Who are you?
I’m Gosia Simonowicz and I’m a Polish student, currently living in Istanbul
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I always thought that world is too big to stay just in one place throughout your whole life, so as soon as I turned 18 I decided that it’s time to go and discover and…so I went. I first moved to the UK, after being accepted to one of the London universities. I lived there for 4 years and had my first steps into adulthood made in there. Later on, as part of my MA program, I moved to Istanbul, which was a decision made on the basis of being attracted to the East and its oriental culture.My choice to keep on living far away from my homeland are, on one hand, based on my curiosity and adventurous nature but also the aspiration to become a journalist, which, in my opinion, isn’t possible if you don’t have that broader perspective on the world. I guess that I’ve been therefore living the destiny of a self-appointed expat.
What challenges did you face during the move?
I really think that you can only find out about the new place once you stay there for a longer time, facing all the challenges that the given country has got ready for you and being drawn into its culture both by the culture shock that you experience and the necessity to adapt.
The biggest challenge that I faced in London was the realization that from now on I am depended on myself and not on my parents. It wasn’t easy at the beginning since I was only 18 and I had never even had a bank account before. However, the process of adaptation was easier since it’s a multi-cultural city with plenty of other people facing the same problems, as you do. Turkey is a completely different story.
On the Anatolian side, where I live, you can barely communicate in English, as very few people speak the language. It might sound like an obvious challenge but, after living in London, you get the impression that everyone speaks English, even basic. Therefore, there aren’t many expats living in my area and, because of that, often times you feel as if you had ‘I’m a foreigner’ written on your forehead.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
It is all a matter of the adaptation part when it comes to establishing a good relationship with the locals. It should be a relationship based on respect, understanding and willingness to learn, and sometimes compromise. It’s in your interest to find out about the rules of the country and its society. As an example, since Turkey is a Muslim country, there’re some things that a girl shouldn’t do. This includes being overly open when it comes to talking to strangers (i.e. your neighbors, shop assistants, etc.), especially if they’re men. This is the thing you wouldn’t really think of in London, where it’s normal to ask a random person how is he or she.
Turkey isn’t much of a conservative country but, as a woman, you should also dress in a non-attracting attention manner. This especially applies where you go to the places where there’s a more religious community. Another challenging and, at first, incomprehensible rule of the country, is getting a residence permit at the main police office in Vatan, that may take up to 3 months during which you can’t travel abroad (well, you can, but you won’t be able to return). This doesn’t apply to the people that are here on a tourist visa, which is a multiply-entry visa.
What do you like about life where you are?
Life in Turkey differs majorly from life I led in the West of Europe or in Poland. There’re pros and cons about that variance. In a way, it has got a liberating feel to it, meaning that it’s not that well-organized, as is the West of Europe. It’s hard to explain but it’s just about the way you feel. Sometimes it’s just a matter of talking politely to a local to have something done quicker or to make him decrease the price of a product that you’re about to purchase. It’s much less about knowing the rules and following them than being friends with a right person. It’s also much more chaotic, which, at times, can make you feel very frustrated but, at other times, can just make you laugh.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
When it comes to shopping, there is a huge variety of choices but the best ones are either local shops or markets. I personally have two small bazaars in a close neighborhood, not counting the multiple street’ stalls that somehow always sell what you need at the particular time. Turkish people have therefore great amazing marketing skills! Sellers appear with umbrellas five minutes after it started raining. You can purchase the products much more cheaply than back home but, of course, it depends on where do you like to shop because they’ve got impressive shopping malls too.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would say that being an expat in every country on planet won’t be majorly challenging as long as you’ve got a well-structured aims of why you’re there. It’s also got to do with whom you surround yourself with and how much you’re willing to adapt and leave whatever prejudices and worries you might have, behind you. It might then become a great adventure and, even if you’re planning to return back to your homeland at some point, you will always carry these unique experiences with you.