At the end of 2017 and after a hefty round of interviews and sending off what felt like my 100th application to graduate positions in London, I came across a traineeship opportunity in Istanbul with an ASAP start date and, thinking nothing would come of it, sent off an application. Less than two weeks later I was on a plane to the transcontinental city, ready to embark on what was to be a rich and memorable 6 months of my life.
Starting at a Start-up
After graduating with a BA in summer 2016 and completing two internships, I started a tedious application process which seemed to persist with no end in sight. I was qualified and experienced, but I hadn’t anticipated just how much of a competitive market it was. I was fortunate enough to come across the opportunity at Axcel and following a smooth interview round, I took what was probably one of the most spontaneous decisions of my life to move to a foreign country alone. I was originally hired to work as a digital marketer for the school, having worked in the field for one of my internships. With Axcel being a start-up ran by a small team, however, I soon learnt that the role required much more flexibility than was expected. During one of the student open days prior to the start of the academic year, for example, the input of the whole team was required, and I was asked to deliver a taster English language session. The managers, having noticed that I had a knack for engaging students and a creative way of presenting, decided they wanted to have me on board as one of their English teachers. Considering I had previous teaching experience, I knew I would enjoy doing so and I took up the offer. I ended up teaching the curriculum alongside my marketing activity. Looking back, this was probably one of the highlights of my time at Axcel and is something I now boast about on applications; adaptability and flexibility were two skills I learnt quickly on the role.
As I got into teaching, I was given the opportunity to design my own classes form scratch so long as it remained in line with the curriculum. I thoroughly enjoyed this because it gave me room to explore my own creativity and to be independent with lessons. I used my own methods and delivered the lessons in my own style. I also found that because I was teaching adults, I was able to be more on par with their level of thinking and tailor material to suit & engage their interests more easily which lead to a much stronger bond with the students. To up my game, I also worked towards completing an online TEFL qualification in my own time; which meant I was fortunate to have extra resources to depend on in the process.
Beyond the nature of the role itself, the levels of enjoyment you get out of your work experiences are often defined by the people you work with. This rings even more true in a start-up environment where the team is bound to be pretty small. Whilst I enjoyed the independence I was given in class and the creativity I got to show working on the marketing projects, it was really the bond shared with both the team and the students I taught that made the experience. Despite us all having our own ‘official’ roles, in the grand scheme of things it fell down to us being able to cooperate and put in some team spirit to share responsibility for the effective running of the Academy. So really, it ended up being more like a tight-knit work family than anything else! Even the students knew the staff members by name and got to know us each on individual levels, which added to their sense of belonging, particularly considering they’d travelled miles away from home and left all that was familiar behind.
Living in the Bull
Travelling alone to Istanbul so spontaneously as a single female didn’t exactly come without its challenges. Although work life was accommodating and smooth, it was up to me to find a work/life balance and to make my own life in the city, which I was keen on doing. When visiting Turkey, one thing you will notice is that English is not widely spoken, something the country’s nationalistic citizens are brazenly proud of (fair play to them). This was also made more difficult by the fact that Axcel is situated on the outskirts of Istanbul, so we were not exactly in the central buzz of things (although you will soon realise this is a good thing because being right in the midst of a 15 mill population on the weekends can get pretty hectic). Whilst these did make things more difficult, living in the social media age made things easier for me, and Istanbul, being the country’s half-European hot spot, was home to a lot of expat communities. So, being as cautious as I can, I relied on Facebook to connect with international groups, through which I met some great people with whom I got to explore the big city with. Fortunately for me, these people became lifelong friends and made the experience one hundred times more memorable. As a city, Istanbul is remarkably unique and possesses a vibrant mix of history-meets-modernity which was quite honestly quite magical. And its transport infrastructure is superb, so travel was not an issue. Not to brag, but try out a sunset boat ride across the Bosporus and you will know exactly what I mean… words won’t do it justice.
In all honesty, the reality is that a short blog post can never truly reflect all the intricacies of my experience. It really was just a fabulous time in my life. I found it to be one of the most independent periods of my young adulthood both professionally and personally. The nature of the role pushed me to be flexible and open-minded, and alongside the fact that I had to completely rely on myself to establish my own life and get out of my comfort zone, I felt as if I really grew as a person. I was treated like a valuable member of the team and felt like I had an impact on the educational development of the students, with whom I formed great bonds with. Had it not been for the fact I was to start my Master’s in September, I would have stayed on much longer. I came home with some fond memories, far too many photos and a lot to brag about on my CV.
S. E., MSC INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS – UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL