“Hello, my name is Mr. Kulunk and I will be your substitute teacher for today.” These words are a blessing to all those students who need a laugh in their busy and hectic school day. Since the early 2000s, Huseyin Kulunk has brought entertainment and individuality to the teaching staff of Berkeley High School (BHS), but where did this man come from? Which far-flung country could produce such a unique and eccentric man? These answers and many more were revealed in an exclusive interview with the Jacket.
The sophomores trickled into their first period humanities class to find not their normal teacher standing in the ring of desks, but instead a man bobbing his head to imaginary music, and shushing them the moment the bell rung.
As soon as he got the class settled, Kulunk strode his way towards the table I was seated at, and the interview began. As many people know, Kulunk was born in Turkey, in the city of Istanbul. He grew up in “a family with college degrees.” His father was an engineer and his grandfather was a doctor. In the 1950s, when Kulunk was born, Istanbul was undergoing massive cultural changes. New avenues and buildings were sprouting up almost nightly and the city was becoming an epicenter for arts and culture in Turkey. The population of the city was about to double and things were changing. It was this new and ever changing city that Kulunk was born into.
Growing up he “had every childhood disease.” From measles to mumps, Kulunk said he suffered through it all. His family moved to Ankara, a city far different from Istanbul, and the “germs” caused Kulunk to have a sickly childhood. Despite this rough start to his life, Kulunk was able to move forward. He attended a private school where they started learning English very early in life. His early introduction to English allowed him to become an avid reader of American children’s books.
As he grew older, Kulunk was able to travel around the world and it was through this that his love for language was able to develop and grow.
Kulunk returned to Turkey to pursue a degree in physics. Unfortunately, by his own emission, he just couldn’t understand quantum mechanics, and he began to lose interest and decided not to go after a higher degree.
Instead, he turned to translation. It was in this profession that he met his wife, and became a father to her four-year-old daughter. For a few years, Kulunk worked as a translator for hospitals and other civic institutions. Then he moved to America with his family.
This wasn’t Mr. Kulunk’s first time in America. In 1975, when he was in his 20s, Kulunk hitchhiked across America. He wanted to stay, but he didn’t have the paperwork to stay. Due to “reactionary, religious attitudes,” they left Turkey in the ‘90s. His family first settled in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they opened up a small sandwich shop. However, this didn’t last long because Florida just “wasn’t right” for the family.
Kulunk’s relatives were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and upon a visit he realized that this was the right place for them. So yet again, the family picked up their roots and settled down in Berkeley where “there are the most number of people like me” Kulunk said. In the late ‘90s, his daughter entered the Berkeley public school system. Kulunk continued working as a translator, but then he found his true calling in 1998: substitute teaching.
Kulunk’s degree made it possible for him to become a substitute teacher. He thought that he “might try that out” and thus began his current career.
He had tried his hand in subbing in Florida, but the schools in Berkeley fit him even better. At BHS, Kulunk has received “great reaction[s]” from the kids he teaches, which made him feel as if he had found a source of great joy. “They seem to get something from me,” Kulunk said. And it’s true; students love Kulunk. Although he himself isn’t on Instagram, there is an account dedicated to the happenings in Kulunk’s classrooms, with pictures of him drawing, wearing a particularly dope outfit, dabbing, and even sleeping.
Although Kulunk admires the love students have for him, he wishes they would “stop taking pictures” of him in class without his permission.
Kulunk is certainly a staple of the BHS experience, and I hope many more generations are able to enjoy his presence in their classes.