Nearly 3 decades ago I had become an expat in London but I did not even know the meaning of the word at the time.
I ended up living there for 25 years. In fact, London actually became my home somewhere down the road, so I was no longer an expat; knowingly or unknowingly.
In my fifth year, my English boyfriend at the time was offered a job in Cairo so I had an opportunity to become an expat’s girlfriend. However, I was a very young, highly ambitious and career-oriented architect and I refused to tag along with him as his partner and put my career on hold. I remember my exact words were that I didn’t want to become one of the tennis-playing-charity-running wives who were driven everywhere by the drivers of their husbands.
As a result, our relationship had become international. I visited him several times and definitely enjoyed the perks of his expat life but only during my trips. It was nice in the beginning, even boosted our relationship for a while; though the novelty soon wore off and we argued more and more about not being together most of the time. (Eventually, we split up.)
The boyfriend moved from Cairo to Abu Dhabi, then to the Philippines, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Lebanon. If I had stayed with him, I’d have had to move from one country to another and maybe that’s a life for some but it was not for me. Instead, I focused on my career in London, and after working in the City for two decades, I ended up as an expat in my own country and in the city I left when I was 23.
Istanbul is beautiful, especially around the Bosporus, that gorgeous view is unbeatable. I say this with some experience of having been to quite a few places, though none of them matches the beauty and elegance of Istanbul! It is also located at such a unique place and links Europe to Asia. Do you know another town that can match that? As if these are not enough, Istanbul hosted almost all the civilizations in history, dating back to as early as the 200s (approximate date the Hippodrome was built).
So, you are probably wondering why on earth I feel like an expat in this great town.
Even though I was born and lived here until I was 23, I lived the following 25 years in London and it’s where my character was shaped, my core values and principles evolved. In other words, part of me is Turkish but a bigger part is British. I speak Turkish fluently but that does not mean I agree with everything that happens here. I see things from a British mindset and react the same way. I am often being ridiculed because of this since nobody thinks that I’m an expat due to speaking the language fluently.
I think I adapted to my life in London easier than my life here, maybe because I was much younger or perhaps the British are very tolerant towards foreigners. Do not get me wrong, I was, of course, given a few annoyed looks until I started appreciating the queue etiquette at bus stops, or when I talked to people without leaving an arm-length distance from their face, or when I naively tried to answer every "how are you?" question in detail. However, it took a few months to realize that none of these were acceptable behaviors by British standards and I was fine after that.
Whereas here I’m not an obvious foreigner, in fact I’m not a foreigner at all. I simply don’t know my own nation as much as I know the UK and this is purely because of being away for so long. The Turks do not have the same sympathy for me that they have for the tourists and expats.
Despite all that, it’s great to be here and I hope that all "real" expats who are here feel the same way. However, if anyone feels unwelcome, they are free to contact me as I will certainly understand what they are going through! Enjoy your stay and have a great year!
Nuran Akdemir started her career in London in the late 80s and worked as an architect until the recession hit the UK. She then moved into finance after completing an MSc in Finance at Imperial College. She worked in the City's well-respected financial institutions including Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers and Bloomberg in the following 15 years. She moved back to Istanbul 2 years ago and works as a consultant.
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