Jason Barbo is an American who has somehow lived most of his life abroad. As a child he lived in Yemen and found himself visiting many countries. After returning to his home country for a university a education, he studied political science at the University of Virginia, he went to Istanbul, received his teaching certificate and then began teaching there. He's loved it, and hopes to visit many other places before the dreaded specters of marriage or death cut his journeys short. He enjoys reading, writing, drawing, playing backgammon, and walking unfamiliar roads. His current goal is to find the best Kokorec shop in Istanbul.
Why did you decide to teach abroad with LanguageCorps in Istanbul?
When I was a child I had the good fortune to take a vacation in Istanbul with my family. It struck me then as a wonderful, beautiful city and remained that way in my memory and imagination for many years.
There is little to say that has not been said a thousand times about Istanbul, travel brochures already expound on the huge domed mosques, the vast modern shopping malls, and the wonder of the Bosphorus by ferry at night. I was drawn to a place at the crossroads of the world, a fulcrum on which history rested and a meeting point for many cultures. When I found I had the opportunity to return and teach here I did not hesitate, and I have never regretted my decision.
More practically, Turkey's visa process is relatively straightforward and teaching jobs are abundant, particularly if one is willing to live outside of the center of the city.
What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?
Well, obviously the magnificence of the city itself has defined my time here. It is a wonderful place in many small ways, I have learned the simple pleasure of tea in tulip glasses, sipped while perched precariously on tiny stools in a cafe.
However, the great unsung virtue of Turkey is undoubtedly the Turks themselves. They are friendly, welcoming, and outgoing. The citizens of some countries may be prone to view foreigners with distrust and suspicion, but that has never been my experience in Turkey. People are never anything but pleased when they learn they are dealing with a foreigner, even when it means they will have to go out of their way to help me understand an unfamiliar system.
While Istanbul in an undeniably ancient city it feels young, full of life and bustle. It is full of talk of improvement, expansion, enrichment, and modernization. Some parts of Turkey may be described as sleepy, but not Istanbul which almost overflows with vitality.
How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)
I came to Turkey initially for many different reasons, but one of them was a desire to flee what I experienced as the impersonal and materialistic culture of America.
As often happens however, that which I thought I left behind I in fact brought with me. I learned very quickly upon coming here that American culture does not value hospitality, and blinded by my environment neither did I. The Turks do. Coming here, I have been humbled by their wholehearted welcome and unstinting willingness to share their time and money with me. To make a guest feel welcome no cost is too great, no gesture too extravagant.
It is hard to say to what extent I have been changed by the experience, but I very much hope I will leave Istanbul a far wiser man.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering teaching abroad in Istanbul?
I will defy the parameters of this question and give two pieces of advice.
First, there exist many pockets of internationals in this city, and it is often easy as a new arrival to sink into one of them and have only surface relationships with the surrounding nationals. For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has read my other answers, I think this would be a deep mistake. While they do not always know exactly how to approach foreigners they are more than willing to befriend you if you make the offer.
Secondly, through some kind of cultural quirk or poor business modal language schools in Turkey are all chronically poorly managed. This is an inevitable frustration involved in working here. A foreign teacher here has two very simple choices. To rage against and fight the system endlessly or to laugh it off, accept its faults and teach as best you can in the conditions you are provided. The latter path will make you happy, content, and well-liked. The former will not.