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Where in the world - Teaching in Turkey

Following on from our Teaching Around the World interviews, our Where in the World? interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we speak to past TESOL graduates about their experience of living and working abroad as an English teacher.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Where in the world is Bushra?

Bushra Hassim spent nine months teaching English to both adults and young learners in Istanbul, Turkey. She says it is an absolutely beautiful city, the sights never get old and the city never sleeps.

Bushra in front of  the Turkish war memorial 

When did you complete the TESOL course?

I completed the TESOL course in March 2013 at the Wits Language School.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

I initially registered my CV on www.tefl.com, then other agencies such as Teach2Travel were recommended and that is how I landed my first job.

Where was your first overseas teaching job?

My first teaching job overseas was in Istanbul, Turkey.

When did you live and work in Turkey? How long were you there for?

I landed in Istanbul on the 28th August 2013 and was there for nine months.

Why did you choose to go to Turkey?

I chose to go to Istanbul because I was interested in their culture and wanted to know more. It was also easier to get a job there, with fewer documents needed.

Street life and the entrance to the Grand Bazaar 

What was it like to teach in Turkey?

Teaching in Istanbul varies depending on the job that you have. My first job was in kindergarten, acquired through an agency - the hours were long and the salary not great. It was enough to live off but rent in Istanbul is high and it would only be affordable on that salary if you shared an apartment in an inexpensive area. If you get a job in a school without an agency, your pay increases and life is much easier, although the working hours in a school are very long and commuting can be tiresome depending on where you live and where your school is based. Work visas and official documents can be problematic to attain depending on who is getting them for you and on your passport (country of origin). As a South African, our residency permits expire within six months and we need to obtain a work permit in those six months to avoid being deported. Schools generally help with all these documents. Perks vary depending on where you land a job. The other option is to build a network of private jobs and you can charge your own rate per hour. Yet another option is to work for a few language schools and build your hours with different clients from the language school. They offer freelancing, part time and full time jobs - which all comes with different remuneration packages. It all depends on who you get to know. There are many available jobs in Istanbul for teaching English and less demanding hours allow you to spend time travelling the huge city and exploring non-tourist areas.

What school/organisation did you work for? What kinds of students did you have to teach?

I got my first job in Istanbul with the agency Teach2Travel and I worked at a private school teaching Turkish young learners. I later quit that job and took a part time job at a language school teaching Turkish adults. English is not a well-known language in Turkey, so there are usually many people looking to learn.

How did the TESOL course prepare you for your first job as a language teacher?

The TESOL course helped me gain a greater understanding of the English language and through the practicals and lesson planning; I understood how practical it is to teach the language. It helped me find a way to teach English given almost any subject matter.

What is it like to live in Turkey?

Living in Turkey is completely different to living in South Africa. Public transport is much easier to access and you have to do a lot of walking daily. It is a beautiful city and you find yourself wanting to explore and get lost, without any fear of it. The summers are really hot and it snows in the winter. The cold is enjoyable though, and there is heating everywhere you go so the winter isn't bad at all. Take-out food and rent would make up the most of your expenses. However, groceries aren’t that badly priced and neither is the shopping, it’s more affordable for good quality clothing in Turkey. There are limited imported items, especially when it comes to food. Turkish food is the most available and western foods aren’t usually found in the supermarkets but rather as take out franchises like Burger King and MacDonald’s. Other than that, you can find almost everything that you need at the supermarket. The culture in Turkey is different in each region - in Istanbul the people lean towards a European culture but still have a strong sense of Turkish culture, as their families are usually from cities outside Istanbul. They love everything Turkish. The language is extremely different but less variable than English and common phrases can be picked up quickly. Not a lot of people speak English and it can be a bit of a challenge to find what you’re looking for, although it's fun to figure it out on your own anyway.

You might prefer to walk around in Istanbul as there is a lot to see

What did you love/hate about Turkey?

I love the scenery of the city of Istanbul. It is absolutely breath-taking. The sky seems to change every day and the streets transform day and night. It's gorgeous and feels almost out of this world. You will never get tired of exploring it and it is so massive, there is so much to see all the time and so safe to walk around in. My favourite part of the city is the fact that it’s based on two continents and found it thrilling to travel between Europe and Asia on so many different modes of transport within thirty minutes.

I, personally, don't like the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Istanbul; I feel like getting caught up in it all makes it a bit more challenging to live a balanced and healthy life-style, so it wouldn't be a permanent destination for me. I also don't like the behaviour towards tourists, taxi drivers and general salesman are always looking to rob you for all that you’re worth if they know you’re a foreigner and you have to  be very careful when dealing with them. Don't take to flattery, they really just want your cash and nothing but your cash.

Would you recommend Turkey to other EFL teachers?

If you're looking for culture in a modern society, Turkey would be a wonderful place to spend a few months of your life. It is exciting and an easy and safe place to live in. I recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure.

A mosque lit up on a winter evening

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching in Turkey?

My advice to teachers looking to go to Turkey - be prepared for not having everything organised and in time. Go with the flow and not worry too much about the details. Be wary of locals extorting you, other than that they are really nice and friendly people and are excited to meet foreigners.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on getting a post-graduate certificate in education and teaching high school or even pursuing a career in teaching English in South Africa.

River scene – Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus, one of the world’s busiest waterways