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Tara Lutman Agacayak, Istanbul

My name is Tara Lutman Agacayak. In 2002 I married my Turkish husband and moved to Turkey to be with him.

My biggest challenges were not knowing Turkish and not having a support network to help me through the culture shock. There were no other foreigners in the small town where we first ended up living so I didn’t have anyone to talk with who I could relate to. But slowly as my Turkish improved and as I made friends with other expats, I began to find my place and feel settled in.Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

My challenges in finding work led me to being self-employed. As I mentioned we moved to a small town so the 8 years of experience I had as a database designer and data specialist with the Department of Defense did not translate into a job when I moved. At the time eBay was just becoming mainstream and I started selling pashminas from the Grand Bazaar through eBay auctions. After attending the Women Leaders for the World program put on by the Global Women’s Leadership Network I decided to add a socially responsible facet to my online business and focused on locally handmade products. As my network of artists and designers grew, a friend and I started offering shopping trips to visit their showrooms and ateliers in order to highlight authentic Turkish art, design and culture. With all the experience I’ve gained running businesses online I also helm a project design business called Turquoise Poppy for self-based creative business owners.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes! Now that I’ve moved to an Istanbul suburb, there are lots of expats around and I belong to a group of professional American women so I get to meet many more, even if they aren’t in my immediate vicinity.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

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Since I have a bi-cultural marriage, it has always been important to me to be a bridge between the American and Turkish cultures. As much as I work to be a good example of what it means to be American, I also make an effort to promote Turkey in its best light (as evidenced by two of my business projects). Learning Turkish was essential to understanding my husband’s family and my neighbors as well as communicating myself and my culture.

What do you like about life where you are?

Living outside of the United States has helped me learn more about myself. So I like that the challenges of living abroad have brought about more self-awareness. My life is much richer being exposed to different people, experiences and ways of living.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Being so far away from my family. That has been harder to cope with than anything. I miss them, especially during the holidays.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Do your research before you move. Where will you live? What resources are there? Where or how will you work? What groups or organizations can you join to support you as you get adjusted. When I came to Turkey I was so naive about living abroad. If I had been more prepared, I would have adjusted much easier.

What are your plans for the future?

To keep developing my businesses and have permanent homes in both Turkey and California. There is no way I could choose one over the other.

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