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Robert Spoden

My name is Robert Spoden and I teach English to adult learners. The lead-up to my arrival in this profession has been quite a journey, and as I learn and grow within this profession, I encounter many beautiful and interesting people. Teaching, I suppose is like being a gardener. The reward is that I get to witness personal growth as my students expand their repertoire of the English language. Like a gardener, I must be patient, as results are seen over a period of time and not instantaneously. I get a lot of satisfaction starting with a beginner-level class where the students don’t understand anything I say and by the end of the course the students can understand me with ease. It’s part of that growth process where the mind blossoms as it acquires new and unfamiliar skills, integrating them into its own mental matrices.

I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey in August 2015. I was an exchange student from the University of California in Santa Cruz. My host institution was Boğaziçi University, and I spent the last year of my undergraduate study there completing my bachelor’s degree in political science.

Wait a minute, you might ask, why do you teach English if you studied political science? That’s a really good question! I made the decision while I was studying here during the fall of 2015. I had signed up for only one semester, because I wasn’t sure I’d like Turkey. Seemed a reasonable choice because as an American, Turkey is a pretty exotic place. However, once I had arrived and spent some time in Istanbul and around the country, I fell in love. I quickly applied to extend my stay here as an exchange student for the remainder of the academic year.

My next step was to find a more permanent place to live, as I was staying in a dormitory. It was an easy decision. I chose Kadıköy, a lovely part of the city with a nice vibe. I didn’t care much for living in a dorm near the university, so renting my own tiny 16 square meter studio apartment near the Söğütlüçeşme mosque was a welcome change. It took me awhile to learn how to pronounce “Söğütlüçeşme,” and as a yabanci I still don’t quite get it right, but I can get close!

So with my move to Kadıköy taken care of the next step was to figure out how I could remain in Turkey once my time at Boğaziçi University ended. I did a bit of soul-searching and realized that I feel really good about teaching. I’m a patient guy and don’t mind explaining new things to people in ways that can be easily understood. Indeed, as I grew up I had plenty of practice! I was, and still am a bit of a computer geek, and even worked in the tech field for awhile. There were lots of situations that arose where I would solve someone’s computer problem, then have to explain exactly what went wrong and how I fixed it, but in terms that could be understood by someone whose knowledge of computers was quite limited.

But what does teaching have to do with politics? I’ve been asked this question a few times in my career, and my answer is: everything. You’ve probably heard the expression, knowledge is power. When I studied Michel Foucault, a postmodern philosopher, I became keenly aware of the importance of knowledge and how it influences and shapes our political spaces. Political science is the study of power – how it is transmitted and subsumed by the masses. Those who have knowledge have power, and those who have power gain more freedom. The teaching profession is equivalent to going out into the trenches and getting your hands dirty with the hands-on work of helping to empower people by guiding them in their journey of acquiring more knowledge. Learning another language opens doors. It grants freedom and privileges that were once closed off. I want to be part of this effort. Thank you for reading.