It started when I got a call from my dad. His project was accepted and we were going to go to the U.S. for a whole year! I was extremely excited but quite afraid too. We had a lot to do since we left Turkey, the country I grew up in. And this was a huge thing for me because I have never changed cities before in my life. I had lived in Cappadocia my whole life.

We bought our tickets. Getting the paperwork done was a nightmare but we eventually did it and we got on a bus from Cappadocia to Kayseri and from Kayseri we hopped on a plane to Istanbul Airport, the busiest airport in Europe.

Up until this point, I hadn’t thought about American culture or anything about America. I couldn’t learn anything about America because all we did was stay in the hotel room, look for a place to live, and eat breakfast. I learned a lot about American culture just from those breakfasts though.

I was excited to interact with people but we first had to find a place to live and we had to sign up for our schools too. Housing in Boston is completely different than it is in Cappadocia or the entirety of Turkey. Trying to find a home that was close to great schools, on a nice street, and within our budget was hard and we tried our best to find one quickly so we could start our education here right away.

We finally got lucky and rented a house in Malden on a nice street and applied to get enrolled in public schools.

So after a lot of waiting, we finally enrolled in school. Malden High School is huge compared to my school in Turkey. My high school had around 400 students while Malden High School has more than 1,800! I love the building itself and the classes are designed respectfully to their subjects too. This idea of every student creating their own schedule and taking the classes they want seems much more compatible with me. Also, The Blue and Gold block scheduling idea seems to be great but different for me.

In Turkey, there’s a weekly program that has different classes for each day that are assigned to you by the principal. So you don’t get to choose which class you want to go to. What the principal writes down for your program is the one you’re stuck with until the end of the year. You have to take every class that’s available all throughout the year. That makes 15 different subjects! Oh, and as for enrichment and joy flex blocks, there is no “enrichment” and there is no “joy."

The main entrance hallway of the school. NASUH KACMAZ

We had more than 15 subjects but in fact, there aren’t even separate classrooms for different subjects. It’s the teachers who roam around the school to get to their classes. My mom is a music teacher and I know for a fact that teachers suffered a lot from this, having to go all around the school for different classrooms, without having the classroom set up for your subject’s needs. Imagine trying to carry all the different musical instruments and speakers to the different rooms. As a student, you just sit at your desk until the school day is over and nobody does anything.

A class from a private school in Turkey. NASUH KACMAZ

School would start at 8:30 in the morning and it would end at 4 PM. There would be five classes in the morning and three more in the afternoon. There would also be an hour-long lunch break. Classes would be 40 minutes each, with five-minute breaks in between. 

The way teachers were teaching their subjects did not differ much. We had a smartboard with a touchscreen but that was the only computer in our class. The school did not give anyone Chromebooks or anything. You had to carry at least five two-hundred-page books with you when you were going to school because every class had its own book. And I’m not even talking about the notebooks you had to bring with you for every class. Oh, and yes, there were no lockers. So you have to carry those things around with you at all times.

While online classes were a thing during the lockdown, after that, teachers didn’t use Google Classroom at all. They either gave homework from the books that the government provided us, or they made us buy separate books to give homework assignments from. And the exams are quite different too. They’re really hard! And since you have so many classes it takes at least two weeks of non-stop two-hour-long exams every day.

You have to take an exam from every class you attend every semester to graduate. Teachers do other exams regularly. And there isn’t a credit system, so you can’t make up for a failed exam. You only get a single chance to make it right. What you get from the exam is what you get as a score that semester. 

If we look at it from social interaction, there are many more projects and activities here.

I was in the Turkish education system for more than 10 years Are those 10 years wasted? Of course not. At least I hope so! I’ve learned more than I could’ve imagined. But again, I could have learned a lot more if the education system was more compatible with me, and my friends from Turkey would agree with me on this too.

The school used to end at 4 PM. My school was quite far away from my home so it would be around 5 PM that I would get back home. Five days a week I felt like there was no time to spend on the things I liked but I still did those things as every other teen would. I didn’t know how to use my time so I ended up wasting it. Now I think I have learned how to use my time efficiently, and my education in Turkey could have been much more efficient and beneficial, but I guess I learned it the hard way. 

In Turkey, you also need to take a placement test to qualify for the kind of high school you will be attending. There are mainly three options: a science and math-based high school, a language and literature-based high school, and a general high school.

From a normal perspective, high schools having these different types should be a good thing, because students could carve a path for themselves by choosing the type of school that would help them the most in their academic journey and life itself. That is until you realize you can’t actually choose any high school at all. There is a placement test, and if you fail it, your whole life is doomed, or that was how our parents and teachers portrayed it to be. And you don’t even need to fail the test to be seen as a failure by some parents and teachers; if you are not in the top 5% of all of the students you are not accepted to the science-based high school because every child’s grandma seems to want them to be a doctor, they all seem to go through this experience. These 13-year-old kids study for more than ten hours a day for a whole year to prepare for a single test that they are taught to think would change their life forever.

Think about how much stress would build up from thinking that your entire future depends on this single test. Think about how many kids get depression and anxiety from that. After the test, where every single child and their respective parents would meet outside the school, so many students left crying their eyes out.

As for the buildings, most schools in Turkey have one building with a big hallway, every class can be accessed from the hallway on their respective floor. A small basement floor for special occasions and events like theater and announcements that could barely fit three classes at once, forget the whole school. We had a lab that we used twice a year. Surprisingly, my high school had another building as a gym that was about the same size as the announcement room. We liked it though because no other school in my town had an indoor gym. Until its ceiling flew off after a storm.

Almost all of the high schools have student dorms in Turkey since there are a lot of students whose houses is far away from their school. Also, their families think that living with teachers and other students would make them more productive, and eager to study and behave as they wanted. In the end, most of the students that still stayed sane through the first semester that they stayed in the dorm would try to live with their families after their experience.

As for clubs and other activities, we went on a single trip while I was studying there. And we stayed for one day. We woke up at 5 AM and arrived home at 4 AM without sleep. Covid must have affected last year’s trips but this year wasn’t any different. And there are no clubs, no gatherings, no events, no special days, and no fun scheduled into the day.

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