The traditions and ceremonies at my son’s school are vastly different to what I remember from elementary school, so many years ago. I recall very few ceremonies or school functions held during the day that parents were expected to attend. If an important event was on the calendar, detailed notices were sent home well in advance, outlining the complete schedule of events, so that parents could arrange time off from work if necessary.
At my son’s school there are several presentations throughout the school year. These include bake sales to raise money for charities, fairs, class debates, seminars and dances. It has been a learning experience for me to figure out which ones parents are expected to attend and which are for only the teachers and the student body. The director of the school generally sends notices home about events one or two days beforehand. If I already have work appointments scheduled, there is often no way to change my schedule and I have to miss out on the event.
However, it is not the scheduling that causes problems for me, but rather not knowing which notes sent from the school are just to keep parents updated about school activities and which are an indication that parents are expected to attend. My problem is in understanding the nuances of the Turkish used in the announcements. The final line always reads, “We’re expecting you.” In my limited Turkish, I understand that phrase as a not so subtle hint that parents are expected to be at the school for the event.
Due to my misunderstandings, there have been a few times when I have arrived at the school and been surprised to discover that I was the only parent present for an event. Even though the teachers always went out of their way to welcome me and usher me in, I felt embarrassed that I had stupidly misread the announcement. The teachers would assure me that it was no problem and that they were always delighted to have parents show up to see what projects the class was working on, watch a class performance or check out the bake sale. Inevitably students would smile politely, unsure of how to act towards the odd foreign parent who obviously had no idea what was going on and what was expected from parents.
Asking my son if he thought parents were expected to go to the school for a particular event was not a great deal of help. His responses ranged from “No way!” to “I guess so.” Neither answer helped to clarify the situation for me. As a result of me relying on my son’s input, I ended up missing several performances that all the other parents had made the time to attend. When asked by some of the parents why I had not been present, I could only shrug my shoulders and tell them that I didn’t know I was supposed to be there.
In desperation, when notes appeared from the school to announce an upcoming event, I began to ask a couple of the other mothers if parents were expected or not. Unfortunately, their responses mystified me as much as the phrase “We’re expecting you” adorning the bottom of the notes. “As you wish” was the usual response from the mothers. That certainly did not shed any light on the situation for me. Finally, quite probably with a tinge of desperation in my voice, I asked two mothers that I am friends with to please give me a call, or tell me if they see me in the schoolyard after school, when we were all expected to go to the school for report cards, recitals, art shows, bake sales or any other occasion. They seemed puzzled by my request at first since they are used to the school system and seem to have a firm grasp on when it is and is not appropriate for parents to show up at the school. When I explained that I really did not understand the meaning behind “We’re expecting you” or “As you wish,” they laughed and agreed to take me under their wings in regards to school-related functions.
With my friends’ assistance, I am finally starting to figure out which notes from the school are invitations to attend an event and really do mean that they are expecting parents and which ones are simply sent to keep us all in the information loop. It is a long, ongoing process. Even though there have been several embarrassing moments for me, such as when I show up at unexpected times or completely miss a performance, the teachers and mothers understand that I am still navigating my way through unfamiliar territory. While I still struggle with some of the complex nuances of Turkish, I know that mistakes will be made and I will doubtlessly encounter more embarrassing moments. However, my way has been made easier by the warmth and kindness of the teachers and parents who, even though they have not dealt with living abroad and coping with life in a language they are still learning, are sympathetic to my plight and always willing to help.
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