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Expat Ninja: Settling In New and Exciting Places
So you're going to live abroad:
First of all, rock that! Living abroad - and most importantly, learning to live well abroad - has been a defining aspect of my freshly-minted adult-like self. In this article, I'll be primarily addressing recent and soon-to-be college graduates who have decided (or are starting to think) that a serious change of scenery is called for. Heaven knows the job market isn't all that welcoming these days - what better time for an adventure? Wherever you are, or wherever you want to be, what follows is advice based on what I have learned since coming, alone, to a foreign country. In my case, there was a certain amount of excellent luck and great people involved in helping me make a place for myself - since we can't always count on luck, I hope this will help.
If you live on campus, the boundary between work and private life is pretty much non-existant
A good landing pad makes all the difference
If you're a recent college graduate, I'm going to suppose that it's safe to assume you aren't exactly flush. You will need a job. Not a career, mind you, but a job nonetheless. I went the pretty standard route of advertising as a nanny (live-in) online (I've included links to the sites I used below), and was hired on by a wonderful family living in a nice Istanbul neighborhood. There are horror stories out there about girls having their passports taken away from them and being held, and of course the family is probably also nervous about hiring you - your sweet little self!- sight-unseen. I talked to the children's mother on skype, and she was wonderful: professional and understanding. I think she even offered to speak to my mother and assure her that I would be in good hands. If you go this route and are under 21, it is not unreasonable for your parent(s) to want to talk to your prospective employer. It's best to suck it up and be happy they care.
Getting paid in dollars is best, if it's possible - especially if you have student loans and will be sending money back. It will also give you a chance to get used to the relative value of the currencies.
If the nanny route is not your thing, be prepared to deal with housing asap. Often corporate employers and universities will make temporary arrangements for their international employees, but from what I have seen these are often not ideal, whether it's due to cost or, um, proximity to students. "Teacher dorms" are usually on the same phone network as student dorms, FYI, and security is not all that tight. But hey, if you want to run pro-bono study groups in your apartment at all hours, be my guest.
A Nest of Your Own
If you're planning to stay for a couple years, find yourself the nicest place in your budget and sign a 2-year lease. Without the lease, your landlord can bump your rent through the roof, legally. With a 1-year lease, you're in a similar boat, but the bump is usually constrained by law - to a not insubstantial 10%, in many cases. I originally rented my 3-room apartment for a pretty reasonable 850 YTL (about 550-600 dollars). The next year, it was 920 YTL. My husband and sister-in-law got him to agree not to raise it to 1,025 YTL this year, and there was a scary weekend where it looked like he had renegged on his promise and we would have to move ASAP... Needless to say, a 2-year lease would have saved us lots o' money, lots o' stress.
On finding this nest: ask EVERYONE. Leave no stone unturned. Someone at work will know the best local listings, or someone who needs a roommate, or someone who is moving. Or someone who knows someone...who knows someone. Now is not the time to be shy.
A Flock of Your Own
Ah, friends. Given the newness of everything - and the likelihood of a language barrier - it will be very tempting to plop yourself down in the middle of the first expat group you find and make yourself real comfy. I have known people to live in a country for 3 to 5 to 10 years and never once bother to learn the language or make friends with ye olde locales. These people are easily picked out of crowd and are the objects of ridicule for many. Which is sad, because although it does require some effort (okay, sometimes a lot) to get comfy on your own terms, it is absolutely worth it.
And with so many ready-made groups to be a part of, the first step is laughably easy. Pick an interest: dancing, feminism, Irish music, protesting, sports, history, fly-fishing, terrarium-making! It's all there, my friend. Or if the city is a wee ikkle one, something is there. Find it. Do it. Be a part of something. You will feel so much better. You will be able to call this strange city home! And the birds shall tweet their approval!
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Bubble burst: The Matrix is a movie
Trials and Tribulations of Language-Learning in "Adulthood"
Premise the first: It will be HARD. This difficulty will stem from a combination of the following: most people do know some English and they will want to practice with you; you will be working - and there is a very good chance that you will have been hired for your magical English-speaking powers.
Premise the second: It is totally worth every second of painful effort. It really is.
My first "Turkish lessons" were at Tomer, and utterly useless, apart from getting me used to the public transportation system. Fortunately they were free, as part of my 'nanny contract'. My second, much more fruitful try was on the barter-system: a friend I'd made at an Irish bar (don't laugh) would take me out for beer and Turkish conversation lessons (much facilitated by the beer, I might add) in exchange for English lessons for another friend, or the occasional paper-correcting. I have since put a great deal of effort into becoming literately fluent and conversationally adequate, and each time I return from spending the summer with my family it is easier and easier to slip back into my life in Istanbul.
I am not an especially gifted linguist, but every tense and every construction I learned meant new places I could go, new people I could talk to, and new things I could read. This kind of thing is important if you're looking to make a life for yourself somewhere new.