An unusual integration story: The Belgian expats of Kuşadası
Belgian expats in a Kuşadası town marketplace. Many Belgians move to the warm Aegean district to enjoy their retirement. (PHOTO SUNDAY’S ZAMAN)
While the arrival of Turkish migrants to Belgium is celebrated with cultural activities, especially on its 50th anniversary, a quarter of a century old inverse flow of Belgians to Turkey is still a bit of a mystery.
Although Belgian authorities do not have any official records of the first Belgian expats to arrive in the Kuşadası district of Aydın, Belgians have been living in this area for 27 years.
Many Belgians moved to the warm Aegean district to enjoy their retirement, while some moved to Kuşadası for other reasons and went through the kinds of difficulties that Turkish immigrants in Belgium did. Many of these Belgian expats say they enjoy living in the magnificent atmosphere of Kuşadası and do not miss their homeland except for Belgian chocolate. Most of the expats say they don’t think, not even for a second, about moving back to Belgium.
One of the Belgian expats, Jean Paul Peters, has opened an integration center for Belgians in Kuşadası called Trefpunt Kuşadası, which means “Kuşadası Meeting Point” in Flemish. Unlike migration centers in other countries, the Trefpunt is located on the ground floor of a house that sits in a residential neighborhood in the Belgian area of Kuşadası.
Peters has been living in Kuşadası for 27 years. Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, the 63-year-old said he was a teacher in Ghent, which is a Flemish region of Belgium. He says he has a strange story of how he ended up moving to Turkey. He says providing volunteer language lessons to Turks at a Flemish-Turkish integration center in Ghent in the ’80s is what made him decide to make the move.
Peters says he first came to Turkey as a tourist and was impressed by the natural helpfulness of the Turkish people. Peters says his experience helped to increase his interest in Turkey, and he decided to attend Turkish language classes when he returned to Ghent.
Something about Turkey pulled him back, and he decided to work for a Belgian tour operator during the summer season. Before long, he decided to move permanently to the country, which also gave him a chance to travel across it, from the Black Sea province of Rize to the southeastern province of Mardin. “You won’t find many Turks who know Turkey as well as I do,” Peters said.
Peters said that after the number of Belgians living in Kuşadası increased, he began to organize tours to interesting places in the region, which he had great knowledge of, since he had been a tour guide for many years. People were pleased with Peters’ tours, and he began to receive more requests to join them. Peters also began to receive requests from Belgians and Dutch who had moved to Turkey and wanted to learn Turkish from him. He says that at first he was not sure how to teach basic Turkish but later decided to accept the offer since his profession is teaching. He explains that his aim is to help people live their lives in Turkey as easily as possible.
“My aim is to make [Belgian] people feel as if they are at home. What I mean is that I try to help them so that they are able to communicate with their Turkish neighbors,” said Peters. “Integration could be accomplished with 101 different methods, but I think learning Turkish is the best option. ”
The Belgian expat says he feels totally integrated with life in Turkey but adds that it takes time for foreigners to adapt to Turkish culture. Peters explained that for example when Belgian expats participate in his tours they find it strange for local people to ask them to tea or give them a piece of fruit.
He says some of the expats try to give something in return, but local people do not accept and usually say that it’s a part of Turkish hospitality and culture to share. Peters adds that he sees helping Belgians understand how to adapt to Turkish culture as a duty.
He not only provides basic Turkish classes at Trefpunt and organizes tours in the region, but also helps expats with other needs like obtaining a driving license or other legal matters. Expats are also provided famous Turkish authors’ books translated into Flemish and Flemish books about Turkey and the Anatolian culture.
On the weekends Peters also teaches Dutch to children of Belgian and Dutch families who attend Turkish schools during the week. These language classes are financed and supported by the Dutch government.
However, children who speak both languages at the same level choose to speak Turkish among themselves. Moreover they are able to help their families with interpreting legal issues they may face.
Peters and other Belgians in Kuşadası say people in the region are friendly to the expats and have sympathy towards them. When the police, businesses or any other people are asked on the street what they think about the expats, they say they have no complaints.
In fact the municipality wants to help make the expats’ lives more comfortable. Murat Saraç, a municipal official, says they have set up an information center for foreign residents to call and speak about any problems they may have.
Kuşadası Mayor Esat Altungün says that the region’s people have never shown any negative reaction towards the Belgian residents, even when Kuşadası started to become a holiday resort in the ’80s.