Wild Geese: journey into unknown has paid off for Dublin man in Istanbul
Life has been good for Stephen O’Farrell at the European gate to Asia
Stephen O’Farrell: “We’re in Istanbul for the long haul. We love coming home, but our life is entrenched here”
Stephen O’Farrell was en route to Barcelona for a year in 1998 before deciding upon Istanbul at the last minute. A 12-month stint in Australia two years previously had given him the impetus to take another journey into the unknown.
“It seemed more adventurous. I wanted another year abroad, as you do when you’re young and have the free time to explore.”
Some 20 years later, he has settled in the city of 15 million on the Bosphorus with a wife, two children, a good job and Turkish sunsets. “It ended up being a great decision. One year after arriving here, I had a good job and a would-be wife, so I’m glad I made the choice.”
Originally from Dublin, O’Farrell graduated from DIT with a business studies degree in 1993. He left Ireland soon afterwards to live and work in London in sales and marketing. After his trip Down Under, he decided take a TEFL teaching course, which, at the time, opened up the world to anyone who wanted to travel and immerse themselves in foreign life.
“After getting a teaching job at a language school in Istanbul pretty soon after moving here, I learnt to speak Turkish fluently and trained in professional writing skills and negotiations,” he says.
“I worked at private schools teaching English and drama until 2013, when I set up my own business called Pace Training and Consultancy focusing on corporate training and translations. I also work with a team of translators doing annual reports, books and various other things, almost all from Turkish to English.”
He says it’s not too difficult setting up a business in Turkey. “You need capital of just €2,000 and an accountant, as well as some running expenses. Obviously being a citizen helps. It takes a while to figure out the ropes.”
In the past few years O’Farrell also picked up acting, and has been cast in the Turkish equivalent of Fair City.
“I also get other roles in ads here and there. Once you’ve been in a county long enough you fall into these things. It’s like anywhere. I get pretty regular work, so participants in my training and seminars would sometimes recognise me from the TV. I generally always play the foreigner who’s arrived from Europe or the US. It’s a bit of fun.”
O’Farrell was also recruited by a publishing company as an educational consultant late last year.
‘We have a good life here. We cash bought our house, around 50km from Istanbul 16 years ago, so we don’t have a mortgage, which no doubt we would be burdened with if we had stayed in Ireland.”
O’Farrell has an Irish passport and Turkish citizenship. “Our children have Irish passports and Turkish citizenship too, so it really opens things up.”
The Irish community, O’Farrell says, is pretty disparate, so he set up an online group for Irish expats. The Ambassador, people from the consulate and expats across the board are on the mailing list and participate in events.
“We organise events in Irish pubs like the James Joyce Irish pub in Istanbul. Obviously we don’t want to saturate the community, so we just do a few things on Paddy’s Day and Christmas or if Irish people of interest visit the city.”
O’Farrell says Istanbul has returned to normal since a spate of terrorist attacks in 2016. “There’s still a state of emergency here, but luckily the last two years have been quiet. Hopefully it will stay that way.
“My daughter and I flew to Dublin from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in June 2016, the day before a gun and bomb attack killed 41 people and injured more than 230 people, which was unnerving.”
A few weeks later Turkey witnessed the bloodiest coup attempt in its political history when a co-ordinated operation was launched to topple President Erdogan. Soldiers and tanks took to the streets and a number of explosions rang out in Istanbul. Other terrorist attacks shook the city that summer.
Yet the bustling metropolise at the European gates to Asia is still a popular centre for expats.
“Anyone thinking of coming over here, why not?” O’Farrell suggests. “Quality of life is great. The food, the weather and cost of living are tantalising. You’ve got the Mediterranean climate, a fantastic mix of cultures, rents are perhaps €1,000 a month for a two-bed in the city, even though the exchange rate has suffered in recent times.
“I think Irish people, in general, have little difficulty adapting. Our cultures have a lot of similarities. Hospitality is intrinsic here. The sense of family and connections to extended family are strong. We also connect over meals, music and dance – a bit like back home.”
So is O’Farrell tempted to return home?
“We’re in Istanbul for the long haul. We love coming home, but our life is entrenched here.
“I’m just sitting by a hotel pool on a training course. I had to give a keynote speech at a conference in front of 250 people. I got them all to do the Icelandic salute at the end. It’s fun. You have opportunities here that you don’t have at home.”
For O’Farrell the journey into the unknown has definitely paid off.