I am a 10th-grade student at Aziz Sancar High School in Mardin. Located in the southeast of Turkey, Mardin is one of the oldest settlements in the region. For many years, the city was considered unsafe and was frequently portrayed negatively in the news. Lately, with more Turkish soap operas being filmed here, it became to be known for its cultural diversity and old sandstone buildings. Like the city, Mardinians are beautiful people. I love living here.
I want to be a writer one day. I love reading and writing stories. I want to inspire people with my writing just like I am inspired by the writings of great authors. One of my favorite books is “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. I read it a few times in Turkish but deep down I know that reading it in its native written language would make the story more compelling. That has become my goal – reading “Lord of Flies” in English.
Last year I watched an American movie where the teacher had all her students read a book and discuss it in class chapter by chapter. I found this amazing – each student had different perceptions and opinions about the book and the characters in it. We never did that in my literature classes. I wished I had the opportunity to discuss my ideas with my friends in class. That’s why I got very excited when I heard about Payda‘s “Connecting School” program. This program was my chance to experience the class in that American movie.
Connecting Schools is a project that matches students from different regions of Turkey and connects them over video conference to exchange ideas and practice English. Here was my opportunity – to speak in English, to get to know someone from a different background and make new friends. Melisa who is a 10th-grade student like me became my match, my pal. She attends Uskudar American High School in Istanbul. At first, we were both a little bit shy and only talked about our homework. As we got to know each other, we became very close and started talking every day. She also loves to read just like me. She told me that, like in the movie I watched, teachers assign them books to read and have discussions afterward. She suggested to pick a book, read it at the same time and discuss it later. Just like that, I became a part of the two-people book club. This was a dream come true.
Now, we recommend books to each other, read them together and share our opinions. Since she has more access to books in English, she sends me books to read. We talk about adding more people to our book club in the future.
This project has truly changed my life. I became friends with someone that I would have never interacted with otherwise. My perceptions of people that are different from me and my family changed. I don’t believe in stereotypes anymore. I’ve became a better communicator. I read and write better in English. And, I’ve started to speak English for the first time. Melisa says that the program has expanded her horizons. We both believe that connecting to each other this way empowered us to speak our minds. Now, I know that life is larger than my beautiful city, Mardin and I should go after my dreams.
Melisa invited me to Istanbul this summer. To my surprise, my parents gave me permission to visit her. This will be my first trip to Istanbul. Melisa told me she will take me to all the museums and historical sights. I am especially excited to see the Topkapi Palace. She also promised to take me to a bookstore so I can buy more books in English.
I feel very privileged to participate in this program. My recommendation to students like me is to always look for ways to develop themselves and never to settle for good enough.
ABOUT CONNECTING SCHOOLS:
The idea for this project came up when some students asked PAYDA if they can teach them English. The team started working right away to design it so that it can be a permanent project for the organization. Once designed, PAYDA made sure the project aligned with its main objective of creating long-lasting interactions between different segments of the society. The program matches schools from different regions and connects selected students with each other. Students are encouraged to interact with their peers in English over video conference. The ultimate goal is to create bonds between students in different regions of Turkey.