What a Difference Coffee Makes

I want to take a second to really focus on something that may sound dumb.  Something I said before, but may have sounded like an off-the-cuff kind of thing.  Like a joke. But it wasn’t a joke. It isn’t.  It’s very, very real.

Coffee (finding the Holy Grail) has changed my life.

 To many people, that probably sounds really really dumb.  Like, come on girl, it’s just coffee.

But is it?

Is it just coffee?

Is it just coffee, or is it reclaiming something from a previous culture that I thought I lost?  Is it one small comfort that had been a routine in my life for over 10 years, that I had to give up during one of the most difficult challenges I have had to face?  Is it, perhaps, a little piece of home that has brought me a little more sanity?

 It’s all of those things, and so much more.

For people who have had to make a huge life adjustment, like moving to a new (and very different) country (or maybe town), you know what I’m talking about.  There’s little things that you may or may not have known were important to you in your old life, that you suddenly don’t have anymore.  Maybe it’s that specific brand of cookie, a lotion that you love, or a special place you liked to go during your free time. But now, it’s not there. On top of the struggle of giving up the life you knew, and shaped, for the last (however many) years you’ve been on this earth… you lost your security blanket too.  That thing that helped keep you grounded, regardless of what you’d been going through.  Something that was always there.

 After  while, you get used to its absence. You’ve gotten past it.  That was part of your old life, and you don’t need it now.

But then…then it’s back.

You have it again!

And you realize you didn’t really get used to it. You hadn’t gotten past it at all.

And slowly, things start feeling more normal.  You start to own the life you have now, instead of just getting through it on a daily basis.  You look forward to the next morning again, because, even if you don’t have anything to do (for now)- you have a cup of coffee to enjoy in the morning.

And for me, that’s enough.

Next on the list? Getting our own apartment, maybe learning how to drive stick, putting myself out there (friend wise)…

But I’ll do all that after my first cup.

With coffee to start my day, I can do anything.

Baby Steps AKA: What sucks (initial months)

The full title of this post should be “Baby Steps AKA: What sucks about moving to a country that doesn’t speak your language (the initial three months experience)”, but I thought that would be way too bulky a title and clutter up my blog space.

I know I’ve been singing the praises of Turkey and showing all of the good times I’ve been having (the best that I can while remaining anonymous), but there are some difficulties to moving to a new country…particularly one where the main language is not your own (or close to it- but the alphabet is almost the same so I guess that’s a win).  I like to think of the “learning curve” I’ve been experiencing as baby steps…both, because you learn things slowly and in small pieces, and because I feel like I’m two years old.

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There are so many aspects of living in Turkey that I didn’t even think of that could become a hurdle for me to overcome.  Going from 25 years old and managing my own house (apartment…shack…cardboard box.) and holding down a job/academic career to being basically a child who can’t work or speak or really do much of anything without assistance is quite difficult.  No, it’s freaking hard. FRICKIN’ HARD (read with a southern accent).

These are a few things that I have been having to learn from the beginning. AGAIN.

Language

Honestly, this is a no brainer, and I was pretty prepared for it.  I knew that there was going to be a language barrier- especially when it comes to speaking culturally.  Even with the vocabulary and grammar understanding of a five year old, I’m managing alright.  The hardest part, really, is that some things don’t translate directly from English to Turkish.  For example-  you don’t take a picture, you pull a picture.  Yeah, I know it seems so weird- but if hubby can overcome these obstacles going from Turkish to English, I can too!

Cooking

If you have perused my recipe tag at all, you will know that I am no novice in the kitchen.  I’m not a supreme chef, but I can cook.  However, everything in Turkey is different.  I’m really struggling to adjust to propane ranges rather than electric.  When I first came, I was scared to even turn the things on.  I lean slightly towards being a pyrophobe- no thanks to the ubiquitous stories we are told as children of people burning their faces off with propane tanks/stoves, in an attempt to make us careful.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I’m sorry, but your parents don’t love you.

Along with the methods of cooking, the spices, I swear, are different.  Is there an enhancer in American salt? I know I should know this already since I’m a food science major- but I focused more on microbiology than production.  Here, I have to use a pound of salt where I used to use a pinch (slightly hyperbolic, but it feels that way). Also, most of the spices Anne uses are freshly ground, so the taste is different.

I used to be able to cook up a breakfast, lunch, and dinner like a pro- but now…I poke around and help where I can.  And some people here are picky… Sometimes, I feel useless.

Laundry

Even the washing machines here were a conundrum to me! They are not the same!  If you are accustomed to a front loading washing machine with buttons for temp/cycles/ etc then you would be fine- but I’m a good ol’ southern gal who uses top loaders with a dial.  While I have now gotten the hang of the washing machine- it is still something Anne does most of the time, because I just don’t know what I’m doing…

And also, drying machines aren’t a thing.  I think this is the case for most of Europe though.  Did you know there is a technique to hanging clothes on a line? Yeah, I didn’t either.  I’m still trying to figure that out.

Those are just a few things for now.  Grocery shopping, hosting, and cleaning the house are a few others that I haven’t written here…maybe another post.  I often feel like a burden on the family- like a useless little girl that doesn’t know how to be an adult.  Especially since brides/daughters play a big role in the upkeep of the house. I really can’t explain how hard it is to go from a card carrying adult to a child.  I really can’t. It’s just something you have to experience.

Fortunately, I have a very patient mother-in-law who doesn’t hesitate to help me, and also accepts my poor attempts at assistance when I offer them.

#expat problems

Leave America at the airport

While rocking together on a porch swing in the cool Mediterranean night, my husband turned to me and asked

How are you feeling about Turkey?

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Naturally, my first instinct was to say “good!” but, I wanted to give a more detailed answer than that.  Between jet lag and all of the running around we had been doing, I had been very tired recently and he was worried about how quiet I had been for the week we had been there- and that I hadn’t been my normal, bubbly self.

  I assure you all, I am just exhausted.  

But anyway, I started to really think about how I felt about Turkey. Really. And the word that kept coming to my mind was

different

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But not different in a bad way, like how my mom uses it to describe food she doesn’t like…but different in a..different sort of way.  I know you shouldn’t use the same word to define or describe a word, but there it is.  Turkey is different than the US. It just is.  If you come here looking for a western experience, you are going to be very disappointed.  The traffic is different, the speaking is different, the way of showing affection is different, the buildings are different, the lifestyle is different… the only thing that isn’t different is that we all bleed the same blood.  It is so different.

I can understand how culture shock could flatten a lot of people who aren’t prepared for this huge change.  I suffered it myself the first time we came four years ago.  Fortunately I know what to expect this time around, and have been mentally preparing myself for this change for several years.  Also, I have the huge benefit of the love and support of family (in Turkey and back int he US) while I am here.  That definitely helps take the edge off.

A bit of advice to those struggling with a culture adjustment- jump in with both feet and leave America (or wherever you are from) at the airport.  Fighting against your new home will only make you miserable.  Embrace it, enjoy it, and find the parts that give you comfort.

I hope it keeps working for me too :).

The Horrible, Wonderful, Scary, Exciting Truths About Moving Abroad

Let me stop you right there-  we aren’t certain about our moving just yet…but it has been a topic floating around the office as August approaches.

As we careen into July, the possibility of our moving to Turkey has been looming more and more daunting on the horizon.  While discussing the many things I need to do- such as purchase my visa, pack my suitcases, buy more luggage…one of the technicians in the laboratory asked me

Aren’t you scared?

And honestly? I don’t really know.

You see, I’ve known for years that Turkey was a likely destination for us in the future.  You can see from my earliest blog posts that I wasn’t that excited about moving there.  However, as time progressed and the idea marinated in my brain, I became more and more comfortable with the idea. Of course, spending a summer in Turkey four years ago did help soften my heart to the eclectic country where east meets west in a dazzling display of cultural curiosities.  At this point in my life, mere weeks away from holding my Master’s diploma inshallah… this seems like the perfect time to start a new chapter in my life.  Like I have said before, it is more like a new BOOK!

But that question really struck me.  No one had asked before if I was scared.  Nervous?  Excited?  Won’t you miss ____?  Those questions I’ve had, but scared…? Hmm…the more I think about it….

Not particularly.

  Naturally there are some aspects of moving that are always nerve wracking.  Packing, planes, leaving your loved ones behind…and due to the latter I have been living at arms length from most people since moving to Florida.  Why get close when you are only going to cry when it is time to leave?  Maybe that is a little depressing, but hey-  whatever gets me through this upheaval right?

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So I thought I would make a list of my three biggest fears and my three biggest excitements regarding my move to Turkey inshallah… maybe it will help those of you who are also moving, to see it from another perspective.  Let’s start with the scary…

Fears

  1. Home sickness:  Yes, being home sick is a fear.  I have heard my husband describe his home sickness when he initially moved to the US- how it would come in debilitating waves.  Home sickness can act as a catalyst when already weighed down by other stressors.  It is an unfortunate eventuality, but I hope that I can keep it under control until I have adjusted to Turkish life.
  2. Not being a citizen:  There are so many hang ups that come with not being a citizen.  Paperwork, mostly, and the idea that if you get in trouble you don’t have the same assurances as a citizen does.  This is another aspect of international life that my husband brought to my attention.  I am holding my breath the first year of my move, until I can apply for citizenship.
  3. Miscommunication: There are many verbal and non verbal ways of communicating- and I dread the idea that I may give the wrong idea to strangers, particularly, due to my way of speaking (even in Turkish), or my body language.  The last thing I need is to offend someone, or have someone think I am coming on to them.  In Turkey…that could end pretty badly.  While adjusting to the general culture of Turkey doesn’t worry me so much- these little methods of communication are daunting.

Excitements

  1. New sites/places:  The best part of moving anywhere, in my opinion, is experiencing new places and sights that you have not been able to see before!  While I have been in Turkey before, so not everything is new,  I look forward to spending the summer months lounging with my husband in his family’s beach house in Izmir,  watching the snow fall in large feathery drops onto the orange rooftops and rolling hills in central Turkey, and hearing the Ezan as an alarm clock in the morning.  Every country/ city has it’s beauties…and while I may be leaving the Florida beaches and palms, I am gaining the Mediterranean breezes and mountains.
  2. A new standard of living:  While this may come off as daunting for those of us who are used to the luxury of the first world, I am very excited to be able to experience a more Turkish way of life.  Not like Turkey is a poor country by any means, but the standard of living is very different.  For example, I am thrilled to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables every day for incredibly cheap, make my own tarhana (a special Turkish soup) and salca (pepper or tomato paste), hang my clothes out on a line to dry, and utilize public transportation- even ferries!- instead of using my own car to go everywhere.  If that means I can’t afford a smart phone- so be it!!
  3.  Living a new language:  Four years ago I would have laughed in your face if you told me that I was going to speak Turkish- and speak it well.  While I do have a long way to go before being fluent, the possibility of mastering Turkish is more realistic when in Turkey.  There is something so empowering about being able to express yourself in multiple ways…and I can’t wait to live this new language on a day to day basis!

…and nothing else matters

the future?
the future?

Every day things look worse and worse for us here.  I really have no idea what we are going to do…and what will happen.  When you don’t know how it is going to end, it is hard to care about the assignments in front of you.  For instance, I have a paper due (the lit review of my masters thesis proposal) as a class assignment for one of my courses, at the end of this semester…but oh how hard it is to give two cares when I probably won’t see next semester.   At first I was partially excited to return to Turkey, imagining the days spent without any stress or concern, baking and watching TV all day with no end to the relaxation in sight…

But then there’s the money problem.

The stipend for PhD students is minimal at best, if you get any at all.  With uni being free in Turkey, the  stipend side is iffy.  Here, if you get an assistantship to pay tuition, more likely than not you get a stipend as well.  Not so in Turkey.

Also, if he decides, or comes to the point, where he will be working solely from his Master degree, he will receive a monthly pay (thats how they do it, a monthly rate instead of hourly) of approximately as much as the stipend he is receiving now to take his PhD in the US.  Two people living off the measily stipend of a student? Good luck with that.  Yes, Turkey is a much cheaper place to live…because many of the comforts we enjoy in the US are not as common place there.  I am quite certain I cannot work on a resident permit, let alone work without a grasp of Turkish.  This adds to my concerns.  It was hard enough starting over in a new state when we were able to drag everything we owned with us (pots, pans, linens, etc), let alone starting off in a new COUNTRY where all we have is what could fit in 4 suitcases!

This adds to the urgency of finishing up in the US. First, padding our savings with the stipend money that we try very hard to save could benefit us enormously when we move.  Second, the starting salary he would receive from finishing his PhD would be a good 1,000TL higher a MONTH.  Roughly, ofcourse.

We are trying our best to make it work here.  He does NOT want to go back to Turkey empty handed, and neither do I.  Clearly, staying in the US is the best option… if he can get his PhD.  If not, there is no chance of being able to get it after waiting even one year.  With military service looming overhead, he would not be able to finish a PhD in Turkey in time…the long term result being a minimal salary that couldn’t provide the lifestyle (or the family size) we had in mind.

He said already “Raziysan gel” (great song), and I agreed and came with him.  Regardless of our situation, I will be with him in the end.