Istanbul is a vibrant and energetic city famous for bridging the East and West. One of Europe’s most cosmopolitan and culturally rich cities, it’s a wonderful place to live and offers an excellent quality of life for teachers. Especially when you work at one of the top schools in the country! Daniel Blanco has just spent his first term there, as a Spanish teacher at The Koç School, and has written a blog to share his amazing experience so far.
Where are you teaching and what’s your school like?
This is my first year teaching in Istanbul and I am working in one of the most prestigious private school in the whole country. Last year I was teaching in the Middle East but when I saw this great opportunity in Istanbul I decided to apply for the job. My wife had been in the city before and she thought we would fit really well in Turkey. I think she was right. We love the city and the school meets all my expectations.
How did you get your job? What was the process like?
After the initial interview with Anisha Vadher from Teacherhorizons, I had Skype interviews with the former Headteacher and Counsellor of The Koç School, the General Director and the Head of MFL. Then, I was invited to visit the school and spent a few days on campus, teaching a couple of lessons, meeting staff and students and experiencing as much school life as possible in a five day visit. During my stay I also had interviews with the General Director and the High School Director and spent a day exploring Istanbul. A few days later, back in Doha, I got a job offer to join the school and the MFL department.
Another happy teacher, , has taught at The Koc School too; read his story
What is the city like? Is there an active expat scene? What do you do in your free time?
Istanbul is an amazing city. We are living on campus outside the city, but the school provides teachers with busses which go to the city on Saturday and Sunday. The campus is perfect for families since it is safe for the kids, the facilities are outstanding and the school takes great care of us. A lot of single teachers and couples with no children live in the city and commute every day. They enjoy all the city has to offer, as we do at the weekends, going to bars, restaurants, museums, markets and shops. Sometimes we stay in a little hotel on a Saturday night. We enjoy eating out, going for a walk, shopping… pretty much the same things we would do back home in Spain.
Which tourist sites or must-visit places are nearby?
Going to the city usually takes between 45 to 60 minutes depending on the traffic. Once there, on the Asian side, you can eat fish in the restaurants around the street market in Kadikoy, cross the Bosphorus by ferry, relax in a hammam in Cemberlitas, admire the impressive mosques in Sultanahmet, go shopping in the Grand Bazaar… On top of that, the campus is next to one of the airports, so you can always jump on a plane on a Friday night and fly to Bodrum, Cappadocia or Antalya… which is great.
What is the climate like? Is there any extreme weather? If so, how do you deal with it?
So far the weather has been great. It is a four season city, so we experienced a warm summer when we arrived in August and a mild autumn with little rain and lots of sunshine up to early December. Winter has just started and it feels colder and wetter. Some colleagues have told me about annual snow days when the school is even closed, but having also lived in Northern Scotland I think we will cope pretty well with the winter in Istanbul.
What’s the cost of living like? Are you able to save money?
The cost of living is very low compared to Qatar or the UK. We are a family of three with two cats and we can save. The school provides teachers with very good accommodation. Grocery shopping is not expensive and you can find any clothes you can imagine in Istanbul’s street markets at a very good price. I also get a discount on public transport for being a teacher, so I jump on trams, buses, metro or ferries all the time.
What is the food like? Is international food available? Have you tried any unusual local dishes?
Some people love it some people miss a more international cuisine scene in Istanbul. Turkish restaurants are spread all over the city and we really like the food they cook. Turkish people enjoy having a big breakfast, which is more like a brunch which comes with olives, tomatoes, green peppers, different types of bread, omelettes or boiled eggs, tahini, salads… and of course, plenty of Turkish tea. Fish is also very popular, as well as kebabs. For those with a sweet tooth, there are lots of bakeries and cafes to have baklava, macarons and other local specialities.
How is the culture different from your home culture? Have you experienced any culture shock?
Coming from a Mediterranean country like Spain, we feel really good here. Turkish people love children and enjoy life outdoors, so the transition after England, Scotland and Qatar has been really smooth. The size of the city and the heavy traffic have been a bit of a shock for us since we live on the Asian side outside the city and we were not used to it. People are very friendly and they appreciate your efforts to try to communicate in Turkish with them.
Have a read of our Happy Teacher Archives, for more happy teachers in Istanbul and other locations.
What’s the best thing about living and teaching in your chosen city? What have been your highlights so far?
The school is a top school in this country and the organisation is very caring, professional and forward-thinking. I feel supported by colleagues and management, which is very important for me. The Human Resources team also make sure teachers and families are happy here helping us with any banking or health issues. Besides, the Campus Housing Coordinator and Assistant to the General Director does an amazing job taking care of our needs and organising events for teachers and families living on campus, from barbecues to Christmas celebrations.
Regarding the city, we only wish we had more time to keep exploring it because there is a lot to see and do for us.
Are there any drawbacks? What kind of person would not be suited to this location?
As per contract, you must live on campus for your first two years here, so some single colleagues may find it hard not to be in the city from Monday to Friday. Most international teachers have been teaching her for five years or more, which is a very good sign, don’t you think? Teachers and families really look happy here.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of coming to live and work in your current location?
After four years teaching internationally I always recommend to visit the school and the city if possible before accepting a job offer. In the case of Istanbul, I think it is love at first sight for many people. There is so much history around here and so much to do.