Navigating Another Situation in Turkish

A mixed post of language learning benchmarks and developing ideas:

Yesterday I went to the university and discussed me doing my MA in International Relations while we stay in Bishkek.

First, I realize this must seem really odd to an American mind.  Didn’t I already start my PhD, and at a top-ten university? Why would I drop that only to do my Master’s in an unknown city three continents away?  It is kind of odd, but it makes sense for a few reasons:

I never actually did a Master’s degree.  Had I stayed at Chicago they would have granted one after the second year of my program, but I didn’t, and thus neither did they.  If I plan on continuing my PhD outside of the states (which is likely), then I would actually need a MA to apply to PhD programs at most schools.  It might be possible to transfer my previous PhD credits from Chicago to a PhD program at another university, but most likely a very confusing procedure as it’s not common outside of the US educational system. In short, backtracking and getting a MA degree now will make things much easier in the future.

Second: for now we’re planning on staying in Bishkek a bit longer.  We were thinking of moving earlier, but the situation in Turkey is really uncertain (elections on June 7th!) and we haven’t found another place that seems to offer the right situation, someplace we’d like to settle. We have other options, but none of them seem like a solid fit.  And, as I’ve mentioned many times before, there are near no jobs here for non-Turkish expats. I’m working part time now but, while I’ve learned some new skills, I don’t really feel like it’s advancing my career.  Not to mention that the pace of work and project progress can be…I’m ready to dive into and commit to doing something intensively again, to push myself everyday, to focus on a few areas that really interest me.

And third: the program.  I was highly unimpressed with my program in the states (perhaps in great part because I attended a really wonderful liberal arts college where professors were so involved in their teaching and student standards were set with rigour).  As a few of my other college classmates discovered, great researchers and writers do not always make for great teachers and advisors.  Likewise, the factors that determine a university’s ranking don’t necessarily determine whether it will be a great place for you to study, whether it will be a place where you will thrive.   The university may be in the middle of Central Asia, but certain departments do have really good professors, and the International Relations department also runs a Central Asia research institute.  It looks like I would be able to study what I’m really interested in (basically constructions of national, regional and ethnic identities; China-Turkic minorities-Central Asia and Turkey-Turkic cousins across Central Asia-possibly minorities within Turkey), and the department head also seemed quite excited about the possibility of me doing some work for the resource center, which I think would be great.   Also, having a department that also supports what I’m interested in pursuing – fantastic.

The one tricky part will be language.  In this particular department 90% of courses will be in English or Turkish, but I might still have to take one or two courses in Kyrgyz.  I currently do not speak Kyrgyz, and I have no real personal pressing desire to learn Kyrgyz. However, as it is in the Turkic language family, and I’ve already studied Turkish, Uyghur, Uzbek and Kazakh (to varying degrees), learning Kyrgyz shouldn’t prove impossible.  So for fall semester I will take classes offered in English along with Turkish and Kyrgyz intensive language courses, and starting in the spring of next year I’ll take courses in English and Turkish while possibly continuing Kyrgyz language.

Which brings me to the language part of this post: discussion of my participation was done almost entirely in Turkish.  And I understood it, 95%.  Enough so that the first woman we talked to, a Kyrgyz woman working in the registration office, said, “Because she knows Turkish she can start classes in Turkish right away.”  Which would be terrifying, as I’m currently working my way through a book written for 9-12 year olds and not academic texts. But I can understand – and generally hold my own – in conversations.  Why? Because one of the strategies I use in language learning is setting situations you want to conquer in your target language.

What this really means is focusing your language study so that it’s relevant for you and the situations you will encounter while using that language.  You aren’t going to learn everything in your target language – I don’t even know how to navigate every situation in English though I’m a native speaker (E, for example, can leave me lost when discussing car mechanics).  So pick out and focus on the situations you want to learn.  Define a situation or topic.  Think up what you want to say, what vocabulary you might need, what questions you might be asked or snags you could come across, and practice.  If you’re a beginner it might be as basic as finding items in the grocery store.  Or it could be introducing your job or explaining a project.  Last spring before I went to the bazaar to have couch pillows made  I made sure I knew all the vocabulary and phrases I would need in Russian.  It doesn’t have to be something big – just a topic that has relevance to you and will help you better cement your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and everything else that otherwise pours out of your textbook.

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