Like all travel writers out there, seeing your article and photos in print give me such pride! Some of my photos were published in a passed issue of Lale Magazine, but this month features my first full article with photos for this magazine titled Reminiscing Romantic Romania.
Lale Magazine is an expat magazine produced by the IWI, International Women of Istanbul. The bi-monthly magazine is shipped to over 600 private home, as well as all advertisers and sponsors. The readers are comprised mostly of Turkish nationals married to foreigners, but also foreigners living in Istanbul. It is full of helpful information about local schools, exhibits for art and workshops, and experiences with IWI groups. There aren’t a lot of English print magazines in Turkey, so this is a fun magazine to have available!
Here is the start of the article:
Bucharest, once known as the little Paris of Romania, set an example for its outlying villages, like Braşov. Following suit, they look like small Parisian villages with their crepe stands and cafes making a boulevard down main street. Often overlooked on the regular European tourist trail, Romania remains an eminently worthy travel destination in its own right. Romania is a great country for those who’ve seen all the major European cities and want to get away from the overcrowded tourists hot spots. I found that Romania offers plenty of tourist attractions without the craziness of tourist groups, lines, and prices.
In June, my husband and I met up with some of our expat friends, Ben and Marie, in Romania for a 5-day reunion. Our traveling group consisted of 4 adults and 2 babies. Our friends, coming from Dubai, wanted to escape the boiling, brown desert for cooler green, lush forests. We just wanted to enjoy some European foods not readily available in Izmir and more reasonably priced than Paris or London, for example. And we both hoped to escape our towering apartments for a few hours via a roadtrip through the mountainous central area of the Romania.
Romania’s 20 million people are spread over 240,000 square kilometers, perfect for a road trip meets city type adventure.
Currently, we are working to re-apply for our visas. Our 1 year visas are coming to a close, and we are submitting our visas to live in Turkey for another 2 years!
As I wrap up part 3 of our EXPAT YEARS Series, I share 10 things we have learn our first year as expats.
Try to stick with your original plan. (Which we did not do…)
Jason and I agreed before we moved that renting a furnished apartment would be the best option. We could potentially pay more for our home but save money the first year. It would give us time to make sure we were in the right location and look for a more permanent rental that we knew we really liked.
Having great neighbors is worth your apartment rent and location.
Brightside to #1 is our #2. One of the main reasons we love our place is our neighbors. It took a while to get connected with our neighbors, but it is worth all the effort in the world to have good relationships with them. Our neighbors have had us over for tea, invited me into their women’s group, brought us food after my surgery, and even watered my flowers while we were gone for 2 months this summer.
Humans are created to be in community, and while you may not need a large community, it is still important. Married 2.5 years when we moved, Jason and I were comfortable with just being with each other, but we both knew it was not healthy. Community brings a network of helpers and advisors that can support you. Community creates friendships which, while they can’t replace your best friends back ‘home’ it can help ease times of homesickness and loneliness. Lastly, community gives you belonging and identity which is crucial to thriving long term in another country. All is important when moving to another country.
When I moved to Istanbul, Turkey as a single gal, it was also the first time I moved outside of the U.S.A. I found that celebrating the little accomplishments helped me see growth. I would celebrate the number of months living in a city of 20 million people much like newlyweds celebrate each month of marriage until their first anniversary. Make a list of things you will have to learn, and check them off as you learn them. Or write down things you have learned since moving such as buying furniture, refilling your transportation card, or have the air conditioner fixed.
This is so important! Taking a break every once and awhile is good! We were in Turkey 4 months before heading out to Germany for Christmas. After moving, living in an airbnb for a month, buying furniture, fixing issues with our newly (yet not truly lived in) renovated apartment, starting language… needless to say, we were ready for a break! We actually left our apartment in the hands of a Turkish friend for one day after we left so the leaking roof could be replaced. A break was important and usually is needed in the first 4-6 months. So whether it is just outside the city or another country, get out of town for a bit and relax.
Reflect and evaluate
While celebrating and taking a break are both great things to do, one of the most helpful tip is to reflect. We reflect together every new year, sometimes over our anniversary celebration, and even when other friends ask us questions. If you are learning a language it is helpful to reflect on what works and doesn’t work, and especially what you have learned to see progress. Scheduling time reflect on your work, personal like and projects is more helpful than you think and can encourage you as you in times of need.
Unless you are an English speaker in an English speaking country, learning the local language is always a good choice. (Although I do hear France is brutally unkind about new french language learners).
Is it easy? NOT AT ALL. But have I found (the second time around, and with a longer term vision in mind) that the more I try to speak, the more others appreciate it.
Will it take time? ABSOLUTELY (that was more for myself). With other projects on the burner, Jason and I are working part-time to learn Turkish and it has been worth every hour.
Keep up at least 1 hobby that you loved back home
Sounds weird but this one little task can make a bad culture day look brighter and mellow out sadness. Like to play guitar? Bring yours or buy one as soon as you can. Enjoy crossstitching, bring your needles and threads. Love to run and exercise, join a gym. You will not regret investing into the hobbies that bring you joy.
Explore all the local food … and maybe even cook it
These Funks love trying new foods, and even though we had both lived here before, I have found there to be so many foods I had never tried. Food opens a whole different door into the culture and locals you are learning about it. Be adventurous, and order that food you don’t know how to pronounce. Try and then record it in a book and either note how great it was or wasn’t!
Your family and friends won’t forget you, but it usually looks different.
You may find it challenging to connect when you return, especially if they aren’t able to come visit you. However, they will still love you! Returning home could require some preparation on your part and you find learn more about that in our next EXPAT SERIES: Going Home.
“There is a puddle of water in here!” I gasped in horror at the floor of our extra bedroom. Just 1 month into our rental, our landlady was checking over some final projects on our apartment renovation when she randomly checked the extra room and discovered a layer of water. “This is not suppose to happen your first year living abroad…” I thought to myself.
I honestly don’t know why she checked that room, but I am so thankful we found the puddle of water on the floor upstairs. After a few hard rains in November, the newly replaced roof from summer was now failing the leakproof test. The room upstairs is not one that we use a lot just yet, but it is important that we fix the leak. Winter season is mostly rainy season for the Izmir area.
As November ended, we hoped and prayed our apartment neighbors along with our landlord could figure out a solution. Three weeks later and many confusing conversations… we finally learned that that section of the roof is our landlords responsibility and the warranty is not going to cover it. Our landlord disagreed about the timing and importance of fixing the roof and suggested a tarp be laid down to catch any water over the next two weeks that we would be gone on vacation. And a part of me was wishing we would have decided to be full-time travellers instead of full-time expats…
As new tenants, we politely but firmly requested the roof be repaired. We played the game of refusing to pay rent, deducing the cost from the rent for the repairs and paying ourselves, but in the end she did have the roof fixed and paid for it too. (We secretly may have had issues with figuring out the rental transfers via our bank, and it could have looked like we were not paying because of these problems.)
Two days before our two week departure for Germany and our Christmas market tour, 2 men lifted 4 steel beams up 6 floors via a rope on the side of our apartment to resupport the roof and I just prayed it wouldn’t rain until they finished. And one day before we left, the fixers told us they would need another day. One the day we departed, our Turkish tutor, who had helped up through the process, stayed at our home so that the men could finish the roof.
Thankfully, since returning, we have had no major issues!
As you can tell and much to our disappointment, living in another country has the same issues wherever you live. What makes them slightly more frustrating is figuring out how to solve them… what method they use, who can help you, what is a good price, and how to say it in another language. BUT just like living in your native country, living in another country brings lots of other fun adventures… going to the market, travelling because things are closer, and going to the seaside for a walk.
So in the spirit of reflecting, here are questions we have been asked about our first year living abroad:
What has been your favorite part?
Neighbors and friends – Little did we know that our neighbours would be this awesome! I have really been able to connect with the ladies in our building and in turn they have invited me into their home. Jason has been able to meet some men through a coffee shop he works at and an expat meeting we went to just once. Investing in the people around you is never an empty endeavour.
Neighborhood- We love where we live, the neighborhood, parks, seaside. The large weekly market is just 10 minutes walk; Starbucks is about 5 minutes. I run along the exercise path lined with the deep blue waters and parks with benches just 10 minutes from our apartment. Our neighborhood has multiple grocery stores, restaurants, and shops that have everything we could need. Hop in a taxi and the megamall is just 10 minutes away.
Travel is always a plus! While Turkey isn’t in the EU, it is still a popular destination for Europeans’ vacation. This in turn, makes inexpensive, frequent flights more available to major European cities!
I struggled to find my balance and identity after working full-time at a university for 3 years. Jason and I had to find new systems for working and living too. Once we got use to that, it helped us manage our schedules better.
What does a day look like for you?
Daily life is fairly normal and what you would consider typical. Jason works most of the day just like he did back in the states. And just like back in the states, he works from home, or a coffee shop, breaks for lunch or turkish study time. He is generally more at ease with being by himself than I am.
When it comes to living in another country and culture, I have had to learn what works best for me, and some weeks I am still figuring it out. I will usually exercise, have Turkish lessons, study Turkish and do homework, write, photo edit, and visit neighbors or friends to practice my Turkish.
I have found friends through several paths. My closest friend here is German, and we met on a local Izmir facebook group! Through her I found the IWAI and those women continue to weave more and more connections throughout the city than I could ever hope for. Jason and I have made efforts to know our neighbors and meet people in our neighborhood. We also attended an Internations party one time, and from that Jason has continued to meet with the guys he met there.
‘You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you’ll never be this way ever again.’ — Azar Nafasi
Instead of spending one more month in the states we stuck to our original departure date – determined to move overseas. We felt that delaying our move would make it harder to leave, and believe me, it was sad enough leaving family and friends behind. So 20 hours later with a very lengthy layover in the Chicago airport, we found our (very tired) selves on the sunny beaches of Rota, Spain.
Since then, these 2 people have….
Moved 8 bags via south Spain (listen here and here) to Madrid to fly one way to Turkey
And the truth? There have been MANY times I have regretted moving those first few months, especially while we were settling in.
BUT the great reality?
REGRETS and ‘second guessing’ are COMPLETELY NORMAL. And in all honesty, part of the deal. The disagreements between Jason and I about what and how much to buy, having to research and learn what to do here before you can make 5,000 decisions, deciding to budget high for travel although we had just moved, investing money into our language learning when it could be easier not to learn it at all, having to deal with having surgery in another country, the days where you don’t want to deal with culture or think about how every way you act.
Tears, sadness, loneliness, reflection, prayers (lots and lots of prayers), and choosing joy and happiness. I remember it is WORTH it. I remember how long we planned and dreamed for something like this. I remember the list of gratitudes I started in my prayer journal. I remember how sweet our neighbors, church, and friends are. I remember how far I have come for the ‘not so easy learner.’
I am SO VERY THANKFUL we made the move. The decisions, awkward start of friendships, and transitioning from one life to another have had even more happy moments to accompany them. We have walked through our Turkish friends’ wedding, sang songs in another language, loved on Turkish and expat kids that are not our nieces and nephews, and celebrated life with those around us!
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!