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Louise, Istanbul

Who are you?

My name is Louise, originally from Birmingham UK.

When where and why did you move abroad?

I moved just two months ago this week to Istanbul. A last minute decision and job offer saw my partner and I pack up our flat, our lives and our jobs to come and teach English in Turkey. I have been looking to teach English abroad for years now, but for one reason or another I hadn’t got round to it. Originally searching for jobs in South Korea an agency advertising for jobs in various locations around the world asked where we would consider going. Turkey was something that I had not previously considered, but the more I thought about it the more I thought why not?Our jobs in the UK were becoming unbearable and our tenancy just about to end, the agency was looking for people who could work in Turkey immediately which suited us fine and drove our decision to go there over South Korea, where we were told we may not be able to find a position together or even in the same city. Turkey became a no brainer.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Our accommodation was provided for us through the agency that employs us. We got to Istanbul and were put up in a hotel in Taxim (the main centre) for a week, which was massively inconvenient due to the location of our school, the total commuting time was over an hour, very tiring for two new teachers fresh off the plane!! Luckily we were housed on the Saturday after our first week of teaching, so only 5 days were spent making that treacherous journey! We didn’t really have too much of a say in where we were housed, we were just happy to have somewhere to hang our clothes. Upon reflection I would have preferred to live somewhere closer to the centre, we live so far out that going out, socialising and sightseeing is more of a chore than it should be.

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What is your relationship like with the locals?

The locals in our area are friendly enough, although we are still pretty new here and our lack of language skills doesn’t help us on the communication side of things. We live in a compound with newly developed and developing residences and the neighborhood is a real mix, it isn’t as conservative religion-wise as some other areas. I would like to get to know the locals a bit more but at the moment I find I am rather embarrassed at my shocking lack of Turkish language skills. Often people will try to talk to us in Turkish in the lift, in the hallways etc and I just smile, freeze up and feel like an idiot, I wish I could speak more Turkish, hopefully this will come with more time and effort on my part!! The language is so mind boggling though, so different to anything I have ever heard before!

Are there many other expats in your area?

There doesn’t seem to be any other ex-pats in our area, we live really far West in Istanbul, almost as West as you can get. Far away from the clubs, bars and touristy sights of the centre- most of the ex-pat teachers I know opted to move closer to where the action is. Our closest teacher friends are a 20 minute metro bus ride away, which isn’t too bad in Istanbul traveling time.

What do you like about life where you are?

First and foremost the job. I was in a horrible job with terrible conditions back in England, I am a graduate and getting my foot in the door in my chosen field has been hard if impossible. Even with volunteer experience I still struggled to find anything I felt suited me and my career goals in my home town of Birmingham. Here my job is great, I put my skills, creativity and degree to good use, plus I get weekends off, a novelty for me after working in jobs where working at least one day on the weekend was mandatory. Never again! Other than work I love the food here, eating out is cheap and the food is good, food is the key to my heart so Istanbul had me at hello! Life here is generally good, I’m happier than I have been for a long time, there is a large community of ex-pat teachers here all in the same situation so we have a big network of friends and support that it’s nice to be a part of.

What do you dislike?

The traffic, public transport is a nightmare. In fact public transport in general, the traffic free metro bus is always packed full of people no matter what time of the day it is. Not good for a typical Brit who values their personal space. Also the roads, I feel like I’m going to die every time I cross the road by my house. No exaggeration.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

I would say the religious aspect, with it being a majority Muslim country. The difference is not felt where I live, or when I go out and about (not yet anyway). But I work for a well known religious school, men and women do not interact at work unless necessary for professional purposes, we do not sit together at lunch and if men are in the lift when we call it we have to wait until the lift is empty to get it (which can be annoying when I have somewhere to go, stairs are not fun). I find this really difficult as being me I like to smile and greet every person I walk past at work and am all for gender equality, my smiles do not discriminate!! This behavior is not acceptable to some at school and that I will have to get used to. Also the lack of ham, I am a ham and bacon lover deep down and am missing it already!

What advice would I give to somebody following in my footsteps?

Persevere. It was really hard for me at first, I was comparing everything with England. I can near enough name the day when everything fell into place and I started enjoying it. Initially the job, the difference in culture, in education system, the crazy fast paced nature of this city, the fact that I couldn’t just pop round to see my friends or family got the most of me and I felt like I wanted to leave, I cried, I threw tantrums, I got mad. Now I know that feeling will pass.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I don’t have a clue. I’m thinking of saving for a Masters, but then that would mean that I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else for a while, I really want to go to South America and still want to try out South Korea, decisions, decisions…

Louise shares more information about life in Turkey through her blog One Foot in Europe.