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Interview with Faye – a British expat living in Turkey

Updated 20 May 2021

Faye is originally from Buxton, Derbyshire, and is now an expat living in Dalyan in southwest Turkey. She has lived in Turkey for the last 20 years, initially working at Bilkent Laboratory & International School in Ankara. Faye has written two fiction novels that are based on her experience in Turkey, which she also chronicles in her blog.

About FayeFaye Smith

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Buxton, Derbyshire, England

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Dalyan, Turkey

Q: When did you move here?
A: In 2001.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No. I lived in Cyprus from 1982 to 1987.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I came here alone.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I was in a relationship with a Turkish man and came over to work in an International School in Ankara. I wanted to live in Turkey on my own terms and see whether I could settle and see myself here for the rest of my life.

Living in Turkey

Q: What do you enjoy most about Turkey? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: The friendliness of the people, feeling safe and the climate where I live now. I have a better standard of living here than I would in the UK, even when I was working on a much lower salary. I couldn’t afford to live in the UK on my pension, but I have a good standard of living here. Every day is like being on holiday!

I speak fluent Turkish and immerse myself in Turkish culture, enjoying an authentic life in a traditional village. I feel lucky to be living the dream in this little piece of paradise.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: No negative experiences, and the only thing I miss about being in the UK are my friends and family.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: As I learnt Turkish before I came this doesn't apply to me, but many people experience problems with everyday situations (taking a taxi, shopping) because they don’t speak Turkish. Even knowing the basics is a real help and Turks appreciate you trying to speak their language. I didn’t have any culture shock as I'd lived in Cyprus for five years and the cultures are very similar.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Turkey?
A: When I first came, everything was very cheap but recently everything has increased in price, however, if you are living off earnings or a pension from the UK the exchange rate is at an all-time high so you get lots of lira for your sterling. Things tend to be more expensive in the big cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, but if you live on the coast or in more rural areas, prices are cheaper, particularly fruit and vegetables which are grown locally.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Turkey?
A: The train network is very limited but the national coach system is fantastic. Tickets are cheap and you can get anywhere in the country, though some of the journeys take more than 20 hours (Turkey is a huge country!). The coaches have reclining seats, are spotlessly clean and have two drivers swapping over so they can adhere to the strict limits on driving hours. There is also a host on each coach who serves drinks and snacks throughout the journey and the coaches stop every two hours at service stations along the way for toilet breaks. The coaches run on a tight schedule and are never late so be sure to get to the station early to claim your seat.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Turkey? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare system in Turkey is impressive. I had private health insurance with my job and, when I became seriously ill, I had two hospital stays over the years. I had private rooms, more like 5-star hotel suites, and can’t fault the treatment I received. I can highly recommend the Güven Hospital in Kavaklidere and the Acibadem Hospital in Çankaya.

More recently I have switched to the Turkish national health insurance system and, as I have a chronic illness, am regularly visiting a hospital for check-ups. I never have to wait for an appointment to see my consultant, and I can get all tests, X-rays and procedures done, and receive the results within a day. Plus, they pay for all my medication. The UK National Health Service could learn a lot from the system here!

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Turkey?
A: I love Turkey and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I feel much safer here than in the UK. In Ankara, I felt perfectly safe getting late night buses from the city centre to the university campus on my own. It is just a matter of being sensible as there are opportunists everywhere.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Turkey? What different options are available for expats?
A: From my experience the standard of housing is good. City dwelling is mostly in apartments which are spacious, have balconies and are usually well maintained. Some expats with families are housed on the outskirts of cities in apartment complexes with pools, gyms and other facilities. Retired expats living on the coast tend to live in private villas with their own pools and gardens.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Too many to mention. When you know which city you will be moving to, I would suggest you join the appropriate Facebook pages for expats to ask questions and get a sense of the area.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups?
A: Turks are famous for their hospitality and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Teachers have a high status here and are well respected, which makes a nice change from the general UK attitude. The university where I worked had a diverse, multicultural staff from countries all over the world and included gay, lesbian and transgender faculty members.

In my experience, the locals are genuinely curious to know where you’re from, what you do; and are happy to share their stories with you in exchange.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I think it depends on your situation. If you come to work for an offshore company, an international school, or a global corporation, you have an immediate source of colleagues to make friends with and explore your surroundings with. If you come independently, there are groups on Facebook to join and InterNations has groups in various parts of Turkey where you can join events and get to know others in your area. As in any city around the world, joining interest groups will provide an opportunity to make friends.

I have made lifelong friends here. Most of my friends at work were Turks, as the international teachers moved on after a few years. The Turks provide the stability in the school and look upon it as a job for life. Where I live now, I have a mix of expat and Turkish friends.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: Speaking Turkish allows you to form deeper relationships with the locals. Again, it depends on where you live. English is widely spoken in the tourist resorts on the southwestern coast and in Istanbul, but apart from that you will need basic Turkish to get around. In Turkey, a neighbour is a neighbour and, regardless of your nationality, expect to find bags of fresh fruit or vegetables on your doorstep or to be presented with a traditional delicacy on special days and holidays. It’s a great way of tasting food you might not normally come across. Don’t forget to return the favour!

Working in Turkey

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: For the first 12 years of being here, I got a work permit through the school I worked in. When I left work in 2013, I had to do all the necessary form-filling, etc., on my own which I found to be a nightmare. However, now that the application system is online and they’ve worked out the glitches, it’s much easier.

Q: What is the economic climate in Turkey like?
A: Currently, the Turkish economy is not good and at several points during the 20 years I’ve been here there have been crashes. The exchange rate is at its highest, which is good for tourists but not if you live here as prices of imported goods rise at an alarming rate.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: In the education sector, we are better trained and more knowledgeable than our Turkish colleagues. There is also a difference in expectations of working hours and responsibilities between teachers working in schools with an international staff and those in Turkish schools.

Family and children

Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: It depends on where you live. In Ankara, there are many places to go at night from small bars to large meyhanes which cover a range of music and tastes. For classical music lovers, there is the opera, regular concerts by several symphony orchestras and tours by global stars. I belonged to a good expat choir, ‘Ankara A Cappella’, which was a good way to meet new people but also perform at interesting venues around the city. There are some excellent museums and art galleries, e.g. The Museum of Anatolian Civilisation, Ethnographical Museum and Cer Modern. I would highly recommend a visit to Anıtkabir and Ataturk’s mausoleum too.

Where I live now, there are a few local festivals (traditional Turkish oil wrestling!) and arts events but on the whole, it is a much quieter art scene than if you lived in a big city.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are a vast array of schools available in the main cities, offering a variety of curricula, ethos and academic qualifications. Do your homework! Visit different schools, meet the teachers and students, talk to other parents, look at their results, analyse the costs (including hidden ones!) and look at what afterschool activities they offer. Are the English teachers native English speakers? This is important!

I worked at a bilingual, International Baccalaureate school in Ankara. This school is the perfect place for children of Turkish/International parents as it offers a broad, balanced curriculum and a global education in both Turkish and English. However, it doesn’t come cheap.

I think a child’s education is more than just schooling. If a parent provides exciting, educational opportunities (visits to museums, sports and creative activities, holidays to other countries, love of books/reading) outside of school, a mediocre education in an average school can be sufficiently supplemented. My main criticism of state schools is their reliance on politically driven textbooks and their obsession with homework!

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Turkey?
A: When I was recruiting international teachers for the school I worked in, I was amazed at the questions I was asked about living in Turkey, re: women being covered, camels (!) desert (?), the weather. So, my advice is to Google the place where you will be living, as the climate, culture and way of life can be different depending on which area of Turkey you live. If there is no induction process with your job/university, I suggest joining the many Facebook pages where you will be able to ask questions and look at previous discussions. Plus, expat websites like this one! In case you’re coming here to marry, make sure your man is not already married! My experiences were the basis for my books; Seeing the Truth and Seeing It All.

It was my love for a Turkish man which led me to write my debut novel Seeing the Truth. While the novel is a work of fiction, I drew on my own experience of a challenging relationship where the differing cultures, language barrier and religion were a constant struggle. A keen reader of all types of fiction, I had never come across a romance novel that explored the stereotypical relationships between British women and Turkish men in depth. Through my own experience and needing a winter project to keep me occupied in a very quiet, out of season Dalyan, Seeing the Truth was born. In 2018, due to many requests for a sequel, I wrote Seeing It All, which continues Kaye’s story.

►Interviewed in May 2021

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