AN AMERICAN FRIEND I had taught with in Taiwan beckoned me to Istanbul with tales of local men serenading Western women, luring them into love spells with baklava. Her descriptions of lunch by the seaside and bustling spice markets charmed me all the way to the travel agency.
“It’s my New York, but better,” she had said.
I got my suitcase and tea glass ready.
Upon arriving, a crowd of fake blondes congregated at the airport entry gates with the sort of urgency that says: “This is a great place.” Counting bright headscarf after bright headscarf, my first impression of Istanbul was part-Europe, part-Asia, and part hyperactive kid on the beach.
Now that I have been living and teaching in Istanbul for a few months, there’s still enough radiation to keep me feeling like a holiday girl, even teaching forty plus hours a week.
Considerations for teaching
When contemplating a job here, it is important to remember that you are still the same old barking English teacher that you are anywhere else in Asia, but you will probably get paid decent money and have enough eager students to make it worthwhile.
Be prepared to entertain your students as much as you teach them, and anticipate to be showered with home-cooked food from friendly students who appreciate the effort you put into your classes. Most will be willing to share their language and culture.
Should you tire of the workaholic schedule that English schools will likely impose, there is always the hammam (Turkish bath) to indulge in, where a burly masseuse or masseur, will scrub you like Hercules.
Culinary delights abound, including fish still squirming fresh on the market table, sold by boisterous men in rubber boots. Rice is most often replaced with a range of other, more inspiring carbohydrates, like flower-shaped herb bread, and cherry-filled baklava.
The mighty lamb is prevalent, sliced with grilled peppers and tomatoes, and served together with yogurt, cilantro, and pita bread.
For those seeking ESL teaching work in Istanbul, numerous jobs abound, and can be found simply by walking into the language schools themselves, or by applying with a resume, cover letter, photo, and scanned copy of qualifications and passport over the Internet.
While I have never heard of an English school here that doesn’t need teachers (which means you will probably be working some serious overtime) private language schools mostly hire people with a Canadian, British, Australian, or American passport, a TESOL certificate (or similar qualification) and/or a degree in any subject, from a recognized university.
First-time teachers are usually welcome, as are people of various ages. My current work staff includes everyone from ages twenty to fifty-five, and they are generally sane people, from various professional backgrounds.
Some schools provide accommodation, but most don’t. However, there are throngs of English teachers actively searching for roommates, and most language schools will offer some help in finding an affordable and comfortable place to live.
Costs for accommodation, food, and other necessities of life are comparable to Canada, the US, and some parts of Europe. As Turkey is in close proximity to several Middle-Eastern and European countries, you may also want to travel.
Depending on whether or not you choose to go by train, plane, bus, or car, prices can vary from the extraordinarily cheap to the staggeringly expensive.
Istanbul has no shortage of things to do. In the Greek Quarter, old women haggle over striped socks at the market and fruit vendors greet shoppers with heaping triangles of olives and figs. Speeding taxis with bashed-in fronts steer and skid amongst the crowds of pedestrians spilling over the curbs in the downtown districts.
Ladies selling flowers by the boat docks push stems of daffodils under your nose, commanding, in their hats and headscarves, a mere dollar a bundle.
One of my best moments so far in Istanbul has been taking pictures of stray cats in a historic graveyard at 7am, while men and women beat carpets, men prayed, and children chased pigeons. People were doing their everyday activities, but it was nonetheless impressive.
Numerous nightclubs in almost every area of the city provide a comfortable places for expats and locals alike to get their groove on. While going out is expensive, one will feel at the end of the evening, as if their money has been well spent.
In Istanbul, atmosphere is everything- clubs and pubs are usually “dressed to the nines” with plush velour, seaside seating, water pipes, hip music, and cheerful chatter in a multitude of languages.
For me, Istanbul is a spot to rest my rucksack while I’m turning the tricks of the English-teaching trade, but my respect for the place and its people now goes beyond my initial pinwheel of tourist images. It is now my temporary home, and one that I see myself returning to.
For aspiring and seasoned travelers, there is no other city that quite captures the glamor of a martini glass, the pizzazz of a belly dancer, and the wild imagination of two continents.
As for whether it’s “better than New York,” I’m hardly to judge, but surely, anyone who comes here to teach will not be disappointed.
This article was originally published on April 17th, 2008.