Del Mar native enjoys ‘surreal’ experience in Turkey through Fulbright program


By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

Del Mar native Alex Warburton graduated last spring from the University of Chicago and is already teaching college classes — in Turkey.

The Torrey Pines High alumnus, who earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistic anthropology, was awarded last month a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship that placed him in an English instructorship in the country of his choice. With its livable environment, growing economy and central location on the globe, Turkey was Warburton’s top choice — and he just began teaching there earlier this month.

“I write all my own tests, come up with my own curriculum,” said Warburton in an interview from his temporary home of Kırıkkale, Turkey. “It’s a little surreal having just graduated from college and taking on this much responsibility at the university level.”

Warburton got his start teaching English through a program he volunteered with in Chicago’s Chinatown. He said tutoring Chinese immigrants through the organization greatly impacted him by showing him that learning English presents challenges similar to learning Mandarin (in which Warburton is fluent).

“Being raised in Del Mar, in south side Chicago I sometimes had trouble understanding what people said because it’s a different type of English than I’m accustomed to,” said Warburton.

He said one of his most memorable moments in teaching ESL was when he eased the discomfort of a student from China when she admitted she had a hard time ordering at McDonald’s.

“I explained that it would be no different than if I were to go to China, because there the inlanders and those in the southern, rural areas have a totally different dialect,” said Warburton. “She lit up when we made the connection because her husband was making fun of her for having an English degree but not being able to order at McDonald’s.”

Warburton also said his experience learning Mandarin, a complex language, makes it even easier to connect with English learners.

“I understand when my students mess up, and it’s OK to mess up,” said Warburton. “Look at all the mistakes I make when I speak Chinese.”

Since Warburton has arrived in Turkey, he said the trip has been exciting and packed full of things like a press conference with the Turkish Ambassador and lectures on Turkish politics.

Warburton said he’s not sure if he will pursue teaching in the future, but for the time being, he’s enjoying the worldly experience and being able to apply his very intense, theory-based education in a practical way.

“This is probably a fantasy and unrealistic, but I would like to be a better teacher than I’ve had,” said Warburton. “I want to be able to explain to learners why things are the way they are.”

Warburton is one of more than 1,600 scholars who traveled abroad this year under the Fulbright program, which is sponsored by the U.S. government to increase mutual understanding between people in the U.S. and those of other countries. The primary source of funding for the program is an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.