Lodged between the Middle East and Europe, Turkey is, in some ways, at odds with itself. While continuously attempting to gain membership in the European Union, characteristics of Middle Eastern culture remain prevalent in Turkye, which is inevitable due to its centralized, geopolitically land-locked location. Internships in Turkey will therefore present very unique cultural environments for interns.
Geography & Demographics
Turkey is a peninsula, surrounded by many gorgeous seas including the Mediterranean and Black Sea. The historical city of Canakkale in the north lies close to its border with the European Bulgaria, and is only a bus ride away from Istanbul. Istanbul itself is split in half by the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which eventually, after many other unnecessary named seas, flows into the Mediterranean). The Bosphorus then separates Istanbul into the Asian side and the European side, terminology that is still used in abundance by Istanbul residents, though really the two sides are equally habitable and bear no real differences.
On the west, Turkey is lined by the aforementioned Mediterranean Sea, in which the Greek Islands are only an hour or two away by boat. The north and the west are thus constantly influenced by their European borders. However, on the east Turkey is bordered by three Middle Eastern countries: Syria, Iraq, and Iran, from which it sees many immigrants flowing into its territories. Just north of the Middle Eastern countries are the relatively silent borders of Georgia and Armenia, also enforced by the lesser range of the Caucasus Mountains.
Although Turkey is a smaller country, its climate changes drastically by region. Generally speaking, it has a temperate climate, with warm summers and cold winters. The Central Anatolian region generally sees harsher climates, getting even hotter in the summer and frigid in the winter. Summers along the coast, in both Antalya and Izmir alike, are hot and sunny; however, the continuous light breeze and zero precipitation make them ideal vacation destinations. Winters, on the other hand, do not get overwhelmingly cold but often see long rainy spells. Samsun, on the Black Sea, has an extremely humid summer, and though not too hot, the humidity is often hard to bear. Its winters are like those in Izmir and Antalya.
Central Anatolia's climate varies remarkably from that of its coastal neighbors. Summer days are quite hot, though with little humidity; but Anatolian summer evenings will become a favorite, as it cools off well and provides a relaxing sleeping environment. Winters there find much precipitation and also a lot of snow, even though most people think it doesn't snow in Turkey! In fact, some of the best skiing in Turkey is in Central Anatolia.
Istanbul however, has a mix of climates. Summers are hot and humid, hovering around 30 degrees Celsius and unfortunately not dropping in the evenings. Winters cool down significantly and the city almost always sees some snowfall in January and February.
When to Visit, What to Pack. As most tourist organizations will say, the best time to travel to Turkey is October and May when the temperatures are no longer sweltering hot, yet a jacket is not quite necessary. If interning in Turkey in those months, it’s important to pack a variety clothes, as layering is important. It will be nine degrees when you wake up, 20 in the afternoon, and 12 by dinner time, in some places. In the summer don't waste anytime packing warm clothes - they are completely useless. Essentially packing for Turkey for a year stay is like packing for many places: warm is warm, cold is cold, bring a little bit of both and get rid of the assumption that Turkey is always hot.
Turkey's population is around 81 million. However, considering the recent crisis in Syria and the influx of immigrants into Turkey, the country is currently much more crowded than the official number. This large population is essentially divided into a few socio-economic groups (please keep in mind that these are generalizations for the purpose of simplifying an intensely more politically complicated situation).
Class. First, it must be divided economically in half: rich and poor. The middle class is very small in Turkey and is practically nonexistent, attaining prevalence only from individual association, and mainly those who do not feel as though they fit into the upper or lower economic classes. Amongst the rich and poor, the rich can be divided into another subset - Muslim and essentially "non-Muslim". The rich Muslims usually have strong political associations and work within the government or other linked subsets. The non-Muslim elite generally have either lived abroad or obtained foreign education, though a small minority maybe have done neither and simply inherited their wealth from their families - a prevalent social method of gaining elitism. Regardless, there is a massive gap between all of these groups, with little mix between them.
Politics & Religion. While the country overall claims to be Muslim, and the current government is also of Islamic origin, the patriotic supporters of Ataturk and his movements remain strong and in many cases have the appearance of overcoming those of the Muslim political supporters. Yet, the president, Erodgan, and his ruling party, AKP, continue to maintain control. While politics are not necessarily demographics, in Turkey, the two are associated quite strongly. One can see many connections between certain areas of Turkey, even within Ankara and Istanbul themselves, and their voting tendencies, which are also generally interconnected with economic and social statues.
Food & Culture
Language. Turkish is not that easy to learn, and for English speakers it’s all backwards, confusing the mind even more. Turkish is of course, a Turkic language. It has cases, which are added onto words and change their function; it also has gender and multiple verb tenses. If planning to intern in Turkey for an extended period of time, it is advised to learn some basic phrases to help you get around, especially if planning to be outside of a metropolitan area. The greatest component to remember about Turkish is that words are pronounced exactly as they look; thus, if one can learn the Turkish alphabet, with all of its funky letters, one can essentially read anything.
In many areas of Istanbul and Ankara English speakers are prevalent and Turks are always willing to help. Most young people now know some English from school lessons, many universities and high schools are taught completely in English, and you may even find opportunities to teach English in Turkey. If all else fails when you are interning in Turkey, you can find someone under the age of 40. If approaching someone with slow broken Turkish, don’t worry; they will understand, give statements of praise and cuteness, and smile at you. However, that unfortunately doesn’t quite mean their rapid, rocket-like five minute response will be understandable. Ask them to slow down; they won’t be able to, but at least five more minutes of processing and comprehension is gained. Then just smile a lot and try to say thank you, teşekkür ederim.
Cuisine. There really is nothing quite better than Turkish food. It is a staple of their culture, and rightfully so. Turkish food is very tasty, with different kebabs, vegetable dishes, soups, and a variety of other traditional meals. Turkish food is generally spicy, but in the flavorful way, and is unlikely to harm any taste buds, but to rather delight them in all ways.
In many restaurants around Turkey meze is the most traditional way to enjoy your meal. Mezes are essentially tapas - or small appetizer like dishes. Most restaurants offer anything from eggplant salad, to a famous dish served with yoghurt and semizotu (translated as pursely, virtually nonexistent in the English speaking world), as well as melon and cheese. Fresh handmade bread is always served with the mezes, which always comes first and should be enjoyed slowly and savored.
During the meal, the traditional alcoholic drink Rakı is also delightful. Rakı is a strong liquor made from grapes and aniseed. Served in special glasses, first a shot or two of Rakı is poured, after which water is added and topped with two ice cubes. Rakı is a big deal in Turkey, even with a recent semi-stifling alcohol ban from the government. It is so popular that books have been written outlining the conventional and correct way to serve and drink it.
After the mezes have been devoured and it seems one’s stomach cannot hold any more deliciousness, the main course is still to come. At seafood restaurants this will be in the form of a variety of fresh fish, chosen by the diner from a display case. At the various kebapçı (translated as “the man who turns meat” - otherwise considered kebab houses), one can choose from a multitude of famous kebabs throughout Turkey, all listed on one menu; kebabs consist of lamb, beef, and chicken. All food is generally ordered for the middle of the table and shared amongst the group. A variety of meat or fish mains are often selected, giving plenty of opportunity to give one’s taste buds an exotic holiday from heaven. Another glass of Rakı is enjoyed throughout the main course, and maybe a few extras for good times.
At the end of the meal, the table settings are changed and complimentary desserts are given. Typically, this is in the form of fresh fruits, varying upon the seasons. Sometimes, when lucky, they will offer a complimentary sweet dessert, like the traditional baklava or dondurmali irmik helvasi, both which cannot be explained but simply must be tasted! They will then provide, again complimentary, unlimited tea or sometimes one Turkish coffee.
A single meal is enough to make your eyes bulge, and its very much worth all of the regretful fullness that later arrives. Of course, this type of meal is found only at certain restaurants; however, it’s very much advised to try one of these places weekly. Furthermore, it is also highly advised to frequent a well-liked restaurant as you will find the complementary items significantly increase. A book could be written about Turkish cuisine, and already has, so its suggested that you read up before visiting if you are so inclined.
Culture. Turks are exceptionally hospitable. They will immediately offer invitations into their homes and upon arrival douse visitors with unlimited food and drinks. Turkish people are extremely social and love to talk, in fact, they are always talking. If they are not talking to their friends over coffee or tea at a cafe, they are talking on their phones. Turks enjoy going out to eat and hanging out at social places, such as restaurants, bars, and clubs, which are full almost every night, even during the week. Although a traditionally Muslim country, Turks run on the same mentality as a traditionally Western one - Sundays are rest days, but sometimes Mondays too. Sundays are noticeably dead in the cities and unusually quiet, with everyone disappearing into their homes.
Currency & Affordability. The Turkish currency is the Turkish Lira (TL). There are bills of different colors, from five to 200. Coins are also a big deal in the TL world, with one Lira coin being the most popular. The TL cents are called Kuruş and range from five, which is pretty much worthless, to 50. The coins are really useful and should be saved, rather than discarded. They can be used to ride public transportation - Dolmuş rides are 2 TL in Ankara, or hoarded to buy Turkish coffee or tea (1 to 2 TL) and cigarettes (5 to 8 TL), which is every Turk’s diet. Turkey is quite cheap, when basing affordability of an American salary; the Turkish price of things are essentially divided in half in comparison to American prices.
Some price examples: shoes are about 300 TL, a dress around 199 TL, a meal at a good, high quality restaurant with maybe three alcoholic drinks runs around 90 TL per person, a bus ride 1.75 TL, and an average 3 bedroom apartment in the good areas of Ankara 350,000 TL. The prices for food and beverages, and pretty much everything but cars, in the villages and smaller cities are cheaper, whereas in big cities and very tourist places plan to pay much more, if not double or triple.
Things to Do
One of the best ways to get truly involved in the culture and amuse yourself on weekends during your internship in Turkey, is to make some great Turkish friends. Turks are very friendly people, and once they meet foreigners their interest perks. They are very curious and will ask many questions about general life in your country, as well as individual opinions of politics and culture. Locals almost always ask for an opinion of their own country because they are genuinely interested in what foreigners think about Turkey. Turks are very patriotic - they love Turkey and Turkish flags can be seen everywhere.
The same patriotism goes for football (soccer), with which Turks are somewhat obsessed. Turkey has four major football teams: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, Trabzonspor, and Beşiktaş, and there are huge rivalries between them. Go watch a match with Turks at a cafe, or even live if possible, during your internship in Turkey but be careful who you cheer for; supporting the wrong team around the wrong people can cause arguments and potential, unnecessary misunderstandings.
In the cities, there are plenty of things to keep you busy when you aren't busy at your internship placement. There are cooking classes in all types of cuisines as well as dance classes in both traditional and foreign dance, for example. Turkey actually has some of the most extensive networks of Tango outside its origin in South America. There are also many great art courses that teach traditional Turkish handicrafts, including pottery and mosaics. Cities host cultural festivals throughout the year, both in music, arts, and other significant areas.