Tag Archives: guest post

Guest Post: The Problem With “Blurred Lines”

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Guest post today from my girl Bri, a fellow Chicago friend who had an epiphany about the controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”

Background: Thicke’s song received a lot of attention for being a tad rape-y and coercive with lyrics like, “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/I know you want it” and for his GQ interview in which he said, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.'” Other people claimed that “we” were reading too much into a damn catchy beat and looking to get upset (which, yes, sometimes we do).

Bri wrote an awesome post today on FB about a street harassment incident where a group of guys used these lyrics to intimidate and objectify. She makes some excellent points about how the “blurred” space between good times and sexual assault can be the most dangerous space because of the erosion of boundaries and the expectations that some people have about “good times.”  With her permission:

“I was walking from the red line stop to the green line stop. And, as feels inevitable at this point when walking anywhere, a group of guys verbally harassed me along the way, even following me for a bit at one point. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t really nervous/scared per se, since there were a ton of other people around, but it was still obviously obnoxious and embarrassing and shitty. So they’re yelling things like “that’s it, bitch! that’s my bitch!” which, whatever. (For men [or women I suppose] who maybe haven’t experienced this… it’s really not super out-of-the-ordinary for a lot of women in a lot of places… keep that in mind through the rest of this.)

But then they started singing Blurred Lines. Now, I understand that there’s both been a lot of people offended by Blurred Lines, as well as a lot of people totally confused by and antagonistic towards people who are offended by Blurred Lines. I was pretty offended when I first saw/heard the video/song. But as I talked through it with people, it was really hard for me to actually pinpoint a concrete reason that it made me so uncomfortable. It’s about a guy seducing a girl, and he’s using sexy language to do it – what’s so bad about that? I wondered what it was that made me uncomfortable. I read articles depicting the terms “good girl” and “I know you want it” as rape-y, which didn’t really seem fair. Sexually dominant? Sure. But that’s not a negative thing, people are entitled to be into whatever they’re into. So I set my discomfort aside and tried to enjoy this song that the rest of the world seems to love.

Until this event last week. 8-10 guys singing “you’re a good girl, you know you want it” at me cleared up very quickly why this song makes me, and many other women, uncomfortable, and why that’s totally justified, and why much of the world and Robin Thicke probably don’t get it.

It’s a trigger. Those words immediately trigger horrifying memories for a lot of women, myself included. A group of men singing those words at me brought back the EXACT sensation that I’ve had during horribly traumatic points of my life. “You’re a good girl” – instant horrible flashback. “You know you want it” – another horrible flashback, and the memory of someone justifying a terrible act they’re committing by convincing themselves that I want it.

And I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to say that not just mine, but a SIGNIFICANT number of cases of sexual assault occur when people are having a good time – at a party, being flirty, etc, after which things take a dark turn. So for Blurred Lines to be doing just that – blurring the line between a fun, upbeat, sing-a-long-style song that’s flirtacious and dirty and whatever, and a song that triggers such horrible, dark memories for me, is another trigger in itself. It totally mirrors some fun times that quickly turned into awful experiences.

The purpose of this post is really just to say: I understand more fully now why people are offended by this song, and I also get why people think people who are offended are totally overreacting. Because “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it” should just be sexy, dirty, fun, with-a-wink language. In a perfect world, Blurred Lines would be a fun, dirty, sexy song, and that’s it. But it’s not. To a lot of women, those words (and consequently that video too) don’t just mean that. That’s not Robin Thicke’s fault, and I understand why he and most men and a lot of women can honestly and thoroughly enjoy the song. I’m just saying that it’s okay, too, to not be able to enjoy the song. I get it now. And I’d hope that everyone might understand a little better why being offended isn’t necessarily an overreaction – it’s a reaction to something that really has little/nothing to do with Thicke and has everything to do with words that trigger memories of horrible things that people do to other people.”

If you want more of Bri, follow her on Twitter here

One other thing, the video for Blurred Lines has been “gender swapped” by  Mod Carousel. How do we feel about fully clothed ladies and gyrating naked men? NSFW:

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment and “Real Men”

Related Post: Guest Post: Dude, I Don’t Know If You’re a Player or a Slut

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Raising Your Hand: An Abortion Story

The responses to my piece about speaking up about abortion have been amazing. Friends and friends of friends and strangers have been reaching out to say, “Hey! I’m one of those women they keep talking about.” Many of them have written about shame and stigma, about regret, resignation, relief. These stories are important because they push us out of rhetorical hamster wheels and into the real world of lived experience.

With her permission, here’s part of an email from K. Let’s all remember that this is exactly one woman’s story and she speaks only for herself. Her reaction is not everyone’s reaction, nor should it be.

I’ve been processing that very difficult thing these past few months. I don’t know how I feel about all of it, but what I do know is that it is significantly harder – physically and emotionally – than I ever imagined this would be. It changes your life, even if you have the choice to make to not let it change your life in one particular way, by having a kid. Things still change. Forever. 
 
Several years back I had a scare while abroad during which a friend wrote me this: “If you are pregnant, I don’t think having an abortion is selfish.  Atoms come together and they come apart.  If anything, abortion is an actualization of your rights.  That said, it seems that abortion is tragic and awful and sad no matter what.  Abortion speaks to the spaces in between, the gray area, the inexplicable.  No one knows anything concrete when it comes to creation of human beings.  No one knows what’s right and what’s wrong.  One thing that I might find reassuring if I were in the same position would be the knowledge that pregnancy and abortion is an age-old part of women’s experience on earth.  In abortion, one is joining the countless ranks of amazingly strong women who have made a difficult decision, perhaps the most difficult decision.  In one sense, you will be far from alone.”
 
When it happened for real, I was luckily to be flooded by an immense amount of love and support.  And it’s amazing how many people I’ve discovered  close to me that have also been through this. Yet I still felt / feel alone. I think part of what is so shocking is how I always have felt like I had a voice and have stood up for those who didn’t, yet suddenly it’s like my voice is gone or I worry about what people will say, think or judge if I can find it again.
 
P.S. I recently read this phenomenal book, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. Ironically, I stopped reading when I suddenly was exhausted and sick all the time and could barely keep up with school/work. Months after I found out what that was and went through all this, I picked it up again. The book fell open to the last page I read, marked with a passage about how the right books at the right times can change our lives. Two pages later…well, see attached.  
Click to Enlarge.
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So What Do You Do Exactly? Photography Edition

Helen, with one of the vintage cameras she and Lindi collect

I’m super pumped to share today’s So What Do You Do Exactly?! This is Helen. She and her wife Lindi own their own photography business in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They are also the masterminds behind lifestyle blog Bettencourt Chase (which I have written about here and here).

This whole photography thing, how’d that start? Lots of people take pictures, fewer people make a living at it: We had both done photography in some capacity for years before we ever thought about doing it as a business. We were both on newspaper staffs in our respective high schools, and then did student media in college as well. Photography was a creative outlet, something we did for fun. Eventually it just evolved into something we made money doing! It takes an enormous amount of work, but we both love it.
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You are business owners! That is extremely badass! Tell me a little about the process of getting up and running. Originally Lindi was the main photographer while I assisted. After a few months, though, we realized that we both wanted it to be completely a team effort. We scrapped the old business cards (with her company name), had a new one made.
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We were definitely not well-versed enough in state and federal tax laws before we started the business. In some states, including AR, business owners have to pay sales tax and income tax on services rendered. Because I’m from OK, where the law is different, we didn’t know about the sales tax when we started.  As a result, we were audited, which was frustrating and a little scary. It was a mess, but luckily not too traumatic and it was sorted out in a few months.
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Give me a little behind the scenes. How much time do you spend planning, marketing, at actual events and then editing? We finally sat down last year and figured out the ratio of working time to shooting time, and it tends to be between 3-6 hours to 1, depending on the project. If we shoot an 8 hour wedding, we might spend upwards of 60 hours meeting with and emailing the clients, doing an engagement shoot, editing, creating online galleries, ordering prints and so on. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realize when they object to the prices photograpers quote them. Although a figure like $125 an hour might seem like a lot of money for a one-hour portrait session, after all is said and done that actually only evens out to about $15/hour each… before taxes.
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How do you market yourselves and drum up business? Our marketing has been mostly online and word of mouth. We have a website and a Facebook page, and we put up fliers around town once in a while, but most of our clients come to us because they know someone we’ve worked with who has recommended us. I love thinking about how working with one person branches out into other contacts and referrals!adf

Since we are sort of ‘jack-of-all-trades’ photographers and don’t just work in one specific field, we also often work with people for more than one thing. Someone we have done portraits with may come back later for their wedding, or a couple we’ve done wedding photography for may return for maternity or family portraits.

Do you feel like wedding photographers get a bad rap? I don’t know that many people would consider wedding/portrait photographers artists, but I do. We see and capture so much beauty and emotion with the work we do, and it is the sort of beauty and emotion that is relatable (and treasured) by everyday people. Certainly fine art/high fashion photographers do some phenomenal work as well, but I feel as though we do work that is often perhaps a bit more accessible.

I’ve met some lousy wedding photographers (one yelled during group shots, “Big girl, big girl, move to the left!”) What have you learned about managing families while doing this? I think the biggest thing we can do is to always be calm (or at least to seem calm, even if we don’t feel like it). We’ve been the awkward ones standing in the corner during family drama, and the ones who have ended up bustling more brides’ dresses than I can count. We’re there for nearly every moment on one of the most amazing, but also challenging, days ever for each of the couples we work with.

The most helpful tool we’ve found for group shots is to have the bride and groom make a list of all the combinations of people they want photos of during the group photos, and then just work our way down the list. That way we have the ‘authority of the list’ and we also make sure no one gets left out.

What are your views on the amount of money/energy/insanity that goes into the wedding industrial complex these days? As people who rely on the wedding industry for a fair amount of our yearly income, we are nonetheless both kind of freaked out by it. We try to keep our prices as reasonable and fair as possible, while still supporting ourselves, because things shouldn’t be more expensive just because they are for a wedding. We also don’t want to contribute to couples starting their marriages in debt.dsf

Lindi and Helen

Our own wedding cost about $2500 (which is less than 10% of the current national average for wedding spending) and we’re both pretty thrifty and crafty.  That being said, I do think everyone should have exactly the kind of wedding they want to have, whether it costs $100 or $100,000. I just don’t think anyone should be pressured in to having a wedding someone else thinks they should have. We had the wedding that made the most sense to us, and that is what I hope others are able to do as well.

You guys are married! What’s it like to be at the other side of the lens? I can’t imagine ever doing this by myself. We’re a team, and we work amazingly well together. I would guess that being married has strengthened our business, and also that it is pretty likely that working together has strengthened our marriage.

Where would you like this business to go in the next few years? Someday shooting Malia Obama’s wedding? Hah! That would be a lot of fun. In a few years, we may be supporting ourselves 100% with our art (right now I have a day job to provide steady income for pesky things like student loans and utility payments, while Lindi manages the business and our home). As it is, though, we are pretty busy and are just getting busier. It is amazing to be able to make an income with something that started out as a hobby and a love for both of us.
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One thing we do have to be careful of is not letting our photography just become ‘work,’ which is actually harder than it seems. Although we certainly love nearly everything we do and all the people we work with, we are super busy and have to make a concerted effort to take some time to do purely creative work.
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What do you make of Instagram, where everyone fancies themselves an artist? We both think it is great, although I do hope that people are still taking photos with actual cameras and printing them. Instragram is pretty trendy, but I also worry that in twenty or thirty or fifty years, no one will have photo albums the way our parents and grandparents had. Digital is so fantastic for so many things, but who knows how technology will look in the future? Printed photos serve as such a tangible record of the people and places and things we love. At any rate, though, it is great that people are finding creative ways to express themselves.
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For more info on Helen and Lindi, check out their website, Facebook page, lifestyle blog or Pinterest.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Parenting Craft edition.
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Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Model UN edition.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Model UN Edition

Kelly and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice

This is Kelly. She works for the United Nations Foundation coordinating Model United Nations (MUN) conferences for thousands of middle and high schoolers, many from low-income schools, around the country and world. Watch this tear-jerking video about what kids take away from the experience. She is the subject of today’s edition of my jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly? 

What’s your actual job title? Senior Associate, Education Programs at the United Nations Foundation

What would your job title be if it actually described what you did? MUN Guru and All-Around Make-It-Work Badass

How many events do you run a year? I personally run six full-on MUN conferences a year, ranging from 200 to 2500 students each, plus a few smaller workshops here and there. I manage a couple hundred volunteers, mostly university students, and I’m in regular communication with another couple hundred teachers. I’m expected to know the names and faces of all our teachers and volunteers and be able to discuss details of their schools, interests, and previous experience with the program at any time (note: this is expected of me by them, not by my boss, but I do it anyway).

People think MUN is a bunch of over-achieving teenagers banging gavels and such. Does it actually serve a higher purpose? Ouch. To be fair, that’s what MUN used to be. Our program was founded 13 years ago with the goal of diversifying the MUN community, and we’re succeeding. We now work primarily with Title 1 urban schools (see below). Our conferences are a testament to that; we see kids from the Bronx hanging out with kids from Phillips Exeter and becoming fast friends.

It’s also a great tool for engaging students in a more interactive way. Aside from the obvious social studies content, students are learning research and writing skills, making inferences and thinking critically. They practice understanding and representing someone else’s views, working in a team to build consensus and compromise, and engaging in debate that’s constructive instead of cruel. These are amazing tools for conflict resolution, especially for kids, like the ones we work with in Chicago, who face violence every day.

What’s a Title 1 urban school, and how does that type of school impact your job? A Title 1 school receives federal funding because 40% or more of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Everything we do is tailored to teachers in these settings and making our program a benefit to them, not a burden. When we implement new ideas, we’re always looking at how they fit into the work teachers are already doing, using the resources they already have or providing new ones at no cost. For example, we try to focus our global topics in each city to things that are actually relevant to those kids. In New York we had “Sustainable development of Megacities” and “HIV and Young People”. In Miami, we had “Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean” and “Partnerships to Address the World Drug Problem.”

If you could make one change to our national education system (regarding the teaching of a global curriculum or otherwise) what would it be? This is an incredibly hard question. We keep talking about testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness but forcing teachers to a set curriculum makes them so much less effective. Students develop broader cognitive skills and a greater curiosity and investment in learning when they’re engaged in genuine content that they have the time to explore as fully as they need to. Teachers who have the freedom to develop interactive, smart, and multifaceted lesson plans, and who can take the time to get students interested in the real questions they’re exploring, are so much more successful. For you education buffs out there, we need time to hit the DOK 4* mark in a few crucial areas, rather than trying to float by at the DOK 1/2 level in everything. This will only happen if classrooms are integrated across subjects, teachers are supported, and schools have the freedom to do what works for their students.

What do you think actual diplomats could learn from MUN? MUNers, especially the middle schoolers, are so optimisitic and creative! Students are so hopeful and willing to try new things before they get bogged down in what is and isn’t “possible.” Also, when you’re not overly steeped in historical precedent, you’re much more willing to trust and be less offended by perceived slights. When the delegate from Syria tells the delegate from Uganda that his idea is flawed, Uganda is not going to take it as an insult to his entire country.

How does your job and your office related to the actual UN?  The United Nations Foundation (UNF) was founded when Ted Turner wanted to give a billion dollars to the UN. At the time, there was no way to donate directly to the UN and its work, unless you were a government, so instead he set up a foundation to support its initiatives. Originally the foundation just funneled donations directly into UN programs, but now we support UN intitiatives in a more partnership-based way. For example, UNF spearheads the Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child Initiative.

Kelly (center), while Ban Ki-Moon observes

Who are the coolest people you have met on the job? Obviously famous people are pretty cool (Ban Ki Moon, Susan Rice, Monique Coleman, Michele Bachelet, Ted Turner…) but it’s usually the people who are really good at what they do but aren’t so high up yet that are most interesting. They’re fully engaged in one specific thing and just kicking ass at it. People like Jimmy Kolker (Chief of the UNICEF Aids Dept) and Special Agent In Charge John Gilbride of the DEA.

*DOK = Depth of Knowledge, a metric for rigor and complexity

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly?  Soft Diplomacy Edition

Related Post: How not to teach the history of slavery

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Guest Post: “Do good journalists report the news or do they make fun of others?”

It’s been a week of awesome guests here at Rosie Says. Ryan on the Slaughter work-life balance article, Alex’ international edition of So What Do You Do Exactly, and now frequent guest-poster Sara on the SCOTUS health care decision and media spin. Remember her? She reads the news a lot and knows more than me and has graciously offered to do the Rosie Says selective-coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision:

*      *      *      *      *

Like approximately 866,000 other people, I spent the morning glued to the SCOTUSLiveBlog of the Supreme Court decisions, waiting for the ruling on the ACA. Once it came, coverage was fast, furious, and ridiculous. I have a lot of thoughts about the decisions themselves that make me sound like I think I’m a pretentious constitutional scholar, and most of the reading I did was parsing the decision, discussing its impact on things like the Anti-Injunction Act, Medicaid, and future challenges to the Commerce Clause that might make enacting social welfare laws more challenging. But, try as I might, I couldn’t avoid a lot of the meta-analysis. There were two examples that seemed to highlight how utterly focused we are on the things that matter least.

Via foxnews.com

First, Fox News. I don’t make it a habit to visit foxnews.com (actually, if I’m honest, my browser didn’t even fill in the address for me), but I was curious to see how Republicans were spinning this. First, there was the front page (right). Are you a news organization or are you a sarcastic blog? Because “oh, yes it is” would suggest the latter. Twice during the article something is referred to as “so-called” – first the individual mandate and later the contraception mandate. Are the terms really that unknown or uncertain or unestablished that they must be so-called? Are you trying to show me that you don’t accept mainstream media terminology?

Chief Justice Roberts did indeed side with the four more liberal justices in this case, but you wouldn’t know it from this article: “Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the majority, a ‘genius.’ Graham said the law never would have passed if the mandate penalty were presented as a tax, claiming the ruling will redound to Republicans’ benefit.”  What most news outlets reported was that Roberts sided with the four more liberal justices. Here, we get some serious spin claiming that Roberts, by voting to uphold as a tax, has made the law even more unpalatable to Republicans, Pavlovian as they are about not raising taxes. What I fail to understand here is this: the law has already passed. Calling it a tax now can’t make it retroactively less likely to pass.

Lastly, perhaps my favorite line in the article comes at the end, “Obama rattled off several more popular consumer protections in the law in arguing that it’s time to “ ‘move forward.’ ” This part is kind of genius. Notice how they subtly avoid actually saying what any of those consumer protections might be, preventing readers from thinking they might, in fact, like to be protected consumers.

Let’s not forget, though, that however ridiculous Fox might be, pretty much every other news organization got equally unfocused, spending far too much time discussing what everyone I follow on Twitter quickly dubbed #CNNFail. Yes, CNN declared the individual mandate struck down at almost the same moment most other news organizations declared it was upheld. Yes, this is embarrassing, and comparisons to “Dewey beats Truman!” seem apt.

But why are fully half the news stories about who got it wrong, rather than about the ACTUAL NEWS ITSELF? Why do we live in a world where the editor of a major news provider, the Associated Press, has to email his entire staff and tell them to stop taunting CNN immediately? Do good journalists report the news or do they make fun of others? Sometimes I’m frustrated by the way this country is going, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the Commerce Clause.

Related Post: Sara’s guest post on OWS countering my post on OWS.

Related Post: Sara’s guest post on Jezebel’s iffy science coverage.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Soft Diplomacy Edition

A big hearty welcome to Alex, our first international subject* of So What Do You Do Exactly? Alex lives in Turkey, teaching English to both willing and unwilling students alike, many of whom ask him for the definitions of awkward English phrases like “premature ejaculation.”

What’s your actual job title? I’m both a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) and English Language Instructor at a regional university outside of a major Turkish city.

What would your job title be if it described what you actually did all day? English Language Instructor is reasonably accurate, but it’s still missing something about socially drinking çay [Turkish tea]. I came to Turkey expecting to be a “native speaker” informant (running conversation classes, helping grade, doing side projects, etc.) for Turkish English-language instructors, but ended up being the sole instructor for five to six classes per semester, with only the name of the class I was supposed to teach to guide me (my favorite: “British Culture”**).

What’s a sample day like? Let’s take a busy day, which starts the night before:

Three to four hours on the internet trying to come up with grammar points (also relevant, fun, interactive activities). Curse that my students don’t all have working emails, that there is no way to make photocopies, and that nobody would do a worksheet anyway. Go to sleep, nervous about running out of things to do in class and being left with 40 pairs of eyes staring at me blankly.

9:00am: Yogurt with honey, walk down a smog-filled road to the dolmuş (shared minibus) stop. You pass your fare to the person ahead of you, who passes it up to the driver in a chain. If there’s change remaining, the still-driving driver passes it back to you person-to-person in the same way.

10:30: Class. Mostly slogging through my syllabus, and fending off personal questions (TEACHER DO YOU DRINK ALCOHOL?). Mostly lapse into chatting and walking around the room while they do in-class writing assignments (can’t copy from the internet!) Field some more questions (always about my personal life, never about grammar) and head over to drink çay and chat with the guys in my office.

1:00–5:00: Teach more classes, chat with the other American in the office over how ridiculous our students are. Go into “American Culture” class and give a Powerpoint which they will later memorize word-for-word and regurgitate on my short-response test specifically designed against regurgitation. They tell me how the Illuminati and the Jews run the U.S. Government. I’m speechless.

6:00–7:00: Bağlama [a Turkish folk instrument] lesson from a teacher in the music department.

Come home,  realize I have to do more lesson-planning. Facebook. Lesson-plan. Look forward to some adventure on the weekend (what keeps me going.) Wish for a job that doesn’t spill over into my home life.

You weren’t a teacher before this program, right? How does one learn to teach on the spot? Classic sink-or-swim. I’d say I’m doing a decent doggie-paddle. I had volunteered to teach informal English classes to recent immigrants in Chicago’s Chinatown, but it didn’t really prepare me at all for the actual terror of coming home from a tiring day of class and thinking, “What the hell am I going to teach tomorrow?”  It is a great learning experience to create syllabi and find course materials and write and grade tests and have the complete freedom to run my classes how I want, but at the same time a little bit more guidance would have been nice. I don’t even have a course book to use!

Lessons for the next guy? Try to chill out, be interactive, and make friends with the internet. Over-plan, don’t under-plan. And, unlike me, don’t try to teach without a course book, even if you think they’re stupid. For your first time teaching, you need some sort of backbone that you can then improvise from.

Kirikkale, population 200,000

Fulbright has been around for a while, right? Do you feel like it’s a relic of a past system or still worth investment in our nation’s youth?  I do think it does a great job getting Americans into foreign places (Kırıkkale: pop. 200,000) that might not see a lot of us but hear and read a lot about us. We’re purposefully sent to cities off the expat track (no İstanbul), so I think it’s good promoting some sort of international contact in places that are usually left out of the global loop. Only after I came on the program did I come to appreciate how much of a tool for soft diplomacy I am, but I’ve made peace with that.

Do you think the U.S. would be a better place if all 22-year-olds did some foreign service? It’s hard to think of anything that everybody “should” do, but I’m gonna go ahead and say getting some perspective on who you are and where you come from is generally a good thing. Of course, there are many other ways of doing this than by being abroad, so I’ll compromise and say foreign service should be more accessible and available.

What did you learn about the English language or American customs that you had never realized was so unique until you tried to explain it to someone else?  “Phrasal verbs!” (e.g. verbs that are combined with prepositional phrases for differences in meaning, like “give up” or “pass out”). English has tons of them, and they’re weird and hard for non-native speakers.

I’ve appreciated more fully how awesomely diverse the U.S. is. Turks eat…Turkish food. Not much dietary variation (though there is some regional variation). I’ve come to appreciate how America’s culinary landscape is constantly changing and borrowing from itself and other traditions.

On another front, while there’s definitely cultural erasure in the U.S., Turkey hasn’t done a great job either. For instance, to become a Turk you must adopt a Turkish last name. I now have a strange, overwhelming sense of pride reading the names in the credits at the end of an American movie.

Higher education is a much debated thing in the U.S., what with rising costs and debatable preparation for the real world. How do the Turks look at it differently? One great thing is that the Turkish education system, including higher education, is essentially free. That said, it does sort of encourage young people to go to college for want of something else to do. Problems start early. I’ve had many Turks tell me this: educators are continuously, and fairly, complaining about ‘the system.’ Your score on a national university entrance exam determines both a) what university you can attend and b) what department you can take classes in. If you change departments, you must change schools. If you are in a department, you can essentially only take classes within that department, with the same students. For six hours a day. It sounds like hell to me. I understand why many of my students had problems paying attention.

Foreign language classes are traditionally teacher-focused and heavily multiple-choice test–based. In fact, classrooms even have a raised platform for the teacher and my classes were crammed with long benches that I couldn’t even arrange in a circle. These classes are mostly grammar-based and taught in Turkish. There’s this really messed-up governmental English test for which, with certain scores, you can get a pay raise, but the entire test is multiple-choice reading comprehension and grammar questions. No writing. No speaking. No listening. It’s absurd that it purports to measure language ability and also carries some serious real-life consequences. There are many dershane, or cram schools, that only teach English grammar as it applies to the test. But, no joke: I’ll meet people who’ve aced the test who can’t even hold a basic English conversation. Or, for that matter, English teachers who can’t even hold a basic English conversation.

So basically…let’s not look to Turkey to help fix our problems. They’ve got different problems of their own. To grossly simplify, we tend to have more problems of access, while they have more problems of quality.

What lessons from teaching college-aged Turks would apply in any American classroom? Has this made teaching your passion? Or turned you off of it forever? To put everything in perspective, I was thrown into the classroom with a week of training. I learned that no matter my energy and excitement for language, they’re not going to magically make everyone pay attention. I do like how, in teaching a language, shooting the shit with your students actually counts as teaching. I found those times to be the most effective for them, where they actually had to communicate with me in English, and most rewarding for me, where I got some insight into what their lives are like.

Finally, I really want to say that despite sounding negative about the job/education aspects of being here, I’ve met some truly lovely people and seen tons of beautiful things. And one of the most important lessons I’ll take away is learning to chill and take cues from those around me. The Turks love to sit around, drink çay, and shoot the breeze. As my boss told me, “You Americans work harder and get more done. But we know how to enjoy life.”

*The views expressed Alex’ and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

**I made it into “American Culture,” and I now try to do some serious cultural essentialization to come up with something to teach to people who can’t even write a coherent paragraph in English.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Magazine Edition.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Code Edition.

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So What Do You Do Exactly? Magazine Edition

The latest subject of the So What Do You Do Exactly? series is Jessica, who comes to us from the front lines of none other than the editorial department at Parents magazine.
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What’s your actual job title? Editorial Assistant at Parents magazine

What would your job title be if it actually encompassed your day-to-day? Professional Intern. I mean this in a good way–I feel like the kind of “do anything with a smile” attitude that’s so crucial in an internship is the defining characteristic of my job. In the workplace hierarchy, I’m a step above the interns and a step below the editors. I have to be excited about pitching in wherever I’m needed. This could mean editing my own pages or wrangling person-sized cardboard boxes in our scary-packed product closet.
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Sounds like your tasks are all over the place, what’s a sample of your day? Every day is totally different! I generally have a mix of administrative, editorial, and creative duties. For example:

9:30-10:30: Make contracts for freelance writers
10:30-11:30: Follow up with PR contacts about samples we requested for a photo shoot. We needed them yesterday, and there’s no sign of them!
11:30-12:30: Make origami boats for a photo shoot
12:30-1:30: Desk-side meeting with Olympic Paint to learn about ColorClix, their new mobile app that allows you to take a photo of anything and match the colors to shades in their paint collection
1:30-2:30: Unpack boxes and organize new product shipments when the samples arrive
2:30-3:30: Phone interview with Katie Workman about her new book, The Mom 100, for a cookbook excerpt I’m writing for our website
3:30-4:30: Write the table of contents for the magazine
4:30-5:30: Write text for our email newsletters
5:30-6:30: Go to the Target press preview to see the upcoming fall collection and scout for things we might be able to include in future stories
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So Parents, eh? You’re not a parent! Why would they hire you? Well, for one thing, a lot of the work that goes into creating a magazine has nothing to do with generating content! To make the magazine happen, we need to employ a lot of people with skills that don’t necessarily have anything to do with parenting. We have a photo department that arranges shoots, an art department that makes the fonts gorgeous, and a web team that makes our articles SEO-friendly. Also, a lot of what I do, like working on stories about family-friendly food or crafts, is stuff that I can relate to (Check out Jessica’s blog for crafts for parents and non-parents alike). So, it’s not as though I’m a guru shelling advice about tantrums and breastfeeding to impressionable parents!
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The key for us is developing concepts that are age-appropriate and relatable. And I do remember doing a lot of crafting with my parents, and the kinds of concerns they had about it: is this going to stain the carpet, is my kid going to slice her hand off, does this require fancy supplies or advance planning–parents want to avoid a trip to the store to buy craft supplies they’ll only use once. We try to focus on creative ways to repurpose things you already have around the house (like this cute bird feeder made out of paper plates). And luckily, I have parents! I run ideas by them, and they let me know if it’s totally off base (ie, a glass terrarium with cacti. Not toddler-friendly.)

Tell me something that has surprised you about modern parenting, or the way we talk about modern parenting, or the way we think about modern parenting. Before taking this job, I didn’t think about “parenting” as a verb. I was really intrigued by this idea of parenting not as a series of big plans (like whether or not to circumcise your son, how much money to set away for college), but as a series of small decisions you make every day–like how you’re going to teach your kids about healthy eating habits by making whole grains seem yummy (banana quinoa waffles? Sold!).
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One thing that surprised me was that the vast majority of our content (editorial and photos) is targeted towards mothers, even though we know that dads are taking a much more hands-on role in kids’ lives than they were 86 years ago, when the magazine was first published. I think (well, at least I hope?) that dads often have a really active role in modern parenting, and I’m glad when we have an opportunity to profile them (like the wonderful daddy craft blogger at Made By Joel).
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What are your favorite parts/least favorite parts of the job? 
It’s really exciting to see one of my ideas in print. One of my first tasks was helping to make crafts for this spread in our May issue, and I got giddy thinking that I could teach other people how to make little tissue paper flowers or cupcake topper garlands. I would like to be a kind of Martha Stewart for young, lazy people without a disposable income. Another perk is that PR companies are constantly sending people in the office products to sample. This means that we have an ever-evolving supply of random things: macaroons, nail polish, toy cars, party favors. At least at the entry level, publishing isn’t a lucrative field–but there are lots of free snacks!
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What makes a successful pitch? I’ve learned that the more detailed the pitch, the better. It seems that good pitches are basically an outline of the story, not just a description of the topic. I think that good pitches are basically shortened versions of good articles: they have a strong lede and emphasize an element of service for the reader. For example, an article that discusses ways new parents waste money would be more service-y if it also described ways parents can save money (like sites such as  thredUP, where parents can trade in kids’ clothes once they outgrow them).
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What makes a parenting mag different than any other? Or the same? Like most other magazine, we try to have diverse content: health stories, features, essays, lifestyle, beauty, food–it’s just all targeted towards parents. But targeting a specific demographic is nothing new–men’s and women’s mags do it all the time. And there are even additional distinctions within those categories: Seventeen is for the young woman, Marie Claire is for the twenty- or thirtysomething, and More is for women in their 40s and 50s. That’s not to say that the content wouldn’t resonate with other readers–I love reading all of those magazines, and I think that the content in Parents is actually great for happily unattached people, too: there are great recipes and easy crafts that you can make without any fancy skills or tons of free time. We just published a cookbook, and these recipes are great for post-college people trying to teach themselves how to be adults–cheap ingredients, nutritious, tasty, and quick.
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What does the future of the magazine industry look like from your vantage point? I think that the future involves lots of digital content. We have a presence on Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, and each month, the magazine produces special tablet videos and interactive elements. I hope that paper magazines don’t become obsolete, but I think that readers will increasingly expect new content to be packaged on each of those platforms.
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Want more Jessica? Don’t we all. Check out her craft blog Nest, and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaHester
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