My Dirty Little Secret and What I Plan to Do about It

in Turkey and Turkish culture, Working Abroad

preparing for a summer cultural immersion in Turkey

These crocs were made for walking.

Fasten your seat belts because I have an announcement to make.

I’m going to Turkey this summer.

Yes, I’ve been there before, on my own and with my family, but this year is going to be different. I won’t be lolling around a resort like I did on our last fun family beach vacation on the Aegean Sea. And I’m not going there to run a cross-cultural workshop either.

The reason I’m going is because of my kids.

You see, they don’t really speak Turkish.

Sure, they know some basic vocabulary for life’s most pressing needs. Vocabulary and phrases like: I’m hungry. Thank you. Who farted? Hey, they’re boys, remember? :-)

But they are far from bilingual. And that really pains me. Because, without Turkish, they’re missing out on half their cultural heritage.

To be honest, I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit this. After all, I’ve taught English to immigrants (that’s how I met my husband) and to adults and kids in Spain. I’ve even coached foreign language teachers. So you’d think I could pull off raising bilingual kids.

I had the best of intentions.

Believe me, before our kids were born, I thought I have it all figured out — I’d speak English and my husband would speak Turkish and my kids would become bilingual.

So much for fantasies. For some reason, the whole “one language, one person” deal where each parent speaks his or her mother tongue just never took hold in our house.

So I’m going to Turkey and taking my kids with me. The plan is for them to spend most of the time with their grandparents, Dede and Babanne, aunts and cousins in my husband’s hometown on the Black Sea while I keep myself busy worrying about how they’re adjusting enjoying Istanbul.

So how long will we be there? Well, I’m learning toward three months. Or six weeks. Or somewhere in between. It changes, depending on my mood and anxiety level on any given day.

Some days I feel really excited about the whole idea. I mean, what a great gift for my kids – time spent with their Turkish relatives! A chance to experience rural Turkey and a way of life that’s totally different from our life in the U.S. Plus, they’ll get to eat all that great home-made Turkish food.

As for me, well, I haven’t spent an extended period of time immersed in another culture in years. And I’ve never spent more than one week on my own in Turkey. So, this is sure to be a real growth experience for me too. You know, the kind that you file under “character-building” :-)

Seriously, though, I know the longer we’re there, the better for my kids in terms of language learning and getting to know Turkish culture.

So, yes, we’re going to Turkey this summer.

There, I said it. Can’t exactly back out now, can I?

So, what do you think? Am I crazy? Have you done something like this in your life?

Annie@GreenTravelReviews November 20, 2013

“I’m hungry. Thank you. Who farted?”
Made me laugh out loud, thanks ;-D

Hope you have a great trip!

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Justine Ickes February 20, 2012

Hi Maria. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad we found each other through Corey’s MultilingualLiving blog. So your husband is from the Black Sea region too, eh? What village? My in-laws have a small “get away” house up in the mountains so we go up there a few times each summer. I meet some many Turks who are from that area that I often joke with my husband that it seems everyone is from the Black Sea. :-) So how did you end up in Central Anatolia? Any chance you will be visiting your in-laws this summer? It might be fun to meet you in person.

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Maria Iskenderoglu February 19, 2012

Hi Justine,
Sounds like you are going to take on quite a bit in this trip.
My family is a Turkish/ American family with a bilingual 6 year old daughter. My husband is also from the Black Sea Side, in Trabzon, from a small mountain village. We live in a central Anatolian city and are raising our daughter with the one parent one language plan. It has worked for us and I’ve been glad about that. My daughter recently entered 1st grade. I don’t have the language skills to be able to help her and it makes me crazy because I have a masters in Adult Education and I want to be a part of her daily education.
I applaud your commitment to culture for your children. That has always been a high priority for our family as well. Nether family speaks the other language so it has been important for us that our daughter be fluent in both. We are lucky it has worked out that way so far.
I think you have a great plan for getting away and leaving the boys with their Dede and BabaAnne. It will give you a chance to process everything that you yourself are learning.
I agree with a previous post. You are far from being a failure at teaching your children Turkish. It is an ongoing process and when they have someone to speak with, perhaps they will be happy to pick it up and who knows, your family might end up speaking more Turkish as a result.
I wish you a wonderful time and safe journey when you go. (Not that I am worried about safety in Turkey. I have lived here for 11 years)

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Helen Rosenfeld February 3, 2012

Justine, it will be fantastic for all of you. 2 yrs back we had the opportunity to take our then 5 yr old twins to India for 6 months. While not intended as a language immersion opportunity, it was a tremendous success in connecting them culturally to India (where my husband has roots). I truly believe it will stick with them throughout their lives, whether we are able to travel to India again soon or not. I blogged about it at the time: http://ourindianadventure.wordpress.com/.

Thanks for all the great content on your blog!

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Justine Ickes January 29, 2012

Merhaba, Catherine! My in-laws live in a little town called Besikduzu, not too far from Trabzon. What about yours? Yes, it’s amazing how fast kids can learn a language. My kids have been to Turkey several times and my in-laws have been to the U.S. So they won’t be complete beginners at Turkish. Let’s hope they’re chattering away by the end of our summer immersion!

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Catherine Yiğit February 3, 2012

They’re not too far away at all, Tirebolu in Giresun (nearly next door). Tirebolu’s worth a visit if you have the time, nice castle and seafront (don’t go through the tunnel or you’ll miss the best view). I’ve been through Besikduzu lots of times on the way to Trabzon or to Nihat Usta koftecisi in Akcaabat.
Once the kids have a basis to work from they’ll be flying in no time. It should be a great trip…

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Justine Ickes February 20, 2012

Hi Catherine. Oh, yes, Tirebolu and Giresun, we’ve been there. But not to the castle – I’ll put that on the summer “to do” list – sounds like a nice day-trip excursion.

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Catherine Yigit January 25, 2012

Where, where, where? I have Turkish in-laws in Black Sea too!
I only lasted a week on my own with them but that was pre-kids, I’be learned a lot about the culture since then. Language is a funny thing my son though he understood English he couldn’t speak much and got very frustrated when my parents were over. Six months later he was chattering away on their next visit. It’s an ongoingprocess.
Enjoy the trip!

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Thanks, Nancy. Feel free to come back to Turkey anytime and I’ll show you around Istanbul. :-) In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the virtual tour on my blog.

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Nancy Berk January 22, 2012

Justine,
I love this post AND your mission! My visit to Turkey is a highlight in my travel memories. Only wish we could have had you and your insight on the excursion with us. AND dining suggestions from your husband :)

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Amanda January 22, 2012

Funny we had that same one parent one language dream – it fizzled at some point. Two years ago my husband spent 2 months in Morocco with the kids and by the time they left they had picked up a lot. If they would have had another month or two I really think they would have been nearly fluent. So stay as long as you can!

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

I think the OPOL (one parent, one language) approach is tough. Not impossible, just takes a lot of discipline on the part of the parents. It’s heartening to hear that your kids learned so much in two months. Gives me even more motivation to try to spend all three summer months in Turkey. So, how’s your kids’ Arabic (or were they learning French?) these days? Did you husband keep up the OPOL plan when he returned?

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Melek January 22, 2012

Great idea Justine!

from personal experience, the key to success with the children learning the language is to make sure there are plenty of playmates who would only speak Turkish to them . . . before you know, they will become comfortable and fluent in Turkish & culture!

Best of luck and I look forward to reading your blog . . . I wish you well :) Melek (Aymee)

” A different language is a different vision of life.” ~ F. Fellini

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

You’re so right, Melek. And I really want to make sure my kids spend lots of time with Turkish kids who don’t speak English. The last time we were in Turkey, my sons hung out with their Turkish cousin. She’s learning English so my mantra was “Turkish, please.” I’m sure she got sick of hearing me say that. :-)

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Brandie (@ Home Cooking Memories) January 21, 2012

I love this idea and admire you! I can picture all the learning they will do…even beyond the language. I’m new to your blog, but look forward to follow your journey.

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Welcome, Brandie! Yes, it’ll be interesting to see what my kids learn – language and culture-wise. Glad you’ll be following our journey.

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Chara January 20, 2012

That sounds fantastic. I know a lot of bilingual kids and it seems that their parents are always working hard to keep them that way.

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Yes, it’s definitely a priority for me, Chara, to have my kids be able to speak two languages. And maybe even three! By the way, loved your post about karaoke and the band/signer Meat Loaf!

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Sarah V. January 20, 2012

How exciting! I’ve never been to Turkey, but I have friends who went and their pictures were amazing. Such an adventure!

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

It will be an adventure, for sure! And I hope to post lots of photos here. Actually, I need to learn how to take better photos before I leave. Thanks for the reminder, Sarah. ;-)

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Natalie January 20, 2012

That sounds amazing. I would probably spend 40% of my alone time in a Turkish bath. Your kids will love it. My parents started taking me and my sisters overseas when I was in the first grade and I remember it all. Every last bit of it.

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Yes, I definitely have going to a Turkish bath on my “to do” list. Have you ever been to one? They’re wonderful. I’ve only ever been to the ones for tourists, however. This past summer my husband and I happened on a Turkish bath that was in a hotel (can’t recall the name right now). Believe it or not, my husband had never been to a Turkish bath! So, you started traveling when you were in first grade? What a great gift from your parents. Was there any country or experience in particular that was especially memorable?

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Helena January 19, 2012

I know this feeling only too well – I’m of Ukrainian background (Ukraine is just above the Black Sea) and my husband is Australian. Our son is almost 4 and I thought we would do the bi-lingual thing as well – I would speak just Ukrainian and my husband would speak English & pick up Ukrainian as we went along. It hasn’t worked out that way at all – my son knows the odd few words and phrases in Ukrainian but doesn’t speak fluently like I did when I was a child (when both parents and grandparents spoke to me in Ukrainian).
It was all brought home to me when we attended a Ukrainian scout camp over Christmas & their were other 4 year olds speaking beautiful Ukrainian and English.
So we are also travelling this year – to Ukraine for 3 weeks in August & I’m hoping that the immersion will be great for all three of us.
Happy travels to you and your family.

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Sounds like we’re in similar situations with raising our kids to speak two languages, Helena. But, as Melissa so rightly pointed out in her comment above, all is not lost. Your son is still young, after all! I think your family trip to Ukraine sounds great. I’m sure you’ll all come back with new language skills – well, you’ve already got them. ;-) Come back over here and let us know how your trip went, okay?

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Patricia January 19, 2012

How lucky are your children! Wow ~ what an incredible experience for them … something they’ll remember for always. And you as well. No matter how freaked you may feel from now until summer, don’t back down … this is an adventure to keep saying yes to!

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Tammy and Parker January 18, 2012

Used to live in Turkey. Have an excellent adventure!

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Justine Ickes January 19, 2012

Oh, I remember reading about that family, Chrissy. Do you know the name of the book? we won’t be going cold-Turkey on the media, however. Sometimes watching TV is good for passive language learning and working o your listening skills. And I hope to blog while we’re there so you can all follow along. I think the toughest part for me and the kids will be the days when I leave them with my in-laws. I’ll have to get myself out of the mix a bit so my kids don’t rely on me for English.

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Justine Ickes January 19, 2012

You lived in Turkey?! When? Where? I’d love to hear more.

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Jody Worsham January 18, 2012

Good for you! I’m just trying to get my kids to speak one language correctly. I’m going to the Erma Bombeck WW in April also and wanted to stop by and say hi. I’ll be at the “bird” table, if you get a chance give me a yell. Jody The Medicare Mom http://themedicaremom.blogspot.com

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Justine Ickes January 23, 2012

Hi Jody, Thanks for stopping by. I’ve got some funny stories from my travels but haven’t gotten down on paper yet. Hopefully, the Erma workshop will get me started. See you there!

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Chrissy January 17, 2012

What a fun and fantastic adventure for your family. Reminds me of that book about the family who lived on a boat for a year and learned how to be together and have fun with board games, cards and conversation rather than tv, video games and the internet. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about it in your blog here.

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Leah Patgorski January 14, 2012

Sounds exciting. I’m actually able to picture the foods they will be eating, like Babanne’s beans! I’m sure everyone will look forward to posts about this experience later in the year.

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Justine Ickes January 19, 2012

Yeah, I wonder if I could do a little virtual food-tasting on my blog? :-)

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Stacey January 13, 2012

I just found you in a comment on my Artful Parent post. What an exciting day to head over here! Congrats on such wonderful plans!!

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Justine Ickes January 19, 2012

Thanks, Stacey. Yes, exciting times and lots to plan for our trip. I still need to check out those books you recommended on the Artful Parent.

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Melissa January 12, 2012

First of all, I have to say, as a foreign language teacher, teacher trainer, and parent of multicultural kids, YOU HAVE NOT FAILED at raising bilingual kids. First of all, because it’s not over until it’s over–you aren’t done raising them. I don’t know the ages of your kids but you called them “little boys” in this post. So you are far from finished raising them. Second for all, don’t fall prey to the perfectly balanced bilingual myth. Especially as someone who has taught a foreign language you should know how rare that is. And third, in my experience with multicultural kids, I can tell you that they always surprise you. Kids language use is like water, it will always take the path of least resistance, the most direct route to communication, they will not flow against gravity, but move rocks when on a roll.
In 2008 I took my two four year olds to the US for three and a half months. We stayed with my family and as soon as we boarded the plane, I put Spanish away along with their Mexican passports. We were in a rural area with no Spanish speakers around and I managed to hide the fact that there actually was Spanish on TV, so it was a total immersion experience. When we arrived they understood English, but only spoke in Spanish. By the time we left they understood Spanish but only spoke in English. And it wasn’t until the last three weeks that we were there that they started speaking to each other in Spanish.
Go for as long as you can, and I’m sure your boys will be fine.

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Justine Ickes January 19, 2012

Wow, Melissa, thanks for your wise words and for the reminders about being wary of the “perfect bilingual” myth. (although, I admit that sometimes my ego gets the best of me and I like to think that I’m perfectly bilingual. :-) It was cool to read about your experience with your kids. My Turkish summer will be somewhat different since I don’t speak Turkish. So Imcan’t reinforce what my kids are learning. Of course, I think it’ll be great for them to see ME trying to learn the language too.

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Andi January 11, 2012

Oh, how exciting! I can’t wait to follow you as you prepare and travel.

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Hey there, Andi, thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s exciting and, yes, I’ve got lots of preparing to do. Our departure date is five months away but, somehow, I think the time’s really going to fly.

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Aisha G of Hartlyn Kids January 11, 2012

Good for you! I want to go too!!!

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

We’d love to have you and your daughter, Aisha! In the meantime, check back here for updates on our escapades in Turkey.

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Julia Garstecki Derkovitz January 11, 2012

This is a great idea, Justine! I used to be shy and uncomfortable in new places, but somehow I ended up living in Europe alone for a whole summer. I cried when the plane landed in London, but it was life changing! I credit that experience for becoming the risk taker I somewhat am today! It might be crazy, but it’s a good crazy, so congratulations! Enjoy!

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Okay, Julia, I’m intrigued. “Somehow I ended up living in Europe alone for a whole summer” ??? More details, please. I know that crying in a foreign land experience very well. When I up and moved to Spain in the mid-1980s, I cried myself to sleep the first night, thinking, “Why on earth did I do this?” But, like you, it was probably the single most life-changing experience I’ve ever had. It’s right up there with having kids. Okay, maybe kids wins out over moving to Spain. ;-)

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Stephanie January 11, 2012

Good for you for undertaking it on your own with the kids! I’d have the same mix of emotions if I were to undertake my Moroccan in-laws (whom I adore) for 2-3 months all on my own. It will be great for your Turkish too! And I bet the kids will be speaking Turkish by the time you leave, which will make it all so worth it! yay!

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Well, I sure hope my kids are speaking Turkish by the time they leave. The longest we’ve visited Turkey in the past was for four weeks. I noticed that by week 3 my eldest was starting to respond in Turkish. So I have high hopes for this longer visit. I hear you on the in-laws factor. :-) I’m still sorting out logistics of how it’ll all work out in practice. I’ll probably spend some time with my kids at my in-laws and then some time on my own – partly so my kids can’t rely on me and speaking English. But also for “mental health” reasons. :-)

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Daria January 11, 2012

Wow! I am envious! What a fabulous idea. Can’t wait to see pictures and hear how it goes.

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Photos, photos – yes, we’ve got photos of past trips and I’ve been meaning to get them up on pinterest. I’m also hoping to take better ones this summer. But first I need to brush up on my photogrpahy skills. One more thing to put on the “to do” list!

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Marina K. Villatoro January 11, 2012

I wish I can take my kids to Russia, for them to be fluent. This is a great idea.

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

That would be great if you could spend an extended period in Russia, Marina. Do you speak Russian with them at home? Are there many Russian speakers where you live in Central America? At the very least, your kids are growing up knowing how to speak Spanish! That’s a real gift you and your husband are giving them.

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Linda Stephens January 11, 2012

Wow! What a huge decision and, really, what a loving gesture by both you and your husband to make culture high on the priority list for your kids. It is so easy not to do these challenging adventures. I’ve had similar thoughts about my own lack of bilingualism for years and, despite many classes and good intentions, I can barely order food in a Spanish restaurant without English. My hat is off to you!

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Hey Linda, thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is a huge decision, one that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a few years now. Just was waiting for the right time…but, you know what they say – there’s no time like the present. I think the pay-offs in terms of language learning and cultural awareness for my kids (and me, of course) will be huge. At least, I have high hopes. Hat tip back to you for making the effort to use your Spanish. And who knows? Maybe some day you will take that cultural leap. :-)

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Jenny - Sugar Loco January 11, 2012

What a trip!!!

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Justine Ickes January 12, 2012

Yes, it sure will be quite a “trip”, in all meanings of the word. :-)

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