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Monday, 12 November 2007

How I First Came to Turkey

By Pat Temiz who writes a community information website, Fethiye Times, for ex-pats living in southwest Turkey.

I first set foot in Turkey in November 1969. A recently qualified teacher of maths and physics in high school, I had spent the months of June to October 1969 in America, my first journey outside the UK, the ticket being a twenty-first birthday present from my parents. And nothing could have been a greater contrast than then going to Turkey.

The USA was familiar from films and television and, at the same time, so fascinating to explore beneath the visual surface. No language barrier save from the odd howler due to distinctions in usage: my asking my host (a cousin of my mother) to "knock me up at 8AM"; handing out cigarettes with a casual "Would you like a fag?"

But in general it was a wonderful time to be there: the summer of the moon landings and Woodstock. It was also the time of the £50 travel allowance for British travellers, but I was there under the auspices of the British Universities North America Club (BUNAC, still going strong) which gave me a temporary work permit.

My mother's cousin's wife had arranged for me to work as a temporary filing clerk in the insurance company where she was employed in Trenton, New Jersey while I lived with them just over the state line in Pennsylvania. I saved my wages and then flew to San Francisco. There I floated around staying with friends of a friend until, a couple of weeks before my return flight from New York to Manchester with funds once again getting dangerously low, I started work for an agency cleaning and baby-sitting.

I was sent to clean an apartment newly rented by four young women from New York. One of them, who had yet to find a job, followed me around as I worked and explained how she and her friends had all travelled across the continent for free by applying for jobs in San Francisco which paid interview attendance expenses. This method of travelling for free stayed with me.

I returned to England in early October and went to stay with friends in Liverpool in a large flat with a changing population of students and recently qualified teachers. There were no teaching jobs and, having survived six weeks' teaching practice in an inner city Liverpool school earlier that year, I didn't really want to teach in the city.

I saw an advertisement for "Teachers of English as a Foreign Language" in Kabul working for the British Council. Interviews were to be held in London and "all travel expenses will be paid". I thought back to the day in San Francisco and realised I could hitch hike to London, stay with friends and have a few interesting days in the capital using my travel expenses.

I applied for the job. My flatmates were dismissive of this tactic and when a letter duly arrived with "British Council" embossed on the envelope I was made to open it and read it out loud.

"Dear Miss Barton,

"Thank you for your application to teach English as a Foreign Language in Kabul a post for which you are clearly not qualified.

"To a background of hoots of derision from assembled flatmates, I scrunched up the letter and threw it towards the waste bin - I missed, of course. Someone retrieved it, opened it up and said "You should read the second paragraph".

I did.

"However, if you are interested in a post for which you do have the appropriate qualifications, we currently have a vacancy for a teacher of mathematics at the English High School for Girls in Istanbul. If you would like to be interviewed for this post please telephone."

One week later I found myself in a dusty hall in west London with a panel ranged behind tables on the stage above me. I was sitting on the sole wooden chair set out below, where the audience would sit, a space that would have seated a couple of hundred, head tilted back, gazing up at the four people charged with interviewing me for the job in Istanbul.

I had already received generous travel expenses from a rather dizzy young woman in the entrance to the premises, so I didn't really care about the outcome of the interview. Indeed, I recall giving very brief answers to several questions, not my normal approach to conversation, purely to get the thing over and done with so I could return to floating around London visiting a range of friends and acquaintances.

Eventually I was released with a "We shall contact you in the next few days" from the chair of the panel. I had used my parents" address on the job application and, when I hitch-hiked back to Liverpool a few days later, I found a whole list of telephone messages from my mother, all marked "urgent". Of course, I had got the job. I later found out that they had wanted a graduate with teaching experience. I was a college-trained teacher with no experience but, crucially for the English High School for Girls, I was available and I was cheap.

At this point I had no idea where Turkey lay in geographic terms and knew very little about the country itself. I had opted for history over geography at O level and vaguely knew Turkey lay on the overland trail to India (a much travelled route for my generation in the 1960s) and was, presumably, a hot country.

My contract included the cost of shipping a trunk of specified size and, on the morning when Pickford's were due to collect the trunk around noon, a letter from the headmistress of the school arrived. It was a bland "€œlooking forward to your arrival and we all hope you will enjoy working here" - missive with a, for my mother and I, startling postscript. "PS: I do hope you are packing macintosh and wellingtons as the rains are with us now".

The trunk, sitting ready for collection by the front door and filled with light summer clothing, was rapidly emptied and re-packed with winter items. Within the week I also set off for Istanbul.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Wow! What adventures you had. You were very courageous to travel alone and to accept a position in a foreign land with no knowledge of the culture. I do admire you and wish I had had those opportunities when I was young. Travel is my passion, yet I wonder if I would have been brave enough to follow in your footsteps.

I am really enjoying your tales of Turkey.

You were much braver than I was at that age. I wish now that I had been more adventuresome; I would have more interesting tales to tell, like this one!


I really do enjoy your stories of Turkey. You are so adventurous while I have always been so conventional.

You have sent me scurrying to my World Atlas to pinpoint the places that you mention in Turkey; places that I will most probably never see but will have some knowledge of, thanks to you.

Keep sending your stories and we will continue to read and comment on them.

Thank you to everyone for the supportive comments. As to being brave, I was 21 and immortal when I first cameto Turkey. As I approach 60 I doubt I'd relocate quite so quickly. Anyway there will be more stories.

Pat Temiz

Wow! While researching my genealogy I think I just read a hand written note from my grandmother of your same trip to America. I believe you are my second cousin twice removed. Please send me an email so we can connect.

I was a pupil at EHSG and left Turkey in 1969 just as you arrived. I am thrilled to find your website, thank you. I have lovely memories of Istanbul.

How wonderful to hear about EHSG again. I was a pupil there from 1958 to 1964. Whatever happened to the school and the building? I would love to pay it a visit some day. Is there a website for former pupils and teachers? And Pat, are there to be any further stories about your time at EHSG? Can't wait.

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