Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Living and Working in Bursa

I’m often asked what it’s like living and working in Turkey, particularly what it’s like living in Bursa. Many people want to know about the cost of living in Bursa, how difficult is finding a job and what the quality of life is like in Bursa. I’ll try to cover as much as possible without boring you too much. After all, there are many blogs out there with many different views about living and working in Turkey, the following is my opinion.

First and foremost, I live in Turkey to be with my wife, Duygu. We came here to be near her family and friends and to travel. Working comes second. Since I am a foreigner and my Turkish skills are mediocre at best, I am limited with what I can do to earn money. Naturally, since English is my native language, I chose to teach. There may be some international companies out there that would hire me as is, but it’s all about who you know here and I don’t know many people—yet. I could work in the tourism sector but I am just getting to know the country. It really all boils down to the fact that I am not fluent in Turkish. Once my Turkish improves, I do believe that doors will open.

When it comes to teaching English, there are many private K-12 schools, as well as private language schools. Not all schools are created equally. Some offer housing, some do not. Some will employ you under the table (illegally), others will work with you to secure a legal residency and work permit while in Turkey. My advice to you is that you: stay far away from schools that are not willing to employ you legally. You do not want to face the consequences from the Turkish government if you get caught working illegally.

If you end up working for a private K-12 school, you will typically work a 9-5 schedule with occasional Saturdays—the number of Saturdays depends on your school. If you work for a language school, be prepared to work evenings and weekends, when most people are out of school or not working. The pay is similar between the two for starting teachers with more reputable private K-12 schools typically paying a bit more.  

Bursa is a nice city and is located 2 hours away from Istanbul by ferry. It claims to be the 4th largest city in Turkey after Izmir. The air is fresh, we are near the sea in Mudanya and Mt. Uludag is about 45 minutes from the city center for skiing and other outdoor activities. On the other hand, Bursa is a conservative city. When compared to Istanbul the nightlife here is pretty much non-existent. There are some bars and cafes that you can visit to have a drink and relax, but in the winter, be prepared to make a reservation to go to a Red Robin/Applebee’s style restaurant to eat and drink on Friday and Saturday nights.

Rent in Bursa can be as low as 450 lira per month in the older city center, all the way up to 1200 lira or more for newer places located in trendy new neighborhoods. On Average, expect to rent a 2 bedroom, decent and clean place for around 800 lira.

Like the rest of Turkey, Bursa is relatively inexpensive compared to the US and most of Europe. Meats, electronics, cars and gas tend to be more expensive as these items are considered luxury items by the Turkish Government and are usually taxed accordingly.

If you’re on the fence about coming to Bursa, I would say go for it! It truly is a lovely place to live and work.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Family Life

Moving to Turkey has been a massive life changing event. I couldn't have done it with out the help of a few very important people here in Turkey. I've talked about the value of friends in previous posts, but this time I will focus on family--specifically, Duygu's family.

Photo from my first visit to Turkey. Grandma, me, Ozgur, Ayse, Umran & Duygu
I met pretty much the whole family when I first came to Turkey almost 7 years ago. I was lucky as they liked me from the beginning. They did have some reservations about the idea of Duygu marrying a foreigner, but once they had the opportunity to meet me in person, I think that they knew that their daughter/niece/sister/cousin was in good hands.
When we first moved to Turkey, we stayed with Duygu's mom for about 11 months. She was extremely helpful! She loved having Duygu home again after a 5 year absence. Duygu's mom often made dinner for us after work, did our laundry and many other things to help adjust to life in Turkey. Umran surely made life easier on us for the first year we were here.

Duygu's mom, Umran & Duygu
Ayse and Duru
Duygu's brother, Ozgur, and his wife Ayse were helpful, too. Honestly, I am not sure how how we would have survived without the help of Ozgur and his family. He has taken me to doctor appointments, helped getting cell phones & internet up and running and many, many other things. Oh yeah, Ozgur and Ayse have the most beautiful 6 year old girl, Duru. See for yourself below.

Duru, Ozgur and me

There have been many other family members that have helped along the way, too. Whether they meet up with us for a coffee, join them for a fun night of karaoke, or give us a ride to an important appoint, they have contributed to our transition more than they could ever know. Below, I'll introduce you to a few other family members.

The photo on the left is of Duygu's grandma,  Aunt Nurdan, Umran, Cousin Gizem, Uncle Salih and Duygu. Nurdan, Gizem and Salih all speak English well. It's because of them that my Turkish sucks. :)

Last year we attended a family wedding where we met up with Duygu's cousins Esra, Fulya and Gizem. Duygu is on the right.

On the left is me, Gizem and Duygu. Duygu doesn't have a sister, but she has her cousin, Gizem. Duygu and Gizem grew up together very closely, with Gizem often finishing her own ice cream quickly, then stealing Duygu's.

On the right, Duygu is posing with her cousins Ozlem and Arzu. On the left is Inci and I. Inci, Ozlem and Arzu are sisters. They are very fun to hang out with!

I'll finish with the photo below of a dinner we had at Ozgur's house. In the photo below, you will find me, Ozgur, Ayse's mom, Ayse's sister Hulya, Ayse's brother, Ayse's brother's wife and of course, Duru.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Renewing an American Passport in Istanbul, Turkey 101

I recently paid a visit to the US Consulate in Istanbul. My passport will expire next March and I will not have much time before then to start the renewal, so I started early. This is the my second visit the the American Consulate in Istanbul. I visited the consulate six and a half years ago when I got married. The Turkish government required a form from the consulate stating I was eligible for marriage. Just like the first time I visited the consulate, the process for a passport renewal was a breeze.

The American Consulate has an in-depth process of the passport renewal process on their web page here. I'll take a moment to describe my experience
at the consulate. First of all, you must have an appointment. You can make an appointment online via the consulates website. I booked my appointment a week before coming to Istanbul and there were few openings available. If you are like me, and you have your valid, unaltered passport in hand, then you will only have to bring the following to your appointment: original passport, one passport photo, a photocopy of the bio page found in your passport and the completed DS-82 form.

The actual process for me only took 4 or 5 minutes as I had prepared everything before hand. Unfortunately, I waited about 30 minutes for the previous appointments to finish up. Since the office was air conditioned, I didn't mind.

After paying $110.00 on my American Visa card, then 15 Turkish Lira for UPS to ship the new passport to my school, I was finished. Super easy!

The American Consulate Istanbul
The American Consulate in Istanbul is massive! After you enter the first door, you must leave all electronics at the front desk, including cell phones. I found my way to the American services section quite easily. I was given a number and was asked to sit in the American Citizen waiting room. The area where non American Citizens wait is pretty large. I think I counted 8 or 9 windows where consulate staff were actively working with Turks and I assume many other people from all over the world.

I understand that the US does not make it easy for Turks to receive visas to visit the US. As a result, many of the people that I saw appeared as if they were going in for a job interview. Most everyone was very well dressed, well organized and I'm sure had butterflies in their tummy. The consulate doesn't do a very good job about putting people at ease. With the 3 inch thick bullet proof glass and the fact that there is ZERO privacy, I would feel a bit nervous about the whole experience, too.

In the end, I would say that the process of renewing your passport in person is very easy. I do know that one may renew their passport by mail, but since I didn't want to go through the process of getting a cashiers check from my Turkish bank and fumble with the mail, I figured an in-person visit would be easier. Plus, it was an excuse to visit Istanbul for a few days!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Turkish Friends

One of the greatest things about moving to a new country are the new people you meet and the friends you make. I wanted to take a moment to introduce a few of our friends. By the way, I don't have pictures of all of our new friends in Turkey. If you don't see yourself, it means I don't have your picture--it doesn't mean your'e not my friend :)

Our couch surfers from Belgium Berengere and Mathieu

Our pal, Armagan Bay

Our American friend Max and Elis

Elsa and Duygu

Basim visited us in Turkey
Secil and her cousin

Aziz the dizease!

Naz, Gamze and Emra

Duygu and Pinar Cift Pinar

Gozde and Kenan

Kaan and I

Mr. Taner Taneroglu

Rana and Ali


Serhat Abi

Gokce the Witch

Zeynep and Celal

Orkide and Duygu

Berk, Duygu and Onur

Mr. Mann and Duygu


Didem and Mert


I'll have a new post soon introducing you to my Turkish family!

Dumpsters in Istanbul

While visiting our friends Mert and Didem in Istanbul's Yesilkoy neighborhood, we came across some beautiful and different art. Everyone knows what a dumpster looks like and how unappealing they are to the eye, but take a look at some beautiful creations I came across. Enjoy:)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Contacting Turkish Companies in English

Since my summer vacation is coming to an end, I realized I had so much to do with so little time. I needed to call the bank, set up Digiturk (Turkey's satalite TV), call TTNET (my ISP), Vodafone Turkey (my cell company) and do some other odd chores. This post will focus on the English services that various companies offer over the phone.

Let's start with Garanti Bank. I bank with Garanti because my salary is directly deposited to the bank. After receiving my new credit card, I had some questions about the card so I called the bank. In the US, when you call a company to speak with a customer service rep, you almost always hear an option for Spanish speakers. Well in Turkey, it's the same think except the option isn't for Spanish, it's for English. The English speakers with Garanti are very helpful and their English is clear and easily understandable. While they aren't always the most knowledgeable staffers, I can easily communicate with them.

Digiturk is one of Turkey's most popular satellite TV providers. I chose to go with Digiturk because they offer many channels in English. Our monthly service is cheap, too. We will pay 27 Lira a month for one year. We have HD channels and approximately 26 channels in English. I called Digiturk to request the service at our home and just like Garanti, they have an option for English. I've found the English speaking customer service reps on the phone to be very helpful and I can easily understand their English. One strange thing is that Digiturk does not have an English website which surprises me because there are thousands of English speaking potential customers in Turkey that they could potentially tap into. I was pleasantly surprised to hear an English option when I called them.

TTNET, my ISP, also does not have an English website. I did find their English speaking reps on the phone to be helpful. I once had a technical issue that required follow-up with their technical service department. I was informed that I would be contacted shortly by an English speaking tech. Sure enough, someone called within an hour and helped me with my problem.

Vodafone in huge in Europe and many countries around the world. According to Wikipedia, they are the second largest mobile telecommunication companies in the world. Unfortunately, they too, do not have a website in English for residents of Turkey. Luckily, like the other companies I've talked about, they have pretty good English speaking call center staff. While the English speaker from Vodafone was the most difficult communication I experienced, I was able to call and get answers to my questions. They helped me out.

I'm sure there are many other companies in Turkey that offer English speaking services to English speaking residents in Turkey. I've found that most governmental agencies do not have English services. Luckily, my Turkish wife is by my side to help me when I'm in a bind.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Banking with Garanti

The Garanti bank logo.
I want to share an experience I recently had with my Turkish bank, Garanti. First off, I want to note that I do not bank with Garanti by choice. Since my employer directly deposits my salary to Garanti, I'm kind of stuck with them. Now, I know what your thinking: I could easily open an account somewhere else and transfer my salary from my Garanti account to the bank of my choice, but I don't want to go through that every month.

If you ask around, most folks will say that Garanti is a good bank and the fact is, Garanti is the bank of choice for many Turks. I haven't had to deal with them very much except for the occasional phone call and the initial set up of my account. For nearly a year I just had a checking account with a MasterCard debit card. Garanti offers excellent online banking in English and if you call Garanti on the phone, most services are offered in English.

A typical Garanti ATM.
One more thing you should know about me before I get into this story. Before moving to Turkey, I worked at one of the largest credit unions in the US for nearly ten years :)

I decided that I wanted to get a Turkish credit card. A lot of Turks I know pay for just about everything with their credit card and every year or two, they rack up enough miles to fly to Europe, for example. I wanted to take advantage of those benefits, too. I consulted with a former Garanti branch manager about getting a credit card from the bank. She said it was pretty straight forward. I needed to visit my bank branch with my passport and residence permit, sign a few documents and I would be on my way. As it turns out, it wasn't quite that easy.

A few months ago, I left work a bit early to visit the bank with all the required documents. Since it was during working hours, I was forced to go by myself without the help of a Turkish speaker. I figured that  I would easily be able to request a credit card by myself with my little Turkish and I would be in and out in a short amount of time.

So, I go into the branch, take my number and have a seat. I was ready to scrap the idea after waiting 30 minutes, but then my number was called. I sat down with the banker--who apparently was having a bad day--and expressed my interest in obtaining a credit card. I could tell she didn't really know what to with me as I am a foreigner and the rules for foreigners are different. She left her desk to consult with someone else for about 5 minutes, then she returned. She told me that since I am a foreigner, I am ineligible to have a credit card in my own name and that I would have to find a guarantor. I knew this information mustn't be correct, but since I couldn't explain that in Turkish, I left the bank--defeated.

About 4 weeks ago, I went back to the same branch, this time armed with my Turkish wife. We took a number, sat down, and was called to the rep about 30 minutes later. This time, the gal helping us was a different person who recently returned to work from maternity leave. Duygu explained that I wanted a credit card and that I had been in once before, but was told I needed to come back with a guarantor. The nice Garanti rep wasn't exactly sure of the process. At first, before calling anyone to find out, she said that since I was a foreigner, I was only eligible for a secured credit card. Then, she suggested Duygu get the card in her name and order a spare card for me. At that point, she decided to call someone to find out the exact process. It turns out that even though I am a foreigner, I am eligible for a credit card because my salary is deposited to Garanti!

After all the misinformation and all the waiting, I could get a credit card! The customer service rep went to the printer and picked up a stack of paper that I assumed was the card agreement. The stack was quite large--114 pages to be exact. She then instructed me to sign every single page of the card agreement! I was shocked...I thought she was joking because even as she instructed me to sign every page, she was laughing! She said Turks just need to sign a page or two, but foreigners have to sign everything.
This is the first 114 pages.

After signing 114 pages, she brought over 25 more pages for signing. Once finished, she said that everything would be submitted and I should get the card in a few weeks. Fast forward 3 weeks, and I've got my Miles and Smiles card.

So in the end, if you are a foreigner living in Turkey and your salary is being deposited to the bank, you can get a credit card. Just be ready for dealing with wrong information, long waits and in some cases, poorly trained staff.

My card finally arrives!