Lisa: Inside Out In Istanbul
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Istanbul, etc.
My name is Lisa Morrow and I was born in Sydney, Australia. I am a sometime English teacher and full-time writer who first came to Turkey by chance in 1990. I was living and working in London where I met up with a girl from Melbourne, and we did some travelling together. When she said she was going to Greece I followed, and then did the same when she came to Turkey. I arrived during the early days of the Gulf War and when she left with all the other tourists, I stayed. Those first three months were the start of a long term love of the country which has seen me live here for almost ten years now.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I’ve been writing long detailed letters and emails to my family and friends around the world about my travels in general and my life in Turkey in particular, for more than twenty years. In 2013 I released a collection of stories using some of this material, which I called Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City. I chose the title because as a foreigner, no matter how long you live here and how much you think you know about the place, you can never be truly inside it. You are always on the outside in some way, but I like that. It means I can participate in daily Turkish life and at the same time stand back and observe. I found I had more to say than that contained in my first collection of essays, so I started a website of the same name to explore and share these new ideas.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’ve written more than fifty blog entries so it’s a bit hard to choose just one. After some thought I’ve narrowed it down to three entries I hope will help your members and make them want to read more!
- Sometimes pictures don’t match reality so let me draw you a picture words in “Istanbul: In the Sultan’s City“
- Once you arrive, you’ll almost certainly be invited to a wedding. Be prepared by reading about my experiences in “To the Wedding“.
- Learning a new language can be hard, but with a little courage and the knowledge other people have been in your shoes can make it a little less frightening. Learn more in “Do as I Say: A Guide to Learning Turkish”.
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 life in Istanbul differs enormously from my life back home. Here I don’t have to work long hours Monday to Friday just to cover the mortgage and pay my bills. I love having free time to go out exploring because it lets me explore new parts of the city easily over time. Then I can come back home and try to make sense of it all. Most people I know have experienced culture shock when they’ve come to Turkey but I’ve been lucky. I first came here 25 years ago as a tourist, and then spent a lot of time travelling between Turkey and Australia. What was once strange to me has become so familiar I’m more likely to feel out of place in my birthplace than in Istanbul.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Istanbul? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for what awaits you in a new city, especially not one as chaotic and dynamic as Istanbul. When we came over last time, in 2010, we brought all our household belongings with us and bought an apartment here. It was incredibly stressful as you can imagine. We managed it all by being really well organized, but when things went wrong (delayed shipment, trouble finding an apartment) we found it hard to cope. Since then I’ve learned to mix planning with a more ‘wait and see’ attitude, which works well in Turkey. You can’t ever predict what will happen and imaging the worst gets you nowhere.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
It’s a bit hard to condense it to just one! Most of my funny experiences have had to do with the language, and I have to say the weirdest time was when my husband was in hospital. He’d gone for a routine health check and next thing I knew he was having an angiogram. After the procedure he had to stay in bed for six hours, and wasn’t allowed up, even to go to the toilet. In my best Turkish I asked a nurse for a bedpan and she told me I’d find a duck in the bathroom. Luckily for me it turns out the word for duck, ördek, also means a bottle for men to well, you know. Thankfully my husband was OK too so we were able to laugh about what started out as a really bad day.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Istanbul?
- Tip 1: Prepare yourself to be challenged. Decide what you won’t compromise on but be honest and see where you can change. That way when you get here you’ll be open to new possibilities rather than focusing on what’s missing. Life is short and you don’t know whether you'll get another opportunity to do something.
- Tip 2: Try and learn some Turkish before you come and enroll in a course when you get here. I think it’s a hard language to learn but if you come knowing a few words you’ll get to know Turkish people a little bit better and be rewarded by the appreciation you receive. You’ll also make new friends who are in the same situation as you.
- Tip 3: Look forward to exploring this wonderful city. Arm yourself with guidebooks and places you want to see and then go for it once you arrive. Try to live as a local and not a tourist as soon as you possibly can. You'll never be bored and you'll also know much faster if life in your new home is really for you.
How is the expat community in Istanbul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I don’t know the exact numbers, but Istanbul has a huge foreign population. There are people from all over the place, including Algeria, Ukraine and Finland. There seem to be more women than men, and their reasons for living here are varied. Some are married to men transferred to Istanbul for work, others are in relationships with Turks and a lot teach English. Just as their reasons for being here differ, so do their interests. If this interview were about dating I’d have to say I’d kissed a lot of frogs since coming to Istanbul, but I’ve also made some really close friends too, both Turkish and foreign.
How would you summarize your expat life in Istanbul in a single, catchy sentence?
My expat life in Istanbul has given me a world of challenge, joy, excitement and change.