Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Emine tells us about her life in Turkey.
1. Hi, Emine! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
My name is Els. Well, actually it’s Emine now because I converted to Islam seven years ago and that’s the name I’ve chosen. I’m 35 years old and originally from Londerzeel. I’ve been living in beautiful Istanbul the past 3.5 years together with my husband. I work here as an English teacher.
When I met my husband six years ago we already planned on moving here, but we tried living in Belgium for a year first/ My husband couldn’t find his way here. Especially the discrimination and racism were heavy on him. I had to deal increasingly with racism as well because I started wearing a headscarf permanently.
2. What did you expect from moving to Turkey? Did those expectations hold up?
I had a pretty realistic image of Turkey and knew that not everything would be easy, but still things were worse than I’d expected. Finding a job, a house and the bureaucracy all turned out to be more difficult than expected, but then again hospitality and warmness of the Turkish people were much better than expected.
Learning the language was harder than I’d thought as well. Even after three years, it’s still hard for me to follow complex conversations or group conversations in which I have to follow several people at the same time. To be honest, I’ve only started getting a feel for the language the last year or so. It’s finally clicking.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Turkey and life in Belgium
Islam. I can practice Islam freely here. I wake up with the adhan, wear a headscarf at work and have a mosque at every street corner, so to say. I’m free in how I practice Islam. Nobody forces me to pray, to fast, to cover myself up etc. That was different in Belgium only, there I was forced not to do all of those things. I couldn’t work with my headscarf on. I had to take it off before entering, something I found humiliating. It was also hard to accept the harassment of colleagues who would, for example, put my table full of food during Ramadan.
4. What’s the best part about living in Turkey?
The fact that everyone’s free here. I can walk the streets next to someone in a niqaab and someone in a mini skirt, so to say, and nobody cares. Also the friendliness and hospitality of the people and my job as a teacher are high on my list of favorite things.
5. What do you like least about living in Turkey?
Without a doubt the bureaucracy and the sense of time management here. The bureaucracy to get a license to stay and work here is slow and hard. Even though everything always turns out alright, this always gives me a lot of stress.
Besides that, the sense of time. I’ve always been thought that being on times means being there fifteen minutes early, but in Turkey “being on time” is a very flexible concept. “On time” might as well be a few hours later and nobody will be bothered by that.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
At number 1, of course, my family and friends. Luckily, Skype takes care of that a bit. I use it weekly to stay in touch with my parents. Most of my friends read about my adventures in Turkey on my blog (in Dutch), but I miss being part of the volunteering organisation moslimas Al Minara. All my friends are members and attend activities about which I then read after they’ve happened. Yes, that hurts a little.
It also isn’t possible to see people during my holidays and that’s quite hard.
Besides that, I of course also miss certain foods, such as chicory, Holland Cheese, brie, real chocolate etc. You can find some of those things here, but they’re very expensive here.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The racism and prejudices. I really don’t miss those. Some questions I keep getting each and every time I come back to Belgium: “Oh, your Dutch us good for someone like you and you’re pretty polite and smart as well”, “Does your husband make you wear that rag?”, “You’re in Belgium here. No need to wear that rag”. Even at the Belgian consulate in Turkey someone asked me, during one of the interviews to check our marriage qualification, if my husband hit me and forced me to wear that headscarf.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Turkey? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
I can see myself growing old in Turkey, yes. Maybe we won’t always stay in Istanbul because my husband would like to move back to his birth village someday, but we’ll definitely stay in Turkey.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Turkey?
- research the permissions you need to live and work here as the requirements keep getting more severe.
- make sure you have a job and a place to live before coming here. Maybe send your partner first to already arrange some things.
- Keep into account that you can only send stuff to Turkey when you already have a permit to stay here. Otherwise it will be very difficult and expensive to get things through customs.
- Learn the language. Make sure you have a decent basic knowledge of it. Bureaucracy goes so much smoother when you speak a bit of Turkish. Turkish people will help you better when they notice you’re trying to adjust and put in the effort to learn the language.
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!