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.
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.
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.
Missing something from home check out The British Corner Shop they might have just what you're looking for.
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.
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.
Olive, Feta & Ouzo
A travel & lifestyle blog with a focus on expat life. Written and photographed by Amanda Settle.
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