In August of 2014, my boyfriend (now husband) and I moved to Istanbul, Turkey from North Carolina; tomorrow, movers are coming to our apartment and we’ll begin the process of relocating to Germany, arriving to our new town a couple of days before the new year.
This has been a long time in the making, between the planning and figuring out logistics, but it didn’t really seem real until recently. Suddenly, what once felt abstract now feels very concrete and immediate. We’re doing it. We’re moving countries, again, and will be dealing with everything that comes along with that– a new language, new culture, making a new social group, etc.
I find myself thinking that it has to be easier this time around, since I’ve already gone through the process once and know what to expect. I know that learning the language won’t be instantaneous and I’ll have to be patient, and not be afraid to make mistakes while I’m learning. I know that there will be a million cultural idiosyncrasies that I could never imagine and that I will have to learn how to navigate. I know that I can’t take anything for granted or assume that things will be the way that I’m used to, even small things. I haven’t spent much time in Germany– only a long weekend in Berlin. I’ve never been to the small city in southwest Germany that we’re moving to. (Although my husband has several times for work, and assures me it’s very nice.) Germany is almost a complete blank slate in my mind at this point and I know the only way to get used to it is through immersion, and figuring it out as I go, and I know that requires patience, patience, patience.
Adjusting to Turkey was a journey. I had no idea what I was doing when I moved here. And that was fine– sometimes you just have to take the plunge. I went through a cycle that I later learned is pretty common when it comes to moving to a new country: things were awesome at first, then got difficult, then got easier, then got difficult again, and finally really evened out and became normal, easy life at after about a year and a half.
For me, the “frustration/annoyance with everyday differences” was the grocery store. I never would have guessed that would be my biggest stumbling block when adapting to life in Istanbul– I had done a fair amount of traveling and had studied abroad before this move, and had gone grocery shopping in other countries without any problems, but our local grocery store in Istanbul was an entirely different story. We lived in an old, busy central neighborhood, and our local grocery store was VERY small and VERY crowded, and as it turns out, the social rules dictating personal space are very different in Turkey than in the US, which made squeezing around the tiny aisles with a million old Turkish aunties who had no problem throwing some elbows or bumping into me really stressful. Plus, you bag your own groceries here, and people are not shy about almost physically pushing you out of the way if you’re going too slow, so checking out and having to converse in a new language, handle a new currency, and bag my groceries as quickly as possible all at once with a bunch of pushy people bearing down on me was… well, it was an adventure. And not really a good one.
But I adjusted. I learned to be quicker when counting money, and I learned to speak up when someone was crowding me. Life here got easier again. The “confronting deeper cultural/personal issues” came when I had my first job here, which ostensibly was in English but I needed a level of Turkish to communicate with the support staff which was beyond what I could speak at the time, providing almost daily frustrations in addition to adapting to a new work environment, with a new work culture. But then that eventually got easier, too.
I’m hoping it goes more quickly in Germany, now that I know what to expect. However, there is one huge thing that is different with this move: I’m five months pregnant this time around, which completely shifts the planning and focus of the move. This time we’re less concerned with living in a cool neighborhood downtown with lots of bars and shops, and more concerned with having an apartment big enough to house a newborn and hopefully guests as well. I’m spending a lot of time researching healthcare and birth procedures in Germany, and looking for mom groups I can join in our city. When we were moving to Istanbul, I was so excited about the ADVENTURE of it all, the mystery of a new city and the excitement of discovering it, and while there is certainly some of that this time– I’ve already made a list of places in surrounding countries I want to visit, thanks to the fantastic train system in Europe– I’m probably spending most of my time fantasizing about all the green space and parks in Germany where I can take walks with the baby. After living in Istanbul with its 15+ million people and nonstop traffic, I’m looking forward to living in a quieter, more peaceful place.
There are a million things that I will miss about living in Turkey. I think there is literally nothing better than a waterfront meal at a fish restaurant in summer, either on the Bosphorus in Istanbul or on the coast, and there is no beating the amazing and unique history of Istanbul. I’ll miss being able to pop off to either the Mediterranean or Aegean coast for a quick weekend trip, or randomly stumbling across ancient ruins and being able to explore them whenever we want. I’ll miss the fantastic Turkish breakfasts and the ferry rides. I’ll miss the street parades and the simit-sellers yelling outside my apartment, the strolls on the seaside, and the friendly street cats who are just waiting to be petted. And I’m sure there are a million other things I’ll miss that I don’t even realize yet. It’s always that way when you make a big move. Although it’s not like we’ll never be back– my husband’s family is here, so we will always have a connection to Turkey.
Right now I’m feeling very grateful for the experience of living in Istanbul and everything it’s taught me, and very excited about this next step in our lives.