7Q: Sirin of Turkey

Follow Sirin on Twitter @sirintugbay

Hello. My name is Şirin, and I’m Turkish. I was born and raised in Istanbul, went to an international school and have been studying and living abroad since I turned 19. I have been living in the Netherlands for the past 4 years, and after working in the cultural sector for 3 years I have recently gone back to university for a Masters degree in cultural economics.

1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


It wasn’t really a “pack your life and live abroad” type of decision for me. When I graduated high school I went abroad for college, and somehow I met a new part of me. That part of me likes the challenge of a completely new environment.  There I was, meeting different type of people, getting to know a new culture with every aspect. I was in a way in the “international student bubble”, but you are never quite in a bubble, you always realize everything going around you, whether it is politics or how people live outside of school. So after finishing school, I knew two things; that I didn’t want to stay in the same country and that I didn’t quite want to go home. So I settled for another country, started a one-year programme as a warm-up, and stayed here since then.


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


Not really. I don’t think I had any strong beliefs about the country that I came to to have this kind of a change.


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


It’s the whole settling part, for me. When you move within the city you’ve been living in, it’s less so, but when you move to a completely new environment, it takes so much time to get your routine going. I hadn’t realized this in the beginning, but all the little things that you figure out even after a whole year of living somewhere. Where you like to go out for drinks, where you like to go for your haircut, where you like to buy your tea and all these little things. The things that you can easily judge in your home country, because you know the values and meanings of very small things, and you can judge them in a heartbeat, but when you are in a new environment with different values, you have to recheck things, try them out, figure them out slowly.


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


I don’t think I have one that I always share.  In a way, I am good at adapting to new situations, so for me being an expat came as a late realization. It was more like a “oh, yeah, I think I am one”. It was sort of a natural label to identify with.


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


In the Netherlands, I’ve found it hard. Or at least, I have connected to several Dutch friends, all of whom we would consider as international people. They are Dutch, they come from Dutch families, but their perspective on life is international. But in general, the problem has been connected to the language barrier. When I meet a Dutch person through a friend, they always speak English, because they feel that is easier for me, even if I try to get a Dutch conversation going. Then, speaking in English keeps them somehow at an arm’s length. Something just doesn’t work the same.


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


The biggest thing would be my favorite dessert. It’s called Kazandibi (literal translation would be “bottom of the pan”) – it’s a milk-based pudding-ish dessert which is burnt on one side. There is one place in Istanbul where they make it perfect. I have tried it in a Turkish restaurant here, but it was nowhere close. It was the biggest disappointment I had, food wise.

Kazandibi "bottom of the pan"


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


The countless amazing friends that I have made all over the world. Unfortunately, they tend to be travelers as well and end up going elsewhere. But that only means I have a wonderful excuse to visit a number of countries! I feel very fortunate that internet has all the communication tools necessary to keep in touch; whether it is to write long emails, or post an interesting website on their Facebook wall or call them on Skype on a lazy Sunday… It makes them closer even when they are at the other end of the world.

You can check out more from Sirin on Twitter, @sirintugbay, and her blog, http://visionsofarcadia.wordpress.com

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