I’m an expat, I’ve got this, it’s what I do and what I enjoy.
Being uncomfortable, not knowing where things are and how things work on a basic level is what makes me tick. People comment about expat life, they see the pictures of faraway shores and the glamour. They don’t see or want to know the everyday reality, but for those of us that do, it’s the every-day that’s part of the charm.
Living on a Greek island didn’t seem like being a real expat, yes there was a different language, but my parents lived there, we already had a ready-made support network. I didn’t work, and couldn’t work legally there using the skills I have. At times that made it frustrating.
Just over 2 weeks ago I arrived in Istanbul for an initial 4-month emergency contract. Country number five. I wasn’t worried at any stage. I knew the questions to ask before coming, everything that could be done beforehand was done. Anything else I knew from experience would sort itself out.
After just over a week, there was internet in the apartment, I had a public transport card, knew how to use it and put money on it. Worked out how to use the washing machine in yet another language and went from a visitor badge at work to having fingerprint access.
Two weeks on and I’m still camping out in an apartment in a new city. The sharp knives provided in the kitchen won’t cut bread or a tomato. The Turkish style saucepans aren’t deep enough to boil an egg in so I’m using the coffee pot. There’s no tea towel or oven glove, but with a long-handled spatula I can just about get the toast out from under the grill and have only burnt myself once.
This Friday I bought a bottle of white wine, found a bottle opener and shared some of that in an expat group on Facebook. Not only did I get lots of support, and giggles as we’ve all been there, there was advice for where I am, a reality check for some and for others a pang of jealousy.
My husband is in another country and all our stuff is in a third. This is a short-term contract so I will be camping out to some extent until summer. But he is visiting in two weeks and we will get to do some exploring together. Though part of me is also enjoying discovering on my own, I was an adventurous expat when we met in Kuwait and it’s good to rediscover that side of me.
As someone said in the group it’s partly our ability to focus on the positive that makes us successful expats. We adapt and find ways to do things like the lady who managed to make a casserole in a Japanese rice cooker and one that was trying to cook for 3 in a catering pot that would feed 50. Lastly, the one who, in Dubai, 8 months pregnant with an almost 2 yr old, was sobbing at not being able to have wine as she tried to grate cheese with a potato peeler. Now we all giggle about those moments. In some ways, it’s also those moments that we love.
After 12 years of being an expat, those moments are part of the charm and excitement too, we miss it when we get too comfortable in one place and find ourselves looking for the next move and a little bit of that excitement. Each year around summer we have expat friends who are heading off on a new adventure, you share their excitement and at the same time want it to be you this time. One admitted that she was sat in her very familiar, very boring, very cold house, feeling more than a little bit jealous of my adventure in a brand new place. Kirsty Rice admitted on the Two Fat Expats podcast this week that she could do with another move to prove to herself she can still do it. This time it’s me having the adventure and I do love it.
Things have got easier as I’ve got used to being an expat but also technology has made it easier. If you need something or what to find something out in most major cities today, there’s an app for that. There’s also an online community of expat women who will help you and I found out last night that the app for getting food delivered in Istanbul is called Yemeksepti, I’ll be checking that out soon.
I’m back in the classroom teaching after nearly 5 years away, and it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed being with students again and didn’t know if I would. The staff are friendly and welcoming in a lovely small international school. I was very jaded about teaching after the last place I taught in and did say I’d never go back into the classroom again, but I’ve been away long enough and this has made me realise just how much I really do love it.
I’ve been here before, 29 years ago this year, I visited an old naval friend of my mums. She was an expat, married to an American working at the US Embassy in Istanbul and I came for a short holiday just after my 21st birthday. That was the first time I realised that being an expat was something you could do and I also realised that was a life that I wanted to have one day. It feels right to be back here now. I don’t know where Elaine and Gary are today, I lost touch and so did my mum, that was before the internet made it so much easier. But I want to thank them for showing a very young naive young woman another world.
Istanbul has so much to see and do I’m going to be very busy exploring over the next few months discovering new places. I’ve already walked along the Bosphorus and visited the spice bazaar. travelled on the metro, vernacular railway, tram, ferry and bus. There’s google and yet the only real book I’ve brought with me is The Rough Guide to Turkey. I’ve been to the Asian side, eaten a fish sandwich, shared a seafood lunch and found a local kebab eatery.
If you’re about to head out on your first expat adventure embrace it, pack a towel even if they say one will be provided, a bottle opener and a sharp knife. You’ve got this. The wine is important, mine last night was white, it was Turkish and was just what I needed. I’m an older, and certainly more relaxed expat now, but I still love the adventure and excitement and I forgot to pack that knife. I’m an expat and this is what I do, I’ve got this and so have you.
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