School’s Out

Travel may well broaden the mind but upping sticks and relocating to a foreign field can blow it completely. The best laid plans may not prepare you for having the cultural rug pulled from under your feet, something that can throw the most balanced person off kilter. Becoming a novice expat is like the first day of school. All those childhood fears come flooding back. Will I fit in? Will people like me? Am I wearing the right kind of kit? Am I as good as them?

As the naïve new kids on the block, we made the classic mistake of chucking ourselves into the well-rooted and largely insular expat community that clung to the iridescent coast of Aegean Turkey. We didn’t dip our toes into the water to test the temperature. Oh no. We leapt in with eyes slammed shut, noses held and hopes raised. It was a salutary lesson in what not to do. The emigrey soap opera was, at times, a life-sapping experience and negativity stalked the smoky bars and over-crowded beaches. We spent the first six months trying to get to know people and the next six months trying to get rid of many of them. In retrospect, I don’t know why I expected a disparate group of people thrown together purely by chance to be our cup of tea. Four years down the line our burnt fingers had healed and we started to enjoy the sparkling company of a small cohort of like-minded people. As with many things in life, less is more. Ironically, just as we reserved our own corner of the playground with a hand-picked gang, we returned back to Blighty to be grown-ups again.

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10 thoughts on “School’s Out

  1. It’s so true. It took us at least a year to pick ourselves up after what seemed like a crash landing for us, too. Now many years later we are OK, but we have filtered out an awful lot. It’s especially difficult, I think, in a small society like Jamaica (although Kingston is a million plus population, but still) – and in a society like the one you went into. Everyone knows everyone else and wants to know your business, too…

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  2. I think we’ve all done it Jack. In those first months our language skills are practically non*existent and we latch on to anyone living here that we can communicate with in English. Sooner or later we realise that we would never have associated with most of these people if we had met them back in our home country. I have some awful memories of such “friendships”, but I also have a few really good friends amongst expats that I’ve met along the way. My advice to anyone moving here would be to avoid the expat cliques, be brave and get to know the locals…and be very choosy when it comes to expat friendships.

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  3. . . looking back J and I can pat ourselves on the back – not in a smug way because like most others when they take the plunge we didn’t know what would be lurking under the surface and around the edges. What saved us was the overiding thought that we had not come here to live in a pastel-coloured concrete ghetto and so we were never around to be drawn in. Viewed through our reversed telescope from a long way up the track, we are so glad to be away from it all.

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  4. I agree, with your post, Emma and Ayak. I guess I’d characterize it as go slowly and choose your ‘friends’ wisely. Of course you don’t want to be sitting home alone brooding while you await the arrival or unearthing of your bestest friends; just know that some of the folks you meet and do things with will become ‘casual friends’, ‘fun friends’, occasional friends’ and even ‘former friends’ 😉

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  5. @ Ayak – be choosy with ALL friendships! And Yes Jack – Being here you end up with lots of acquaintances and very few real friends – the main thing I miss from England are my friends – thank God for Skype!! Just an aside – be careful with the locals in Norwich!!

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  6. I think we all have to learn the hard way when we make such momentous plans and so easy to talk to everyone without seeing the consequences. It took me years to settle into a less turbulent life style, now that I see the error of my ways I seem to fit seamlessly into a Turkish life style, though from my perspective of course, I really have no idea how my fellow Turks see me. I don’t think I want to either.

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