Turkey is a land of sun, sea, and coffee. You can go from hitting snowy slopes to warming up on the golden sands of the Mediterranean. While you can get lost wandering through ancient city streets, friendly locals will make sure you are never far from honey-sweet baklava and a game of backgammon.
If you're thinking of spending your gap year in Turkey, get ready for the experience of a lifetime. Turkey is full of opportunities for cultural immersion and adventure, and even one year -- or 10 -- will leave you feeling like you've just scratched the surface. To plan all or part of your gap year in Turkey, read on to learn the types of gap year programs you can choose, what life is like in Turkey, and how to make the most of your gap year in this diverse, continent-spanning destination.
Types of Gap Year Programs in Turkey
Any activity that you could possibly want to try, Turkey has it! Ever wanted to go cliff diving? Just head to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara, or the Black Sea. Feel a burning need to explore an underground city? Head right over to the Cappadocian region and test your capacity for claustrophobia. Turkey is full of adventures waiting for you to discover, and a gap year is a perfect time to have those experiences.
If you want to have a more structured gap year experience, there are good options to provide you with that structure (and maybe some income) as well as the freedom to explore during your time in Turkey. Here's a quick breakdown.
In order to get around the pesky three-month-only tourist visa, try your hand at teaching English in Turkey. You can apply to the public school system, private boarding schools, or language schools. If you do not have an education degree, your best bet as a native English speaker is to get a TEFL or TESOL certificate which will give you the credentials to be a viable candidate.
There are in-country courses which will help you with job placement. These are usually concentrated around Istanbul and Ankara with placements that cover the entire country. The benefit of this option is that you can use school breaks to travel.
Turkish is a beautiful language but also exceedingly difficult. Enrolling in a language program will help you master the intricacies, and will also provide you with a one-year student visa and residency permit.
It will also allow you to learn Turkish culture in a way that most people do not experience. This option opens up a whole realm of new friendships and provides a leg-up while haggling in the numerous bazaars that populate every city. There are language centers all around the country but you will find the most comprehensive programs in Istanbul, Ankara, and the Izmir region.
There are lots of volunteer opportunities in Turkey. These range from language exchanges to farming to cultural preservation. With archeological sites popping up all around the country (Pluto’s Gate was just discovered in south-western Turkey), volunteers are needed to help with digs and to aid in minimizing environmental spillover. This option really allows you to explore the historical centers of Turkey.
Other Tips on Planning Your Gap Year in Turkey
With so much to choose from, getting started on your journey can seem daunting. Depending on which programs or activities you choose for your gap year in Turkey, you can figure out your travel plans and how feasible it will be to take some time off to see the rest of the country. It's also worth keeping some of the following issues in mind.
Cost of Living During Your Gap Year
Overall, living in Turkey is cheaper than in the U.S., which will help you save a bit during your gap year. Fresh vegetables and fruit are quite inexpensive, especially when purchased in outdoor markets. They are sold by weight and local produce will only run you about a dollar for a kilo. This is a huge tip for saving money during your travels.
Meals can range from a couple of dollars to hundreds depending on the restaurant. Take the time to look for hole-in-the-wall family-run joints since they are better quality for a lower cost. Rent tends to be cheaper and you can find a range that goes from a couple of hundred dollars a month to upwards of a thousand.
Turkish Culture & Etiquette
While the population is 99% Muslim, Turkey has a secular government. If you go into a mosque, make sure to have your shoulders and legs covered. Most mosques will provide scarves for you to drape around yourself if you are dressed indecently.
Turks are very friendly and people will often lead you directly to where you need to go if you ask for directions. They also love children and are not uncomfortable about approaching babies in order to exclaim over their cuteness.
Çay, Turkish black tea, is a way of life. It is pronounced chai and you will often see people clustered outside playing a game of backgammon while drinking it. Don’t be fooled by apple tea. That is a powder concoction made for tourists who didn’t like the bitterness of the black tea.
Health & Safety
Over the past several years, Turkey has made headlines several times as a result of political instability... but most areas of Turkey are generally safe, and most of these issues are overstated in the news. Turkey is a generally safe place, but watch out for pickpockets in the crowded areas of tourist destinations. Keep an eye on your wallet and purse and make sure to leave your passport in a safe place. It's also a good idea to enroll in the U.S. State Department STEP program before your gap year, including for your time in Turkey.
Turkey is a phenomenal country that will suck you in and leave you wanting more -- long after your gap year is over. Spanning two continents, this is a wonderful way to explore east and west, European and Middle Eastern. Whether you are hooked on the food, the culture, or the activities, if you choose to spend your gap year here, you won’t want to leave. Home to thousands of ruins, countless types of baklava, and a whole host of outdoor adventures, you won’t regret taking the plunge.