Interview with middle schoolers

Hey gang! I had a difficult time tracking down middle schoolers to talk to so I could do this final regular post, but at last, I have an interview to share with you.

It’s crazy that this is my last post (before the “final celebration post,” wherein I document the time we ate Turkish delight and listened to Erkin Koray together). We’ve covered lots of topics together and I hope you feel like you’ve learned something valuable from reading this blog. For me, it’s the only way I’ve been documenting my trip, so it’s been a handy way to reflect on my experiences, collect my thoughts, and think about/research single topics. More rewarding than that, though, was the opportunity it gave me to interact with and get to know all of you. My peers (who are doing the same project), teachers, and parents have been consistently blown away by the thoughtfulness of your responses. I’ve written about some complex stuff – issues I can’t pretend to fully understand myself – and you guys have absorbed it shockingly well and responded in ways that challenged me and forced me to consider new angles. Basically, you’re gonna kill it in your upcoming high school and college years.

My plans

This is the last post I’m required to post until we meet. My finals at Boğaziçi end in the middle of January. After that, a friend and I are going to travel through the Balkans to Prague, Czech Republic. I expect a lot of fun adventures in the upcoming couple of months. I’d like to document things for you (maybe just pictures and short blurbs), so check back if you’d like!

Interview with middle schoolers

Approaching Türkan Şoray Middle School

Approaching Türkan Şoray Middle School

At first it was really challenging to find a middle schooler to interview. I was looking for a Turkish friend or acquaintance who had a middle school sibling/friend I could meet with, but I had no luck. In the parlance of MySpace, there were on Turkish middle schoolers in my “extended network” (did you guys use MySpace?).

So I decided just to walk to a nearby Middle School and go through whatever channels necessary to have a conversation with one of their students. The channels were surprisingly few. My friend Ayşegül and I walked straight into the principal’s office and asked if we could interview someone. He rapidly agreed and sent two boys to find an eighth grader. They ran down the hall and came back moments later with not one, but two eighth graders. We did the interview in the library, surrounded by about 10 other kids who were silently very curious about the whole situation. Ayşegül came along in case I needed help with Turkish, but after our conversation with the principal, I managed on my own.

The girls, Elamur and İkra,  had different enough answers that I’ll provide both of their responses here. Some of the answers below come from follow-up answers, but I won’t bore you by writing all of those.

They were cool kids – you’d all hit it off really well.

Elamur answers:

What is your favorite class?

(In English) How is your English?
(laughs) (responds in Turkish) I like English because I want to be an English teacher someday. I also enjoy the class because I love the teacher. I’m interested in different languages, cultures, and stuff like that. I want to learn other languages, like French. I’ll probably study French in high school.

So you know some English? What do you know how to say in English?
I mean, I’ve learned some in classes, but it’s so weird when we try to speak English. When I watch American films, it seems like everyone speaks in a way that seems so cold. They don’t seem very friendly. I want to ask you about that. Like, do you and your mom talk the way they do in American movies?

My response: Americans are typically just as friendly as Turks, but in my opinion, most conversations and expressions in Turkish are a lot more touchy-feely. For example, I watched a Turkish sitcom called Yabancı Damat and it seemed like people were either screaming at each other or talking very affectionately. Americans aren’t that different from Turks, but they express their feelings differently. The more English you learn, the better you’ll understand this.

What are your hobbies?
I used to play guitar, but I realized I had no talent, so then I stopped. I like watching films and listening to music.

Do you prefer Turkish or American music?
I prefer Metallica and stuff – my brain’s corrupted .(laughs)

Who’s your favorite musician?
Metallica and Slipknot.

What films do you like best?
I watch whatever films my friends want to watch. I really liked The Hunger Games.

Do you speak any other languages?

Have you ever left Turkey?

What is your favorite food?
Mantı (Turkish raviolis)

Do you have breakfast before school?
Yeah, my mom normally fixes breakfast. Like tea, eggs, cheese, basic stuff.

Do you like school?
(laughs) I don’t like school. I like my friends, but I don’t like classes. During the 40 minutes of each class, I just want to hang out with my friends.

What do you usually do after school?

I play volleyball. After that, if the study hall is open, I go there, then I go home and use Facebook and stuff (laughs)

What do you do on the weekends?
I go to the study hall. Then I hang out with friends, but if I don’t hang out with friends, I go home and listen to music.

Do you think there are many differences between Turkish and American culture?
It definitely seems that way, but in fact I don’t really know. I want to know more about it. In films and stuff it seems way different, but like I said, Americans don’t seem as friendly as Turks. I don’t know. There’s gotta be though.

Elamur, me, and İkra

Elamur, me, and İkra

İkra’s answers:

What is your favorite class?
Math… and Turkish.

What do you study in Turkish class?
Turkish sentence structures and grammar, but not literature

What are your hobbies?
I like singing – lots of different styles, but all Turkish music. Pop music and stuff, but I don’t like foreign music much

Who’s your favorite musician?
Murat Boz (a famous contemporary Turkish singer)

Do you prefer Turkish or American films?
…Turkish. I prefer drama films. I have lots of favorites.

Do you speak any other languages?
Not really. Just what we learn in school. My English isn’t so great!

Do you play sports?
Not now, but I did karate back in the day.

Have you ever left Turkey?
No, but I’ve traveled around Turkey a little bit.

Are there bullies at this school?
(both of the girls laugh) There are so many bullies you can’t even count them. 

But neither of you are bullies, right?
(nervous laughs) Of course not! 

Are there both boy and girl bullies?
No girl bullies. Just boys. Like Ergen (a boy’s name) (laughs)

What is your favorite food?
I don’t really have a favorite, but maybe broccoli soup.

Do you have breakfast before school?

Do you like school?
Yeah, but I don’t really look forward to it.

What kind of food do they serve at the school?
Homestyle food, hamburgers, döner, et cetera.

What do you usually do after school?
I usually go to the park with some friends, then I go to the study hall

Do you think there are differences between Turkish and American culture?
From what I’ve heard, Turks are more hospitable and generally warmer… but I don’t really know.


What did you think of their responses? Did anything surprise you, or does their middle school life seem pretty similar to yours? Any Metallica fans out there?




Photo of the Week: Belgrade Forest



A friend from the U.S. visited me last week. A gorgeous day of sun and crisp air made us want to get out and see nature. This is a challenge in a gigantic, sprawling city like Istanbul, but a glance at a satellite photo of Istanbul shows that there’s an enormous green patch in the northwestern part of the European side, not terribly far from where I live, actually. The place is called Belgrad Forest. It’s home to many varieties of deciduous trees and some Ottoman dams. The Ottomans used the water in these reservoirs as Istanbul’s main water supply for much of the duration of the Empire. The words on this plaque, written in Ottoman Turkish, are allegedly the names of architects and workers who built the dam.

The bus ride out there was fairly long, so I decided to say hello to a high-school-aged guy standing next to me. He told me his family lived in the forest and offered to show us around. He spent a couple hours walking through the forest and acting as a tour guide, then we had a cup of tea at a shop near the main forest entrance. Not one to weaken the stereotype of Turkish hospitality, he even insisted on paying for the tea.

Photo of the week: Viking graffiti at the Hagia Sophia


This week’s Photo of the Week isn’t very pretty, considering that it comes from the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian cathedral in 537, under the Byzantine Empire when Istanbul was Constantinople. In the 15th Century, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and changed its name to Istanbul. They were completely blown away by the Hagia Sophia because of its commanding architecture and outstanding artistic features. Its dome is gigantic and the stonework and layout was like nothing before it. Despite the fact that it was built for a different religion, they kept it around because they couldn’t imagine the city without it. However, since the Ottomans were Muslims, they converted it into a mosque.

This conversion required a few things, including:

  • Covering up the mosaics. The Hagia Sophia had mosaics that represented Jesus, Mary, disciples, and other popular figures in Christian art. Although these people appear in the Qur’an also, Islam forbids any art that represents humans. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, even artistic representations of the prophet Mohammed are forbidden.
  • The addition of a mihrab. When Muslims pray, they must face Mecca, a city in Saudia Arabia that hosts the holiest mosque in Islam. All other mosques have a decorative area against or carved into a wall in the mosque, which faces Mecca. This is called a mihrab. Needless to say, the cathedral lacked a mihrab.
  • The addition of minarets. Minarets are the pointy towers around mosques. They act as an elevated place from which imams (Islamic priests) can broadcast the call to prayer. The Hagia Sophia now has some of the tallest minarets in the world.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey decided the Hagia Sophia should no longer be a cathedral or a mosque, but rather a museum. This is the way travelers from around the world see it nowadays.

I encourage you to read more about the Hagia Sophia. Here’s a nice, succinct history of it.

Anyway, while it was still under the Byzantine Empire, the Vikings sacked Constantinople. In the process, some punk Viking named Halvdan scratched his name into the marble of the Hagia Sophia. Normally I’d find something like this shameful, but it fits in nicely with the dynamic history of the Hagia Sophia, which has taken on a little character from every major group of people that’s stumbled upon it.