You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

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What’s it really like to teach abroad? Author and international educator Ann Marie Mershon shares her experiences in her new book, You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey. It’s a fantastic read, full of tales of travel (one of the greatest benefits of teaching overseas!), classroom challenges and joys, living in Istanbul, cultural adjustment, and the daily life of a teacher abroad. 
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

I loved many things about this book, but the one thing that stands out is Mershon’s ability to find her path – and joy. She writes so well of the people in her life – students, friends, kids, neighbors – that you feel as if you were there, too. She is honest, as well, about the challenges of teaching overseas – from loneliness to culture shock to different learning requirements in schools to deciding where to go next. In the book, she (along with her dog, Libby) travels, teaches, and shares about her years of teaching in Turkey. It’s illuminating, inspiring, and an excellent read. Highly recommended!

We were lucky enough to catch up with Ann Marie, and ask her about the book, inspiration, writing, teaching in Turkey, and more. Here’s what she had to say…
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Please tell us about your book, You must only to love them…
You must only to love them is an account of my years living and teaching in Turkey. After a painful divorce, I wanted to make a new start and hoped to land a position in Paris or Salzburg. I have to mention that the title is a direct quote from a young Turk who contacted me when he learned I was moving to Turkey. His ungrammatical advice for dealing with Turkish students was endearing and, I later learned, very typical of Turks speaking English.

I was nervous about moving to Istanbul, but it turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. I adored the people, marveled at the historical sites, and loved exploring the varied terrain of this stunning country. An inveterate Pollyanna, I did my best to maintain my rose-colored view of the world, but even I struggled with many things as I made the transition to a new culture. I’m actually surprised at the positive reactions to the book, but I have a feeling it’s because I bared my soul as I shared my joys and woes as an expat in a new world.
Balloons in Cappadocia. From You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia

What inspired you to write this book?
It broke my heart to see how Muslims were vilified, discriminated against, and shunned in our country, especially after 9/11. While I was teaching over there I received a vindictive e-mail from a misinformed cousin, and I was appalled to see the ugly opinions he’d been sharing about Islam, Muhammed, and the people I’d come to love. Rather than replying to him (no point in that), I decided to write a memoir about my experiences. I wanted people (particularly Americans) to see what a warm and caring people the Turks are. I was greatly moved by their culture and also wanted to share the beauty of this very different world. I knew precious little about Turkey before I decided to move there, and I assumed many people were the same. Heck, I could hardly find it on a map. Is that sad or what?
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Eclipse with IB students

What were some of the joys and challenges you experienced when teaching in Turkey?
Oh, so many joys:
•    Teaching young people who respected and loved me (yes, loved)… In all my years of teaching there, I never had a student talk back or sass me (a daily occurrence in America)
•    Having half my school day devoted to preparation and communication with my peers
•    Teaching with open-minded people who respected and valued different cultures 
•    Exploring the countless historical sites around Istanbul and Turkey
•    The kindness of Turks who went out of their way to help me when I was lost or confused or in need
•    Traveling Turkey and the world at every opportunity—and there were many

Challenges:
•    Loneliness—wishing I had someone close to share feelings with
•    Navigating Turkey without speaking their language (I got better.)
•    Feeling conspicuous (and ghostlike) as a tall, white woman in a world of dark-haired beauties
•    Spending long hours on crowded public transportation to get around the city
•    Dealing with a grading system that infuriated me
•    Accepting their practice of scarf-wearing (which is becoming more prevalent in Istanbul)
•    Getting lost time after time

You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Schoolboys at the Kurtköy Pazar

As an author, how did you decide which parts of your experiences in Turkey to include in your book?
That was a tough one. I used my weekly blog as a guide, then outlined all the experiences I’d had over the years, trying to balance teaching, travel, and personal experiences. My first draft was OK, but too much of a grocery list of “I did this and I went here and I…” 

As I worked on numerous revisions, I tried to choose the most interesting anecdotes and intriguing travels, so I had to weed out a lot, especially travel. 
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Uhu Mosque, North Portal, Divriği, Turkey 

When I felt the book was done, I had 15 copies printed to share with friends willing to read it and offer feedback. Once I got that input, I launched into yet another total revision, cutting about a third of the book and adding more descriptions to bring the reader along with me. It was a long process, especially since I kept returning to Turkey to teach. I taught a total of 9 semesters over the course of seven years. 
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Jana and Ann Marie in Ephesus

What is your best advice for educators looking to teach in Turkey?
Turkey is a wonderful place to teach, but check on the quality of the school you choose. I was surprised that both Koç and Robert College paid very well, and they also covered the cost of housing. My years there launched me into a pretty comfortable retirement. I paid off debt AND had plenty of money for travel. Turkey has mandatory teacher retirement at 65, but if I could still teach there, I’d jump at the chance. 
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Koc High School

Gould Hall, Robert College. From You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Gould Hall, Robert College

You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Feluccas on the Nile

Believe it or not, in spite of recent events, Turkey is still a safer place than most American cities. I wrote a blog on the safety of the country, and I was surprised to learn that most crimes are solved and there are very few homicides. It’s about a helping culture. 
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Antalya beach

What's up next for you?
I plan to continue writing and exploring my world. I’ve just launched into a sequel to my children’s historical novel, Britta’s Journey, and that will involve a lot of research—fun research.

Also, I live in the north woods, so outdoor adventures are an important part of my life. I just returned from a week-long kayak trip with friends on Lake Superior (an annual camping excursion), and yesterday we hiked up a local river canyon in the water, climbing waterfalls and marveling at the splendor of its unique ecosystem. How can you beat that?
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Libby in her carrier

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Life is short, and I can’t say enough about following your dream. TV can be interesting and books are wonderful, but there’s nothing like getting out to experience the world for yourself. (If you’re hesitant, feel free to indulge in a vicarious few years in Turkey through my memoir. I think you’ll enjoy it.)
You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Climbing Mount Sinai

You must only to love them: Lessons Learned in Turkey

Leslie and Mollie model Musa Başaran's kilims

 

Learn more (and see chapter by chapter photos!) at http://annmariemershon.com/

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Ann Marie Mershon

 

 

 

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