Note: I had a difficult time while living in Istanbul and in this post I share the negatives. I also wrote a post titled what I loved about living in Istanbul, so read this for the positives. My negative experiences do not mean that I think the city is bad, nor the people, but I was unlucky and as I share my experiences, here is me sharing my thoughts on my time in this city. If you love Istanbul, do not take this as offence – I was simply unlucky. We can all be unlucky in the world, but surely we shouldn’t have to pretend that we love somewhere when we don’t?
It’s been a couple of months since I could call Istanbul my home and rather than ranting or raving about it as I left to hitchhike to the UK, I have had time to reflect upon my experiences. In conclusion, it is one of the most difficult places I have ever lived. Since I was 18, I haven’t lived in a single place for more than a year, so this is a rather bold statement to make. When I left South Korea, I said I would never go back and live there again, but the funny thing is, I miss Korea and the great people I knew there. However, Istanbul was a lot harder for me. Why was it so bad for me? Allow me to explain.
When we first arrived in Istanbul, we thought that it would be easy to find an apartment to live in. However, to find somewhere to live, we had to stay somewhere until we had a home (it’s hard to free-camp in cities). After months of hitchhiking and being low on cash, we didn’t want to have to come and book into an expensive hotel and even hostels were stretching our dwindling budget. We asked friends and looked online for different accommodation, but to simply find short term accommodation, we ran the danger of spending all our money and being stuck in a place we didn’t know without anyone to help us out. Fortunately a friend helped us out and solved our accommodation dilemma.
Due to our panic however, we ended up living in a horrible apartment with an even more horrid landlord. He cheated and lied to us about everything, taking much of the little money we had and when we told him we wanted to leave, he told us that he would sue us for six months rent because we had signed a contract (in Turkish) saying that we would remain in the apartment for 9 months. We only moved into the squalid apartment because of his promise that we were on ‘a rolling contract and only needed to pay for one months rent when we wanted to leave.’ Now we were back to looking at hotels again, carefully calculating our remaining money. After hours of debating and months of misery, we finally got out of the contract and the three of us moved to different parts of the city.
In my new (mouldy, smelly) basement apartment, I got a call while I was at work (teaching English), to be told that my bed had been sold, so I’d have to move that evening. That evening, I moved house and finally found myself living somewhere good. I invited someone else to stay and then once again, the new landlord demanded (a lot) more money. Tired of fighting, I paid it. This leads me into my issues with money.
Although Turkey is quite cheap, the salary as an English teacher in Turkey is very low and it didn’t balance out with the expenses. I was able to save much less than I previously hoped, but what really bothered me was that because I look different, it was often assumed that I was a rich tourist. On many occasions, people demanded money from me or charged me tourist prices and this too became very tiring. Even the process of getting a residency visa in Turkey is skewed by money payments.
On one occasion, I picked up a brush for a guy who had walked off without realising he’d dropped it. He then proceeded to polish my trainers (ridiculous), despite me trying to stop him and charged me £40 for the pleasure. I gave him £5 and refused to pay any more. £5 for damaging my shoes…
The Most Difficult Job in the World
Teaching English in Turkey is hard. I was employed as a foreign language teacher, meaning that we were to only use English in the classroom, but the kids spoke barely any English and wanted to learn even less. The school I taught at had neither a system of discipline or reward, and while I could write a whole article (or book) on the issues of teaching English in an expensive private school in Turkey, I’ll leave it with the summary that it was the least satisfying job I have ever had because I felt like my sole aim was to babysit the kids for 40 minutes and stop them running into other classrooms. Two girls started skipping my class when they found out that I was not religious and after six weeks of no class, the principle’s punishment was to “say sorry” (while giggling).
I am a country person. Istanbul is one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world and it takes forever to get anywhere on public transport. Was it a stupid decision for me to move to such a place? Yes. But I had my reasons at the time.
This sounds silly and it is, but I found it incredibly hard to meet people in Istanbul. I have lived in several foreign countries and always been very social, but in Istanbul, I had a very small group of friends (who were lovely). This again may be due to many factors, but it contributed towards my lack of positive feelings about the place.
Is It All Bad?
No, absolutely not. Istanbul has some beautiful architecture, peaceful islands, interesting riots in Taksim Square, and some of the most delicious food in the world. I really miss the food, especially çiğ köfte. It’s a fun city to visit (part of the reason why I ended up living there) and many foreigners love living in the city. It just wasn’t for me. But nor was the job and I felt like a sell out when I took it. If you want to know what I did like about Istanbul, please read this article about the things I loved in Istanbul.
Would I go back? No. I’ve tried it and it wasn’t for me. I’ll leave it for the people who love it and instead, I’ll live in my tent and cycle Europe, then build my raft and be a Pirate of the Danube. Each to their own, right?