Turkey: The Best of Both Ancient & Modern

by Dana Carmel Bell

Turkey is an ideal volunteer destination that allows volunteers to travel back in time without sacrificing modern conveniences. It is a place where visitors not only experience unique blending of spices but of Middle Eastern culture and Western influences.

A volunteer in traditional Turkish headwear

Turkey is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia with a small part of the country sitting on the European continent and the majority of it sitting on a region of western Asia known as Anatolia. With its capital in Ankara, Turkey is surrounded by eight countries including Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and an enclave of Azerbaijan. Turkish people are known for their warmth and hospitality, and Turkey itself offers a beautiful and diverse landscape that will give you ample ideas for excursions to discover the country in depth.

Areas Of Need

For the first time in its history, Turkey has recently transitioned to being a majority middle-class country. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s free from social problems as there’s a wide poverty gap in the country. Women are particularly vulnerable due to the enforcement of traditional gender roles fueled by religious dictates. Also, poverty rates amongst those in rural, agricultural areas are particularly high. There are many opportunities to volunteer in the development of these areas as well as teach English while living with local host families.

Religion & Customs

Although most people in Turkey practice Islam, Turkey is a secular country and its constitution promotes religious freedom. However, there are very few Christian churches or Jewish temples in Turkey compared to the number of mosques. Regardless of where you travel in Turkey, you’ll usually hear the azan, or Islamic call to prayer, five times each day. While it’s best for women in Turkey to dress modestly, head scarves are not required. They are actually banned for women working in public offices, and female primary and secondary students.

Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia Turkey

Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia

Rich History

Turkey is an ancient land whose history dates back to thousands of years BC. Around 1200 BC, several Greek cities sprung up along Anatolia’s coast including Ephesus, present-day Izmir, and present-day Istanbul which was once known as Byzantium then Constantinople before its current title. Eventually, Anatolia was taken by the Persians but the conquering did not end there. It was also won by the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. All of these power changes left Turkey with a diverse and rich history, not to mention some extreme and spellbinding architecture. It offers many sites and points of interest from ancient  days of Istanbul, Ephesus, Troy, and Pergamon. Turkey is also known for its resort areas of Antalya, Kusadasi, and Bodrum.

Endless Hospitality

Similar to other Middle Eastern cultures, in Turkey, hospitality is king. Turkish people take pride in welcoming their guests and putting them at ease, and you’ll experience Turkish hospitality firsthand everywhere. Even in a bazaar before haggling with a shopkeeper for a bargain, you’ll usually be offered a cup of tea. Busy restaurants will offer patrons a cup of tea and make additional seating outside in order to offer a welcome whenever possible. Servers will not interrupt an after-dinner conversation to rush people out of the restaurant,  even if it’s closing time. Most will not even bring the check until it is requested.

Galata, Istanbul

Galata, Istanbul

Safety Concerns & Western Ties

Turkey has been a relatively stable country, but some hesitation has been associated with the country because of its close proximity to Syria, Iran, and Iraq. While caution is important, it is important to note that Turkey has had strong ties with the United States for several decades. Additionally, Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations and has been in formal negotiations to join the European Union (EU) since 2005. The United States and Turkey have developed a partnership focused on regional security, the progress of human rights, and economic cooperation.

Volunteer in Turkey now & experience the best of both worlds!