by Ginger Taylor Saçlioglu (Turkey 1968–70)
Learn about Turkey.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN the winter of the 1967–68 academic year. I can’t remember the month. My husband and I were graduate students at the University of Illinois in Urbana. The Vietnam War was raging on and John’s student deferment was about to run out. He was a conscientious objector in the literal sense of the term, but without a religious faith he could never prove his CO status to a draft board. He did not want to fight so we began considering alternatives — moving to Canada, joining the Peace Corps. We decided on the Peace Corps.

Parental reactions
My parents had never approved of our marriage. John was a year younger than I and still in his last year of undergraduate school when we were married. He looked and dressed like a hippy and, in my parents’ eyes atleast, also acted like one. He had a 350 cc Honda and once, before we were married, he had driven it from his parents’ home in Libertyville down to Bloomington in the middle of a summer night just to see me. Not only that, he had long hair, wore a headband and looked a little like Ringo Starr. Actually, to me anyway, he bore an uncanny resemblance to a photo of Michelangelo’s David in my art history book. He also ate too much according to my mother. He loved mashed potatoes, and no matter how much she fixed, he was always able to finish them. We were not a family to leave polite portions, and I never figured out why this particular trait of his annoyed her so much.
     When John and I announced to my parents that we were joining the Peace Corps, my mother’s reply was brief. “You’ll ruin my summer,” she declared menacingly. It was no empty threat either. My mother had had a “nervous breakdown” when I was six. For close to a year she sat around the house crying. That’s all I remember about it. But from that time on, we — my father and I — always had to be very careful how we handled her. After all, a careless single slip of the tongue might just send her reeling into another crisis.

Palm trees and Turkish
I can’t remember if her summer was indeed ruined, but in June John and I took off for Los Angeles for Peace Corps training. I had never been further west than Iowa, where we had visited my grandparents every summer, first on a small farm and later, after the farm burned down, in a dusty backwater of a town in the southwestern part of the state. Those trips were always made by car. This time we were flying.
     We arrived at the campus of Occidental College, a posh liberal arts institution perched high in the hills overlooking the city of angels. Occidental seemed like a country club compared with the mid-west campuses we were accustomed to. There were palm trees and an Olympic size swimming pool, and in the dorms, which were small, like individual houses, and no two student rooms shared a common wall. “Hos Geldiniz!” [Welcome!] the banner draped over the building’s entrance declared. We didn’t even know it was Turkish.
     Our training consisted of three parts: Turkish language, which we had six hours a day for the first month (“total immersion” they called it), training in the teaching of English as a foreign language, or TEFL, and “cross cultural” in which we learned never to cross our legs when speaking with a Turkish school principal, never to hand anything, especially food, with our left hand, and how to drink raki, the anise-flavored Turkish national drink.

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