Australian Expat Living in Turkey - Interview with Lisa

Published: 13 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Turkey
Eternally curious, Lisa Morrow never stops asking questions and trying to learn about life in modern Turkey. She has published an essay collection called "Inside Out In Istanbul" about life in the city, writes a blog of the same name and has had articles published on Australia’s ABC Drum Media website and in LALE magazine, an International Women of Istanbul production. Both the Australian ABC and Austereo radio stations have interviewed her and she has a monthly spot on San Francisco Turkish Radio. She is about to release a new collection of stories about Turkey and has finished a full length manuscript entitled "Where the Tulips Dance: Finding the Heart of Istanbul". Lisa's expat blog is called Inside Out In Istanbul (see listing here)

Sightseeing in Istanbul with my Dad, an intrepid traveller in whose footsteps I follow!
Sightseeing in Istanbul with my Dad, an intrepid traveller in whose footsteps I follow!

Here's the interview with Lisa...


Where are you originally from?
I'm from Sydney, Australia.

In which country and city are you living now?
I'm currently living in Istanbul, Turkey.

How long have you lived in Turkey and how long are you planning to stay?
I've lived in Istanbul twice before, but this time I've been here almost four years. I've lived in Turkey for a total of eight years and at the moment I have no plans to move anywhere else.

Why did you move to Turkey and what do you do?
I grew up in a safe leafy middle class suburb but was itching to get out. After completing a year at Sydney University' I left my studies and worked in various jobs, including as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, before going overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. I ended up in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme and that three month stay changed my life.

My university students welcoming me back after I had to unexpectedly go back to OZ for two months.
My university students welcoming me back after I had to unexpectedly go back to OZ for two months.
My desire to know more about the country lead to a return visit in 1996. I went with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. Finding Turkey as stimulating as ever, we went back in 2000 to live and work in Istanbul. The financial crisis of 2001 led to our return to Australia, but only temporarily. We returned again, but this time to live in the provincial town of Kayseri, in central Turkey. The following years were spent moving between Australia and Turkey. In Turkey I worked as an English teacher at various universities, while in Australia I worked in publishing, accounts, and as an English teacher and freelance proof reader, before deciding to call Istanbul home. It's hard to say exactly why I am so drawn to Istanbul and Turkey, but I have been thoroughly seduced.

Did you bring family with you?
I first came to Turkey on my own and soon after I met him, I convinced my boyfriend to come over too. He's now my husband.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Most people who travel will know that visiting a place as a tourist and actually living there are two very different things. Having travelled to Turkey so many times before I decided to move here on a more permanent basis, I didn't expect to have much trouble settling in. Little did I know! What I didn't realise was that coming to Turkey with a backpack full of belongings was very different from shipping over everything I owned. The escape route of going back home if things get too tough isn't as easy to make. Life in a foreign country has lots of ups and downs, but if you stick it out you learn a lot. It hasn't been so much a transition to living in a foreign country as much as a transition to making decisions based on what I can be certain about, and not worrying so much about the things I can't control. And believe me, in Turkey there are a lot of things you can't control!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Turkish people are overwhelmingly hospitable and interested in visitors to Turkey, so it's easy to assume making friends will be easy. The reality is somewhat different. Initially, especially if you work as a teacher, you'll be inundated with invitations. You'll have a great time going out for coffee, dinner, dancing and to bars. After a while, however, when your novelty wears off, you can end up feeling lonely. Nonetheless I have made good friendships with Turks here, but like anywhere, it takes time and work for them to blossom. I don't socialise all that much with expats. The fact of being an expat as a point in common is rarely enough on which to base a friendship. Also, single expats don't usually stay in the country for more than a few years, so just as you get to know them they leave. In addition' expats married to Turks, especially once they have children, quickly become immersed in their new families and have time for little else.

With my best friend drinking Turkish coffee and celebrating Hidrellez together.
With my best friend drinking Turkish coffee and celebrating Hidrellez together.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
In winter days when the sun is shining I like to walk along the Bosphorus. Üsküdar is a great starting point because you can walk south towards Kız Kalesi and take in the magnificent panorama starting from the former Çıragan Palace extendng all the way to Toplakı Palace. Along the way you get a potted history of Istanbul through the ages, with architectural testaments built by its Genoan, Greek Orthodox, and Ottoman inhabitants, just to name a few. Sometimes I catch a bus north and visit Beylerbeyi or Küçüksu Palaces. Afterwards I like to drop into Çengelkoy or Beykoz for a meal and a creamy yoghurt or just daydream over a glass of tea while I imagine myself living in one of the magnificent wooden yalı still lining the strait. Summer days can be stinking hot so when I’m not somewhere on the Mediterranean having a holiday I go to a favourite park near my home. It’s right by the water so I spend the day with a group of friends, eating, talking, playing tavla(backgammon) and swimming. The location is perfect which is why it will have to remain one of my secrets!

What do you enjoy most about living in Turkey?
The fact that time spent with others is given such great importance. I spend a lot of time with my Turkish friends, and our combined interests are boundless. We go to the movies, go bowling, visit museums and art galleries, go out for five hour brunches, drink coffee together in different locations and read our fal (fortunes), plan epic excursions to Polonezköy for cake, to Şile for swimming, the Princess Islands for picnics and bike riding and Tuzla for fish lunches. I love to go to Babylon nightclub when I feel like dancing through the night, and to Viktor Levi when I want to kick back and solve the world’s problems with my friends over a few glasses of nice wine. I go to Sureyya Opera when I want to listen to classical music or out onto my balcony when I want to hear the piano accordian being played by the gypsies who walk along my street. I like how in Istanbul there is no shortage of things to do. The possibility of doing something different every week, almost without limit, is irresistible.

How does the cost of living in Turkey compare to home?
Well, I come from Sydney, so everything here is a lot cheaper. That said, you can still spend a considerable fortune living on the Bosphorus and eating at all the best restaurants. I chose to live more modestly but I can afford to have a good dressmaker, weekly visits to the hairdresser and beautician, as well as splash out on a fancy dinner once a week and take in concerts and shows every month. The Turkish lira goes a lot further in Istanbul than the dollar does in Sydney.

Tea and nargile viewing spot in Üsküdar, where the Sea of Marmara meets the Bosphorus.
Tea and nargile viewing spot in Üsküdar, where the Sea of Marmara meets the Bosphorus.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Turkey?
The worst thing about Istanbul is the traffic. Even if you live in close proximity to the things you need, the slightest thing can cause delays. This includes rain, good weather, and even Fridays. After a while you have to really push yourself to travel to the other side of the Bosphorus because you know just how long it can take.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Turkey, what would it be?
Be open to what Istanbul and Turkey have to offer and don’t think about what you miss from home. It can be hard to feel at home here at first, but a constant longing for what you left behind won’t help. Make an effort with the language because the least attempt will bring smiles and delight to the people you meet in shops and on the street. Lastly, try to travel outside of Istanbul. Turkey is a big country with lots of beautiful natural scenery and incredible historical sites. When you come back from experiencing the rest of the country, a lot of things that seemed strange in Istanbul will begin to make more sense.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Well there are two things that continue to challenge me. The first is the language. As anyone who has been here for even a short time knows, Turkish is a really difficult language to learn and to speak. I chose to live on the Asian side of Istanbul, in a suburb, because I wanted to try to experience life in Istanbul as a Turk would. This has forced me to learn Turkish because I haven’t been able to rely on being able to speak English when I need things. I’m largely self-taught so I still make mistakes, but no matter how many I make, I’m always rewarded by the responses of the Turkish people I meet. They’re usually really touched that I make the effort at all, and help me out when I don’t have the right word. Hard as it sometimes is, it’s really worth the trouble to be able to communicate without the need for help or translation.

The second thing that I have found a challenge is of a more personal nature. While I love the wonderful spontaneity of many of my Turkish friends and the belief in fate that means most people never plan things in advance, I sometimes feel disappointed when something I’m looking forward to doesn’t come to fruition. That said, living here has made me more spontaneous and joyous in my approach to life.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
More and more when I go back to Australia to see family and friends, it feels less like home. I now feel more at home in Istanbul than I do in Sydney. I think that after living in such a foreign country for so long, repatriation would be very difficult. I would always be comparing the one with the other. As a result I don't see myself going back any time soon.

Emirgan Park during the Tulip festival
Emirgan Park during the Tulip festival
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Never say never. Try anything once (as long as its not too dangerous!). Life is short and you never know when you'll get another opportunity to do something.
  2. Go with your instinct. If something feels right, do it. If not, heed your own advice and don't do something stupid just because other people say you should.
  3. Try and learn the language. It might be hard but you will get to know people that little bit better and be rewarded by the appreciation you receive.
  4. Live in your new country as a local and not a tourist as soon as possible after arriving. Immersing yourself in the local culture can be difficult, but you'll never be bored. You'll also decide much faster if life in your new home is really for you.
  5. Relax and don't angst when you do something wrong or commit a faux pas. Moving overseas takes courage and you're bound to make mistakes along the way. It's not the end of the world. Just say sorry and try to learn from them.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
As a long time resident of the city with training in sociology, I'm really interested in the way tradition plays such a big part of life in Istanbul. It's a cosmopolitan city in some ways but like a village in others. I try to post something on my blog once a week about this, either short pieces about current events or things that take my interest, as well as photo essays. I also post longer pieces, usually extracts from my latest project.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
People are welcome to contact me through my blog page www.insideoutinistanbul.wordpress.com

About the author

Expat Blog ListingLisa is an Australian expat living in Turkey. Blog description: My blog is about Turkish culture and its people well. I fascinated with the way traditional culture, such as kına gecesi and hamam rituals, mix and re-form in this modern metropolis.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Veronica Howes wrote 3 years ago:

Interesting read...but sooo much different to living in Ankara which is full of politicians, embassies and the generations from the goat village it was before Atatürk made it the capital. Much less comsmopolitan, hardly any English spoken, and hours away from the sea, and the drivers are crazy! No road rules here....

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