Roni Weiss: He’s big in Turkey

Kocaeli, Turkey

Part One: Italy, Taiwan and France

Working with foreign kids is always a mindblowing experience. I’ve never felt so much like a celebrity.

I don’t remember the kids being particularly over the top in my 1st English teaching job in Italy, but the fact that there was an English camp in town was enough to merit us a headline in the local newspaper:

We Speak English!” (in Italian)

Marola, Italy

Garbagnate Milanese, Italy (as featured in the local paper)

The first time I felt celebrity status personally bestowed upon me was in Taiwan when they asked for me to sign my name for them.


In France, at American Village, the kids insisted on the counselors autographing their bodies.

In Lyon, at my assistantship job, the kids would say hi and speak basic English to me, but never anything like my school visit in Turkey. Ah, yes, and in the banlieue, they sexually harassed me.

Vaulx-en-Velin, France

Part Two: October 26, 2010

On October 26, 2010, I went to my host’s school in Kocaeli, Turkey. She’s an English teacher; I’m an English teacher. She asked if I could see her classroom to let her know if I had any tips on the layout. She also wanted to see my teaching style.

We walked over to the school. Various kids seemed intrigued by me, but nothing too unusual.

We went in and I sat in the teacher’s lounge. The teachers had to wear white lab coats. That was odd. It was also odd that there was some sort of housekeeper woman that brought me Turkish tea (which I have loved ever since the first time I had it in Sarajevo in 2009). After I finished the tea and turned away, the tea cup was magically removed, without me seeing it leave the table.

After a little, I met one of my host’s colleagues. I was asked if I could sit on his class after hers. I was ready for this request (native speakers are always a blessing), so I said that’d be fine.

I met the principal. He welcomed me warmly and was impressed at how tall I was.

Then, I went upstairs. My celebrity status began amping up. More and more kids were coming up to me in the halls.

I went in and taught my host’s class. Toward the beginning, another class tried to push their way through the door to see me, but they were repelled. The class’ alphabet skills were lacking, so getting them to spell colors and their names took up the lion’s share of the time.

The bell rang. The kids thanked me and said goodbye. I walked out of the classroom.

And then all hell broke loose.

The entire hallway became more and more packed with students who were clamoring for my attention. They wanted me to autograph them, shake their hand, say hello, tell them my name, give me high five, touch me, walk arm-in-arm with me…

I was waiting for some teachers to yell at them, but it never came. No teachers anywhere to be found. Just me and an entire hallway of students following my every move. The last time this happened, I was with French kids who listened to me as I told them to line up at American Village Macon, then proceeded to take them over to another building. But there was nowhere to take these kids, so I just walked across the hall to the other classroom.

My host

Eventually, I got escorted out of the throng by my host. As she’s fairly sedate, I couldn’t tell how surprising any of this was to her. She put me in the co-principal’s office to get me away. I sat there for a bit with a view of his monitor. He minimized MSN, checked his e-mails, then stared out the window, seemingly oblivious to my presence. An abrupt shift in dynamic.

I was ready to teach the second class as well, but it turned out that the teacher preferred that I sit and answer questions as the kids asked him in Turkish, he translated, I answered, then he translated my answers back to them. It took me a bit to get used to the format, but the kids seemed to be enjoying it. I figured that I’d just sit back.

After a few questions for me, I was asked if I had any questions for the kids. I asked what they wanted to be in the future. One dentist, a couple of engineers, one health professional and the rest of the boys (and one girl) wanted to be police officers and most of the girls wanted to be (Kindergarten) teachers.

They went back to asking me questions. They wanted to know if I could sing a song. I sang Redemption Song. ‘Super’ was the response. (And after class, the teacher lavishly complimented me on my voice. It seemed sincere, as it was long after the fact.)

They wanted to know if I was ever in films. I found that hard to answer, so I just mentioned my YouTube travel videos. Then remembered that it’s blocked in Turkey. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to bring up. The teacher said it wasn’t a problem, told the kids, then told me that there are lots of websites that they use to get around it, then told the kids what he told me.

The last interesting question (other than the usuals of age, marital status, brothers/sisters, height (196 cm/6’5″)) was about poetry. I wasn’t sure if it was about if I wrote it or knew any. That one stunned me. I couldn’t picture American kids asking that. I figured I’d have to recite one, like the earlier singing, but no dancing monkey that time.

Class ended and I took a picture with all the kids, then with the teacher (as agreed upon earlier, when the students asked to have a pic with me).

And that was that. A brief re-entrance into the world of celebrity.

(The video version of events can be found on my Facebook page,

Epilogue: After the classes, I waited in the teachers’ room again for my host to be ready to walk us back to the apartment. She asked me about her classroom design. I said that there wasn’t that much you could do with as many students as she had. When I have 10-15, I try to make a U, but otherwise, I just try to move around to different parts of the room, as possibly. She asked if the amount of students that she had in the class was unusual (20-something). I said that it varied, but that it was certainly normal in France. This seemed to give her some hope.

“How does it work in France?”

“Not really well.”

For more of my experiences, check out my Flickr albums:



Roni and People


2 Responses to Roni Weiss: He’s big in Turkey

  1. Herodotus says:

    That was sooo funny especially your last photo! Loved the story so much!Thank you!

  2. roniweiss says:

    Glad you liked, Rodi.

    Story of the last pic: I was sitting with my legs outstretched, then boom, those 4 kids ended up all sitting on my legs.

    I’m a tall drink of water.

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