Talking Turkey

Beyond the Headlines

News headlines – especially in the era of “breaking news” and social media profoundly affect our decisions about where we choose to work in an international context. Cyrus Carter who lives and works in Istanbul reflects on this age old issue, and explains why he is choosing to stay in Turkey.  

Our reality

If the headlines about Istanbul and Turkey reflected our own reality as international educators, more of us would have left by now. However, we are broadly untouched by the news agencies’ reports on both terror and politics as we go about our lives in a warm community.

The news is real

Of course, the news is not fake. There is terror and continuing uncertainty in this country of 80 million and city of 15 million. On any given day, I may pass in quick succession Reina, the nightclub which saw a gunman invade a 2017 New Year’s party, killing 39, mostly foreigners, followed by Beşiktaş Stadium, the scene of a 2016 double bombing killing 48 including 36 security personnel. Teachers don’t often go to these places but we pass by frequently and proximity heightens the fear factor.

Hospitality – an embedded cultural value

Yet the country continues to be welcoming and I feel well received as a guest. Indeed the heart of the matter is that we are guests, a term which is both an honour and an admonition. An honour because underlying each interaction is the culturally embedded concept of “misafirperverlik” or “hospitality” wherein no one is turned away from the door; we are part of an extended family. However the admonition is that as guests, we must live by the standards expected of guests, never to insult our hosts and always to act in a manner suited to our role.

Being a guest and a teacher means accepting the honour … and respectfully holding our tongues. Politics are for the locals. We have neither a vote nor a say. We can teach maths, science and English and find a plethora of connections from our own countries while we teach, but we must remember that just as direct family members can complain about each other to each other, we as extended family, cannot.

Why people leave

For many teachers who are leaving in June, the decision was initiated both by the attacks and by the uncertain political atmosphere. That said, I have noted that while terror may have started the exit process, a teacher’s personal life including relationships with school, family and community have been the proverbial final straws. Turkey endures as a good place to live for them, just not quite good enough.

Some who are leaving have chosen to do so because of the reactions to the attacks by others “back home”. They are motivated by family and friends who ask “How can you still tell me you’re safe there?” Others have made the choice because they have children and feel a moral duty to move somewhere perceived as safer. Some had placed themselves firmly on the fence until they were pushed over by some comment or action that may have made them feel less valued by their school, regarded as a main player in guaranteeing their safety and livelihood. One determining factor seems to be the amount of time spent with other foreigners: an aquarium of negativity or social media pushed a great number off the fence.

Why people stay

As for those who stay, many say it is because Turkish people are the same as ever and that the city is pretty much as it was. And indeed, it is. As for me, I am staying in Istanbul, Turkey and I will close with my top 5 reasons:

  1. The sights and sites beckon – beautiful and timeless.
  2. In traveling the country, people continue to be effusive in their welcome.
  3. The culture of market-fresh food.
  4. I feel safe here.
  5. I am never, ever bored.

A long time Turkophile, Cyrus Carter lives in Istanbul and works Robert College. Founded in 1863, “RC” can with some justification claim to be one of the oldest international schools in the world. 


Cyrus Carter

Cyrus teaches English, Business English, as well as “Arts, Society and Literature” to Grade 11 and Grade 12 students.

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