You will find throughout Turkish society and in the workplace that a form of formality and hierarchy exists. Many Westerners have to understand and become accustomed to this aspect of the culture if you are doing business here.
In my previous piece “Expats’ decisions and the turning point” (June 3, 2012), Ann Wilson, who is currently working as head of English at a large elite Turkish private school, and Dr. Yann Lussiez, who is the primary school principal at the MEF International School in İstanbul, provided some insights into what life can be like and some of the differences you may experience while living in İstanbul. In this final piece on this series, we’ll continue with some more of Wilson’s and Dr. Yann’s advice to newcomers.
I would say that the primary reason most expats leave their expat assignment early is because of the lack of understanding of local leadership styles. Wilson provided some good insights on this point earlier. Dr. Lussiez says that in Turkey leadership approaches and theories are very different from those in the US. He adds that you can never assume that people understand your perspective or approach, so it takes more time and energy to get some simple tasks done.
Part of making your experience abroad a positive one is enjoying where you are. A newcomer can feel overwhelmed in İstanbul, İzmir or Ankara. These major cities in Turkey have places to explore and many things to do but when you do not know anyone it can be lonely. It is not common in Turkey to go out alone. People tend to do things in groups. You won’t see many who are doing things like going to the cinema, eating at a restaurant or going to a museum on their own. Unlike in the West, where people can just do what they want and usually nobody pays them any attention unless they are breaking the law, it is not so here.
When asking Wilson what she suggests in making contacts and friends abroad she gave these ideas:
“It helps to join groups of like-minded individuals. The international community has groups here and it is helpful to join such groups. The foreign consulates also organize events as does the British Council and many other local groups. Joining such groups is a good start and they can be found online.”
Just to add a couple of points to this, I’d say that even in the international groups you can meet Turks who have dual citizenship and this will provide you with some opportunities to learn more about Turkey and its rich culture. Also the friendships and contacts you make initially may pave the way for your future career in Turkey as it is all about who you know. Making good contacts and establishing a good rapport with your work colleagues will definitely help your work experience be a more positive one.
Dr. Lussiez agrees with Wilson in that it is very useful to build friendships with foreigners who have established themselves here in Turkey through consulate events, expat organizations or professional connections. Other foreigners can provide insight and support. Dr. Lussiez emphasizes it is important to get involved in any special interests that you may have. He says he enjoys cycling and joined such a group in İstanbul and has also volunteered to work with the Maltepe University Street Children’s Project and organized fundraising events like Liars’ Night with the British Community Council.
After you have seen all the historic tourist places and been to a few restaurants and clubs, you may be wondering what else there is to enjoy about Turkey. Wilson gives a few ideas of some of her favorite pastimes and local foods she enjoys:
“Traveling to different parts of the country and walking in the forest on the Princes’ Islands [Büyükada] are among my favorite pastimes. I love finding places that are not so popular and busy, which have managed to preserve their charm. I love shopping in the open markets and traveling across the Bosporus on a ferry, which is my favorite way to travel. I love all Turkish food, especially meze and fish. I love simit with breakfast and eating breakfast by the sea.”
I think you get the idea that there are many wonderful places and things to enjoy and appreciate.
Dr. Lussiez shares these ideas:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of working with people from so many different nationalities and cultures. The school environment provides a perfect platform to see how the acceptance of diversity and collaboration from different cultures can work. It is a wonder to watch and participate in and brings hope for a better world. … I enjoy having a fine meal next to the Bosporus with good friends. I am thoroughly addicted to Adana kebabs and a late night tantuni!” (Tiny chunks and strips of cooked beef with a gravy-like sauce served on Turkish bread sliced through the middle.)
Get your bags packed and your ticket bought and come enjoy Turkey for a season or two or three!
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]