One definition of existentialism is that it’s a loathing of repetition. This has stuck with me over the years, as I’ve tried over and over again to prove that the grass IS actually greener on the other side of the fence. Thus, I started out on one path in university before taking a four-year break to save money for a backpacking excursion around Europe. Returning home 6 months later, I chose a different academic road, eventually graduating with a degree in Literature. I lived in Toronto for 12 years before moving to Istanbul and although I love it here, I yearn to see the rest of the world. After 27 years in the same place – even a city as vibrant and exciting as Istanbul – everything is starting to feel a bit “samey” again.


I first recognized my low tolerance for repetitiveness in the early 90s after graduating from university. I worked as a temp at the Cantel corporation in Toronto for almost 3 years before I managed to achieve escape velocity and move to Turkey. The thing that got to me was watching the office decorations go up year after year: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and New Years, Valentine’s Day, etc. Wash, rinse, repeat. The same decorations in the same places. The same forced enthusiasm and strained bonhomie. Attending the succession of holidays was the sports seasons, which also revolved with stifling regularity: football, hockey, basketball, and baseball, again and again, with the same disappointment every season when the home team lost the trophy that always seemed just within reach – until it wasn’t. It was obvious that I needed a change of scenery. My 6 months in Europe had only whetted my appetite for adventure.


Moving to Istanbul was like an elixir of youth for me. Everything was new: the language, the food and culture, the religion, accommodation, friendships, job, and before long, a wife and child. I felt like I was in my 20s again. And yet, though I’ve hardly mastered the language and I am still sometimes flummoxed by the culture and characteristics of the lovely people in this amazing country, I feel the same dread of repetition seeping into my soul. The same holidays on endless replay. A different sports focus (soccer/football and basketball) but the same seasonal tournaments year after year. The same food (it’s getting more varied though, with more international cuisine), and the same job. Most people are reassured by the passage of seasons and look forward to their religious holidays and cultural festivities, but it sure gets old quickly for me. Which brings me to my final point.


I am under no illusion that moving to China, Singapore, or Bahrain will cure the existential angst in my pants. I’d most certainly be doing the same job and I’d most likely pick up enough of the language to make my way. And before long I’d probably start to notice that the same festivals were being celebrated year after year and to top it off, I’d have to feign an interest in some incomprehensible sport like cricket.  No, I realize that the reason for my angst is in my own head and no amount of traveling is going to slake my thirst for change. Not until I have achieved some sort of peace inside me will I truly understand that you can know the whole world from your own backyard. On the other hand, maybe my wife and I will join our son in Spain in two years when he goes there to do his Masters.

Michael Wray

Hi, My name's Michael. I'm a writer/illustrator working as a primary ESL teacher in Istanbul. I love art, music, literature, and traveling.


  1. Carol Newman on December 15, 2021 at 6:04 am

    Great read Mike, you have had quite an adventurous life I would say. A great way to understand the world of many cultures and to experience it. Hope you are all well and Have a Very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year. Love you guys

    • Michael Wray on December 15, 2021 at 5:56 pm

      Thank you, Carol. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

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