Working at a Summer Camp in Istanbul, Turkey

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Happy New Year everyone!! In honor of today being the sixth day of 2015, I’ve decided to start fulfilling one of my New Year’s resolutions by catching up my semi-abandoned blog on the crazy, jam-packed year that was 2014. 2014 was a year of many adventures, fun times and mishaps, and while I’m sure 2015 will be just as memorable, I plan on taking it easy this year.

As I’m sure my readers have noticed, the tone of my blog has changed significantly. I went from posting formal posts about traveling, culture, and life abroad to a more conversational tone. While I do plan on going back to informational posts about my travels and life abroad, I’d also like to write about the day-to-day of my life in Spain (and Turkey). So, I’m going to experiment with this and see how it works. =)

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View of the Bosporus from campus

The first topic I’d like to update on is my summer job at a performing arts/English immersion camp in Istanbul. The majority of my posts from Turkey focus on food, travel and culture, but I’ve never really talked about the main reason I went to Turkey: to work at a camp.

I found out about the camp through word of mouth a few years ago and decided that summer 2014 would be the perfect chance to do it. I considered going back to the U.S. to work, but decided that I needed a new adventure, so I accepted an offer to work for two sessions as a camp counselor. Little did I know, it would be one of the most formative summers of my life thus far.

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Twin Day

The camp experience started with the e-mail correspondence in April/May. I found out that I’d have to come up with a camp name, decide on a phenomenon for a creative arts “theme time”, and think of a service/community outreach project that would be both engaging and somewhat educational.

I was excited by the idea that I would be able to be creative, but also a tad intimidated because I felt that my work throughout the past few years and in college had diminished my creativity to an extent. I found myself scrambling for ideas, googling things, and crowd-sourcing.

Eventually, after learning that the name “Luna” was already taken, I decided on the name “Gloria.” As for my theme time, I figured I could do something related to shooting stars and for the community project, I figured we could make some sort of movie and possibly go to a film studio for our trip.

However, like any “good” idea, available resources and circumstances can change anything. This summer taught me that patience and perseverance can help you accomplish anything. I also learned the importance of seeking out help when it is needed without being ashamed. Sometimes my independence can get in the way of this, but I learned that it isn’t bad to be dependent at times. The camp would not have been as successful as it was if it weren’t for the help and assistance of the support staff and other counselors.

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The result of letting 5 eight-year-old’s paint your nails…

What was a typical day like at the summer camp in Turkey?

Since we worked at a performing arts camp, we rarely had a “typical” day due to rehearsals, performances, field trips, etc., but we did have a pretty regular schedule on most days.

We normally had breakfast around 7:45 AM and were with the kids in the amphitheater around 8:10-8:15. We danced and played games with the kids until the core staff began the day with an overview of the schedule. After the opening remarks, we always had a morning skit. Some of them were pre-planned; others were made up on the spot. They were usually related to an English word-of-the-day, or to some special event we had that day (e.g. the beach trip, Olympiad Day, etc.).

After the morning skit, we broke off into our theme-time groups. Students chose to be in our theme-times based on skits that we performed for them at the beginning of each session. Both sessions, I had small theme-time groups. I really liked this because it allowed me to experiment with different activities and allow the kids to do what they wanted. During the first session, we choreographed a shooting starts dance, and in the second session, we made an art project that showed the solar system. We made a mini-skit to go along with it, too.

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Halloween at the Bowling Alley

After theme time, we broke off into separate sports groups. Mine was bowling. We rounded up the kids in 5-6 minivans and drove to a bowling alley about ten minutes from campus. Our main responsibility was to make sure the kids made teams and didn’t kill each other. After that, we were free to play as well.

After bowling, we came back to campus at had lunch at around 11:30 AM. At lunch, we were required to sit with our subgroups (a group of about 8 students that each counselor was responsible for throughout each session). Although we ate in the cafeteria, there were usually only one or two food options for the kids. There was always a meat, a carbohydrate, and sometimes vegetables, too. Lunch usually only lasted about 10-15 minutes, and then the counselors had our break.

After the break, we gathered back in the amphitheater and carried out a few of our post-lunch traditions: weighing the waste and measuring the amount of English each group spoke. The kids were encouraged to eat everything on their plates and anything that was left over was put in a bucket that belonged to their age group. We would then proceed to weigh the buckets and see which group wasted the least. As for English, we had 4 ft test tubes where we measured the amount of English spoken by each group by using colored water. Seeing the level of their groups’ color in the test tube made the kids more competitive and definitely encouraged them to speak more English.

After lunch and the post-lunch activities, we broke off into our community project groups. Similar to the theme-time, students chose community projects based on skits. These activities tended to fill up quite a bit, so counselors ended up working with partners. Both of my community projects were action movies. The first movie was a detective/murder mystery and the second one was a war movie that depicted a made-up war between two countries that the students invented. Although the activity itself did not really serve the community in the traditional community service way, the idea was to introduce the students to a skill or trade that people do in the community. We originally wanted to take the students to a film studio as part of the required field trip, but this ended up being impossible, so we took them to a film museum. The film museum was interesting, but most of the kids seemed bored by it, so we changed our field trip venue during the second session and ended up going to the Istanbul Military Museum, which ended up being a successful trip for a group of 19 eight-year-old boys making a war movie.

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With some fellow counselors (I have the red pigtails)

After the service project time, we went to a second sports activity. One of the other counselors and I made the unwise decision of signing ourselves up for lacrosse, a sport neither of us really knew much about. At the beginning, we were determined to learn the full rules of the sport and teach the kids all the basics. However, on the first day, we realized this would not be possible when half of our kids couldn’t even hold the stick right. We ended up playing catch and making water balloons to chuck at each other with lacrosse sticks. It was basically a mess, but it ended up being fun.

Our last activity of the day started at 2:25pm. It was essentially a free period in which we could do whatever we wanted. Each counselor offered a new activity every week. There were always people who offered dodgeball, bracelet-making and water fights. However, there were also unconventional activities like food fights, the Hunger Games, and dance party. Two of my favorite activities I offered were nail painting and karaoke.

After these activities ended, we met in the amphitheater again for the closing ceremony, which always ended with the counselors being pelted with water balloons. We then had an hour long program meeting to discuss the day’s events and plan future trips and activities. A typical day would end around 5pm. Needless to say, we were exhausted!

What were the highlights of the camp?

While I found the camp to be quite exhausting, the overall experience was a positive one for sure. I learned so much about working with children, Turkish culture and, of course, myself. I also managed to recover and foster my creativity, a skill that I will keep working on as a teacher. But when I think back to the camp itself, most of the highlights were times spent with the kids.

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Although this is in Cappadocia, this is basically what the hiking area looked like near Istanbul

One of my favorite memories was a hiking trip we took with our subgroups. Mine was a group of eight, “girly” girls who were not exactly nature lovers. It was a hot July day in Turkey and we were to take our group on a 5 km hike on a trail in the forest. There were water stations at each kilometer along the way and at the 3rd kilometer, there was even an ice cream station. This was not your ordinary hike at all.

Although the hike was a breeze for me, my girls were about half my size and not very athletic. There was complaining from the very first hill, which made the 15 minutes of the hike almost unbearable. Luckily, one of the girls, Z, was chatty and peppy and helped motivate the others along the way.

We were occasionally joined by other groups who ended up passing us, and, in the end, we fell very far behind. However, I didn’t let this ruin the hike and I didn’t want the girls to give up.

We decided to take our time and enjoy the small things along the way. One of the girls had a camera, so she took pictures of the landscape. Another decided to share some stories from the one time she had gone camping with her family. Another two decided to start a game. It ended up being a great time to bond as a group.

Most of the girls had a pretty high level of English except for one, D. I didn’t want her to feel left out or to feel bad about herself. Her friends could translate into Turkish for her, but that would not be the same. So, I ended up “attempting” to speak Turkish with her. My knowledge of Turkish is very minimal, so what I said were basic words and phrases, like “icy water,” (we were all dying for water at that point) and D would translate them to English. When I saw that she could translate everything I said in Turkish into English, I started asking her the other way around. I asked her some challenging vocabulary, but she was still able to translate everything-without her friends’ help. It was amazing to see how talkative and confident this girl became when she had the confidence to communicate on her own. I was so happy to finally have a chance to bond with D and that moment made the field trip all the more memorable.

Would I work at a summer camp like this again?

Working at this summer camp in Istanbul was an amazing opportunity and an experience I will always remember fondly. I met wonderful people, honed my creative skills, and learned a lot about myself and my limits. That being said, I do not think I’d work at a summer camp like this again.

The main reason I would not return was that I didn’t feel like I had a chance to fully experience the culture and city. Part of that was definitely due to the fact that the camp only lasted two months. Another thing that contributed to that feeling was not speaking the language well enough or having an opportunity to learn it. We worked from 8 am to 5 pm almost nonstop and, on some occasions, we worked even longer days. I rarely left the campus during the weekdays because I was always exhausted after our long work days. On the weekends, I took advantage of my free time to go out and explore the city, which left me feeling equally exhausted. Although I was technically living in Turkey, I felt as if I were on an extended vacation during the weekends, and working more than full-time hours during the week.

I would love to live in Turkey again, but I think I would go back if and only if I could find a full-time teaching job in a smaller city. The commute from campus to the city center, combined with my exhaustion, prevented me from being able to easily explore the city on weeknights. If we had lived closer to the center, I probably would have felt more like I lived in Turkey because I could have gone out more.

Overall, the experience was a very positive one and I would recommend it to anyone who likes working with kids and experiencing new cultures. Turkey is a lovely country and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to live there for a few months.

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My camp persona apparently has a popular coffee chain

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