We are happy to welcome Christopher Mitchell to our Expat Life Interview Series. He is from Canada, and he has visited 70 countries and has lived in Oslo, Norway, Seoul, South Korea and Istanbul Turkey. Let’s read his expat life experience in Istanbul, Turkey as a travel blogger and teacher.
Relaxing with views of the Galata Tower
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Q: In which city and country are you living now? Did you move there alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Currently I’m living in Istanbul, Turkey with my girlfriend, Briana, who is also from Canada.
Q: How long have you lived there and how long are you planning to stay?
A: I’ve been living in Istanbul for three years, and I’ll be leaving this August, for better or worse.
Q: Why did you move and what do you do?
A: moved to Istanbul to teach at an international school here, as I’m a teacher. However, I also do plenty of other things here. Namely, I’m a travel blogger and photographer, as well as a freelance writer. You can check out my writing at www.travelingmitch.com, or on social media at @travelingmitch. In a shocking turn of events, my Facebook Page is of the same name, travelingmitch.
With my girlfriend Briana in Tallinn, Estonia
Q: Moving from Canada to Istanbul, Turkey, what was your first impression?
A: Well, I had visited Turkey prior to deciding to move there, so I didn’t necessarily have a “first impression,” per se. That being said, when I first arrived I was a bit awe-struck by all that was going on. From an expat perspective, when I first arrived every single night there seemed to be something going on, and that suited my personality pretty darn well, considering I’m seemingly always on the go.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Istanbul? What were some of your favorite experiences in Istanbul?
A: What I enjoy most about Istanbul is the sense of history that envelops the city. Everywhere you go, you’re stumbling across history that you simply couldn’t find in a country like Canada, where I was born.
Q: What do you miss most about home?
A: This is going to sound fairly lame, but I actually miss being able to watch sports at a reasonable hour. I often end up getting my fill of Toronto sports action in the middle of the night, and the novelty of that wears off after a few days, as you can imagine. And, most notably, I miss my friends and family. I love meeting people.
Q: What has been the greatest aspect of your expat experience so far? What are the adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life there?
A: It’s hard to assess what the greatest aspect has been, to be honest. It’s likely been the people that I’ve met here, both Turkish and Expats. There have been some underrated cities that I absolutely adored because of the people (Sarajevo comes to mind), and some cities I didn’t necessarily love because of the people (*cough cough* Paris). So, ultimately it comes down to the people, and I’ve been blessed to really meet some incredible people here. As far as adjustments, there are really too many to pinpoint just a few. It’s a different life in Istanbul in every respect, which I appreciate. I used to live in Oslo, and there perhaps I could isolate just a few things, but in Istanbul, it’s more likely that everything is an adjustment rather than just one or two notable items.
Q: How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country, in terms of cost of living, public transportation and healthcare system?
A: I think the quality of life is higher for the average citizen in Canada, but in my personal situation, it’s entirely possible my quality of life is higher in Turkey. I say that because my salary goes a lot farther here, I have private health insurance so I’m seen quickly at hospitals etc., and the public transportation system in Istanbul is significantly better than Toronto. Basically, I feel as if I’m able to live a comfortable life in Istanbul for the most part, but in Toronto, I’ll likely be struggling quite a bit more financially. Again, I can only speak to my own personal experience here. That being said, there are certainly difficulties I face in Turkey that I don’t in Canada. And, I should note that I absolutely love my hometown, Toronto. I have never been an Expat who left because I was dissatisfied with my hometown or the country I was born in, I just knew that I had to see what the rest of the globe consisted of.
Q: What are the best things to do or places to visit in Turkey?
A: That’s actually fairly difficult to say in Turkey, as there’s simply so much to see. If someone told me they had two weeks here, I’d basically tell them to spend 3-4 nights in Istanbul, then spend the remainder of the time trying to squeeze in Ephesus, Pamukkale, Cappadocia, Fethiye, and Bodrum, if such a thing could be possible within that timeframe. I can think of at least 4-5 other places I’d recommend as well, but that’s for another interview altogether. Make no mistake, Turkey is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet!
Playing sports with kids in San Miguel, Ecuador
Meeting people and making friends
Q: Tell us about your typical day as an expat in Turkey.
A: The beauty of Istanbul is that there really isn’t a “typical day.” You can head down to Sultanahmet for ancient history, Bebek to enjoy the Bosphorus, Galata to feel in the heart of the city, Kadıköy to touch Asian soil or Besiktas for some rowdy modernity. Istanbul is basically like ten cities in one.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? Did you feel you fitted in culturally?
A: Yes, I felt it was fairly easy meeting people and making friends, but I’m naturally a fairly social person, so I’m not sure if I’m the best gauge of how easy it is to fit into a nation. I’m quite sure I’d find friends in rural Siberia if I ended up there for an extended period. My friend group is a pretty fair mix of Turkish and International. I think I’d be remiss to come all this way just to get to know other people who also came all this way, while we proceeded to ignore the people in the city we all came to.
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or go through an agency?
A: Personally, I didn’t have a problem, as my school dealt with it, but I know from friends that it can be quite the process. Bureaucracy, as a rule, does not run particularly smoothly in Turkey. The way to get things done from a bureaucratic perspective is anything but black and white in this city.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Well, there’s certainly more Turkish tea over here during the workday. On a serious note, I think it’s hard to say – I’m of the opinion that the work/life balance in North America is just deeply out of whack, so I’d say that Turkey, like most of the world, approaches work a little more reasonably. Things generally don’t start on time and schedules are pretty fluid, but that’s not a huge issue for me. I don’t want to use this opportunity to go on a diatribe of sorts, but I just feel like in most other nations work is a means to a life, but in North America, it is a life unto itself. It’s worth noting that this trend is changing though, and work does permeate more and more of life everywhere. I’ll be heading back to North America come August, but my deep feelings about this do lead me to believe that I may be suited better for life elsewhere on a potentially lifelong basis, but that, of course, remains to be seen.
Q: What are your tips or advice for anyone looking to live and work in Turkey?
A: Hm. I’m not sure I would, in fact, recommend that someone come and live and work in Istanbul at this time. In the three years I’ve been here, things have become increasingly complicated on a number of levels, and that can be potentially difficult to navigate. Istanbul is my second home, don’t get me wrong, but it is not the easiest city in the world to thrive in, especially not right now. I don’t necessarily want to elaborate on that too much, but I can just say that it’s a city in the midst of an immense change, and it’s worth thinking about whether you feel, as an individual, that you can handle a city in such flux. Yet, I still maintain that Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, and I love it as deeply as one can love a city.
Enjoying the food and drink offerings at an Xmas market in Salzburg
Thank you, Christopher, for taking the time to be part of our Expat Life Interview Series! Christopher Mitchell has embraced the expat lifestyle since 2010 when he studied in Oslo, Norway. Since then, he’s lived in Seoul, South Korea and spent a few years in Istanbul, Turkey. He’s also spent a fair bit of time working in countries like Nicaragua, Ecuador, and India. As you might imagine, being a travel blogger and teacher has been a natural fit for Chris. Though he loves teaching, he now aims to approach travel blogging and freelancing writing on a full-time basis. So far, he’s explored over 70 countries and has visited all the continents not named Antartica. As a rule of thumb, nearly the entirety of the world is on his bucket list. Check out his travel blog www.travelingmitch.com, or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
*All photos are the sole property of the author. They were provided and used with permission for this interview only. Any unauthorized use of these photos is prohibited.
The Expat Life Interview Series was created to know more about the country, not just from a traveler’s perspective. We hope to help others who are thinking of working abroad to know how it is to live and work with the locals. If you are living and working abroad even for only a few months or several years and would like to be featured on Wellington World Travels, please Contact Us so we can send you the questions and share your expat life experience.