Ever dreamt of an adventure in a city so different to home while adding something meaningful to your travels? Enter Istanbul, the only city in the world to straddle two continents. A cool cosmopolitan city of 13 million people, the European and the Asian mix of cultures define Istanbul in the most intrinsically beautiful way. Often quoted as the most welcoming and friendly city, there are many volunteer projects awaiting your enthusiasm and passion. You’ll be adding significance to the Turkish society as a volunteer in Turkey. Merhaba ve hoşgeldin (hello and welcome).
Popular Ways to Volunteer in Istanbul
The Turkish economy is booming every year and the growth of the city is just as steady. This is accompanied by a surge in projects that need people’s time and love. Most placements do not require experience or specific knowledge — so don’t hesitate and set sail to volunteer in Istanbul!
Popular causes and program types in Istanbul. Speak English and love teaching? There are English teaching placements for you to help young students, children, and women in disadvantaged circumstances. If you love little ones but are looking for something other than teaching, consider organizing games and activities for children. You could also pitch in with community development or consider finding an au pair position as a volunteer in Istanbul.
Summer and short term volunteer programs. Placements are usually short-term and last from as little as two weeks to up three months throughout the year. However, full (or empty) your schedule is, in whichever season, there is a program structure that will fit your timeframe. Short-term volunteer programs in Istanbul are great for those who want to get a taste of Turkey, but also want to make a difference instead of having a standard vaca. In general, we encourage volunteers to stay as long as possible to maximize impact.
Long term volunteer stints. You could also volunteer in Istanbul for longer periods of time — usually between three to six months. However, the choices are more limited for longer-term programs. Programs that are longer are for more serious volunteers who are willing to truly immerse themselves in the culture. Keep in mind the longer you stay, the more likely you are to pick up more Turkish and have deeper understandings of complicated cultural nuances.
Life in Istanbul
Istanbul is a city of a breathtaking mixture of contrasts: old men sitting in crumbling tea houses playing chess next to Starbucks where young women sip lattes in short shorts; a mosque serenely placed down the road from an orthodox church; gleaming shiny malls surrounded by colourful ancient bazaars offering authentic Turkish goods. The more you discover during your time in Istanbul, the more wondrous treasures await you.
With accommodation and transfers included in volunteer placements, the hassle of commute is often obsolete. The public transport system might not be the easiest to understand, but the wide range to choose from (metro, tram, bus, train, metro bus, ferry) make it easy to travel about Istanbul (and beyond) and explore.
Volunteers generally live and work together, meaning, from day one, you’ll meet wonderful multi-cultural friends from all over the world wanting to make the difference to the society. You have each other to navigate the baffling Istanbul maze of streets in Arnavutkoy and to try all the different types of street food the city has to offer.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
As a country practicing several religions, being respectful of the different types and their norms should be observed and studied. On a chattier note, Turkish people are riveted by foreigners’ and their ways of living — expect a lot of probing questions you would otherwise think slightly intrusive back in your home country. They are curious. From whether you’re single, to why you’re single if so, to how much do you earn, so don’t shrink when they throw questions at you. It’s the Turkish way of showering you with interest and affection; they take their hospitality and welcome seriously.
While English is spoken widely throughout the city, there may be instances where this is not always the case. The language block combined with the cultural differences can create a difficult barrier of communication. Not to fret; all it takes is a small phrase book. Easy to buy, easy to carry around, and easy to use. It'll enable you to communicate your thoughts and feel included in the society. As a bonus, you'll leave Istanbul with a basic grasp of the language
Wander around cobbled streets, stamp along to sweet melodies, nibble on street food until dawn, and bask in the sunsets that have seen history change and change again while volunteering in Istanbul. Meet like-minded individuals striving to make the world a better place for everyone and leave Istanbul knowing you have. Embark on a journey guaranteed to be a volunteer experience you'll remember and learn from for decades to come.
Be sure to read our comprehensive guide to volunteering in Turkey too.