I’ve now been in Istanbul for one and a half months. And I meant to write this at one month, to be all “anniversary-ish” about my reflections. But, you know, I got caught up in living, so here we are, a bit late.
I still can’t believe I live here. Sometimes I’ll be immersed in a book, or laundry, or cooking, and will look up and see the view from my apartment windows and get completely awed all over again.
You know, most people who do this 1) aren’t Americans, as we’re so caught up in the cycle of graduate, work ,marry, buy house, have kids, work harder, retire; and 2) are younger. You know, like those kids who backpack across Europe right after college. They aren’t 37 year-olds who have a job, own a townhouse, a dog, serve on non-profit boards…but I am. Was.
Now, I’m a 37 year-old expat, living in a historic, crowded city halfway around the world. Leasing an apartment. With no job. And a dog. And I love it. We get so used to our surroundings (which in my case, were good!), but it feels great to break out of the mold. I’m challenged every single day. Every time I leave the comfort of my apartment, I have to interact with people in a language I don’t know. I have to use public transportation while terrified I won’t find my way home. I have to ask for medicine while pantomiming symptoms (not always pretty!). And try to form some sort of relationships when I really can’t say much more than “How are you?” and “Thank you.” Great starts, but it’s hard to get deep with (limited) small talk. It would be easy to just stay in my pretty apartment and hide. But that’s not why I’m here, is it?
I miss home, my family, my friends, the ease in which I lived. I miss Tex-Mex and margaritas. I miss the arts I was involved with. I miss having a schedule, at times. Every now and then, I even miss driving.
But, I’ve found things I love here. Things that I know I’ll miss forever when I return home. Things like having an amazing water view, and walls made of windows to bring me that view, and lovely fresh air, even on hot days. My neighbors who smile at Clover and I and say “Iyi gunler” (have a good day) as we pass. Going to the corner market in the morning and buying a gorgeous loaf of fresh bread for 1 Turkish Lira. The tomatoes that are the loveliest and tastiest I’ve ever had. That walking by historic buildings and monuments is the norm, not an exception. Turkish çay served in pretty little tulip-shaped glasses. Roses growing wild everywhere. My cute little 11 year-old neighbor who runs up to me and gives me a hug. The Spice Market where you can buy everything from sumac and red pepper to plastic buckets, artificial flowers, perfume, live chickens, and corkboards. And bargain for them all! The true hospitality, generosity, and openness of the Turkish people. And the rhythms of the Turkish language.
It’s not all been easy. I’m amazed and frustrated at the bureaucracy. Remember carbon sheets? Not the paper with the carbon built in,
but the actual loose black carbon sheets? Yep, they still use those (at the airport, at least.) And people are not in a hurry. At times, this is positive. It makes you realize that not everything needs to (or should be) be fast, fast, fast. But the times when you need something fast? Not happening. (Unless you give them a little “fee” for their time, in which they go a bit faster.) Perhaps this country will teach me some much-needed patience.
I’ve learned several things. I don’t accept them all easily, but I’m learning. (See the above mentioned patience thing.)
I am learning that when you’re new to a country, and someone you trust offers help, take it. Don’t be all “No problem – I can figure it out myself, I’m sure it’s not that hard.” Trust me. It’s hard. Take the help.
I’ve learned that culture shock can be tough. It can come with mood swings that take you by surprise, it can make you feel lonely and isolated, and obsess over cleaning. It can also give you pretty high highs, but you have to watch out that a low doesn’t immediately follow.
I’m learning that when someone invites you out, go. You’ve got to leave your comfort zone in order to learn, to experience, to grow. And to have fun.
I’m learning that you can’t learn a language by immersion alone. Yes, you pick up words quickly, learn pronunciation and language rhythms faster, but you must take lessons. And the faster you do, the better you become part of your community, which makes everything better.
I’ve learned to eat the local food. Lamb intestines? Well, when in Istanbul…(thanks, Victoria and Terri!) (It’s actually quite delicious!)
I’ve learned to meet other expats. It’s important to have time where you can relax, speak English, and talk about silly things from home. But don’t spend all your time with them – that’s not why you chose to live in another country.
I’ve learned that sea gulls, feral cats, and the huge Istanbul crows are LOUD.
And, I’ve learned that when you walk your dog in a hilly city, stand uphill of her. 🙂
Maybe, most important of all, I’ve learned the importance of staying in touch with people from home. I’m so grateful for technology that allows easy communication. I can’t imagine doing this without email, Twitter, Facebook, IM. Days that I miss home, it’s right there at my fingertips. And the support I feel from you all keeps me going on bad days.
Lucky for me, I’m having pretty great days lately. I’m on a really positive path, and I can’t wait to keep sharing it with you all!