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Expat life in Turkey: It's a perfect ten

  • moving to Turkey
Interview
Published last month

We most often talk about learning a foreign language and the challenges we face, but what about learning foreign numbers? Sounds familiar that time at the till in a foreign country when we are expecting the cashier to punch in the amount we have to pay and turn the calculator so we can see. Jason, an American expat in Turkey, speaks to Expat.com about his slow-paced life in Izmir, Turkey, the benefits of being your own boss, and his application, 'Foreign Numbers'.

Hi Jason, can you tell us a few things about yourself?

I am originally from Iowa, USA. I am an independent software consultant, specializing in advanced websites and web applications. Being independent, in my case, means that I am my own boss and I can work from anywhere with an internet connection.

What brought you to Turkey? How long have you been in the country?

My wife (who is also an American) and I met in Turkey a few years ago. I was doing some volunteer work for a few months after I graduated from college. And to make a very long story short, we met and got married a few years later. After we got married, we wanted to live outside of America together for a while, and since Turkey is a country we both knew and loved, we decided to move to Turkey. We have lived here for nine months now.

Izmir seafront
Image by Jason Funk

How did you get your idea for 'Foreign Numbers'?

My idea for Foreign Numbers was birthed out of my own study of Turkish. As I was learning the language I found that even though I had learned all the vocabulary for the numbers, when someone spoke them to me, I couldn’t process them fast enough. I realized then that learning the vocabulary and really understanding the numbers were two separate skills. I made a simple tool to help me to practice, and it eventually grew into an app for others to use as well.

How is 'Foreign Numbers' different to other learning language online tools?

There are a lot of great language learning resources on the internet. In fact, I use a couple of them almost every day. And most of them have a section on learning numbers. They will teach you the basics of the vocabulary for the counting system. But it usually stops there and I found it to be inadequate for using numbers in my daily life. Having to listen to someone tell you the price of something at the market or writing down someone’s phone number are very different than knowing the Turkish word for “50”. Foreign Numbers helps you practice these skills.

Who is Foreign Numbers for?

Foreign Numbers is for anyone who is learning a foreign language that they also need to use in everyday life. It is especially good for expats who are learning the language slowly (or not at all), because understanding numbers (whether it be prices, times, dates, or phone numbers) are a vital part of living in another culture. Even not having to have the cashier pull out the calculator to show you the total price can be a big win.

What is your favourite thing about Turkey, and what is your least favourite thing?

There are a lot of things that I really like about living in Turkey (including the people and living so close to the sea) but to pick one rather trivial thing, my favorite thing is the food. Turkish food is very good. There are quite a lot of dishes that aren’t easily available in America, both out in the restaurants and the ingredients that we use to cook at home. My wife and I especially enjoy eating eggplant, which is way better here than in America.

My least favorite thing is easy. It’s that my family doesn’t live here too. We have seven nieces and nephews (along with parents, siblings, and friends) that we left back in America. When we were leaving, we would say that we are excited to go but sad to leave. It’s proven to be true even as we are here.

Couple in Turkey

What has surprised you the most about Turkey?

I think people, especially Americans, underestimate the friendliness of the Turkish people. When we first moved here, practically everyone we met and talked to told us that they were available to help us if we needed anything; and they’ve meant it. They have been extremely welcoming to us and happy to have us live here among them.

How do you find the lifestyle in Turkey?

I really enjoy the Turkish lifestyle we have right now. The cost of living is lower for us, the people are nice, and the food is delicious. The city in which we live, Izmir, is a fairly unique one in the country. Having had a large Greek population in the past, the people here have adopted a very laid back and relaxed attitude; especially compared to Istanbul.

Have you been able to adapt to Turkey and the society there?

We are slowly getting more integrated into the society. We are known and accepted in our neighborhood, and have made friends with our neighbors and local businesses. We recently were able to attend and participate in a friend’s wedding ceremony, which was a big honor for us.

What is your language level? How good are you with the numbers in Turkish and how do numbers affect your everyday life in Turkey?

My language level in Turkish is slowly improving. I am fluent in “restaurant turkish” and getting better at speaking in everyday life. I’m being able to understand a lot more than I’m able to speak, which is fairly normal. My comprehension of numbers is much higher than it was when I started this project! I find that I can comprehend and produce them fairly well. However, for some reason, I still get tripped up with the 7s, 8s, and 9s.

What do you do in your free time?

My wife and I try to live fairly normal lives in our free time. We will go out to restaurants, movies, see friends, walk along the seaside, or just stay home and watch tv. I also really enjoy cooking, so I will do that as well. We have also found a small Christian church community that we have gotten involved with, which may be a surprise since Turkey is a majority muslim country.

What new habits have you developed in Turkey? And what old habits have you quit?

One habit that recently developed is a love for plain sparkling water. My wife calls it an addiction, but I think habit is a better word. It wasn’t something I drank much in the States, but I have found it to be supremely refreshing.

What is something that you would like to do in Turkey but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

There are a few places that I haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet but would like to. Two that came to mind are Pamukkale and Trabzon. Pamukkale is Turkish for Cotton Castle, though to my knowledge there isn’t actually a castle there. But it’s a region in southwest Turkey that has large hill made of white salt deposits and hot springs. Trabzon is a region on the Black Sea and is known for it’s tea fields and natural beauty.

Share your most memorable experience in Turkey.

My most memorable experience in Turkey so far has been being a part of one of my Turkish friend’s weddings. He invited us along to a part of the ceremony called ‘The Fetching of the Bride’ which is when the groom and his family go to the bride’s family’s house and do a ceremony to take the bride from her family home to become part of a new family. It was a ceremony filled with dancing, music, tears, and joy. It was an honor to be asked to come along and participate in such an important event in their lives.

If you could do the move to Turkey over, what would you do differently?

One of the things that we intended on doing when we moved was to rent a furnished apartment for a year. Since we moved with nearly nothing, we wanted to be able to move into a place and be able to live there without having to re-buy all of our furniture. This would have allowed us to settle and make the transition easily without the stress of setting up a new home from scratch. However, we ended up finding a beautiful, unfurnished apartment which, in Turkey, comes with barely more than the walls. We have come to love it now but have spent a lot of time, energy, and money buying all new appliances and light fixtures along with all the beds, couches, tables, and chairs to make it into a new home. Sticking with our initial plan of renting a furnished apartment is the biggest thing I would have changed.

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Turkey? How did you overcome that?

Shortly after we moved, there were a few incidents that happened in Turkey that made us question why we decided to move here. But after reflection we remembered that nowhere is perfectly safe. There are attacks, accidents, and natural disasters in every country around the world. And while we could leave here, there is no promise that we would be safe anywhere else. My sister said it best to me: “Be safe but don't live in fear”. We really do try to live our lives that way.

Expat couple in Turkey
Image by Jason Funk

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Turkey will benefit from.

Many expats would assume that Istanbul is the place to be, but I would suggest that people consider Izmir. As the third largest city in Turkey it provides all of the amenities of a major city but has 25% of the population. With modern public transportation, a really nice international airport, and lots of history within a few hours drive, it’s a great choice.

What are your plans for the future?

Our plans are to live here for at least two more years and decide then what are next steps are. When we moved we wanted to set a minimum time limit on ourselves to encourage ourselves to work through any hard times that come up. We thought three years would be a good amount of time to adapt to the new language, culture, and experience things. Beyond that, only time will tell.

What is your favourite number?

I love all the numbers equally.

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