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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Istanbul, Turkey

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What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Istanbul

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Yes, I received cross-cultural training before my move.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Yes, I speak Turkish fluently, but was taking classes to improve my fluency while there.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Very significant.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I definitely did *not* go through the honeymoon phase when living in Turkey, but I did go through all of the other phases.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Anger, anxiety, and loss of appetite were definitely side effects of my culture shock.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Turks are very curious about foreigners and are very warm, kind-hearted people generally. They are, by and large, very sincere.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Domestic violence is fairly normal in Turkey. Seeing a man hit his wife in the face, and seeing no one come to help her, was very upsetting.

Turkish men frequently have the perception of Western woman as being sexually promiscuous. I have blonde hair and fair skin, and I was regularly referred to in Turkish by the word for prostitute. I even had men ask me how much I cost.

Another concern is that the men have no compunction about following a woman, even when she tells them she is uninterested. I was followed by a man for over an hour on the streets of Istanbul over the course of several kilometers (even onto public transit and ferries). Rejection in Turkey means "try harder," and situations that we would view as stalking in Europe/USA are ways that some Turkish men try to prove themselves to you.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

If you are a pale, blonde Western woman, expect to be sexually objectified. I really, really would not recommend that any woman go out alone (especially not in the Asian side of Istanbul or in a rural area) without at least a female friend (or better yet, a man). This is especially true if you don't speak Turkish well. Do not trust groups of men, even police officers. If you need help, find a Turkish woman to help you.

More Expat Advice about Culture Shock in Turkey

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Comments about this Report

guest
Sep 15, 2011 01:11

Wow! I am really impressed by your report. Really honest and interesting! Thanks a lot!

markgrimes
Jan 13, 2014 11:03

A very true picture!

Elizadoo
Aug 9, 2016 03:16

This is super interesting. My daughter was a 22 year old college student who spent - months in Istanbul. Instead of being with other Americans she lived in an apartment with two Turkish working women (a teacher and an architect). My daughter was never, ever harassed during her entire stay. She learned Turkish get quickly (she is one of those people who had a greaf ear for languages) and she was always addressed in Turkish. We came to the conclusion that she assimilated so easily because she looks very "ethnic" and could pass as a native Turkish woman. Likewise when she has traveled throughout Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Peru, Panama, and even parts of SE Asia...I think the dark hair, dark eyes, and overall Latin/Middle Eastern look can ease a lot of interaction and make acceptance easier.

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