Teaching in Istanbul has been amazing but we no longer feel safe
We live near the Reina nightclub where the New Year’s Eve attack took place
Peter Bonner: ‘The Turkish people are warm and welcoming and there are famous sites that would take you a lifetime to explore.’
Town planner Peter Bonne left Ireland when the crash hit in 2008 . His travels have taken him from Australia to South Korea to Scotland, but the 31-year-old from Co Mayo now teaches alongside his wife at an international school in Istanbul.
Why did you decide to leave?
I like to tell myself I left Ireland because of the lack of opportunities after I graduated but in truth I had my mind made up to leave before I finished university. A number of childhood friends had already departed and there were probably elements of both jealousy and adventurousness that spurred me into moving abroad. I had originally planned to go with a friend but he panics whenever he even thinks about leaving Dublin, never mind Ireland. So I left on my own in November 2008.
Why did you choose Turkey?
In late 2011, while I was living in South Korea, I met the woman who is now my wife. She was also a teacher and we lived there together for a year. As a certified history teacher, she jumped at the chance to work in one of the most historically important cities in the world when a job opportunity arose at an international school here. Even though I wasn’t a certified teacher, I managed to get employment teaching English in a private Turkish school. One year later, I went back to university in Glasgow to complete my postgrad in primary education with a view to also gaining employment in an international school. (International schools require a recognised teaching certification.) Thankfully, my wife’s school was happy to take me on and this is now my second year in this school and my wife’s fourth.
What does your job involve?
I teach grade three students, who are eight or nine years of age, in a school that follows the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP). I teach the core subjects of maths, language, science and social studies while specialist teachers take the students for art, music, PE, host country studies and ICT. I also coordinate the after-school activities programme at our school, which involves organising a range of extra-curricular activities for the students from pre-school to grade 12. It’s a small, busy working environment but the students and staff here are fantastic.
Do you think you would have had the same opportunities if you had stayed in Ireland?
It’s difficult to imagine what I would be doing now if I had stayed. The decision to become a qualified teacher was largely made because of opportunities that arose while I was living abroad. A lot of the people I qualified with in 2008 subsequently emigrated, as did a lot of graduates around that time, either by choice or out of necessity. Those who remained seem to have done well for themselves professionally, which is great to see. They are working in professions as varied as planning, teaching, advertising, law, environmental science and social media management, to name a few.
How does teaching there compare to other locations?
Teaching in my school is busy but very enjoyable. We begin at 7.30am and finish by 3.30pm (although any teacher reading this will know that by “finish” I mean “the kids go home”). In a 40-period week, I teach 26 classes with the students having about 14 specialist lessons. In my free periods, I am either planning, responding to emails or in collaborative meetings with other teachers. I also coach the high school and primary school football teams twice per week after school.
Salaries at international schools vary around the world and often are related to the cost of living. Working at an international school in Turkey, your starting salary could be anywhere from $30,000 (€28,000) to $45,000 depending on your qualifications and experience. This figure is after tax and does not take into account additional benefits such as free housing or a housing stipend, health insurance, free return flights every year or every other year, and professional development.
How does the education system compare to Ireland’s?
Public schools tend to have very large class sizes and teachers are paid considerably less than in Ireland. There are lots of private fee-paying Turkish schools here as well as a handful of international schools. In my school, the teachers come from about 15 different countries – I am the only Irish teacher at present – with the student body made up of about 50 nationalities. There are always lots of opportunities for teachers to come and work in Istanbul. If you are certified, there are probably five or six international schools here. If you are looking for a place to teach English, then the bar for entry is a degree plus a CELTA certification and there are a large number of private Turkish schools and universities where you could find work.
Would you recommend Turkey as a place to teach?
Sadly, I probably wouldn’t. Teaching in Istanbul has been an amazing experience for me. Turkey will always be a very special place for me for a number of reasons: It’s where my wife and I have lived happily for a number of years; It’s where we had our beautiful daughter, Eva; It’s where we made a number of lifelong friends; And it’s where we have taken some of our most memorable vacations to places I could never have imagined travelling to.
But due to the current political climate and with the increased threat of terrorism, Turkey has reached a point where we no longer feel totally safe. The neighbourhood we live in was the location of the most recent attack at Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve and we live within a couple of kilometres of Besiktas football stadium where a car bomb killed more than 40 people just over a month ago.
It’s a difficult feeling to put into words. Turkey has probably been unstable to some extent for as long as I have lived here but there has definitely been a shift recently; a more serious and almost unspoken undertone to daily life. Turks are a resilient people and patriotic to a fault – life goes on here as normal. But, beneath the surface, this is a country that is hurting.
The tourism industry has been decimated. The Turkish lira has gone from 2.3 to 4.0 against the dollar since we moved here. It’s difficult to see an end to the uncertainty right now but I’m sure it will come and I truly hope it comes soon because Turkey, as a country, has so much to offer. The people, in their own unique way, are warm and welcoming, there are famous sites that would take you a lifetime to explore and the coastline rivals anything you would find in Greece.
What is your life like in Istanbul?
We enjoy a good quality of life here. We live in a nice apartment in a relatively quiet neighbourhood – well as quiet as you can get in a city as huge as Istanbul. We live very close to the Bosphorus strait and on some weekends we like to take short boat trips along its banks. When we arrived, we loved the buzz and nightlife in the city. Istanbul never sleeps and you can find a lively get-together on just about any night if that is what you are looking for. Since having a baby, we are more home bodies but we still get out and about most weekends going to our local breakfast cafe (Turkish breakfasts are outstanding), out for dinner, walking to the park or an impromptu gathering at a friend’s house.
What are your future plans?
Right now, it is hiring season on the international school circuit. At the beginning of this year, we decided we would throw out a line and see if there were any opportunities to teach in other countries. We applied to 40 schools on four continents and heard back from a few that interested us. In the end, we received an offer of employment from a school in Dubai that we decided to go with. My wife and I both have family already in the country and it seems like a good place to go with our three-month-old so we will be working there from August.
Do you have any advice for other teachers?
If you are serious about teaching internationally, go for it. It has been a fantastic experience for us so far and we have no regrets. That said, make sure you know what it is you want in a school and a job. Some schools will place huge, unrealistic demands on their teachers. Some schools may be disorganised. Some may be difficult to work for for other reasons. There are also some absolute gems out there so do as much research as you can and remember that a little flexibility and adaptability are the key.