Former Wilson teacher reflects on new life in Istanbul


Photo courtesy of Julie Caccamise

Maya Wilson

Julie Caccamise packed up her Chaco sandals, granola filled gelato containers, and signature bright green belt. On August 21, 2017, the former Wilson teacher left DC, bound for Istanbul, Turkey, to a new teaching position at the Istanbul International Community School (IICS).

Caccamise taught a number of international studies classes during her 12 years at Wilson. “I’d always been interested in the rest of the world, and during the time that I was at Wilson I started thinking about going abroad,” she told The Beacon in an interview over the phone. She has plenty of experience working abroad in the past, including stints in South Africa and El Salvador. At IICS, she is teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) Geography as well as a humanities class.

Most would imagine that moving to a place as tumultuous as Turkey would ring some significant alarm bells, or at least cause some hesitation. But not for Caccamise. “In terms of my safety or anything like that, I had no worries,” she said. In fact, safety is one of the city’s smallest inconveniences for Caccamise. “The worst thing is the traffic,” she said. “Istanbul is not as easy to run in as DC is. I never see people out running like I did in DC. And Istanbul is really, really, really hilly.”

Safety wasn’t at the forefront of Caccamise’s mind as she set off, but one legitimate fear she had was losing her community of colleagues at Wilson. “I had such a great community of colleagues that I just adored. They weren’t just my work friends, they were my friend friends,” she said. “But I thinkteaching in general draws like-minded people, and I found a really lovely community of people here as well. We all live in the same neighborhood, so that’s really nice.” Oftentimes, Caccamise spends evenings hanging out with her colleagues, grading papers, eating dinner, and watching movies.

Classes at IICS are structured a bit differently from Wilson. There is a homeroom period every day and the rest of the classes rotate on a weekly schedule, so there’s more day-to-day variety. “It’s kind of like the school has two purposes – one is to teach proficiency in English and two is to teach the IB. So I feel like I do both of those things and that’s been pretty interesting for me.”

This year, Caccamise has coached both softball and basketball, as well as running a Model UN club, after which she climbs on to the bus back to her neighborhood and promptly falls asleep. “I’ve never been one to nap. It’s interesting to see how much energy I have after a nap,” she said.

With a sense of routine eventually comes a sense of familiarity, and Caccamise is starting to feel like she has found her place in the IICS community, not only with her coworkers but also with her students. “There’s a lot to learn when you’re a new teacher, and that’s maybe the coolest thing– to have maybe 22 years of teaching experience in my past and to feel like a brand new teacher all over again,” she said.

“It was challenging for me in the first half of the year, trying to figure out the balance of… how much I was supposed to put on the students and how much I was supposed to take responsibility for. After the winter holiday, I really feel like there was a transition where we really gelled as a group, and they really understood me and how I operate, and I have a much, much better understanding of them.”

So she’s settled at her new school, but that doesn’t mean Caccamise has forgotten her roots. And DCPS is not easy to forget, especially given their recent presence in the news. “I’m never going to feel anything but love for my experience and time at DCPS, and so I want the school system to be successful,” she said. “I know that a lot of effort and investment has been made in trying to do that.”

Though teaching high school in DC and Istanbul certainly present many differences, Caccamise has appreciated one surprising similarity. “Every one of the kids I teach, you could drop them in to Wilson and they would be just like all the kids I taught at Wilson. And every students I taught at Wilson, you could drop them in to IICS and you would be like every student at IICS.” she said. “You prioritize what is most important in that minute and sometimes that is your personal relationships with other people, sometimes it’s your school work. But I don’t really see a difference with the students, at all actually. And that’s really nice. That’s so refreshing to know that kids are kids everywhere.”