Note: This article was first featured first on the Expat Women in Turkey website. You can see all my published works on my portfolio page.
Spring is gorgeous here. The sun shines and the weather is just the right temperature. Recently, I went out for a few errands and just basked in the rays of sunlight peeking through as I weaved in and out of the shadows made from my neighborhood buildings and trees. In a split second, I went from gloriously praising MY lovely city to cursing the stinky rules of THEIR culture. Because, for the almost 1 millionth time, I barely missed stepping on fresh dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk….
Eight months ago (Update: now 4 years!) my husband and I moved from a small town in the midwest of the United States to Izmir, a busy apartment city of 4 million people. We moved from one set of cultural rules to another – spoken and unspoken. An unspoken one in America, you pick up your dog’s poop and throw it away (or take them to a dog park) and here in Turkey, leaving poop everywhere is totally acceptable. Amazing how one little thing can spark a moment of anger stemming from culture shock.
(Update: I have since come to learn that this is NOT a norm and street dog are a major culprit here with this issue. ALSO, I would like to point out just how amazing clean these major cities are kept!)
But this isn’t the first time I have moved internationally. Before marrying my sweet man, I spent 2 years in Turkey and 1.5 more years in Afghanistan. From my experience, the first few months can be hard because you have to adjust everything about your life. Other people seem to have a little honeymoon phase (maybe 2-4 months) before the frustrations hit them full-on.
Throughout these journeys, I have found a few ways to counteract culture shock:
1. KEEP A JOURNAL:
Keeping a journal has been proven to help people reflect and process change. However, many people end up using a journal to vent about things they don’t like or make them angry. While there is nothing wrong with that, I suggest using your journal another way. Keep a running list of things you love about the culture and place you live – especially in the beginning while the ‘honeymoon’ stage is still happening. Write stories of when someone helped you, a kind gesture on the street, or laughs of the neighborhood children after school.
2. BE A TOURIST FOR A DAY:
My best way to counteract the frustration of living in another country is to get out and explore. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the routine of work, eat, sleep and repeat. Make a list of places, festivals, and events to explore in your city then make a plan and go! It can seem intimidating, but the more you try new things, the easier it becomes to explore.
3. MAKE YOUR COMFORT FOOD:
While I promise you it won’t be the same, it’s definitely worth the effort! The first time I moved to Istanbul, I basically had to learn to cook my comfort food from scratch. But when I mastered my first banana bread recipe, it became a go-to for times I felt like everything I ate was foreign.
Sometimes moving to a new city can stop our daily routines. Maybe you exercised before moving, but now are lacking motivation. One of the best things I did my first year abroad was pay (way too much money, mind you) for a gym membership. It gave me a reason to get out of my house, interact with others, and meet new people.
5. MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS:
You may think “why would I meet new people when people are the cause of my culture shock?!” Believe me, it is the best advice others gave me when I was feeling frustrated. Creating deeper relationships with locals (or even other expats) helps you understand the culture more. Perhaps cultural frustration can be resolved by learning more about why people do the things that they do. Also, connecting with other people helps you notice individuals behind “those Turks” or “those Americans” or “those… insert people group here“. Grace and open-mindedness help you move past culture shock into an area of understanding and appreciation for another’s home country.
These are just a few ways I have found helpful to avoid and break through the culture shock in the 3 countries I have called home in the last 10 years.
Remember that you are not alone and there is always someone to talk to! So instead of withdrawing, maybe consider doing the exact opposite and see how it goes!
Which one sounds most appealing to you?
If you have moved abroad, what has helped you overcome culture shock?
One of the reasons for this is with so much changing in the day to day ways we interact with our world (geez, thanks COVID-19) that our brains no longer work on “auto-pilot” and now have to spend more energy to make decisions.
The same is true for those entering a new culture, which is why this blog post is helpful for not only ex-pats raising TCKs (Third Culture Kids), but also all parents during the coronavirus pandemic.
In this post, I want to share a guide for working through culture stress with TCKs that I learned from this book and from my research and observations of TCKs in general.
Read on for your 3 tips to work through culture stress with your TCK.
What’s the destination for TCK? What is the goal of working through culture stress?
The first step to reaching any destination is knowing where we are going. The goal of working through culture stress with our children is that in the end, our children are integrated aTCKs who love diversity, are highly adaptable, resilient, and emotionally healthy.
Let me break down what I mean by that a bit.
Integrated: our kids are a part of the community in which we live, they have a place and feel a sense of belonging and capability in their environment.
Love of diversity: one day our children will be adults who either fear or are excited by diversity. In working through culture stress with our TCKs, we are teaching them to become people who see the beauty and effectiveness of diversity, and who cultivate diversity in the spaces they occupy.
Highly adaptable: by teaching our kids how to adapt to their new culture, we are giving them tools to adapt to any culture and any circumstance that life may throw their way.
Resilient: children are not naturally resilient in the way we often assume. They have to be taught resilience, and that’s where parents, caregivers, teachers, and mentors come in! We can teach our kids how to handle difficult situations.
Emotionally healthy: Children who can name and regulate their emotions will become adults who are not ruled by their emotions.
Now,how do we get there?
A destination is a good place to start, but without a plan, it’s very hard to arrive where we want to go. So what is the “roadmap” to reach the goal stated above?
Below I walk you through 3 tools that will enable you to reach that goal.
“An ounce is better than a pound of cure,” the saying goes. And it’s true!
Having a car that has been maintained properly makes getting to your destination SO much easier, and prevents innumerable disasters that could come up along the way.
But what does prevention look like for culture stress?
The most important thing is to have systems in placeto talk about feelings without invalidating those feelings, but teaching kids to work through emotions in a healthy way.
Have a time during the day when you check in with each of your kids; what are they experiencing, and how do they feel about it?
Practice asking good questions of your kids and really listening to their answers.
Maybe every night at dinner, everyone in the family shares the high and low points of their day.
Another prevention tool is helping your kids set expectations. Verbally prepare your children when you are going into a new situation, and give them ways to appropriately communicate their feelings to you.
Maybe your self-conscious child gets stared at for their different skin or eye color when you walk to school with her, or even has her skin or hair touched by strangers.
Maybe your sensitive child gets overwhelmed by the all the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the market.
As much as possible, give them a way to know what to expect and how to communicate what they are feeling in those moments with you. Of course, since you are also still learning what to expect in your host country, it is important to do the work of learning together.
When I’m taking a road trip, I always prefer having someone with me, experiencing things alongside me, helping me navigate my way to the next pit stop, and just for the company on what could otherwise be a lonely ride.
The same is true of entering a new culture.
We can do the work of being a student of our host culture together, alongside our children, rather than excluding them. Talk about your observations of the culture with your kids, being careful not to pass ethnocentric judgment. “What is something you’ve noticed today that happened differently than you expected?”
We can learn together how to navigate this new way of life, and present it as an exciting opportunity for our children. You may be surprised…kids are incredibly observant! Two (or three or five) heads are better than one. Your kids can be great assents to your own culture-learning process, and you to theirs, if you partner together in this opportunity.
Basically, the more you can do together, the better!
Teaching by modeling to your kids is like giving them a clear map with a highlighted route, or clear road signs that show our kids what to expect ahead.
When it comes to parenting, you already know: much more is caught than taught.
With regard to cultural learning, it is especially important to remember this. Your response to culture stress informs the way your children will respond to culture stress in a greater way than the way you tell them to respond to culture stress.
In other words, kids are much more likely to “parrot” your responses to the culture, whether they are positive or negative. When you are frustrated with the stress of the overwhelming feeling of just wanting one thing in your life to feel normal again, remember to be careful with how you respond.
Be honest with your kids about your feelings: “Mom is feeling frustrated right now because I’m still learning to navigate the systems in this culture. But I’m going to take a few deep breaths and try again tomorrow.” Narrate your own feelings as well as your child’s, and remind them (and yourself) that emotions in themselves are not bad, but are indicators to us, like road signs.
Just because we are frustrated with the way our host culture does something, doesn’t mean that your feelings or the culture are wrong. The more we can identify our emotions without attributing blame to our host cultures, the more healthily we can interact (and model interactions for our kids) with our host culture.
This also works with narrating your kids’ emotions. “It seems to me that you are disappointed right now. Would you like to talk about what you were expecting and what happened instead?” Keeping the door open for communication is key to parenting, and especially when navigating a new culture.
Let’s sum it up!
The more we learn to read the road signs, the more aware we become of our subconscious beliefs and motivations. Using these three tools of Prevention, Partnership, and Parroting will ultimately, enable your TCK (AND you too) to become the most emotionally healthy TCK they can be!
Do you have TCKs?
What do you find is most helpful when working through culture stress with them?
What books have you read on the topic?
What from this blogpost have you found most helpful?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination.
In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live.
Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.
Back from the depth of newish motherhood, language learning (yet again) and what life looks like for our expat family living in Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic
If you are new here, welcome, and if you are surprised to see a new post, THANK YOU for sticking around. You see, motherhood is full-time work… motherhood and living in another country can feel like double time… FIRST TIME motherhood VIA adoption AND living in another country means a lot has just been neglected when it comes to our website. I think my last post was just over a year ago, but we did do some fun videos mid-year!
There are so many things to write and say but the most pressing one I felt should be shared (and maybe the last one you want to read about!) is COVID-19. While it may be interesting to our non-Turkey followers, I thought this may be of more interest to our English speaking expats living in Turkey.
First, let’s catch up on the COVID-19’s arrival to Turkey. For this timeline, I found the DailySabah and Wikipedia (oh the irony here) were helpful resources. I actually started this post a week ago and have be updating it as I come back to it. We are now 2 week into the ‘stay home’ and ‘self-isolation’ period. In this time, Turkey has jumped from 89 confirmed cases to 7402. This is not to scare anyone but it is to be expected that once you can actually start testing for the virus then the numbers will increase. (If you want a timeline from China to the present day, I found this article to be a good start.)
The timeline in Turkey:
February 3: Ankara stopped all flights to and from China.
February 23: It closed all air, land and railway crossings from Iran.
February 27: Turkey established field hospitals at its border gates with Iran, Iraq and Georgia.
February 29: All passenger traffic between Italy and Turkey was stopped.
March 10: The first case tests positive. (From what I understand, this is when Turkey actually started testing for COVID-19.)
March 12: Turkey closes all schools starting on the 14th, the postponement of public officials’ travels abroad and the playing of sports matches without fans. Turkey temporarily suspended the activities of entertainment venues such as bars, casinos, night clubs, museums and libraries where many people come together. They also banned public gatherings and pilgrimages, implements health checks at the borders.
March 13: All arts and culture events were postponed until the end of April. The number of COVID-19 cases rose to five in Turkey.
March 15: The number of COVID-19 patients in Turkey reached 18.
March 16th: Religious authorities announced that community prayers, including Friday prayers, would not meet. Turkey closes coffee shops, cafes, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, wedding halls, baths, sports halls, indoor children’s playgrounds and more. The Minister of Health announced that the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 increased to 98 and Turkey lost its first patient, an 89-year-old citizen.
March 20: The government encourages everyone to “stay home” and “self-isolate”.
March 24: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Turkey has increased by 293, making a total of 1,529. The number of deaths has risen to 37.
March 26: Turkey has 2,433 diagnosed cases and 59 dead. Schools and universities closures have been extended to possibly April 30.
March 28: All international flights have been shut down(besides a few exceptions) and restrictions placed on inter-city travel . 7402 cases of COVID-19 and 108 related deaths in Turkey
HOW DOES IT AFFECT TURKS?
Turks pride themselves on their cleanliness. Their homes are immaculate, shoes come off outside the door, and they have a deep love of their lemon “cologne” given to guests upon entering their homes. The main difference between perfume and kolonya is its ratio of oils to alcohol. Some kolonya can be up to 80% alcohol. Experts say this serves as an excellent preventative measure in spreading viruses and bacteria. Just don’t actually DRINK pure alcohol to ward off the virus…
Turkey has also been taking extreme measures to disinfectant public areas which has been applauded by WHO (World Health Organization).
I am not Turkish and neither is my husband. But just like everywhere else, COVID is taking a toll on people. There is fear, concern, and the struggle between needing to work and trying to self-isolate. Lots of places have closed by government mandate, but even more that have temporarily closed because they just can’t stay open. While we didn’t run out of toilet paper, there was no flour or pasta to be found one day I went to the market. Here are a couple of pictures from my local store back on March 14th ish.
When it comes to self-isolation… some (I would even dare say the majority) are doing well. But people have to work, get food… survive. However, there are some things that are still happening I don’t understand… Weekly markets are still happening. Restricted hours vs. closing. As well, there are still a good number of people out when I have to finally get out to run an errand.
The government has announced a TL 100 billion ($15.3 billion) economic package intended to protect Turkey from the financial effects. The package includes the postponement of tax duties, loans and social insurance payments as well as many incentives for Turkish businesses and citizens.
Even phone companies are pitching in by changing their names to support the “Stay Home” requests with “Evde Kal” or like below “Hayat Eve Sığar”
HOW DOES IT AFFECT US AS EXPATS?
This article sums it up well for expats that are supposedly “stuck” in Turkey. We have lived here 3.5 years now and have no plans to leave during this time. Most other expats we know are here to ride it out too. Everything has shut down so quickly that it would be difficult to get out and probably not the wisest at this time either. Plus, we actually can not leave the country because of our adoption with Sofia.
If you are a foreigner living in Izmir, Turkey, here are some action steps our embassy recommended:
U.S. citizens who are considering returning to the United States are urged to work with their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are still available.
Otherwise, the US Embassy sent out these action steps to citizens living in Turkey. I found this information and links could be helpful to any foreigner living in Turkey right now.
Carry identity and travel documents with you at all times. (This is not uncommon for us to do even when we don’t have a health situation.)
Since Jason has always worked online via his USA based business, not much has changed for us. We are thankful that his job is still in full swing and that he got a few new jobs to work on before things have gotten bad.
What this means for a Catie (me):
I finished my Turkish classes (which were every day) back at the end of January. We do have a house helper that comes to help during the week but isn’t coming this week. I have mostly stayed homed and took some measures to work on being prepared for a potential lockdown.My role looks more like caring for Sofia and less time working on my side projects.
What this means for Sofia:
We are blessed that our 16-month-old daughter Sofia is at an age that she doesn’t fully beg to go out to the park. But it’s hard because she is still active and loves seeing people and new things. Our apartment has a large terrace and we have rearranged Jason’s office so that we have full access to it. Thankfully the weather has warm up a little bit and we can enjoy it more.She has been confined to our apartment and while we did take her our for a few walks before, we are a little warier of it now.
Our daily life right now:
We have stocked up a good bit of groceries and other necessities, as well as prepared for April’s rent and bills, and have cash on hand for emergencies. We usually have help during the week to watching Sofia, but Jason and I are adjusting our “stay home” routine.
There are still beautiful moments of joy and laughter as we look around (virtually) and see who is still here in Turkey, and how we can help and support each other. It’s hard. But seeing God at work in the center of it is beautiful.
Here are some recent joys:
SO MANY COMPANIES have opened up free services and subscriptions during this time. I have a list below.
Seeing our daughter grow and learn new things every day. The other day she said the word guitar (crazy).
We have a balcony area that is great for Sofia to play outside on good weather days!
Jason has to be the best husband ever (proud wife bragging rights). We for sure have our multiple disagreements about how to most everything – yep, we are complete opposites for the most part. BUT he is definitely the one who adapts and shifts his desires to suit us way more than I seem too. Maybe because I like everything? 😉 jk.
Last fall Jason started running – for me. The last 4 years of our marriage, he has seriously and politely denied all my attempts to start running with me consistently. But he saw how happy it makes me to run with someone and decided that, with my other running buddy eventually moving away, he would fill the void.
Plus, running/exercising is good for him – the hard working, computer engineer that he is.
It was tough at first, but he pushed through. By December, he was able to do a 5k without stopping. Every other day we went out and did his exactly 5k route while listening to a podcast(mostly to distract him from the fact that he was actually running).
And Christmas 2017, he gifted me with a 10k race that we would run together in February 2018 Dubai Desert Road Run in the UAE! IT WAS THE BEST SURPRISE.
We started to train together and did a few longer runs to prepare for the 6.4 ish miles to come.
And in February, JASON RAN HIS FIRST RACE EVER.
Y’all, I was GIDDY with PRIDE! You see, I grew up running with my family. Heck in 2016, before we moved to Turkey, my family based our get-together around the Chicago Half-Marathon with my mom and sister. Jason by that point had learned how to find us multiple times on the route to take pictures of us and cheer us on, all happily from the sidelines.
But this time, we ran with me!
And the race was HOT and SWEATY and the course was NOT SO FUN. But we both finished it!
You can LISTEN to our experience via Episode047 of our podcast.
The following are pictures from a proud wife loving every minute of this first race with her hubby:
So proud of you babe! (Jason, if he reads this! That would be creepy if I was talking to you the reader!)
Questions for you:
What is your favorite way to exercise?
Have you done something you didn’t like just because you knew it would bless you significant other?
Websites like ExpatFocus.com help others gain knowledge about the community, cost of living, and even neighbourhoods. Some of the best advice is from first hand experience. This website also has articles about expat living as well.
While most of our answers tend to be the same, we continue to learn more and more about ourselves through our expat living. We enjoy sharing that knowledge with others via our website, podcast, and expat websites.