I don’t know what it is about Turks, but it seems these are the students – or rather former students – whom I manage to offend. Last year a lovely young woman whom I was tutoring suddenly disappeared. For over a year we had been meeting once a week. She didn’t work particularly hard, but she seemed to enjoy our sessions and never cancelled at the last minute as other students have done. She invited me to her house for dinner. We met for lunch once or twice. When she told me she was thinking of applying to the MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania, I told her I would be happy to help her with her application. One afternoon she announced she wanted to start writing her personal statement. I asked what she was thinking of saying – she didn’t know. Let’s look at the application, I said. She didn’t have it. Have you looked at it online? No. Well, they will want to know what your goals are, why you think Penn is the right place for you and what you can contribute to their program. She hadn’t thought about why she wanted an MBA, nor did she know anything about the program beyond its reputation as one of the best in the country. I tried to tell her gently that she would have to give it some thought, maybe write down a few ideas. I could help her with the writing, but not with the thinking. At the end of the session, we said goodbye as usual, and I never heard from her again. I emailed several times wondering if she was ill and then apologizing if I had upset her in some way. She never replied. I had no idea what had gone wrong.
But maybe my recent experience with another Turkish student is providing some clues. This guy, a PhD in History, is in the States on a postdoc. He was in my ESL writing class last semester because, although he reads English well enough to do research, his writing isn’t good enough to publish in English language journals. He didn’t get much out of the class because he never did any of the assignments. But I liked him, and we got on well and had lunch together a couple of times. When we met up after Christmas vacation, he sweetly gave me a scarf he had bought for me in Turkey. He asked about private lessons. Then 10 days ago he emailed with a request. He is applying for a fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago. Would I look at the attached research proposal and personal statement and edit them for him? I don't know if he knew how much work they needed. They would have been barely intelligible to someone who was not 1) used to reading the writing of non-native speakers and 2) already familiar with his topic. Both required extensive revision, hours of work. I agonized over how to respond. I couldn’t tell him that I usually charged $80 an hour, but I wanted him to know that it was unfair to expect me to do the work for free. Finally I suggested he go to the University Writing Center, where tutors are available to help students. Or maybe he could use Craigslist to find an editor. I was as pleasant as I can be, which admittedly is not very, and politely indirect but clear. He hasn’t replied. Clearly we are done. I have chased away another Turk by being honest. Who knew they were so touchy?