Okan Ozkan, a Turkish tour guide, returns to the classroom to get himself ready for the expected arrival of one million Chinese tourists in 2018.
On Thursday, he was learning Chinese with nine other tour guides in a narrow building of the Turkish-Chinese Cultural Association situated at central Istanbul. As was in old school days, they were learning the Chinese language word by word after their teacher.
As a tour guide for 10 years, Ozkan is good at English and Polish. A month ago, he decided to take the Chinese course with a view to improving his career.
Turkey is seeking to attract as many as one million Chinese tourists in 2018, as China has declared next year Turkey Tourism Year. While the tourism and other sectors are bracing themselves for the occasion, more and more tour guides are returning to the classrooms.
"It is a little bit difficult," Ozkan said of his experience in learning Chinese. "But we have a good teacher here and we do our best to introduce our country, our history, our lifestyle, all about Turkey to the Chinese people."
Ye Qian, the teacher, is a Chinese national who has been working in Istanbul as a teacher for three years and speaks Turkish well.
"Beside basics of the language, I am also teaching about the history of tourist sites in Turkey with the help of materials in Chinese," she said.
For the Turkish guides, they are learning more about the Chinese people, their lifestyle, eating habits and culture through the course. "Our aim is to prepare the tour guides in a best possible way," said Ye.
The cultural association, in cooperation with the Turkish Union of Tourist Guides, launched last month the Chinese course in Istanbul and Cappadocia, one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists in central Anatolia, which is known for its fairy chimneys, underground cities, rock-carved monasteries and hot-air balloon tour.
Currently a total of 48 tour guides are attending the course, while the association is planning to open more in the Mediterranean province of Antalya, the western coastal city of Izmir as well as the capital city of Ankara in the very near future.
"There are around 70 Turkish tour guides who speak Chinese in Turkey," said Mustafa Karsli, the association's deputy head. In his view, the number is far from enough.
The Chinese arrivals hit 192,616 in the first 10 months of this year, up 40 percent year-on-year, according to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
"Our primary aim here is to think in the long run," Karsli said.
In his view, 2018 will be a year to see a growing exchange of tourists between Turkey and China. "Our tour guides should know that Chinese people drink hot water, they do not like the sunlight and their eating habits and breakfast culture are different from any Western people," he said.
"Until now I do not know anything about the Chinese culture," said Zerrin Ersavas, another tour guide attending Ye's course.
She has been working as a guide for 25 years, but it is the first time for her to get to know about Chinese history, food, people and behavior.