DECEMBER 2017 – JANUARY 2018
With Özge Yol on “Dedication”
“Teaching is to touch a life forever”, but sometimes we have some students who touch our life. In this issue, my guest is one of my former students (now a successful colleague and a lovely friend), Özge Yol, who works on her PhD in Binghamton University, New York. We last saw each other more than 1,5 years ago in Binghamton when I was there for the SUNY Dual Diploma Programs meeting, and this time we had a Skype interview for Conversation Pieces. Our piece was a very well-known concept for teaching: Dedication.
Deniz: Özgecim, I’m not going to ask you what dedication is. I’ll start with another question: Why would one dedicate himself/herself to something?
Özge: Why would someone dedicate herself to something? When I think about dedication, love comes to my mind. It is just a kind of keyword to me, and when you think of love, you might think of the traditional idea of love. But it does not have to be somebody, it can be anything that you love, that you care and that makes you feel good. Personally, the word dedication itself has at first a negative meaning–it sounds to me very scary because it is thought that you have to make sacrifices to dedicate yourself to one thing. However, it does not have to be like that. When I start thinking about how I feel about the things that I’m doing, what is motivating me, what is making me keep doing those things, I realize that it’s all about my emotions, my love toward that thing. Then, I see the real value of dedication. How dedication is not a sacrifice but more like a reward, helping me to be who I am and keeping my existence I think it’s all about love, and my dedication is mostly shaped by my vision, my aims and feelings. I think, when you dedicate yourself to someone or something, you devote yourself without questioning.
Deniz: One someone dedicates himself/herself to someone –it doesn’t matter who- people may have a negative attitude and they may say things like “Poor thing, s/he dedicates his/her life to that person”, but when someone dedicates his/her life to his/her parents, siblings or kids, no problem. What is wrong with dedicating your life to someone you choose instead of someone you have blood relation? Why is one seen as a mistake and the other one as a divine thing?
Özge: I think the action of choosing, having a say is more valuable. Why couldn’t we choose someone to dedicate ourselves? The devotion that you would have for your family and your child is different. In the beginning, you do not choose to dedicate yourself to those people in your family, and you don’t have many options. You inherently – most of the time at least- love them, but sometimes you may also get angry with them, and even sometimes, you may think you hate them. When your anger subsides, you still love them, though. So, it is regarded as a natural part of being human. You need to take care of your family, devote yourself to them etc. (Although this family devotion issue is convoluted as, for example, Americans have a totally different notion of family and devotion). In the other one, when you choose to dedicate yourself to someone or something, when it is free will, the perception of people changes. You are now the sole responsible person for your actions. It is what scares many people, I guess, but for me, it is what is good about dedication. You know you want it, and you do it. Probably, falling in love makes it a bit complicated as it blurs the concept of free will. But, it is even more divine because somehow naturally you dedicate yourself to a person, placing him/her in the center of your life. What is wrong about it? Nothing is easy in life, anyway. You need to earn it. And, when you choose to invest yourself in someone else, it is because you want to do so. You might regret it later, but you apparently do so as you enjoy it. It is even more fun as you start building something nice together—although it requires more dedication and devotion,
Deniz: Dedication is like a two-way street. Sometimes people dedicate themselves to us. Is it nice to be dedicated to?
Özge: Of course, who doesn’t want to be dedicated to? [We laugh] I should talk about my advisor as an example. We have a great relationship, I adore her. She is very supportive, but at the same time I’m not directly her responsibility or her job; she doesn’t need to care that much about me, but I always feel that she believes in me, and she wants me to become a prominent scholar. I see how she supports me and how she dedicates herself to my growth. I’m becoming more aware of my responsibilities because she is doing so for me. I feel like I’m becoming more responsible and it motivates me to stay in the field, to keep studying, learning, and teaching. Maybe, she knows the difficulties of being a doctorate student in the States coming from the same position. Whatever her reason is for her dedication to me, when I think like “I’m done” or “I’m exhausted”, I always remember her and keep doing what I’m doing.
Deniz: Teaching is considered to be a profession where one should dedicate him/herself to. Do you agree with that? Is it something divine or does it come with the package anyway?
Özge: I think it is both. I agree with the idea that teaching is divine as we dedicate ourselves to our students, our job, our schools, or our society for the betterment of them. I don’t regard the dedication part of it as a bad thing. Yes, it comes with the package when you choose to be a teacher. It is what it is. People who are to become teachers, knowing that it requires a lot of dedication, choose to be a part of it and, I hope, they enjoy it- at least for most of the time. You dedicate yourself to the students and you also take something out of it. You see those students growing. The power that you can touch the life of others is what makes you feel better. As we choose it, we are the active participants in that dedication process, which would lead a change.
Deniz: When we think of teaching, the dedication is recognized by the society. This is also the case for doctors; people think that being a doctor automatically requires dedication and the dedication is acknowledged. Is it unfair to other professions? Don’t they need any dedication?
Özge: That’s a smart question. I’ll be just blunt and say it is a different kind of dedication and the other professionals do not dedicate themselves the way teachers do. It’s because of the nature of it. You work with children and start when they are at a very early age, and you sometimes become the family of that kid. They see you as a second mum or dad. It is like kneading the dough; you are playing a huge role in bringing up someone. It continues for a lifetime. Also, it is not context dependent. You keep educating or disseminating knowledge via different channels outside the school, too.
Deniz: Jesse Owens [1936 Berlin Olympics Gold Medalist] once said: “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort”. Do you agree with that?
Özge: I definitely agree with it. When we choose to become the person we want to be or live the life that we want to have, it includes making wise decisions, first, and then being determined. Speaking of myself as an example, I was teaching in Bilkent and I loved my job, students, and colleagues, but I was also curious about being in another culture and seeing the world from a different angle. So I was determined to realize that dream. So what happened was I left my job, I left my life there. I was in a very good condition there compared to other people in Turkey and compared to what I have now. You are in the poorest group if you are a student in the USA. [We laugh]. But it was my dream to be in another part of the world, and now I want to see other parts of the world. Maybe I’ll go back to Turkey at the end, but I want to experience some other cultures, too. So, I am dedicated to my degree and profession as a graduate assistant now, which requires a lot of self-discipline, effort, and of course time management skills. So yes, it is awful lots of determination considering but this is my goal. Everything needs an effort.
Deniz: Özgecim, thank you very much. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Özge: Thank you.
*About 15 years ago, in an MA class (ELT 521 Cultural Aspects of Language Teaching), I learnt that small ornaments we collect from different parts of the world are called “conversation pieces” because they help people start a conversation during small talk or “misafirlik”. I think when the small talk turns into a professional exchange, the concepts work as conversation pieces. We, of course, do not record those informal exchanges with our colleagues. We remember the key points, we may share the main idea and important aspects with our friends, we may think about integrating it into our teaching, or we may simply just forget about it. But what if we record and share it with others? Would others be interested in our professional exchanges?
When I thought of recording the exchanges or discussions I had with my colleagues or experts to share them with other teachers or student-teachers in an online platform, MLD Bulletin came to my mind. I shared the idea with Elif and Yaprak, who were, as always, very welcoming.
 Conversation piece: an interesting or unusual object that attracts attention and makes people start talking about it (Macmillan English Dictionary, 2002)