April 15, 2021

Dr. Summers reflects on living, teaching in Turkey during COVID-19

(Featured image courtesy of Dr. Summers)

Dr. David Summers of the English Department spent a semester teaching abroad in Izmir, Turkey, and he sat down with the Chimes to share his experiences.

In September of 2019, Summers won the Fulbright U.S. Student Program award, which would give him the opportunity to teach abroad in Turkey. 

Summers left for Izmir last January with intentions of returning home in June. During his time abroad, he was staying in a flat in one of the oldest areas of Izmir, known as Alsancak. His flat overlooked a busy street lined with cafes and shops, an area which he described as being very active at night. 

The view from Summers’ flat in Alsancak

“My building was only a block away from the seafront, which was a great place to walk and watch people enjoying a day out,” Summers said. 

The aspect of the experience that Summers enjoyed the most, in addition to being in a new city with many sites to see and great food to eat, was the people he had the pleasure of meeting at Yasar University. 

His faculty colleagues were very warm and welcoming people, while the students he taught were kind, young people dedicated to learning about literature and improving their English. One of his favorite people on campus was the woman who worked at the campus Starbucks and took the time to teach him a new phrase in Turkish each week.

Summers was rather impressed by how hard his Turkish students worked, especially when it came to the material each class was studying. His first-years, for example, were reading an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey, despite English being a second or third language for most of them. 

“They worked so hard, and had wonderfully creative and insightful things to say in both classes,” Summers said. 

Unfortunately, Summers’ trip was unexpectedly cut short due to the pandemic. The news came as a bit of a surprise to him since he doesn’t speak Turkish. He wasn’t picking up on any of the information provided by television news, and only rarely had access to English newspapers. 

The first he had heard of the situation came when Fulbright sent a message encouraging him to come home, explaining that they would make the arrangements. Summers still had work to do and insisted on staying in Izmir, figuring he would just wait out the pandemic. Eventually Fulbright took the decision out of his hands and sent him home on a packed, 15-hour flight. 

“I cannot tell you how sad I was to be in a taxi heading for the airport on just a day’s notice with my Fulbright project only half finished, with no fond farewells for the people I was working with or the students I was teaching.” Summers said. 

A typical back street in Izmir, Turkey

Though the experience didn’t quite end how he’d imagined it would, Summers is still able to look back on the experience with great fondness. He’s stayed in touch with several of the lovely friends he made during his time in Izmir and hopes to return one day to see them again. 

After such a tumultuous year, Summers is simply grateful to be able to say that he hasn’t lost anyone very close to the virus. He feels lucky in that way, considering many people have not been as fortunate. “This has been hard on all of us, obviously, but it may make me more grateful for things like meeting friends for a beer in a pub, getting a hug from a friend, and all those normal things we used to take for granted.”

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