Turkey is a land of sun, sea, and coffee. Within an hour’s drive 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.
Any activity that you could possibly want to try, Turkey has. Ever wanted to jump off a cliff? Just head to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara, or Black Sea. Feel a burning need to explore an underground city that is tens of meters below the surface? Head right over to the Cappadocian region and test your capacity for claustrophobia. Turkey is full of adventures waiting for you to discover.
In order to get around the pesky three-month-only visa, try your hand at teaching English. 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 in 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. Face this challenge and learn Turkish! Enrolling in a language program will 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 plenty 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.
Outdoor sports abound in Turkey. You can dive, ski, paraglide, sail, ride a horse, drive an ATV, and fly up in a hot air balloon. Trekking and hikes are common in every region. While some areas are overrun with tourists, you may find yourself the lone outsider in many others. Safely push your limits and make sure to document all of your escapades as you explore all that Turkey has to offer. This is the option for those who are out for adrenaline rushes and the thrill of accomplishment.
With so much to choose from, getting started on your journey can seem daunting. Never fear, no matter what you decide, you can always incorporate different gap year options into your grand plan. Start out with a list of goals that you would like to accomplish. With that done, research the different regions and come up with a few destinations that you simply cannot pass up. Always come up with a budget and try to divvy it up monthly. Depending on what options you choose for your gap year, figure out your travel plans and how feasible it will be to take some time off to see the rest of the country.
Cost of Living
Overall, living in Turkey is cheaper than in the US. 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 huge tip for saving money during your travels. Alcohol is very expensive in Turkey because there is a high alcohol tax. Try to go for local alcohols and take advantage of duty free areas. 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.
Culture and 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 and Safety
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.
There are scams around Istiklal Street in Istanbul where locals will lure unsuspecting tourists into clubs and then slap them with a thousand-dollar bill. Exercise caution and make sure to always ask for menu prices first.
Turkey is a phenomenal country that will suck you in and leave you wanting more. 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.