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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). Generally speaking, though, it is a bad idea to most teachers who have signed on with less-than-legitimate schools in TEFL hotspots like South Korea to find themselves with no legal recourse, no money, and, sometimes, no passport.

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.

DAN ELDRIDGE works in Pittsburgh, PA. as a freelance journalist specializing in adventure travel and youth sub-cultures.