Where are you from originally?
I’m from West Chester, Ohio. It’s a suburb outside Cincinnati.
Where are you now?
Now I’m in Istanbul, Turkey. My neighborhood is Ortaköy, which means “middle village”.
What made you move?
A whirlwind marriage.
Just kidding! When I graduated university, I spent some time teaching English in Cambodia. I returned home to Ohio and tried to catch my stride in America but it was a frustrating and uninspiring experience. Istanbul is a city I’d always wanted to visit, the photographs and the history always made it seem like such an exciting place to be. It’s also a very central point for traveling, which is a top priority in my life. And, frankly, as I thought about where I wanted to try living and working for a while, Turkey seemed like a place that would be affordable and interesting without being too different or overwhelming in the way Southeast Asia was for me. 4.5 years later, I’m still here!
What made you stay?
My time in Istanbul has moved very quickly, and each year gets progressively better than the last, so I suppose staying has kind of been the natural course for me. It’s never been a difficult decision for me to stay. I’m lucky because my work and time are highly valued here, but I also truly love this city and all its beauty and challenges. Whenever I’m away, I always wonder what I’m missing.
What other places have you called home?
Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I taught English there for about a year. It was difficult, but I gained a lot of perspective and learned a lot about myself there.
Living abroad can be costly, how have you managed to make a living as an expat?
I spent my first few years in Istanbul working in international preschools as a classroom teacher, speaking English. It’s hard work, but rewarding and offers a decent salary. A couple years ago, I started doing some private lessons after school, and last year made the decision to devote all of my time and energy to that. I now have a roster of 10 students throughout the city who I see 1-3 times a week for 1-2 hours. PSA: Being a native English speaker is a truly a ticket to the world.
What has been the hardest thing to get used to?
The most difficult adjustment has been dealing with less-rigid boundaries, both literally and figuratively. There’s no such thing as “too close” or “yield”, and no question that’s too nosy or too personal. People will walk out in front of you, cut you off, stand obliviously in the middle of walkways and doorways, loom over you in a checkout line, blatantly stare at you from across a bus. There’s also a lot of unsolicited questions and advice, often from practical strangers. “How much do you earn? How much is your rent? Are you married? Why not, you should be! Did you gain weight? Did you lose weight? You shouldn’t sit on that cold bench, you’ll become infertile. You should wash the dishes this way instead. Close that window, or we’ll all get sick.” At the same time, though, they can be pretty heroic and helpful. “Did that man say something to you? I will yell at him!”
What about your new home do you love the most?
I love that there is always something new to explore. Neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, food. It’s like the city that never ends, and everyone I meet has something different to show me. Even in areas I think I know well, there’s always something I’ve missed, or something recently opened. I also love the seasonal produce, the flavors of fruits and vegetables here are unmatched.
Is there anything you’ve learned along the way that every future expat in Istanbul should know, or wish you had known before coming?
Be patient, the city can be really overwhelming at first, but it does get easier. Learning a few Turkish phrases will also go a long way in your daily interactions and make life instantly more relaxed.
Tell us your top 3 places to visit, things to do, restaurants to eat, whatever, in Istanbul?
1) Raki-Balik nights. Raki is Turkish liquor (clear in the bottle, it turns a milky color when mixed with water, and has a strong licorice flavor). Balik means “fish”. These two in combination are a true Turkish tradition, where you sit for hours, usually in a special restaurant called a meyhane, with loved ones and enjoy great food, great conversation, and great atmosphere. At a large table, people will often get up and change seats throughout the meal to make sure they can speak to everyone present. A Raki-Balik night will show Turks in their truest, most beautiful form, and invite you to show them yours. Akin Balik and Arnavutkoy Balikcisi are a couple of my favorite places.
2) Go to the sea. The Bosphorus is Istanbul’s beating heart. Technically it’s a strait, but everyone calls it “the sea”. There are many places where the city opens up and you can enjoy a walk along the water (Bebek and Emirgan are my favorite spots), or you can catch a ferry to the other side of the city and enjoy the breeze and waves from the boat. It’s the cure for my blue days.
3) Leave Sultanahmet and Taksim. I don’t visit these areas much anyway, but for visitors it’s important to see other parts of the city. Of course, the Old City has much to offer in terms of history and grandeur, but contemporary Istanbul is just as important an experience. Taksim, sadly, is no longer as vibrant and mesmerizing as it once was. Exploring neighborhoods like Cihangir, Nisantasi, Besiktas, Kadiköy, and Moda will introduce you to a more local side of the city and let you see where Turks go to enjoy their time.
If you could bring one item from every country you’ve lived, what would it be?
From Cambodia: $2 dinners
From Turkey: The street cats