There are stages of adjustment that one encounters when moving abroad. The first stage following the move is called the honeymoon phase. It’s when everything is new and lovely. And don’t get me wrong; I’ve been honeymooning with Istanbul. Here are some of the sights that have made me swoon:
The city really does have some lovely sights and sounds. I didn’t realize that the Bosphorus would be so blue and beautiful. I’ve been treated with kindness by the people that I’ve encountered. My new coworkers are friendly. I have a cute apartment that will be fun to decorate. See that? That sounds like a honeymoon right? I think this phase is supposed to last for weeks. But…
Culture shock is interrupting my honeymoon. I’m pretty sure that culture shock is one of the expat phases as well. The biggest aspect of culture shock that I am encountering here is language. I underestimated how big an impact my inability to speak Turkish would have on me. In a way, it makes me feel as if I have reverted to a toddler stage because I have to rely on others to help me navigate simple things. Here are a few examples: 1. My Turkish coworker had to come to my apartment and show me how to turn on my washing machine and dishwasher recently. I couldn’t read the directions. 2. Grocery shopping is a task because most of the name brands are not familiar and the words are, of course, Turkish. If I want help in the store, I either look up the item in the Turkish translation app on my phone or look up a photo of the desired item through Google images. 3. Turkey has paperwork requirements for me to obtain the boxes of my personal belongings that I shipped here from Kuwait. I can not get any responses from the shipping company with phone calls or English emails. I have been relying on my Turkish co-workers to communicate with the company. I need their help to translate emails to get the necessary paperwork. I still haven’t gotten my boxes and it cost money each day that they sit at the cargo place at the airport.
Inhale. Exhale Janeen. I have to tell myself this. I have to remind myself that this isn’t my 1st move. I have to remind myself that relying on and accepting help from others doesn’t mean that I am not a smart and independent woman. I’m learning lessons in humility over here. The beautiful part in all of this is that all of my needs have been met. Every time I ask for help, help is available. Every time I go to stores and use a combination of my translation app, Google photos, and hand gestures, the Turkish people are willing to help me. Tonight I showed a man at the hardware store a photo of the Ikea kitchen island I had assembled earlier this week. I motioned toward the paint stain and varnish aisle and shrugged my shoulders. He took 3 off of the shelf and said “transparent, light, dark”. I left the store with the transparent stain. He also gestured toward the paint brushes and told me something about them in Turkish. He was very nice. I was very thankful. When I have situations like this, I take it as a reminder that God is taking care of me here even though I am encountering obstacles.
I have a new friend at work. She taught me some Turkish phrases and she ask me if I can recall them whenever we see each other. I asked if she would teach me something new each day and she said “You must pay me with a kiss on each cheek.” This is the traditional Turkish greeting! While my Arab coworkers in Kuwait did not often converse with me or my American friends outside of necessary classroom matters, my Turkish coworkers are generally friendly and welcoming. It helps me to feel welcome and supported. I really am glad for this.