After two and a half years of writing faithfully in this blog, I moved abroad and stopped writing just when things got interesting.
At the end of August, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey with my then-boyfriend/now-fiance. We spent about a month crashing with generous friends and family members on the European side of the city before settling into our apartment on the Asian side, where we’ve been since.
What is there to really say about moving to a new country?
It was a difficult transition. Even as someone who is decently well-traveled, even as someone who likes new cultures and languages, I quickly figured out that living somewhere was completely different than visiting– for instance, you don’t (usually) have to try to communicate with delivery men and repairmen when you travel, or doctors, or try to find your way to remote neighborhoods where no one speaks your language for job interviews. The learning curve is steep. If I’m being honest, it took me a solid two months to start getting over the culture shock and overwhelmed feeling. But then it got easier, as it always does, even when moving within the same country. (It took me MUCH longer than two months to adjust when I moved from Boston to North Carolina.) Seven months in, living here feels completely normal.
Istanbul is beautiful and huge (about twice the population of NYC!) and chaotic and historic and cultural. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still get excited traveling back and forth between Europe and Asia on the ferry. I live in an artsy, friendly neighborhood surrounded by water, and I walk beside the water Bosphorus almost every day. I can see Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque from my neighborhood.
I’m taking Turkish classes, and my “survival Turkish” has gotten pretty decent; I can shop, ask for and give directions, make small (very small) talk, and create/understand simple sentences. However, Turkish is very different from any other language I’ve studied and it’s challenging. The vowels in Turkish are particularly difficult for me– they have four extra vowels that we don’t have in English, and I can’t really hear the difference between them or pronounce them correctly, which often completely changes the meaning of a word. Example: sık (no dot over the i) is a setting on our washing machine and means “dense” or “thick”… but if you put the dot over the i, it changes to a vulgar slang word for penis… and they sound the exact same to me! I’m trying to train my ear and practice speaking as much as possible in the hopes that one day my Turkish will be conversational, but I know it will take awhile. In the meantime, I’m doing my best. I make mistakes often but can usually get my point across eventually. (Although there was one memorable cab ride where I kept mixing up the words for “go straight”, düz, and “stop”, dur. That poor, poor confused cab driver…)
Hmm, what else? I mostly drink black tea instead of coffee now, since most places don’t have filtered coffee or espresso drinks and the ones that do are… somewhat lacking in quality. Still, I’ve found a few places that have decent cappuccinos and patronize them a couple of times a week. I miss the diversity of food in the US (Mexican food! Thai! Indian! Sushi!) but love the food here, especially Turkish breakfast.
I feel lucky in that I’ve found it fairly easy to make friends here, in large part because there are a lot of women like me (foreigners living in Istanbul) who are also creating their social circles from scratch, so I’ve met wonderful people from all over the world as well as Turks. I’ve noticed that, without even meaning to, being in an international community has changed how I communicate: I don’t use as many idiomatic phrases; I say I’m from America, not the US or the States like I probably would when talking to another American; I say I went to university, not college. That kind of thing. Having such a diverse group of friends and hearing their experiences has been wonderful for gaining a deeper understand of the world.
I think one of the reasons I put off writing this blog post for so long is because there is no easy way to explain what the experience is really like, especially when you’re still in the process of understanding where you are. I’ve done some traveling inside Turkey since I moved and the places I’ve seen have been beautiful and interesting; it’s easy to fall in love with such a country, even if it’s difficult to explain to outsiders what the country and culture are actually like in a way that does them justice. If I’ve learned anything since being here, it’s that (like anywhere else) there is not one monolithic Turkish culture and that the country is often full of complicated traditions and contradictions. On a much smaller, more personal level, life in Istanbul is crazy and sometimes difficult (the traffic, in particular, is awful), but it’s always interesting and these past seven months have been an incredible learning experience, one that I’m looking forward to continuing.