I have been here since March 2010, almost 2 years. Wow, time flies!
What area of Turkey do you live?
I live in the capitol city of Ankara. I am in an older neighborhood right in the heart of the city. I like the neighborhood because it’s close to downtown Kizilay and the Embassies, and easy access to public transportation when needed.
Why did you decide to live in Turkey?
I was looking for adventure. I have always been a person who gets easily bored. I like to be on the move. For years, my job had kept me on the road and that was perfect for me. When that changed, I needed something else, something more. Having married a Turk in 2009, the decision to move here came easily. I quit my job, packed my bags, and caught the next flight out. Well, that’s how I like to see it. It really wasn’t that easy.
What did your family and friends think about moving to Turkey?
Most of my friends thought it was just great and “so me.” They thought if anyone could do it, it was me. They were very supportive, especially during the six month period where I was alone in Philly. (My husband had moved before me.) There were, however, a handful of friends who were not so glad to see me go. I honestly believe they thought I was being forced into it. That was an odd feeling because my friends know me better than that. I don’t do anything I don’t want to do.
My family was a different story. They were all supportive in a way, but clearly did not want me to leave. They helped me pack, bought me goodies, and said their goodbyes. The hardest person to leave, my mother, was actually the most supportive. She never once spoke her mind – which I assume would have been to ask me to stay.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome living in here in Turkey?
I don’t really see obstacles. Obviously, living far from my family can sometimes hurt. Learning the language isn’t the easiest thing I have ever done, but I don’t see it as an obstacle. I guess the biggest thing is relying on my husband much more than I am used to. I am not as independent as I used to be.
What are the good things about living in Turkey?
Living here is a bit of an escape from reality for me. Since I don’t have a fulltime job, little is expected of me. I have no time schedule. I also am not expected to speak the language fluently because Turks know their language is very different from English. I can get away with a just a smile and not have to get into discussions that would otherwise irritate me – who did what to whom; politics; sports.
What do you miss the most from home?
Pork. I miss it in every form! I also miss the variety in vegetables. Of course, my friends and family are dearly missed. We are lucky to live in a time where technology has made it easy and cheap to reach out and touch someone!
If you have kids, what is it like being a parent in Turkey?
I don’t have kids. Unfortunately, I can tell you what it is like to become pregnant in Turkey and suffer a miscarriage. To become pregnant in a foreign land was a nightmare at first. I didn’t speak the language and my husband had become unfamiliar with Ankara since he had been away for 10 years. Therefore pregnancy instilled a fear that I had not expected. Finding English speaking doctors was not so hard, but the more I researched, the more scared I was. Luckily, there is a strong expat connection in Ankara. Many women, none of whom I had ever met, gave me advice: what to look for; what to ask for; what to expect; even what to bring with me to the hospital (bring your own diapers)! That was great.
Losing a baby was probably not unlike losing a baby anywhere. I did gain firsthand knowledge of how to get to and maneuver the emergency room. My husband’s immediate family showed up within hours. My best American/Turk girlfriend came that evening with comfort food in hand. It was a difficult thing to go through made more difficult by the fact that my family was across the ocean. But they were with me in spirit, which is what I needed.
Have you found it easy to integrate into the community?
I found it very easy to integrate although I don’t believe my integration will ever be complete. It is much easier for someone like me who married into a Turkish family.
I also try to live a more Turkish lifestyle than many expats do. There are lots of expat groups that meet on a regular basis for coffee, dinner, etc. I rarely do that sort of thing. Instead, I take walks through the neighborhood and use my barely-understandable-broken Turkish to speak with the locals. I shop at the small local markets instead of the oversized stores. I have even cooked a meal and taken it to “the gang” at the local bakery where we spent an evening feasting on pasta while sitting in front of the shop.
In your opinion is Turkey a cheap or expensive place to live?
It all depends on the source of your income. Most Europeans and Americans would probably call it cheap. But it’s not for me. Many foreigners come here to work at Embassies or for foreign companies. They are paid in dollars or euros which can go far here, especially when paid at foreign rates. Turkey, on the other hand, does not have a strong economy.
The average Turk earns very little money. So even the cheapest of things can be expensive for them. The most expensive items to purchase, save real estate, are cars and electronics. They tax the heck out of them! That being said, I get my hair blown straight for only 5tl, less than $3 US. That’s way cheaper than the $40 I used to pay in Philadelphia, and the Turkish hairstylists do a much better job of it!
There is not much for a foreigner to do if they don’t come with a job. A work permit is a difficult thing to get. If you are thinking that you will teach English, you need to be sure to get certified. But most teaching jobs will not supply you with a work permit. Those schools that do will not offer the salary that one would expect to get in their home countries and usually will not be enough to live on without another income.
How do you find living with the difference in culture?
In the words of Barney from How I Met Your Mother, “Challenge accepted!” Like everything in life, the difference in culture is what you make of it. If the glass is half-full, you will enjoy life in Turkey. If half-empty, you will hang out with other Expats whining about how you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one with whom to practice your Turkish. (True story.)
Have you managed to learn Turkish, do you find Turkish easy or hard to learn?
I haven’t mastered the language, but I blame this on my own laziness. I do not find it difficult, but most people do. The key is to stop trying to translate! It just doesn’t work like that. It’s easier to learn it the way kids do. It’s not like English, where there are exceptions to exceptions to rules. Turkish has rules, few exceptions, and that’s it. And there are much fewer words in the language. If you look up language books on verbs, you will find a series such as “500 English Verbs” or “500 German Verbs.” The same series has a Turkish book, “200 Turkish verbs.” That’s not so bad to learn.
Would you recommend others to come live here in Turkey?
I would recommend that others live anywhere in the world at least for a short time. It expands the mind. It forces you to see things differently, and think outside of the box. Turkey is a cool place live. I doubt I will stay forever, but I am certainly glad to be here.
If you had to do it all over again would you do it all again, and what would you change if you would?
- Absolutely! It’s an adventure! The only thing I would do differently is to pack more of my things! I had actually shipped items. Not realizing how big that container would be, and how expensive certain items are, things made of wood for example, I left a lot behind. I would have brought more of my antique furniture. I would have packed my fishing gear. My art supplies, my percussion instruments . . .
For anyone who is planning to make the move to live in Turkey, what would your top 3 pieces of advice be for them?
1. Keep an open mind. Just because things are different does not mean they are wrong.
2. Get out to meet the natives. You are in a foreign land, take advantage of it! It’s a unique experience that will teach you a lot!
3. Laugh. Do it every day, whether you are feeling it or not. It helps to keep things in perspective.
Learn more about Terry and her life in Ankara on her blog Adventures in Ankara
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