American Expat Living in Turkey - Interview with David & Leah

Published: 25 Mar at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Turkey
David and Leah are both from Michigan, but have called many places home in the last several years. They got married after college and worked in Virginia for a while. Then they packed up everything they owned, put all but a couple of suitcases into storage, and moved overseas.

They've been working at an international school in Turkey since 2012 – and they love it! David and Leah teach students from all over the world.

Turkey is a fascinating country with so many things to do and taste and see. They make the most of the opportunities they have to travel around Turkey and visit other countries. Living so far away from family, friends, and the comforts of home isn’t easy, but their struggles are part of the adventure and they wouldn't change a thing. David & Leah's expat blog is called Novel Benedictions (see listing here)

Watching the hot air balloons in Cappadocia.
Watching the hot air balloons in Cappadocia.

Here's the interview with David & Leah...


Where are you originally from?
We're both originally from Michigan, though not from the same town. We grew up about 40 miles away from each other but didn't meet until our freshmen year of college. Oddly enough, we didn't go even go to the same college. Leah went to a college in Arkansas and met David when she was home over Christmas break.

In which country and city are you living now?
We live in Ankara, Turkey.

How long have you lived in Turkey and how long are you planning to stay?
We moved to Ankara in August of 2012 on a two year contract to teach at an international school. We just extended our contract for another year!

At the ruins of the ancient library of Ephesus.
At the ruins of the ancient library of Ephesus.
Why did you move to Turkey and what do you do?
Living and serving overseas had been a dream of ours and we knew we wanted to do someday. We didn't realize we'd be doing it our second year of marriage! We were facing some job insecurities, so we decided to look into job opportunities overseas. David had a friend who was teaching in Turkey and she told us her school had several openings. In a matter of a couple of weeks, we had interviewed and had a job offer. We took a leap of faith and decided there was no time like the present.

Did you bring family with you?
It's just the two of us!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Our transition was exciting as well as extremely challenging. We have a very supportive expat community, but we definitely faced culture shock. Very few people speak English, especially in our neighborhood, so we had to learn survival Turkish quickly.

Leah had a break down our first week here. Our apartment was nice, but had issues that needed to be fixed. One of the first days, our lock broke and we couldn't get the front door to open from the outside or inside. We broke the handle off of our washing machine so we had to open it with a screwdriver. Our washing machine had a hose that had to be put in the shower. We forgot several times and flooded the floors. Leah went to the grocery store to get some essential, especially because we needed toilet paper. (And she got a great deal!) She came home to realize she had bought paper towels. It was the tipping point on top of everything else that had gone wrong that week!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Nearly all of the teachers at our school live within walking distance of the building. Other expat families have moved into our neighborhood because of the school, so it is easy to live within the expat bubble during the week.

Our students come from all over the world – 38 countries last year – and everyone must speak English during the school day. We've made a couple of Turkish friends, but don't get a lot of practice with the local language.

Inside the Hagia Sofia Mosque in Istanbul.
Inside the Hagia Sofia Mosque in Istanbul.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Turkey is a beautiful country with so much to do and see! Some of our favorite places we've visited have been Cappadocia, Istanbul, and the beach (Bodrum, Antalya, Çakraz).

Ankara is not as touristy as other capitols. However, if you're in town, check out the castle in Ulus (free!). There's lots of great shopping near the castle. We especially like Yöre for trinkets and gifts. One of our other favorite places in Ulus is the Tarihi Şengül Hamami. This Turkish bath house is authentic (read: not so touristy) and very clean. Anitkabir, Ataturk's Mausoleum, is also a cool place to visit (also free).

What do you enjoy most about living in Turkey?
Aside from our students, we love the hospitality, food, and travel opportunities in Turkey. This country is rich with history. From the ruins of Ephesus to the Grand Bazaar and mosques in Istanbul, there's so much to see and learn.

How does the cost of living in Turkey compare to home?
The USD has been pretty strong while we've been in Turkey. This year it's been about 2 TL to every 1 USD. Most everything is cheaper in Turkey, which we really appreciate. Especially when it comes to groceries, eating out, clothes, and travel.

We came across a parking garage full of camels in Bodrum. We watched the camel wrestling event the next day.
We came across a parking garage full of camels in Bodrum. We watched the camel wrestling event the next day.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Turkey?
The Turkish language is very difficult. We don't get a lot of practice with it since we speak English all day at work. We've taken some informal language lessons and know enough to (barely) get by. We rely on our Turkish friends (who also speak English) to handle situations like conversations with our landlord.

Turkey is an interesting mix of old and modern. If you travel, chances are your only option will be a squatty potty at some point.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Turkey, what would it be?
Learn as much of the language as you can before you move to Turkey! (Unless you're moving to Istanbul – a surprising number of people speak English there.) We did a few Pimsleur audio lessons before we moved and they helped immensely.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
We have very supportive families, but it's difficult to be so far away from them. We travel home during the summers, but we still miss out on a lot of family and friend events.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
When we've visited home on breaks, it takes us the most time to adjust to all of the people speaking English. We feel anonymity when we're out in public in Turkey and it's easy to drown out the language we don't know fluently. Also, all of the driving in cars (we walk or take public transportation in Turkey) and American food. Whenever we move back, I know we'll miss our students and family of friends we have here.

Since we work in a school setting, we have lots of breaks and several long weekends. I think we'll have an itch to travel for the rest of our lives.

Some of our travels outside of Turkey include Ireland. We loved the Blarney Castle and grounds!
Some of our travels outside of Turkey include Ireland. We loved the Blarney Castle and grounds!
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Stay connected. Having social media, a blog, and online newsletter (we love MailChimp!) helps us stay in touch to our family and friends. Don't let it dominate your life, but keep connected with those at home.
  2. Watch and listen. Entering a new culture is difficult, especially when you clearly stand out as a foreigner. Everyone is watching and listening to you. Try not to draw attention to yourself. Instead, be a student of the culture and learn from what you hear and see.
  3. Learn as much of the local language as possible. This helps show respect for the culture, even if you are not fluent in the language. Start with the basic essentials: excuse me, please, and thank you.
  4. Listen to what other expats have to say, but don't take their word as law. In some situations, we've seen expats continue in the mindset of the year they moved to the country. The world is constantly changing. Stay open minded and see things as they are for yourself.
  5. There will be days that are I hate (insert your country) days. Some situations will be nothing but frustrating. This is all part of the grieving process. You've left your home behind and are adjusting to a new culture. Give yourself time. Make time for rest.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
We share our travels in and outside of Turkey and talk about life with our students on our blog www.novelbenedictions.com. We love sharing travel tips and information on where to stay and what to do.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Please contact us through our website: http://www.novelbenedictions.com/nb/contact/

About the author

Expat Blog ListingDavid & Leah is an American expat living in Turkey. Blog description: We're from Michigan, but we moved overseas to teach at an international school in Turkey. We love traveling the world, trying new things, eating great food, and everyday adventures.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Vanessa wrote 3 years ago:

I've always wanted to go to Turkey, reading your interview and seeing your photos has inspired me to move it up higher on my bucket list. Looks like a fantastic place and culture to experience. Great tips for anyone moving there too. Thanks David & Leah!

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