I got my first taste of expat whispers when I started working for the international student office at my university. That job launched me into a whole new world, one that I desperately craved as someone who wanted so badly to see the world outside of small town Kansas. I wasn’t exactly in the position to do so at the time, so I was incredibly fortunate to meet many wonderful people who were able to bring a little taste of the world to me.
Having never experienced anything outside of American life (save for a short trip to France and Spain with my high school), I really didn’t understand what it was like to be so far removed from one’s own culture. It really started to dawn on me how brave all of these people were to leave everything they’d ever known and spend four years in a totally different world.
I distinctly remember sitting at my desk when one of my friends from Japan exclaimed that they’d received a care package full of their favorite snacks. She had paid a pretty hefty price for the shipping, but assured me that the taste of home was totally worth it. Another friend invited me to come along with her to an authentic Indian restaurant she had discovered about an hour outside of our town. She had a brace on her wrist from an injury, but she still removed it for the meal, not about to let it prevent her from eating with her hands, as is the custom in a lot of South Asian countries. I could sense the power in these small comforts, though I couldn’t fully understand them until I, too, became an expat.
I had no idea what to expect my first year here, and as such, was completely unprepared. One minute, I felt the need to try to hoard anything that reminded me of home and hold onto it for dear life (FYI…trying to make a bag of Reese’s last for a year in a freezer is a terrible idea…they taste like crap) and the next minute, I would feel like it was impossible and pointless and resigned myself to thinking I would have to change every aspect of my life. The truth, of course, lies somewhere between the extremes.
After I survived the worst of the culture shock, I realized there was already a huge, vibrant expat community right at my fingertips, ready to share any exciting discoveries through the grapevine. This grapevine, this network of whispers, has totally revolutionized my life here in Turkey and made me feel like I’m not so out of my element after all.
I always laugh to myself now when I gasp with excitement when a friend tells me about a new sushi place they discovered, or a store that sells blueberries and sweet potatoes. I laugh because I totally get where my college friends were coming from. I also feel a responsibility to do for others what they did for me by sharing a little bit of my world with my Turkish students and friends, to widen their windows. They don’t quite yet understand the value of a package from home with a fresh jar of Jiff, but they can sense that it has value.
I am now halfway through my second school year here and it’s amazing how much my perspective has changed. Though at first this constant grasping and digging for the slightest taste of home felt frustrating and futile, I now feel so lucky to be part of such a special community. Yes, it is difficult sometimes, but it is also rewarding. There’s a certain thrill in the chase.
Who knows where the whispers will carry me next.