Anna is a Polish expat woman living in Turkey. She came to Turkey in 2011, and in this interview shares how it is to be a foreign woman in Turkey for her. Read about how she is trying to make a business out of a passion, what kind of adjustments she had to make when settling in Turkey and more about her expat experience in Turkey.
Here is what she says about herself:
I was born in Poland, later studied in the UK and Belgium, and lived in France just prior to moving to Turkey. For most of my adult life I was a researcher in social sciences but very recently I started an organic skincare project called Abtira Garden, which is now getting a life of its own in my kitchen and on Instagram. You can also find me on Facebook.
A proper website is coming very soon! I must say that this is a very big change in my life, moving from academic work to something so alternative, but it has been brewing in me for some years now.
How did you discover Turkey? What made you decide to come and live here?
In 2009 I visited my school friend in Turkey and on that occasion met my Turkish husband in Istanbul. For a couple of years we were cruising between Istanbul and Paris, and then decided to make Turkey our base.
You have your own business Abtira Garden. Can you tell us more about it? How did you come up with the idea?
This is not really a business yet, but a super new project that has been born out of a life-long obsession with health, balanced living and, in particular, meticulous skin care. Abtira is just an abbreviation of my names and Garden comes in because, well, I love to be outside and I do spend a lot of time gardening or just hanging out in the garden with our animals, dogs, cats, birds.
At Abtira I make non-toxic organic skin care products. Everything is handmade, food-grade, cruelty-free and provided in the recyclable packaging. Moreover, I strive for beautiful products. I also take personalized orders for specific skin conditions. I have always known a lot about skincare but I have to admit that the project was truly truly truly born after I learned about essential oils from a close friend that runs Doterra Turkey.
What was your biggest struggle in doing business in Turkey?
Well, it is too early to say for me, but at the moment the biggest challenge is that I am a one-person shop. I study plants and oils, make the products, photograph them and then communicate a lot with the community interested in them. It’s extremely intense because it is so multifaceted, I believe.
Do you have some tips on moving to Turkey? How to deal with cultural differences, what to expect when moving to Turkey?
Ah, that’s a hard one. It was very easy to move in here from France, logistically, but in fact, Turkey turned out to be very much a different place from what I expected, and that was probably the biggest source of trauma. I read a lot beforehand, and I am also a big fan of Turkish literature (beyond Orhan Pamuk), but am not sure reading can really prepare you for the reality of living here. I guess the best thing is to spend as much time as possible in the country before making the decision to live here.
What were the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling in Turkey? Did you have some kind of culture shock experiences and what kind?
I had to accept that society is governed by very different social norms that those prevalent in Western Europe, or even Central Europe like in Poland. The biggest shock was to discover a somehow ubiquitous lack of respect for other people’s privacy. The hardest challenge was to carve out my own private space that is not being intruded upon.
What do you enjoy most about Turkey?
Living close to nature with my husband and animals, and close to people who share a similar philosophy of existence.
What you enjoy least about Turkey?
People’s constant intrusion into other people’s lives.
Was it easy to make friends? Are your friends mostly expats or local people?
I guess my friends are mostly local people whom I met through my work at the university or who were initially my husband’s close friends. I once had two expat friends here but they left Turkey a while ago. I don’t think it’s harder or easier to make friends here than anywhere else.
Generally, how do you feel in Turkey?
Now I’m quite fine in Turkey but it took some years to come to this equilibrium. For a long time, I still considered Brussels or Paris my home. Now it’s no longer the case. Mostly I miss Europe’s easy access to cultural life and cultural events.
Do you feel accepted by Turkish people?
Generally speaking, accepted yes, but not necessarily understood…Eventually, people close to you must accept you or else you do not stay close. But it is a very different thing to achieve a degree of understanding. I feel both accepted and understood by a group of people, and that is sufficient for me.
I think what is hard for many Turks is to accept or understand other people’s need for solitude. However, having said this, I have never been interested in achieving a universal acceptance or understanding by others. I speak passable Turkish by now and it definitely helps the relationships with the general public…My neighbors are really great, I’ve been very lucky in this respect.
If you had to choose again, would you come to live in Turkey again?
I am not sure if I’d do it again. But at this point, I see my future very tightly linked to Turkey.
When you compare the cost of living in Turkey with European countries you lived in, are the prices higher or not? Cost of living in Turkey in general, is it expensive or not?
In absolute terms the costs of living might still be lower in Turkey than in Belgium or France but – given the earnings and prices – the average person’s purchasing power is not very high here in my opinion. It is also a highly unequal society.
What is your piece of advice for future expats coming to live in Turkey?
I do not have any. When we emigrate to other countries we must accept the local reality but we also have a right to remain ourselves. Finding a balance is very hard. I congratulate all who manage to achieve this balance in any way possible.
Anything else you would like to add? Something interesting about Turkish culture that you have experienced?
Something that for a long time I found very infuriating, but which has grown on me and which I find now pretty cool, is fluidity or rather that everything is possible here.