This post is an interview with Nick Jaworski, the blogger behind Turklish TEFL, who has been teaching in Turkey since 2007 and has recently moved to China.
In my very first Zeitguest post I’m delighted to be joined by the marvellous Nick Jaworski, who up until very recently has been living and teaching in Istanbul, Turkey. He has just moved on to Shanghai, China, and has been kind enough to share his thoughts on living in Turkey, getting a job in China and blogging, with particular reference to dogme.
Adam: What brought you to Turkey?
Nick: A lot of things really. When I first decided to leave the US back in 2006, I decided I’d really like to live in a Middle Eastern Islamic country. I had been studying Islam for the past 2 years in university and was intrigued to say the least and decided I wanted to start my journey abroad somewhere in the Middle East.
Turkey was chosen for three reasons. 1) I thought it might be a cross between the Middle East and the West. Being from a small town, and as it was really my first time away from home, I thought a country that was not completely different from my own might be a good idea. 2) They let Americans work there whereas places like Syria and Iran were almost impossible. Gulf States were also out because they often required a doctorate or above. 3) The salary was comfortable and allowed me to send money back home, which I needed to pay off student loans.
A: What have you enjoyed most about your time here?
N: Definitely the travel. I have found Turkish hospitality to be incredible when you are on the road and viewed as a guest. The sheer variety of cultures, history, and landscapes present in Turkey also make it a fabulous country to travel. There is always something interesting to see and someone interesting to talk to. My happiest times were definitely on the road. Travel is also quite cheap, so you can go far with little.
A: Do you think other teachers have similar experiences to yours?
N: Most other teachers I’ve met have not traveled Turkey to anywhere near the extent I have. Also, very few speak Turkish and so rarely get more than the standard tourist experience.
In general, I’d say very few teachers I know have had the same experiences I have had in general in Turkey. Most teachers stay for a short time and exist in primarily expat bubbles, something I’ve found common with ELT globally. Few ever pick up the language, venture much outside of expat areas, or socialize with those other than upper-class more Western-oriented members of Turkish society. I’d say that the majority of expats never get much past the surface level of Turkish culture and living.
A: How was life for your spouse in this country? Did she enjoy Turkey as much as you?
N: Well, as my wife is Turkish, she is very in love with Turkey Before that I did have a long-term American girlfriend who lived with me for several months. For her it was a very bad experience. At the time we lived in a conservative town near Istanbul and she experienced constant harassment from men. It was a very stressful and depressing couple of months. We split up and she vowed never to return.
A: Would you recommend teaching in Turkey, Why?
N: It depends on what experience you are looking for. Turkey still remains one of the few places where you can actually save some money on a teacher‘s salary.
Ultimately though I have not found it very welcoming as a place to live and the conservative nature of the culture was quite difficult for me personally. People staying short-term often have the ability to shrug off issues easier as they see the situation as temporary, so, in that respect, a short stay is far easier I’ve noticed.
Most teachers who tend to live on the European side and spend most of their time with other teachers in the bars and restaurants around Taksim have the most positive outlooks on life in Turkey. If you’re just looking for an interesting and different place to live for a year, that’s probably the way to go.
Also, the majority of schools where you can get employed as a foreigner are pretty bad, so there is little chance to develop or improve as a teacher.
A: You’re moving on to China. What made you finally decide it was time to leave Turkey?
N: This was more up to my wife than me. I would have left quite a long time ago, but she wasn’t ready, so her agreement to move abroad was really the impetus.
A: Can you give us some advice about moving to China, in terms of the bureaucracy involved?
N: The bureaucracy is a mess and can change drastically from city to city and also from consulate to consulate. You really have to plan long term for this. It will take at least 2-3 months from the date of hire to process all your documents for the z-visa. The best advice I can give is consult as many sources as possible on the visa requirements and then do all of them. We only got partial information from the school, visa companies, and even the consulate itself which made things especially problematic and these problems are common. Start as soon as possible and be prepared for delays.
A: Now, about your blog. What inspired you to start?
N: I actually wrote a post about that once. You can find it here.
A: What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own blog?
N: Hmm. Two best pieces of advice I can think of are blog regularly and participate in the community. The greatest benefit I’ve gotten from blogging is from the interaction with other bloggers and it’s also what helps get your blogs name out there.
A: From your blog it’s clear that you are passionate about dogme. How do you feel this approach has worked in Turkey?
N: It has worked incredibly well in Turkey. The students respond very positively to it especially as most of them want a focus on speaking. You get demand for some straight up grammar now and then, which you can throw in to accommodate them, but the majority are very happy with it after the first week or two. Also, the results are great. Definitely the best results I’ve had come from that approach.
A: Do you, at this stage, feel that you’ll be able to stick to your principles in China? Why?
N: At this stage, yes and no. Both in China and within the school I’m working for exist a vast bureaucracy where change seems slow and full of obstacles. My current school is very open to change and very open to input, but the process at which it does this can often be very slow. The biggest issue I have is the difference in pay between foreign and local staff.
The customers, in this case the parents, also have a huge affect on the way the school is run. Originally the school was structured along a strong storytelling/drama approach, but the reaction from parents was not good. A huge amount of market research was done and the curriculum was changed. I love the initial approach, but this is a case where I feel some concessions have to be made for business needs. With adults it’s easy to show the benefits of an approach because they see the results. With parents, they aren’t in the classroom, so they are not so easily swayed regardless of how well the children learn.
Otherwise, my current school is certainly the most serious I have seen regarding education in a long time. Really, almost no expense is spared for the education. There is a very strong focus on integrity and passion to teaching which I also really identify with. I’m very happy to say that I’ve once again found myself at a school I can be proud of.
I hope those you who are considering any of these things have found this as enjoyable as I have. Thanks again to Nick and all the best for your big China adventure. Don’t forget to check out Nick’s blog.