That’s right, there’s a new series on Wonderful Wanderings! The X-pat Files is an interview series in which I talk to Belgians who moved abroad (every Friday), and people from all over the world who moved to Belgium (every Saturday). Through these conversations I try to discover what about Belgium attracts people, but also what pushes them away.
Sounds interesting? Then let’s get things started with Nathalie, who moved to Turkey!
Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Nathalie tells us about iving in Bodrum, Turkey.
1. Could you please introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about who you are, where you are from, where you moved to and when you moved there.
Hi everyone! I’m Nathalie, 34 years old and originally from Antwerp. I moved to Bodrum (Turkey) in 2008. Before that I dreamed of becoming an actress. There was nothing I wanted more and so I was very disappointed when that dream didn’t quickly come true. After having studied a couple of other things, without being motivated, I’ve worked in several places before starting to help out in my aunt’s business in 2002. I was an account manager there for five years and although I was happy there, I occasionally wondered: “Is this it?”. I realized I was working on someone else’s dream, but didn’t know what I wanted for myself. Searching the answer, my mind kept drifting to warmer places. I tried to convince my then boyfriend to move abroad, but he didn’t want to and so I was stuck again.
2. Why did you move to Turkey?
After having been together for six years, my boyfriend and I broke up in 2006. I was completely lost, had a lot of sorrow and started questioning my entire life. “And what now?” I locked myself in for a year and all I did was go to work, cry, be alone, write and think.
Things changed when I went on a holiday to Bodrum with my best friend Ellen. I had to get away. The plan was to forget everything and just have fun. The first night already we ended up in this beach bar where we got to know two guys who were clearly interested in us. I didn’t really feel like it, but we said yes to a date the next day anyway. Everything happened really fast and, as cliche as can be, I ended up having a “boyfriend” on the second day of our trip.
Convinced my best friend had given me the right advice, I decided to fully enjoy the moment and let myself go, something I’d never done before. I was and still am a very serious person when it comes to love, so it shouldn’t surprise you that that boyfriend is now my husband. A year after we met I left Belgium behind. I packed my bags, took my cat Bella and moved to Bodrum. Atilla and I married in 2012 at a beach and since then we’ve been working together in our own business (real estate).
3. What were your expectations before you moved to Turkey and did the reality align with those expectations?
I’d pictured everything in a very positive way. I felt very tough to be able to say that I was leaving. People thought it was great. The reactions were positive and some people were even a bit jealous. It was after all a very romantic story. But real expectations I didn’t have. I was mostly busy “stopping” my life in Belgium: finding people to rent my apartment, storing all of my stuff, training my replacement at work, saying goodbye to family and friends… It was a lot of organizing and I didn’t take the time to think about what would happen next.
The first weeks in Bodrum were very surreal, like I was living inside a pink bubble. I was an outsider in my own life. Was this me? At the time I “lived off of love”, as they say. The pink bubble burst after a few weeks, when I realized I was living together with a stranger in a strange land. After all, we’d only been together for a month in total the year before I moved. Luckily I quickly found a job as a travel guide at Neckermann/Thomas Cook where I also had Dutch and Belgian colleagues. That made everything a lot less strange. It was then that I also realized that this had been what I’d dreamed of: working and living abroad. It felt as if it was meant to be, as if the puzzle fit.
Now I think it’s a shame that I didn’t start working as a travel guide sooner to see more of the world and gather more experiences. Now I’m always in the same spot. The first two years were great, but after that it became a regular job, a routine, just like it would be in Belgium.
4. What’s the biggest difference between living in Turkey and living in Belgium? What’s the biggest difference in mentality of the people or their lifestyle?
There’s absolutely no structure in Turkey. I used to be annoyed by all the rules, the paperwork etc in Belgium, I know miss it. Even a simple visit to the bank can take hours. Turkish people aren’t good at organizing, planning and arranging things, so everything takes longer here. Nothing can be done immediately. It’s not in their nature. In all those years I’ve only met a few Turkish people who manage it. Before I could laugh about it. It was something you just had to deal with and I explained it like that to tourists who get annoyed by it, like when they had to wait for their hotel room for hours without any explanation.
Now that we have our own business though it’s just frustrating that everything happens so unnecessary slow and hard. Turkish people can make the most simple things very complex. Patience really is a virtue here and although I wouldn’t describe myself as a patient person, I have learned to let go more, because there’s simply no other option.
Turkish people are also very proud. Not only of themselves but also of their country and their fellow countrymen. That can be extreme sometimes and nothing that’s extreme is good. On the other hand I do like the love they feel for their country and how passionately they can talk about it. A lot of Belgians don’t have enough of that, I feel. On the contrary, we usually focus on the negative sides.
6. What do you love most about living in Turkey?
It’s a big cliche, but oh so true: the weather and the nature. In summer (and summer lasts long here) we mostly live outside. When I talk my dogs for a walk I get to see the sea, the mountains and all the fruit trees around me. It makes me smile each time. It’s pure enjoyment.
7. What do you like least about living in Turkey?
It’s absolutely my own fault that I still don’t speak Turkish. As a travel guide I didn’t really need the language as I was always surrounded by Belgians, Dutch and French. Only now, with our own business, I realize what a missing it is and I’m ashamed of it. I always thought it was terrible when people who’d moved to Belgium still couldn’t speak Dutch or French after several years in the country, and now I’m that person.
I do understand a lot, but speaking it is much harder. Sometimes I just block. I was hoping it would “click” much faster, but it still hasn’t. I’m sure that it’s mostly because of that that I still feel like a stranger and that’s what I like least about living in Turkey. I can see that friends who do speak Turkish feel a lot more at home here and have a better feel for the culture and the people.
There’s another difference between me and them: they chose the country while I chose to be with my husband. I love Turkey now and I like being here, but if it hadn’t been for him, I’d never moved here. And I wouldn’t stay if we’d ever split up.
8. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Mom, grandma, my cousin Xander, my niece Robin and a couple of friends. So it’s the people I miss the most. So bad that it hurts sometimes. What hurts less is missing the food. The fries, chicory, américain préparé, mussels…
I also miss being able to just go to a bar and have a drink. You do have regular bars in other big cities, but Bodrum is very touristy and in summer there are a lot of terraces but not the regular cafes with a took, nice ambiance and music. The lighting in most of the bars and restaurants makes you feel like you’re visiting the dentist. Most Turkish people also just have one big light in their living room and no ambiance lights and little decorative lights. I hate that. It’s really hard to find cute, modern and budget friendly decoration here. For that you have to go to the bigger cities where they have Ikea, but there’s not a lot of choice there and you always pay too much. Even simple tea lights are expensive here. So in general I miss the coziness.
And also the long dining. Turkish people don’t care about having a cozy, social dinner. My husband luckily has changed a bit in that area, but sometimes he still asks if we can please turn on the big light because otherwise he doesn’t see a thing.
9. Is there something about Belgium you don’t miss at all?
It’s a generalization, of course, but in Belgium people don’t take care of each other that much. Everyone pursues his own personal happiness. I can imagine it was different when our grandparents were young, but I recognize being like that whenever I come back to Belgium. Every man for himself. Everything needs to be perfect. It’s hard to just let go of that. I know a lot of people want to get away from that, but it’s hard to do so.
My eyes opened when I met my husband’s family (and most Turkish family’s are like his), where everyone takes care of each other. All generations live in one house and nobody thinks that’s strange. Nobody claims his privacy or sees it as a problem. I don’t know if I could do it, but I do think it’s beautiful. It gives me a warm feeling and it changed me in regards to how I see my own family and how I’ve developed my own philosophy, but I still do like my own spot, with my own little family, together with my husband and our animals.
10. Do you think you’ll stay where you are now, or do you think you’ll migrate again some day?
I’ll stay in Turkey. I figured out quite quickly that I had to make a definitive choice. I don’t believe in long distance relationships, not for myself at least. That’s also why I decided to move to Bodrum to early in our relationship. It was either that or ending it. That I moved there was logical as I’d always wanted to live abroad. The timing was right and there was little doubts. The doubts came later, but still Turkey won each time I made a positives/negatives list. We’d love to have kids now and besides the fact that things are better taken care off in Belgium, the schools are good and kids might have more chances there, I still prefer how kids can still be real kids in Turkey and I look forward to raising some of my own here.
Last year my mother had health difficulties and I stayed in Belgium for five months. At this moment I’d love to be in Belgium as well to stay with my grandma, who isn’t doing so well. That’s something that’s difficult for me and each time I leave them it pains me. It’s the thing that makes me doubt again, but I still choose Turkey, hoping that my mom will someday move in with us.
11. A word of advice for Belgians who are thinking of moving to Turkey?
Not specifically for people who want to move to Turkey, but for people who want to move abroad in general. I think too many people think it will be paradise. It’s also important to realize that the routine and wanting to get away from that can also present itself in a foreign land if you’re not careful. Stay realistic. Being happy lies within you, what you make of it, wherever in the world. I don’t think the location matters that much in the end, although beautiful nature and a fantastic climate contribute to being happy.
Follow your hart. Don’t think too much and too long. You can always go back. Belgium won’t run away, but you won’t get back time, so just go for it. Don’t let a partner or fear of the unknown stop you. Especially fear can be a barrier. If moving abroad, or just traveling in general, is something you can’t stop thinking about, you have to try to get over that fear because otherwise you’ll regret it later and regret is a harder feeling to cope with than fear. Regret will last for a lifetime.
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!