Travel Journal Day 0

I was astonished by the diversity and at the airport I suddenly sensed that I had left Europe for an unknown world. Noisy, colorful and buzzing. I was really curious about Turkey, since I have never been there before. I was amazed at the diversity of cultures at this huge airport, for first sight, Turkey did seem a true melting pot. Besides of other factors which made it not; I liked the idea of secularization and watching it in practice in a Muslim-majority country, and I awaited the further experience it might bring.

            On the second plain I got to know a kind Turkish woman/ girl – depends on your judgement – she was heading home from a scholarship from Germany, and how is life when you travel, we exchanged phone numbers, in case she ever comes to my country. She asked me, where I was heading, so I wrote down the name of the town “REYHANLI”, I could notice the slight fright shadowing her face when she read it. She asked me if I was sure spelling it. I nodded.

            Then somehow our conversation changed, I could sense that she is willing to say something, but she is still hesitating, finally, she came out with it: “Do you know where you are going?” I was prepared for this question so I just smiled at her, as if it was my duty to calm her. I told her about my project, the purpose of the trip; but she still wasn’t convinced. She insisted it was dangerous.

            Which, after a while got me thinking too. My colleagues back home also warned me not to go, because it’s “dangerous”. Although, nobody ever said what this particular danger was. On the other hand, when I asked my Syrian friends, they were sure that Reyhanli is a safe place, since it’s not Syria. Points of views…

            The journey really took all my energies away. Hatay airport reminded me of those Western movies in-the-middle-of-nowhere with some tumbleweed playfully going across the scene. No customs, no passport control. This was my first time to walk from an airplane to the airport itself. Before the trip I decided that I will try to grab every little event and happening and observe it as a child who has never seen such a wonder. So this simple walk made me joyful. First time getting off a plane and walking by the runway.

            The airport itself was almost empty. Then came the waiting for the luggage, like fishing. You stand, ready to jump on your prey, catching it quickly from the line and there you go. I was pretty sure that I am the only tourist-like person in a 50 mile radius, when I hear a woman speaking German next to me. Peculiar, but why not, it’s a small world after all.

            I was really happy that we landed. First obstacle solved. I felt I used up all my energies busy with anxiety over flying, even though the second flight was quite smooth. I could even sketch up some ideas about a board game on teaching children a second language… on the back of my ticket, but more on that later.

            I met the family outside the airport, they are such nice people, they all speak perfect English, except for the father. But he smokes, so we had at least one mutual habit.

            Another forty-minute car ride. This doesn’t feel like Europe anymore. Everybody is honking, turning, stopping, going, honking. I think, if I was to drive – by the way, I got my international driver’s license issued – I would even last up to five minutes. I gave up on any driving plans here.

            The house, where we lived is enormous. Two-storey, doors and rooms and other doors, a yard, a nice gate and the garden with orange and fig trees.

            Even my hosts say, that it’s not Turkey anymore, feel more like Syria. The border is quite close, I can see the Syrian hospitals and the wall from here. They say, at least half of the population is Syrian here, even those, who are not, usually speak Arabic as well. In the shops, all labels are in Arabic, sometimes in Turkish too. The shopkeepers are Syrians, sometimes Turkish.

            When we arrived, everybody welcomed me as etiquette would dictate, but no big fuss – which I was really happy about. My hosts have five children, between the age of 9 and 18, one girl, the others are boys. I feel, I can relate.

            In the evening – which depicts the time interval between 9 pm and 2 am – we sat down to talk about the purpose of my arrival and other details that we didn’t have time to discuss previously. I feel really slow, even though I put much effort in concentrating. We manage to overcome the remaining misunderstandings. I feel, however, this is going to be a really long week.

            I talk about the project again, trying to answer all the questions, and I myself get the feeling I have no idea what I am saying, even though I wrote it. I am thinking of my colleague – she is probably laughing at me now. She knows that my planning always include plan A,B,C and D. Because I don’t like to be unprepared. And I hate surprises.

            Turns out that I thought the trip will be the hardest part. I was wrong. My hosts tell me about how things work around here. The Turkish government has a highly centralized point of view (and that is the politically most correct way to put it) on handling the current Syrian refugee situation. The rule is basically, do this or that and you will be deported. More on this later, but honestly, that was the most used term this week.

            It seems that the Turkish are fed up, and took a very strong assimilation perspective on the issue. And they are good at it. They start it in the schools, at the youngest age. Turkish people sit in the principal chairs, the chaos in ongoing, and school is about to start. However, nothing is sure yet. Nothing can happen without authorization. Maybe I should have got that appointment from the embassy…

            So, the hosts were not able to make any arrangements so far without my presence. I maybe don’t fully understand everything, but I have the feeling that they could have gotten into trouble if they began any bigger campaign on my behalf. The brainstorming goes on until dawn.

            Why couldn’t I come three years ago? They ask, it would have been a lot easier.

They come up with a few places to visit the other day and present the project to them and we will see. I manage to come over my bad feelings, either way, this week will be a lot of new experience for me, good ones, I know. So I stop worrying, calculating chances and just enjoy the light breeze on the balcony.

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Not My Cup of Tea

So, integration, after a bunch of unpronounceable mambo-jumbo, we reduced it to the four main points of focus that I already mentioned in the previous post. First and most important was to make the language of the receiving country available for any newcomers. If they can communicate with people they are less likely to fall victim to organized crime – human traffickers, for instance – , moreover, they can start building connections.

For this purpose we came up with a 10-unit-long module, a sort of first aid language course. European languages use Latin script, while most of the Middle Eastern languages use Arabic script. It seemed obvious that we need a quick way to teach children (and possibly adults too) to be able to recognize and recall Latin letters. This is how we came up with the idea of an international alphabet, i.e. a set of words from A to Z where the initials of the words and the meaning is the same in (almost) all languages.

This process was quite a fun task, and at first glance also an easy one. However it turned out that “iguana” is an iguana in most places around the globe, but in Germany it’s just a “Leguan”. But it seemed to work with most consonants, and with A,U,I vowels.

The hardest time we had, was with the special characters of a given language (ø, ı, Ç, Ş, etc.) . The following  happened in the context of Turkish as a target language. We needed the sound “ch” (Ç) as in the English word “church”. It’s theoretically possible in Arabic by putting “t” after “sh”. We asked a few native colleagues but we were unable to come up with anything that is possible to be drawn and an easy concept that a 7-8 year old would understand. These were the runner-ups:

  • Çay (tea), which is almost the same in Arabic, except it’s pronounced as “shai” or in some dialects “chai”. Not to mention Anglo and German languages where it’s mostly “tea” “Tee”, or Spanish (té) and French (thé). However, it could work with some Slavic ones (čaj – Croatia, чај – Serbian).
  • Çorap (stocking) also shifts to a “sh” sound in Arabic
  • As a last resort, one of us threw in “chat”, the English word, maybe. Of course, not. It didn’t work.

After a really, really long list of words we finally came up with an idea: çiçek means flower, it’s quite a basic word. But actually has nothing to do with anything. But since we were looking for sounds we agreed that football is probably the most popular sport on Earth, so for our sound “ch”, guess what, we decided to use “Chelsea”, the football team… or to be more precise, a flower (çiçek) kicking a football ball in a blue Chelsea jersey… 🙂
So this is the story behind these cards:

First blog post

konyvespolc_1.jpgProject Tabula Rasa is an integration project that was brought to life with the help of teachers, educators, social workers, psychologists and volunteers of various fields. Our main goal is to help the integration of different socio-cultural and language background refugee children into their new societies.

During the work we made progress and new methodological approaches in the fields of pedagogy, applied linguistics, didactics and psychology, too. Our goal was to come up with a ready-to-use booklet that can serve as a manual for schools, foster cares, children’s homes; including step-by-step tasks, methodology in the following areas:

• language learning

• coping with culture shock

• keeping up learning motivation

• cooperative institutional structure

• dealing with conflicts and traumas

English was used as a work-language to make our findings easier to access and adapt.

We strongly believe, however, none of our developments should we keep for ourselves, this is why we decided that we would make them all open-source and free to use for educational purposes all over the world.

This blog will not only contain our work, including articles on the subjects, tasks and methods, we would also like to encourage other organizations and individuals to join our efforts and contribute to it. Furthermore, we will share the stories we came across, so professional and personal lines will be mixed here. Why? Because our years of experience have taught us that development is never objective, never standardized; it all begins with the individual, not a faceless mass. Therefore, personal feelings, stories, fears and joys are also important in any learning and teaching process, since they influence us both as a student and as a teacher. Why hide them then?

All educational materials uploaded here are free to be translated and used for educational non-profit purposes with the prior written permission of the hosting foundation of the project, for more information, please see Terms of Use.