Adrian: Postcards from Istanbul
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Istanbul etc.
I grew up on an island in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, inspired by the adventurers and free spirits that call Seattle home. I moved to Turkey as an idealistic college graduate with permanent wanderlust. As I approached my graduation at the height of the recession, I was ready to escape the formality of academia and see the world. I watched as all of my friends applied for special fellowships and knew that I needed to have an unstructured, unplanned adventure of my own. So, I purchased a one-way ticket to Istanbul. I came with the intention to live in Turkey for a year. Three years later I am still here…
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After two years of teaching, I was running on autopilot and craved a project of my own. In Turkey, you are defined by your profession. I was a Kindergarten teacher because it paid the bills, but I felt like my sense of adventure and daily experiences stopped defining me. I craved for a creative outlet. I started blogging because I was eager to share my experiences and insights with friends and family in the states. However, my primary audience is now perfect strangers eager to learn more about Istanbul. I love it!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I recently wrote about the Perks and Pitfalls of teaching in Istanbul. I wish I was given this information before I started teaching in Turkey. The more I blog, the easier it is to share my personal experiences and newfound wisdom. I hope other newbies to Turkey will appreciate this advice.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Istanbul differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My first months in Istanbul were a roller coaster ride. Daily successes became simple purchases or bus trips that would be non-events in my life at home. I learned to accept bird noises as apartment door bells. I attempted to find a network of interesting and curious adventurers in order to have a community of my own. I learned to cook all the foods I missed the most from home.
One of the hardest things to adapt to: I grew up in a household where both my parents worked from home with flexible work schedules. I was shocked to learn that one’s work schedule was all-consuming in Turkey, and 2 hours of commuting each day, on top of a 10 hour work day was the norm.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Istanbul? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Nothing could have prepared me for the chaos and beauty of this city. I loved and hated how different it was from the life I left behind in the states. When I first came to Istanbul, I was determined to build my life here on my own. However, I wish I had invested in 2 months of full-time Turkish lessons. Language is an incredible barrier to finding authentic experiences and developing deep relationships in Istanbul. If I could do it over again, I would have enrolled in a class and made learning Turkish my top priority when I first moved to Istanbul.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Too many to count! Here is my most recent anecdote… I was visiting my husband’s grandmother one day. As we walked through the apartment, we noticed a blanket with the Playboy bunny on her bed. We were too curious and had to know more. We asked her about its origins. She told us with excitement that she found it for 10 lira at the local neighborhood bazaar. We could not resist the temptation to tell her what the Playboy bunny represented. With my simple Turkish and our attempts to say something appropriate for her 82-year old ears, we assembled one of the most humorous explanations of American culture that I have ever witnessed. The room filled with laughter. Her response? It was pink and white. It seemed too innocent to represent such bad things. She was mortified and angry at the man who sold it to her. When we returned to her apartment a few weeks later, the blanket was gone. However, I love knowing that there may be more playboy bunny blankets on the beds of other grandmothers throughout Turkey.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Istanbul?
- Expats lead incredibly privileged mobile lives in Turkey. Be conscious of your privilege and learn to be humble as you attempt to build relationships with Turkish friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
- The best food and most authentic experiences cannot be found in a guide-book. They come through building relationships and being welcomed into the homes of your Turkish friends and family. It is terrifying and uncomfortable at times, but it is worth the discomfort! Laugh, use body language and smile a lot. You will be warmly embraced. Turkish generosity and friendship is far richer than anything I have experienced in the United States.
- Learn some Turkish! You do not have to be fluent, but learn a few essential phrases that allow you to connect with others and share you gratitude. Many expats stick together and live very different lives from the rest of the country because language is such a significant barrier. It does not have to be!
How is the expat community in Istanbul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is incredibly diverse. You will find people of all ages , backgrounds, talents and interests. Istanbul is the cultural and business capital of the country. There are numerous international companies and as a result people from all over the world call Istanbul home. I met my closest friend on an expat portal, and connected with many others through expat events and networks. If you reach out to the numerous expat networks, you will find travel partners, events and friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Istanbul in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in Istanbul is like a firework show: exciting, marvelous and full of surprises.