Who are you?
I am travel writer and photographer as well as an expat blogger and podcaster for FunkTravels. I am currently learning Turkish part time. Before our move, I was a university study abroad coordinator.Before that I lived in Turkey and Afghanistan for a combined 4 years total. My husband and I are both from the United States. I am originally from Louisiana, but we settled in Iowa where my husband is from.
With a background in computer engineering, my husband owns a software consulting company called Tough Space and is the creator of the app, ForeignNumbers. Our international move and our expat lifestyle in Turkey is due to him creating a job that is flexible and allows remote work.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
In August 2016, my husband and I moved to Izmir, Turkey. My husband, who is also an American, and I met in Turkey a few years ago. I was living here for 2 years and he was doing some volunteer work for a few months. And to make a very long story short, we met and got married a few years later. After we got married, our hearts desired something different than the ‘American Dream.’ It may not always be the case that we are able to live this way and it isn’t always easy, but we are thankful for the time we have now and these memories we are making with new friends!
What challenges did you face during the move?
One of the things that we intended on doing when we moved was to rent a furnished apartment for a year. Since we moved with nearly nothing, we wanted to be able to move into a place and be able to live there without having to re-buy all of our furniture. This would have allowed us to settle and make the transition easily without the stress of setting up a new home from scratch. However, we ended up finding a beautiful, unfurnished apartment which, in Turkey, comes with barely more than the walls. We have come to love it now but we spent a lot of time, energy, and money buying all new appliances and light fixtures along with all the beds, couches, tables, and chairs to making it into a new home. It also meant we had to wait to get our gas hooked up and that took about a month! Sticking with our initial plan of renting a furnished apartment is the biggest thing I would have changed.
My husband and I had been married for 2.5 years before moving to Turkey. We had to learn to adjust our full-time work schedule and systems and figure out what worked for us here. It just takes time. I also went from full-time work to part-time language learning, which was a major identity change for me.
Are there many other expats in your area?
I am involved in the International Women’s Association of Izmir (IWAI) which has led to a lot of friendships, both Turkish and expats. Coffee shops, Internations, and Facebook groups are all great ways to meet other expats or locals. You just have to make the effort! Here are a list of Facebook groups to start interacting with before your move:
• Real Izmir Expats
• Expats and Foreign Women of Izmir
• IWAI – International Women's Association of Izmir
• Foreigners Living in Izmir
• Foreigners in Izmir
• Expats of Turkey, let's help each other out
• Cook's Corner for Expats in Turkey
What do you like about life where you are?
I really enjoy the lifestyle we have right now. The cost of living is lower for us since we are paid in USD, the people are nice, and the food is delicious. The city in which we live is a fairly unique one in the country. The people here are friendly towards foreigners and are very laid back and have a relaxed attitude; especially compared to Istanbul. At a population of 4 million people, Izmir is big enough to cater to some our foreign desires, but small enough not to be overwhelmed by masses. In the States we lived near a town of 50,000 people in a landlocked state with mostly farmland. To say the lifestyle is different would be a major understatement.
My favorite part of this city is living so close to the sea. And of course, the Turkish food is very good. There are quite a lot of dishes that aren’t easily available in America, both out in the restaurants and the ingredients that we use to cook at home. My husband and I especially enjoy eating eggplant, which is way better here than in America.
I think people, especially Americans, underestimate the friendliness of the Turkish people. When we first moved here, practically everyone we met and talked to told us that they were available to help us if we needed anything; and they’ve meant it. They have been extremely welcoming to us and happy to have us live here among them. I have not felt any discriminations thus far. Islam is the majority religion, but even within Islam, how people worship can look very different. Personally, we have also found a small Christian church community that we have gotten involved with.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
My least favorite thing is easy. It’s that my family doesn’t live here too. We have 7 nieces and nephews (along with parents, siblings, and friends) that we left back in America. When we were leaving, we would say that we are excited to go but sad to leave. It’s proven to be true even as we are here.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Since we are paid in USD, the cost of living is actually lower for us. We are able to only have 1 person work full-time and live comfortably. To give some comparison, for a monthly rent we paid in the States, we are living in an apartment in a main area of town with twice the space which is funny to mention as an adjustment!
The prices of items are different and it’s interesting to see what can be really expensive and what is not. Any technology purchases, baby items, alcohol, cars, and furniture are pricey. Fresh veggies and food are much less expensive than in the States. You can live frugally or money can be like water depending on where you live and how you want to live.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Of course, we think that all Turkish food is very good. My favorite part of this city is living so close to the sea. Izmir is know for their fresh fish and appetizers (meze) dishes. My husband and I especially enjoy eating eggplant (patlıcan), which is way better here than in America. And you can never go wrong with a good kebab and rice! For the desserts, definitely try our favorites of sutlaç (rice pudding) or kunefe!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Shortly after we moved, there were a few incidents that happened in Turkey that made us question why we decided to move here. But after reflection we remembered that nowhere is perfectly safe. There are attacks, accidents, and natural disasters in every country around the world. And while we could leave here, there is no promise that we would be safe anywhere else. My sister said it best to me: “Be safe but don’t live in fear”. We really do try to live our lives that way.
Many expats would assume that Istanbul is the place to be, but I would suggest that people consider Izmir. As the 3rd largest city in Turkey it provides all of the amenities of a major city but has 25% of the population. With modern public transportation, a really nice international airport, and lots of history within a few hours’ drive, it’s a great choice.
Public transportation is frequent and abundant here. Because we live in the city, we have the options of buses, tramway, metro, group taxis, and ferries (which are my favorite). Currently we do not own a car, but there are daily rental places nearby that run around $30 a day. Since most places are nearby, we can walk or ride our bicycle. Otherwise, a taxi is always a hand wave away!
For others who will pursue work here in Turkey, I suggest learning about the work culture here as much as possible by asking good questions about work hours, communications, pursuing agreements/contracts, conversations, and work atmosphere. If you plan to open a business here as well, it is extremely important to understand how business works here in order for your services to thrive.
What are your plans for the future?
I really enjoy the lifestyle we have right now. The cost of living is lower for us, the people are nice, and the food is delicious. The city in which we live, Izmir, is a fairly unique one in the country. The people here are friendly towards foreigners and are very laid back and have a relaxed attitude; especially compared to Istanbul. At a population of 4 million people, Izmir is big enough to cater to some our foreign desires, but small enough not to be overwhelmed by masses. In the states we lived near a town of 50,000 people in a landlocked state with mostly farmland. To say the lifestyle is different would be a major understatement.
So, basically, we are just living the expat life, learning the language, and exploring all that Izmir has to offer! We host a bi-weekly podcast where we encourage others towards intentional dreaming about internationally living as we share our journey about what that looks like for us! I share with friends and family our ‘normal’ lives, glimpses of daily lovelies, Izmir specific events, and roadie ramblings about our adventures as we are making this transition to life in Turkey.
You can keep up to date with Catie's adventures on her blog, Funk Travels, and on social media with the handle @funktravels.
Would you like to share your experience of life abroad with other readers? Answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!