Working Abroad: How to find a job in Turkey
Yesterday’s post about working holidays and finding jobs abroad has proved so popular that I figured it wouldn’t be the worst idea to put together something similar today.
I spent quite a bit of time working a few different jobs in Turkey during the summer of 2001, and after I eventually came back to the U.S. and settled in Seattle, I wrote a how-to article for Transitions Abroad about how anyone so inclined might do the exact same thing. Transitions Abroad, by the way, has been considered the absolute authority on working, studying and volunteering abroad for a very long time, and you’d be wise to buy yourself a subscription and spend some time on their website if you’re planning on doing any of those things yourself.
The magazine’s founder, Dr Clay Hubbs, passed away recently, although the magazine has impressively managed to push on with the same mix of good design, wonderful writing, and informative copy ever since. In fact, for anyone interested in having unusual experiences in other countries, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Continue scrolling down, and you’ll see the first article of mine that was ever published in Transitions Abroad. It’s called “Backpacker’s Turkey: Jobs Abound and Can Be Found Word-of-Mouth”.
Even to this day, if you Google the phrase “jobs in Turkey”, my article shows up on the first page, which I’ve always assumed is the main reason so many people have emailed me about this article over the years. It’s worth noting that while I’ve been freelancing on and off for over a decade, and full-time for more than four years, I very rarely get any sort of feedback about my work from anyone other than my various editors. But “Backpacker’s Turkey”, for some reason, has hit a serious nerve with the reading and backpacking public over the years. So for what it’s worth, here it is. Let me know what you think.
BACKPACKER’S TURKEY: Jobs Abound and Can Be Found Word-of-Mouth
It was early in the summer, and I had spent three weeks in Greece, ferrying from island to island and trying fruitlessly to schmooze my way into an under-the-table summer job. In my hasty pre-trip research back home I had learned that Greece was a land of golden opportunity from April until August, when Brits, Germans, and Russians invade the country on their annual holiday. Beach resorts need employees, yacht owners need deckhands, even the olive vineyards need staff. Work, I was assured, was everywhere.
But somehow when I showed up in mid-May, the tourist season still hadn’t. Hotel owners and bar managers all told me the same thing: “Come back in four weeks.” My money, however, was running dangerously low.
The further south I traveled, the more backpackers I met who had just come from Turkey, and no one seemed to have enough good things to say about the country.
Apparently, there were English-language academies willing to hire anyone, as long as he or she was a native speaker. No work visa? No TEFL degree? No problem. I decided to chance it.
Getting A Job
Making money was my most immediate concern, so after settling into a cheap youth hostel in the backpacker ghetto of Sultanahmet ($2.50 to $5 for a bunk bed in a shared room), I found an Internet café and logged onto EslCafe.com, one of the most popular clearinghouse sites for English-teaching jobs on the Web. If I had known all along that I would end up in Istanbul, I would have researched job opportunities in advance. (Another great site for potential English teachers is www.tesall.com).
I didn’t find any useful job leads at the Internet café, but I did notice that the woman sitting next to me, a Canadian named Emily, was updating her resume. And that’s when I took advantage of the backpacker’s most time-tested method for gathering information of any sort: word-of-mouth. Turned out that, like me, Emily had just arrived in town. She was busy searching for an English-teaching job and a place to live. She was also staying in a guesthouse just down the street from mine, and so we agreed to join forces: I’d share any new job leads with her, and she’d do the same for me. Soon, we became a disciplined team, asking every backpacker and every guesthouse employee we stumbled across for help.
One morning, Emily was making her way to an interview in a neighborhood far from the tourist district. The school she was looking for didn’t seem to exist, so she walked into a different school, British English, and asked for help. The director of the school sent her on her way, but not before mentioning that he, too, was hiring. The next day I called British English from a payphone, used Emily’s name to land an interview, and after assuring the director that I had a college degree (he never asked to see it, and he never asked if I had TEFL certification, which I didn’t), I was given a job. Seven million Turkish lira an hour, which was about $5 U.S.
Emily, by the way, eventually found the school she was looking for. Just like me, she was hired on the spot, on the basis of her native English-speaking status alone. (At the time, she didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree.).
But in Istanbul, teaching is only one way a backpacker can make money. Our friend Meghan found well-paying work as a nanny, simply by being social and asking around in the backpacker ghetto, where nearly all the locals speak English. Another friend found work at a tourists’ pub. The job came with all the free beer she could drink, not to mention a free room above the bar.
Outside of Istanbul, opportunities in the tourism industry abound. If you find that English teaching isn’t for you, get creative: Charismatic travelers can find work in the carpet-selling shops of Cappadocia, an otherworldly region in central Turkey, and others get jobs with hot-air balloon companies that operate nearby. Busking and bar work is possible along the Mediterranean coast, if you’re the entertaining type. And don’t forget: Greece is just a ferry ride away. Maybe by the time you show up, that fabled tourist season will have finally started.