[STARTING UP IN TURKEY] Expats getting organized!
Indeed, the number of foreign nationals currently residing in Turkey is respectable. In January 2008, the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) published the results of the latest census, showing that foreigners already account for a good 14 per 1,000 of the country’s 70 million people. İstanbul is their city of choice (42,228), followed by Bursa (11,495), Ankara (7,166), İzmir (6,707) and Antalya (6,343), the census revealed. Moreover, according to figures provided by the Security General Directorate in 2006, there were over 187,000 foreigners residing in Turkey with residence permits. And although a large percentage (50,000-60,000) of these immigrants consists of returning Turkish migrants largely from the Balkans, a growing number of citizens of European Union member states, professionals as well as retirees have been settling in Turkey recently. Their numbers are estimated to be around 100,000 to 120,000.
Thus, finding and networking with fellow expats concerns many who are starting out in a new country. Be sure, whatever community you are looking for, chances are high that you can find it. It is merely a matter of where to look!
First of all, you should visit the Web site of your home country’s embassy or consulate general. These sites are meant, in particular, to provide the country’s nationals abroad with useful information, and thus you should be able to find out about a wide range of activities and events in the fields of business, society and culture. Cultural establishments are usually just a click away from the country’s embassy page. Check out, for example, the Spanish Cervantes Institute (estambul.cervantes.es), the British Council (www.britishcouncil.org/tr/turkey.htm), the French Institute (www.infist.org) or the German Goethe Institut (www.goethe.de/istanbul). These are all large nonprofit organizations supported by each country’s government and responsible for promoting their culture and language abroad and hence put on a wide range of community events, such as concerts, exhibitions and conferences.
Women’s initiatives most popular
Beyond these very established institutions, there is naturally a wide range of civil society initiatives for expats in Turkey. Sure, women’s groups by far make up the biggest share among these organizations, but in the end, all of them are designed to give expatriates the opportunity to meet and develop friendships with others living in the area.
Have you, for example, heard about the International Women of İstanbul (IWI)? The main purpose of this organization is to promote social, cultural and intellectual exchange and friendship among women of all nationalities living in İstanbul. “We all know how hard it is to move to a different country. ... To help in overcoming the ‘cultural clash’ or the feeling of ‘missing old friends’, there is nothing better than getting engaged in something,” their Web site writes, thus asking everyone to join. Check out whether this would be an option for you at www.iwi-tr.org. By the way, in 2008 the association also launched a kind of sub-branch named the International Professional Women of İstanbul Network (IPWIN), a place where professional women in İstanbul can come and share stories and experiences, tips and information.
Similar but located in Ankara are the Ankara Women’s Club (AWC) and the Ankara International Charities Committee (AICC), international social groups focused on social, cultural and intellectual activities within the foreign community in Ankara, and they organize a number of smaller events throughout the year.
There are also some initiatives specifically designed for foreigners from specific countries. For Americans and Canadians, in particular, is the group the American Women of İstanbul (AWI), a social network that provides social programs ranging from special interest groups to charities. You may contact them by their Web site at www.awi-istanbul.com. For British nationals is the British Women’s Group (BWG), which usually meets on the last Monday of each month at 10:00 a.m. at the Hilton Hotel in Ankara. French or French-speaking people may join Bonjour Ankara, a group which organizes lectures every first Wednesday of the month at 11 a.m. at the Sheraton. You may find the contact information of these latter associations at the Web site www.mymerhaba.com. Furthermore, the expat community Die Brücke appeals to all German-speaking women in İstanbul (www.bruecke-istanbul.org).
The Turkish-American & International Women’s Cultural and Charitable Society (TAIWCCS) offers a variety of bicultural activities while helping with local charity projects and is involved in activities such as education, excursions and conversation groups. The TAIWCCS head office in Ankara can be reached by telephone at 0312 490 03 45 or online at http://www.taiwccs.org/.
If in İzmir, you may be interested to join the International Women’s Association İzmir (IWAI). “We have over 80 members now, and every month new ladies join. We unite women of different nationalities who came to İzmir for work, to be with a Turkish partner or return to their country of origin after living abroad,” their Web site advertises at www.iwaizmir.com. The IWAI organizes a dinner and a coffee morning each month, as well as other events
And finally a hint for those who are not necessarily interested in women-related matters. The Hash House Harriers is a noncompetitive international group of runners, joggers, walkers and strollers who combine exercise with socializing. For instance, the Ankara Hash meets every Sunday morning at 12:30 p.m. in the Segmenler Park. The club has chapters in İstanbul, İzmir, Ankara, Antalya, Fethiye and Bodrum. It’s best to find out about their activities and local establishments at their Websites, such as http://www.bodrum-h3.com.
There are many, many more groups that have general meetings and which encourage members to learn about their new city, its culture, activities, and lifestyle and to develop friendships by sharing interests and hobbies with each other. So, in the end, where would we be without the Internet? A large number of online forums are available to expats living in Turkey, and many of them have turned into important crossroads for expats wishing to meet up. Thus, we end leaving you a short list of expatriate forums that are definitely worth taking a look at. www.turkish.meetup.com
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