The 8 Experiences You’ll Have in a New Country

There are certain experiences you’ll have when spending a good chunk of time in any new country. Some are funny, and some are annoying rites of passage, but you’re gonna have them all!

1. The rookie mistake: buying a phone from the mob.

When I first got to Istanbul, I was appalled at the process here of registering international phones. Basically, if you want to use your own phone here, you have to register it with the government and pay 115 lira (about 65 dollars). I was not about to have that, so I decided to buy a local phone from one of the cheap, sketchy shops that are all over the place here. After an hour of confusion, and communication fails in Turkish, English, and French, I came out with a phone that must have been manufactured in 1995. Whatever, as long as it worked. But here’s the thing– it didn’t work. After 2 days of using it, it stopped working– the phone company said my number had been blocked. I had a Turkish friend help me take it back to the phone company, who said they would “take care of it”. My friend said that meant it was probably all sorts of illegal– stolen, even– but that the shop probably had some police contacts who they could bribe to unblock the number. I got the phone back, and it worked for another 2 days before getting blocked again. I finally surrendered and bought another new phone, bringing my total spending up to 200 lira and scoring me an upgraded phone from 1997.

2. The “near death experience”: aka the falling brick

On my first day here, I was admiring all of the beautiful old buildings. I love how many untouched old buildings there are here in Istanbul. But as I was walking that day, a huge chunk of bricks and cement came plummeting down from one of those ancient buildings and smashed to pieces not even a foot from where I was standing. Let’s just say that this 3-story death machine of a building didn’t seem so glorious to me after that.

3. The hasty romantic interest

You know, when you first get to a new country, the people of that country seem so intriguing and attractive. Couple that with the excitement and mystery of being in a new place and you’re headed towards some exaggerated feelings. Now not shortly after I arrived in this here city, I started seeing this guy. Quite handsome, intelligent, had a lot to say. Not to mention the dream dates he took me on– evening seaside strolls, dreamy candlelit chats, and many other cliché things you can think of (and secretly really hope will happen to you). I got pretty swept up. But it didn’t last long… because I’m not a whore. And he was looking for a whore. Or, a foreign girl, which sometimes seems to be synonymous with whore around here. Well anyhow, that’s just the pattern these travel romances always follow– usually a big letdown, after the initial excitement of it all.

4. The moment of regret

There’s always that moment when you think, “why in the world am I here.” This one happened on my very first exploration of Istanbul by foot. I had just dropped my stuff off at the hostel and I went out looking for food, or internet. On the street I chose, all I found were hardware shops. Tire shops, lighting shops, shops with strange metal gadgets in buckets on the sidewalk. This went on for ages. Literally everyone I met on this street was a man, and I wondered if I had accidentally stepped into some lady-free zone. At least that would explain all of the strange looks I was getting. As I walked, I got more and more intimidated, and kept thinking, “What is this place?!” When, after blocks, there was nothing promising in sight, I was beginning to think all of Istanbul was made up of angry old men and tools shops. I kind of wanted to cry. Finally, the street I was walking down dead-ended onto a highway turnoff, so I was forced to turn around and walk back down the same street, getting weird looks again and proving myself to be an idiot. I don’t know how I managed to pick this street as my first impression of Istanbul, but I’m so thankful that things drastically improved from there.

5. The moment of where you think you’ve made the best decision ever

This is the thing that makes you stay positive, despite #4. And this moment came as I was sitting at my friend’s apartment, listening to the gypsy band outside his window (see last blog post). This was such a great and hopeful moment, and made me excited for the things to come here in Istanbul.

6. The unexpected craving

There’s always something you didn’t know was going to be missing, so you didn’t prepare for its absence, and now you are tortured by it. In Turkey, that thing is: fresh air. There aren’t a lot of fresh places here, because 1. there aren’t a lot of trees, 2. there are so many construction sites kicking up dust, and 3. everyone smokes. If I actively think about how stale the air is, I feel like I’m being suffocated. So, clearly, I try not to think about it.

7. The sketchily kind (but totally harmless and awesome) new native friend

What would you think of someone you just met offering you to stay in their house for a week while you figure out your life? With the advent of couchsurfers, it may not sound that unique anymore, but I still think this is such a big offer. Especially if the person seems really invested in you staying there (like, its not just a casual offer, but involves some persuasion tactics on their part). Would you be suspicious? Generally, when faced with a situation like this, I would run for my life. But I decided to give a little trust for a change, and it turned out very lovely. Go team.

8. The day of being horribly lost and wanting to give up and sit down in the middle of the street.

On my first day of work, I got ridiculously lost in this huge city. I printed off my google map, but it was completely whack. After walking around for 30 mins, I decided to hire a taxi. But that’s a bad move around here– taxi drivers in Istanbul are notorious for driving you around in circles in order to rack up a bigger fare. This driver kept driving in the opposite direction of my office, even though I was asking him to turn around. Then he gave me the number to his taxi service and tried to kiss my hand. Bizarre behavior, since this ride was clearly not going well and was not going to end with me hiring him again or being romantically interested in him. After driving a half hour out of the way with him, all the time with me yelling at him to turn around or let me out, he finally let me get out in some random place. I was furious, and I got out without paying. All he did was get me more lost! Now I had no idea where I was and was an hour late for work. It eventually got sorted out, and I learned to avoid taxis here at all costs.

I hope these anecdotes were amusing enough to make up for the lack of blog posts this past month. Now that I’m settled in, I can begin to catch you up on what’s been happening here. Keep reading!

Hello Istanbul!

I have been in Istanbul for 4 days now. Man, I love it. What a beautiful city. There is no other place like this, with beautiful old buildings and mosques dotting the skyline, and all surrounding a vibrant blue sea. As you walk around the streets, among the maze of cobblestone roads, you may just stumble on a pair of gates leading to a 100-year old courtyard. And the street musicians play these amazing, other-worldly tunes that sometimes send a chill down my spine.

I am currently staying with a friend in Cihangir, a neighborhood that has a reputation for its bohemian, artistic appeal. I really love it. Imagine cobblestone streets, and tastefully colorful buildings with ancient-looking facades. Cute little bread shops, fruit stands, and flowerboxes. And the best part– through my (friend’s) window in the evenings, I can hear gypsy guitar music from the restaurant across the street. The weather is perfect– it’s that cool fall breeze that seems to bring about change, and when you breathe it in you just feel alive.

And I fit in so well here. I’ve had so many fascinating and unique conversations already, and I feel like I’ve known some of my new friends since forever because we are right on the same wavelength. I definitely am going to have an active social life here– in fact, my evenings are already booked for the next 5 nights.

One amazing thing was that I found a decent job the second day I was here. I’d often heard before coming here that so many young people want to live and work in Istanbul, but that means that there are never any jobs and many people end up having to leave after a short time. The first few places I talked to were obviously trying to exploit anyone who was desperate enough to stay. One place offered me a job 12 hours per day, 5 days a week, just for room and board. I guess some people want to stay badly enough that they can get away with that. But then, miraculously, I found a job working at Beykent University for the upcoming school year. One of the teachers they had hired needed to back out and so the spot needed to be filled quickly. Pretty posh, right?

Well, I won’t say anymore now, since I need to get ready to go meet a friend for tea. But I just wanted to check in and say what a great time I’m having!

Goodbye Thailand…

Well, I am on my final night in Thailand. It has been a whirlwind of a time– I can’t believe that my first stop in Hong Kong was only 3 months ago. So much has changed since then, and I have changed a lot from the experience.

 

I feel that the biggest change is that living here has given me a lot more tolerance. The troubles and annoyances never seemed to stop while I was here, and I think because of this, troubles roll off of me more easily now. For the first time in my life, I have developed a little patience. My attitude is: I have everything I need for today, and that is all that matters. So let me enjoy today, and tomorrow the rest will get worked out. I think it’s a much nicer way to live.

 

And one very special thing I took from the experience is that now I smile more easily, more naturally. It just came freely to working with these kids, and I hope it will continue to be the case from now on.

 

I thought it would be much easier to leave the school after my short contract– you go somewhere, have your fun, leave. Its that easy. But its not. The fact that I probably won’t see some of these kids ever again makes me want to cry. And even more so when I think that they must wonder why I’m abandoning them.

 

This may sound random, but I thought there would be more elephants in Thailand. That kind of sums up my whole experience in Thailand– it was all much less “exotic” than I thought it would be. Though this is the smallest and most remote place I’ve ever lived, it was all quite “normal”. I guess people all over basically do the same things– work, eat, socialize, sleep. Or maybe the world is just becoming a smaller place.

 

I left with kind of a bad taste in my mouth for the Thai attitude. I don’t really want to discuss the details, because the last thing I want to do is to defame the entire Thai country or its people. I would just say that I have a very different attitude, and though I tried my hardest to learn more about the Thai way, I felt that my efforts and differences were not respected. I hope and believe that this will not be the case in Istanbul.

 

So my stay in Thailand is over, and it was much shorter than I had expected when setting out. I had a great time seeing the country, but for a number of reasons I think it’s not the right place for me to settle in. But I’m very glad that I came and had the experience.