Culture shock can happen and will happen to everyone. And yes, I will argue against well-seasoned travelers and long time expats that it can happened to them as well! Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it below.
Culture shock affects everyone differently: some people withdraw from others, other may become sad or depressed (homesickness can hit hard during this time- even if you don’t have a home!), some become angry at all the little differences, and others struggle to find meaning in their world and the relationships around them.
Spring is gorgeous here in Izmir, Turkey. 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….
This wasn’t my first Christmas overseas, but it was OUR first Christmas overseas. Within 4 months, we moved to Turkey, rented an apartment, and furnished it(mostly). So this year, our Christmas decor was a little meek. Ikea pretty much has everything you could ever need, including some Christmas decor. SO, while I would have loved to keep with holiday tradition of buying a real tree, we settled for a cute little fake one!
In anticipation of our 2016 move, Christmas 2015 ended with one big packed Christmas box for storage and one small box labeled ‘Christmas stuff 4 Turkey move.’ Thankfully, we didn’t have to open it again until we had our Christmas in Turkey! Below is one of my old turkish ornament I bought from my old single days in Turkey. It has made it many places with me!
And this is our new turkish ornament we bought during our sailing trip along the Aegean coastline.
Some traditions aren’t hard to keep, here is our annual Christmas tree decorating time lapse!
Right before we left town, we did see ‘New Year’ trees – REAL ones – at a local grocery store! Next year we may have a real tree!
We may not of had a real tree, but we did do our 2nd annual advent calendar! 2015 was long year for my job, and Jason was a champ through all of it. By December, I was finally was coming out of the work fog, and I wanted to do something special for him to look forward to Christmas. Jason loved it. Every morning he woke up, check the back of the card and had something to look forward to for the day. This year was no different. And – since we had planned our #funkchristmas2016 tour, it made some of our advent activities really interesting!
Our advent calendar is nothing fancy, I printed a card template and wrote the dates on the front with activities on the back. Ikea once again came to the rescue with Christmas theme washi tape!
Along with our advent calendar, we had a few other decorations around our living/dining area. Ikea also had some fake garlands, and I grabbed one knowing it would look fabulous over our fireplace. Every year, I usually find a few free Christmas prints online. A couple I put in frames, others I just taped up with washi tape. Those few new items, plus our small box of treasures we brought from the states, made up our decor this year. And you know what? It was perfect! Simple and perfect.
One of our advent calendar events was baking Christmas cookies. This was three-fold.
1. Decorating (my favorite)
2. Eating of course (Jason’s favorite)
3. Gifts for our neighbor goodie bag!
By December, we had met most of our apartment building neighbors. Since Turkey is a majority muslim country, Christmas is not a celebrated holiday, but it is somewhat present. You can see Christmas trees, decor, lights and sometimes snowmen. ‘Christmas’ is more of a new year celebration and sometimes Santa even makes it by. 😉
For us, Christmas is our whole reason for life, and we are so happy to celebrate it. Part of our Christmas traditions is giving gifts to one another – family and friends alike. As a little gift for our Christmas celebrations, we shared little goodie bags with them! Along with the homemade Christmas cookies, we filled the bag with all the Christmasy foods – gingerbread cookies, chocolates, and a homemade hot chocolate mixture with a bag of marshmallows.
The goodie bags were a huge hit! (Plus, they were super fun to make.) Christmas touring in Europe was a blast. And I spent most of our December, and January mornings enjoying this view….
While it is safe to say that we are happy to see the new year, 2016 will always be one to remember for our family!
Several words come to mind as we think back to our year: Anticipation, preparation, happiness, sadness(Both the sadness of mourning and the joyful kind that comes with change), transition, struggle, identity, finishing, loneliness, longing, dreaming, adventurous.
As I was considering how to write about 2016, it truly centers around one major event….
BEST AND MOST CHALLENGING THING THAT HAPPENED IN 2016:
Jason and I (plus our 8 bags) moved to Turkey.
WHICH ALSO MEANT THAT:
Before moving we made the most of traveling to the states (mostly via my work conferences) and spending time with family. These little side trips took us to Minneapolis, Manhattan(Kansas), Chicago, Washington D.C. and Denver. Somewhere in there we celebrated our 2nd Anniversary! (Click on the links to take you to the podcast episode.)
I ran a half marathon in Chicago with my sister and mom.
Over the course of 6 months, we sold/gave away most of our household and then stored the rest of it. (episode 11)
Jason found his first client that hired him KNOWING we were going to be living internationally (and it has worked so well!).
After 3 years as a study abroad program assistant Iowa State, I moved on so that, together, we could pursue this move.
In July, we moved out of our first home together.(Episode 14)
In August, we left our 6 (now 7) nieces and nephews behind. Oh and the rest of our family. (jk, we love ya’ll too!) Which also meant that we missed meeting our new niece born 3 weeks after we left the states.
In August, we also left an amazing church and community of people.
Due to the coup in Turkey, we delayed our entry into Turkey and had the unexpected joy of spending a month with Jason’s cousins in Spain. While in Spain, we took a road trip through the Andalucia Region and spent the night in Morocco. (episode 15 and episode 16)
From the end of July to October 5, we lived in someone else’s home, hotel, Airbnb, apartment, or tent (yes, we count those 2 nights!).
In October, we signed a year long contract on a newly renovated apartment (episode 18) in Izmir, Turkey. You can listen into our podcast episodes to hear more about the long saga of acquiring gas for hot water, dropping a 10 foot pipe down 6 stories, and the leaky roof… (episode 19, episode 20, episode 21, episode 22)
In the Fall, we took a course about language learning and then implemented our plans towards slowly learning Turkish (and figuring out how that will work for us).(episode 19 and episode 20)
We somehow managed to be right on budget with our moving fund which has allowed us to rent an apartment, set up accounts, get our visas, buy furniture, and take some language. Now we are back to our monthly budget!
Crazily enough, that international move means we spent about a 3rd of our year living outside of the U.S.A.!
HARDEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED:
Leaving my job. I will say that my job at the beginning wasn’t all roses, but over time it grew into a job I really loved. I enjoyed my co-workers and miss that community dearly.
The failed coup in Turkey (episode 12 and episode013). While we did make the most of this, the events that have been happening in Turkey made the 2 months leading up to our move MUCH harder for people to celebrate with us about.
Being the better of our 2 vehicles, my car’s transmission went out 1 week before our move overseas. And with that, so did about $4,000 of moving money we hoped to have as a little extra backup. However, we are thankful that our car at least made it to the end! (episode 14)
BEST DECISIONS WE MADE:
In January, I convinced Jason that we should have a shared project of podcasting our way through our move(episode 1). One year later, our little side hobby of podcasting about our life changes and international move is still going strong. The first four episodes talk about our past travels to San Francisco, Boston, Italy, and Dubai. Our most listened too, Episode 9 announces our move and explains our decision to move overseas. Episode 13 premiers our first guest speaker!
In March we had a crawfish boil… in IOWA. Our long time friend, Mandy ‘B’ and her husband hosted a group of friends at their home, and we somehow managed to store a massive box of overnighted crawfish into our refrigerator (which then leaked into the rest of our fridge… but #WORTHIT).
In April, I took a day photography workshop with Alex+Val Education, and it was SO helpful. It has really given me more confidence in how to use my DSL camera on manual settings. I also purchased a new 50mm lens which I LOVE.
We both agreed that spending our first week in Turkey sailing was one of the best decisions yet. It is definitely NOT something we EVER thought we would do. Ok, maybe I thought I would, but Jason had no plans too. This experience was even better because Jason celebrated his 30th birthday on a catamaran on the coast of Turkey. Our sailing buddies, the Rowells and the Parrots, helped us share the experience via epsiode 17.
Favourite TV Show: We went through a quite a few tv shows, beginning with Grimm and finishing the year with The Blacklist. But by far, I would say that Broadchurch is a MUST watch.
Catie’s Jam: Can’t Stop the Feeling! by Justin Timberlake
It is the new Happy by Pharrell Williams song of 2016, and song is better to watch with the video while you listen, at least the first time!
HOW ARE YOU DOING NOW?
I will be the first to admit that our year could look pretty and perfect to outsiders, but as you can see above there was some really hard moment. I found myself more than once crying. Some times it was from the deep loss of identity and community. Other times it was over my nieces’ invitations to come play, but having to say no because we are choosing to live 3 plane rides and multiple time zones away.
While it has been extremely hard to leave family and friends back home, this change has also been so growing for our marriage. While it is exciting to fulfill our dreams of living internationally together, there were a lot of hard conversations due to missed expectations and frustrations which thankfully followed with many more opportunities for grace and forgiveness. God is faithful to continually supply grace and love towards us, and we too much extend it towards one another. He has also given us new friendships, a new home, strength and support every step along the way.
SO WHAT NOW?
I am busy making our home cozy and studying language as well. Now that we have hot water and a dry roof, it seems like 2017 is starting off wayyy too smoothly. Jason continues to work with his U.S. clients via his software consulting business, Tough Space. So far it has been working well, but it is also a balancing act as we try to set up our home and learn Turkish as well.
The podcast will continue into 2017 on the same schedule! Other thank that, we have been looking into some other online entrepreneurial projects. Maybe you will see some of that down the road!
But for now, THANK YOU for being part of our 2016 move and following along on our adventure. We are excited to see what 2017 will hold!