Language Learning in Izmir

Since my two weeks educational vacation in Rome were of such a great personal gain, two years later it was time to get back on the language horse. After many hours in front of the computer screen talking in rudimentary Turkish to a learning program, I decided to give Turkey a shot.

Nestled between palm trees and lamp posts: Izmir proudly presents the ‘Saat Kulesi’ – its major tourist attraction.

Remembering my schedule in Rome where I spent mornings at exhibitions and afternoons at school, my first choice was buoyant and artsy Istanbul. I intended to split my time exactly the same way I did at the Eternal city. But a quick look at the prices thwarted my plans. Language lessons in Istanbul costs triple of the one I found in Izmir. So Izmir it was.

Everything I knew about Izmir was that there is an Izmir. Anything I was able to find on the internet was not very appealing. Izmir was described as big and modern and tolerant – which are unquestionably nice attributes. But big and modern and tolerant alone is not necessarily very entertaining, and the only sight I saw over and over again was the ‘Saat Kulesi’, the clock tower. I was not sure if the clock tower would capture my imagination for two weeks.

Actually I wasn’t even lodged anywhere close to the clock tower at the center of Izmir. I’d arrived at Karşıyaka, a borough with lots of very new, for my European eye quite charmless neighborhoods. Practical apartment buildings, few people on the streets – there was a project-feel to it.

There are certainly more animating places in the world than Izmir, but the one hour boat ride from Karşıyaka, where the Turkish Language Center is located, to the city center is quite idyllic.

Although my homestay in Rome had turned out to be a bit autistic, I gave it another try and chose to be hosted by a Turkish family. Since by then I had only spoken Turkish to a computer, I needed to be challenged to extended conversations badly.

I was lodged at a tiny lady’s big flat that she shared with her son who seemed to be in his early thirties. Single woman, adult child – Rome all over again. It’s not me repeating myself, life doesn’t surprise me enough.

First school day, first breakfast. “Yemek hazır!” I heard the tiny host mother calling from the kitchen next to my room. I was happy to understand right away the meaning: food is ready. What a head start, this stay promised to be a great linguistic success. When I got to the kitchen, there was a lovely omelet, there was a small basket with bread, tomato and cucumber slices on a saucer and one of these oriental glasses of tea. But there were no people. “You’re not eating?”, I scraped up my Turkish vocabulary. From her answer I understood that her son was still sleeping. And with that she went to the adjacent balcony, closed the glass door and lightened a cigarette.
I was hungry, school was waiting, I dug in. In front of me was a TV set blearing on a shelf behind the kitchen table. A young man, surprisingly hyper for this time of the day, informed the viewers about all sort of mostly very disturbing incidents.
No, wait, one story was really funny: It was about a man getting money at an ATM, and while he was waiting for his cash, the shop owner let down the rolling grill without realizing that someone was standing in front of the shop at the ATM. Only hours later the man, still trapped between the rolling grill and the ATM – isn’t that hilarious? – was released by the police. I found this incident priceless and would have loved to share a laugh with someone. But my guest mother was smoking on the balcony and my Turkish wasn’t good enough to explain this complex story, anyway.

After school – there was only one more student, a preppy American – and the first of my almost daily trips to the ‘Saat Kulesi’ I came home and tried to get my host mother involved in some kind of conversation, but my effort remained unrequited. After a while I heard her calling “Yemek hazır!”. At the kitchen I found a plate with chicken and egg plant and a basket with bread and slices of watermelon on a saucer and a glass of water. But I didn’t find people. Since she was standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette and I heard a different TV program from the living room, I didn’t bother to ask whether someone would join me. I had company, anyway: on the TV was some Turkish soap opera on, and – what a happy coincident – a jolly family was about to have dinner. I joined them on my side of the screen.

For two weeks the hyperactive young man and this soap opera lot kept me company and became sort of my friends while my guest mother was sitting on the balcony and her son was watching another program in the living room.
The Turkish practice didn’t go like I had imagined, but I cannot say that I didn’t learn anything at all. Besides the familiar “Yemek hazır!”, I learned very quickly the words “yaralı” (wounded) and unfortunately also “ölü” (dead), which proves that the show (by then I understood that the program was called “çalar saat”, alarm clock in English and thus very suitable for a morning news program) informed their viewers of mostly sad incidents.
In order to understand more of what my dinner companions were laughing and bickering about, I’d needed at least two more weeks; still it was nice to see their familiar faces dinner after dinner after dinner.

Now some words about the stay in Izmir apart from my lodging situation: Indeed, there is not much of the touristy, exotic kind to see in Izmir but it’s a great gateway to other great places like the lovely beaches on Çeşme peninsula and not that lovely, but very close by beaches at Foça. For those who are into old rocks and lots of dust, a one hour train ride takes you back in time to the Ruins of Ephesus, and after two hours by bus you reach Bergama with the Antique Acropolis and the even more impressive Asklepieion.

So all in all and especially considering the purpose of my stay, I had a nice time, but after having spent two weeks there, I don’t need to go back to Izmir ever again.

I took the opportunity to finally see Pamukkale which was on my bucket list since about thirty years ago I’ve seen a fantasy movie where some creepy guy used to live all by himself on these surreal limestone terraces. Well, I don’t know what they did over those last thirty years, but today you are definitely not by yourself.

Did you enjoy this funny little story? Here you can read what happened at the other destinations:

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 1: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Rome

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 2: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Izmir

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 3: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Milan

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture (and check my Pinterest boards):