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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Izmir, Turkey

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

Izmir

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

No, but I knew a lot about Turkish culture because of reading books years ago and having Turkish friends. Also, before moving to Turkey I had previously visited this beautiful country 4 times (each for a duration of a month).

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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?

I took Turkish at university years ago, so I can function, communicate and get the daily things of life accomplished. However, I'm not fluent.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Actually, I wasn't worried about culture shock at all. I was concerned about acclimating to my new job in Istanbul. After living in Istanbul for one year and then moving to Izmir was when the culture shock hit and that was quite alarming! Something I was not expecting at all.

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

Izmir is a lovely city and I feel very blessed to live here. But the adjustment was a bit bumpy. I realized what the problem was. In Istanbul where I worked I knew many expats (Americans and Canadians), but after moving to Izmir the number of expat coworkers reduced to 1 (and she's not there everyday). Because I don't get the daily dose of expat conversation and jokes and talk of things that we all can relate to or have an interest in the culture shock really hit. It's no longer only having a Turkish environment in the evenings after work and on weekends, it is now 24/7. I was missing having some expat association. It's nice to talk about a book, a poem or the latest album of some admired music group. Of course, I talk about these things on Skype with friends back in the States, however, it's nice to talk about these with people here, face-to-face. However, I recently discovered a lovely English Poetry Club and Bookswap, but I can only attend a couple of times because normally I'm working fulltime and they meet during the week at an earlier time. Albeit, some of the ladies live nearby and so now I can always share and discuss poems and books, etc.

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 didn't go through these stages in Istanbul, but here in Izmir I definitely when through the "irritation-to-anger stage." I didn't even want to speak Turkish, it was getting on my nerves. At work I constantly hear Turkish and I can understand the conversations and they usually center on the same things (going to the hairdresser, makeup and shopping for new clothes and shoes). Absolutley drives me bananas! However, the problem was fixed when I got a lovely package (MP3 player) in the mail from the States and so now I listen to the sweet sounds of music and not frivolous conversation.

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.

I never really felt homesick and I have lived in other countries before. Even in Istanbul I didn't feel homesick, but in Izmir I was beginning to. I think it was the result of the pool of foreigners whom I know being reduced down to two. And I don't have daily contact with them, so that affected me. I was more irritable and felt a little depressed. But, now that I met other expats I feel better. A month or so ago before I met other expats the feelings of anger left. I was working hard on not being upset by meditating on things and reading some encouraging, positive articles.

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

I really like how everyone is so hospitable and they love to tell you about Turkey. Everyone wants to present a good image of their country. The healthcare is wonderful and so is the food (both which are cheaper than in the US). I love the historical sites and the greenery. The pace of life is much more relaxed here in Izmir than in Istanbul and that is really a blessing. Everyone loves to sing and some people will just break out in song (almost feel like I'm in a Hindi film sometimes :-)

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I like Turkish culture, but I guess the challenging aspect would be dealing with people who are completely opposite me in personality at the workplace. And that's not really a culture issue. I could experience that back in the US. Another thing would be not being able to express myself completely since I'm not fluent in Turkish.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Honestly, I can't think of any. Oh, wait I remember! It was last year in Istanbul. I did the "I got your nose" game with someone and they said that it's offensive here in Turkey (the move you do with your thumb in between your fingers). Everyone started laughing, Turks and expats, because they knew I didn't know. But I've made sure not to do that again.

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

Just don't wait for the current stage of Culture shock you're in to pass. Take action and initiative to hurry it along. I'm usually not an angry person and so when I started having those feelings I didn't like it. I knew what I had to do to get rid of it and so I put forth effort and sought ways to remove it. Also, once I realized what the problem was (having limited to practically no contact with expats) I searched for groups online and asked others if they knew of anything. I realized for myself that I need to have balance. I have many wonderful Turkish friends, but I also need to have some association with expats with similar interests.

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