1. How do most children in Turkey live? Do they live in houses?
Turkey is, economically, a highly developed country. The population is almost 79
million of which most live in urban areas (49M), the rest reside in rural areas
around the country and make their living in agriculture or small business. I am
not sure what you mean by “living in houses”….In the urban areas, most of the
population including children with their families live in apartment buildings just
like the big urban cities in North America (Chicago, NYC or Toronto etc.) In the
big cities such as Istanbul (population of 13M) it is a true luxury for anybody to
live in a detached house because it is such an old, congested and historical city,
land is very precious. So the city has grown vertically with huge skyscrapers and
lots and lots of tall residential apartment buildings. There are no slum areas for
poor people that live around these buildings that I have seen in cities such as
Mumbai. The apartment buildings have all the amenities you can imagine and
more…As an example, things we take for granted, gas, electricity, internet,
mobile phones, satellites, WiFi etc. are in every household, on top of this, because
labor is cheaper here, there are also “doormen” for the apartment buildings and
they are in charge of maintaining the building and grocery shopping for the
residents, these people reside at the lowest floor of the buildings rent-free, live
with their families (usually have migrated from rural areas to the urban areas).
Almost every family has a cleaning lady that comes in once a week.
As for children living in rural areas, most of them live in small village houses
with a lot of land to play in. Their amenities are not as rich as the ones in the city
but they all have the basic necessities including TV, phone, and computers. They
all go to school, help their parents in the fields etc. The cities donate a lot of
books to the rural areas. Every teacher and doctor has to do a mandatory service
in these areas (for a limited time) after they graduate. There are hospitals
everywhere, of course the quality of healthcare differs from city and region to
region but their basic healthcare is covered especially for women giving birth. For
serious illnesses, they go to the cities to get help. The infrastructure including
transportation and telecommunications is very advanced across the nation.
The average median age is very young (around 29). The literacy rate is almost
100% and most of the children learn how to read and write within three months
they start elementary school. The first 9 years of education is mandatory and
completely free ( sponsored by the government) There are also of course private
schools but these are very expensive and only those who can afford it actually do
so…Engin’s grandson goes to a school as such because both parents work in
executive jobs. Please note, these are not the richest people, just educated people
that happen to have great jobs. In private schools, they start teaching English at
the age of 4 and continue until they graduate from College. Then there are some
foreign high schools (American, German, French) like the one I graduated from.
(American Academy) In my time, it used to be called American Academy for
Girls, now it is co-ed. These schools have been opened decades ago during World
War 1 so the families of American military could continue with their education.
To get into these schools, first you need to be a really good student (elementary
education) and pass the entrance exam and that your family can afford to pay the
tuition since they are all private. As you might remember both my parents were
teachers and they did afford to send me to one of these schools. The biggest
advantage of these schools of course is one becoming almost bilingual at the age
of 11. They are also very prestigious schools and when one goes on to business
life, they definitely get preference mostly because they are fully bilingual.
Education is very important for the whole population. The government sponsors
all public education including public universities that have been opened decades
ago. So one with ambition might not be able to go to a private school but they can
definitely go on to college and get into a profession they want without having to
pay tuition and end up with student loans. As is the case in a lot of other countries
such as the USA, educational system is still work in progress to make it better and
more effective. As I am now teaching Strategic Marketing to MBA students I
realize it even more how academicians are so far away from real life and it is a
bridge that needs to be built. I am trying hard to contribute to that.
Music is also very important part of the young population and they listen to it a
lot, play a variety of instruments too. In public transportation, almost every young
person has an IPod. It is a very mobile living in the urban areas where everything
is done over the phone (banking, travel reservations, messaging, etc.) What I
thought was interesting is the fact that voice mail is expensive on the phones and
people do not use it but I have never see the amount of SMS messaging as I have
In summary, children, at a very early age, start the educational dilemma and it
continues for years with the aim of achieving a professional status. The only thing
I do not like here and is contrasting to the US is that parents mingle a lot with
their children’s decisions on education. In the US, children have more personal
freedom to do what THEY want to do. Here, family life is everything. Children
live with their families until they get married but even after they are married the
relationship continues deeply and the parents continue to mingle with their lives.
If the parents get sick, it is almost always the children’s duty to take care of their
elderly parents. So it is a life-long relationship…. You always hear men calling
their mothers on their cell to ask them how they are or a daughter and a mother or
a son and a mother walking arm in arm all the time. Having lived in North
America for most of my life, I have forgotten this and it gives me a sweet
sensation. In other words, parent-children relationship is not just a
“Thanksgiving” and “Christmas” affair but is a constant and continuous
2. What type of living situations do they sleep in? Are there a lot of people
crammed into one house? Any homeless children wandering the streets?
First, no there are NO homeless children wandering the streets. If children lose
their parents for some reason or they are abandoned, government takes care of
them in special places that are non-profit organizations and live on donations and
they are sponsored by the government. All these children go through at least the
first 9 years of mandatory education. Poverty is nothing like what I have seen in
the US (remember I lived in the South for 18 years). Yes, there are poor families
(where income is not high and these are usually the people with the least
education) and they live in smaller apartments with less amenities. But there are
NO starving children. Food is pretty cheap here because the country is 100% self-
sufficient to produce its own and they also export a lot. Just as an FYI, 90% of the
world’s hazelnuts that we have in chocolate come from Turkey and so do
almonds, apricots etc. When it comes to nutrition, again it depends on how
educated the parents are as they are raising their kids. The poorer you are the
more you rely on carbohydrate-based foods (for bread and such foods are very
cheap). But then fresh produce is also not very expensive for it is all produced
locally. Since the country is a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, fish
is also abundant but not very cheap for some reason. Meat prices have been going
up because a big portion of the population living in rural areas and raising cattle is
migrating to the big cities for more money (a big socio-economic problem). The
Ministry of Health communicates to the whole population about the importance of
good nutrition all the time.
Sometimes you see beggars on the streets with their kids by their side. These are
mostly roaming gypsies (originate in Romania). In summary, children live with
their parents at all times, abandoned children are taken care of by the Government
but they all have the opportunity to an education and it is mandatory for them. As
the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic nearing, the Government has a
major project of making ALL schools completely “digitalized” and have put up a
big RFP on it. As for living quarters, again it depends on how many kids there are
in a family, the more educated families have on the average two children, other
will probably have 3 or four or more and most of the time kids have their own
rooms although the word “privacy” does not exist in Turkish language!
3. For those children, how do you think where they live affects how they live?
Nutrition, sleep, clothing, money, etc.
In rural areas, they play outside. As you can imagine, soccer is a big event and
just like the kids who play hockey on the streets in Canada, in Turkey they play
soccer on the streets and in the parks of urban areas. Earning money is a big
worry in their minds. They know that it will get them the education they want. As
for basic needs such as clothing….No issues there… Summer is great since it is
long and warm. In winter, there are some kids that might not be able to afford
really warm coats but somebody always donates to them along with shoes and
socks. Recycling of clothing from family to family is very common. All kids have
a shelter, a roof over their head, school to go to and food to eat. The quality of
these depends on the income of their families. In middle class and higher income
families, children are digitalized and spend a lot of time playing digital games.
Unfortunately, what I see is reading less and less books because of it in the urban
areas. But books are easily available to them through schools and public libraries.
Kids approaching 12 and 13 try to do little entrepreneurship here and there to
make a few bucks to get what they want such as a good cell phone or a tablet. The
ones that live in the cities go to the south for a vacation by the Mediterranean or
the Aegean Coast during their spring break with their families. A lot of middle
class families own a resort home by the water in the south of the country. In rural
areas, they spend most of their summer vacation helping their parents in the
fields. The biggest challenge kids face in Turkey is when they finish high school
and ready to go to college. They have a central examination system which is very
competitive. They start preparing for this 2-3 years before the exam date. It is
probably one single most stressful event in their lives. This also costs them a lot
of money because most of the families hire private tutors to prepare for the exam.
4. How would their lives be different if they moved somewhere else? Perhaps
In my opinion, if you would take some of these kids to the US, the biggest
differences would be:
1. Better traffic ( in general) – this is more about obeying the rules than the
2. More privacy in their own space
3. Ability to become fully bilingual
4. Learn how to be a good entrepreneur
5. Less political stress
6. Better environment to develop their own vision in life and plan for it on their
My students always ask me about the US. I tell them as it is. I try to explain to
them that general population face similar difficulties in life (economic, political
and social). However, there are some big differences. In the US, young children,
or students do not heavily get involved in politics (maybe every four years). In
Turkey, because of its very strategic geographic location, there can be problems
emerging any time. In the US, most children are removed from world’s problems.
Turkey is very involved in what is going on around the world. With its
relationship to the European Union, its relationship to the Middle Eastern
countries, the issues in the Middle Eastern countries, its trade leadership in
Eastern Europe, it has to play a very careful game. The country is always on the
defense and has a huge military budget. It has the second largest army in NATO
after the USA. The neighboring countries are not always friendly. Against the
belief of a lot of foreigners, the best relationship Turkey has is with Greece with
which it shares a tremendous history. This kind of environment, I believe, brings
them even closer to their families where they feel protected and safe. On the other
hand, this kind approach is very detrimental to analytical and creative thinking
when they rely on their parents’ judgment. During my first class, I asked the
students what their vision in life was. Having a vision is the only way you can
succeed in life to figure out what your road map will be (Marketing 101).
Remember Alice in Wonderland where the cat says to Alice, “if you do not know
where you are going, it does not matter how you get there”. To my surprise, they
could not come up with a real vision at all. Their daily living is a constant battle
of assuring good education, overcoming economic obstacles, and becoming a
“good” person as their parents want. I have never experienced this much desire
for education among young population when I lived in the US. All these worries
are preventing them to become fully independent thinkers. I see this as a problem.
Further, as a major revenue source for the country, tourism industry is very
important and employs thousands of young students during peak seasons. Service
industry is vital for economic growth.
4. Is the war against Syria affecting them? How?
Well, I do not believe it is affecting them now. Maybe in the bordering cities, they
might be more aware of what is going on because of all the refugee camps set up
for families running away from Syria. However, as I hear on the news, the
population in the cities bordering Syria where the camps are set up, local
population is set to be very disturbed and have reached out to security forces and
the military to protect them from the Syrians as they use the camps to get into
Turkey. So it is a threat! If one day, there is a real war (I hope not) then it will
affect all population. Every bordering town poses some kind of a threat to Turkey.
The most important threat of terrorism is along the Iraqi border with the Kurds.
There are constant killings of the military staff and of course of the terrorists all
the time and young children are under this stress at all times not just for
themselves but for their families too.
Its geographical location is always a source for stress. As you probably know,
Asia and Europe border passes through Istanbul. One side of the city is Europe,
the other side is Asia. When you drive from one side to the other over the two
magnificent bridges, you see the signs of “Welcome to Europe” or “Welcome to
Asia”. I love that about Istanbul. Therefore, it is very cosmopolitan. There is
migration from the new countries emerging from the break- down of Russia.
Turkey is also a leader as the biggest trading partner with these countries (similar
to US and Canada).
98% of the population belongs to Islam religion. But the kids do not get involved
with religion in a public way as is the case in the US where they go to Sunday
services every week. Religion is very personal. Turks are very proud of being
“secular”. Young people are also very fashion conscious and are in love with
“labels”. They always try to wear specific brands at all times. However, almost all
schools (public and private) have uniforms.