of digging a hole in the backyard as a kid. Some of the stuff you find is worth taking note of (the location of grocery stores, places to go running, amiable street animals to pet); some of it's dangerous (fucking every intersection because of the drivers here, open construction sites, holes in the sidewalk). And some of it is just muck to get through (like taking the hot and crowded public transportation). Overall, it's survivable. The good news is that most Turks are really damn nice.

No comments:

Post a Comment