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Interview with Ginny Lou – an American expat living in Turkey

Updated 3 Jul 2020

Originally from the US state of Alabama, Ginny Lou has long enjoyed travelling and learning about other cultures. She first came to Turkey shortly after graduating from university, and soon fell in love with the people and the culture here. When her friend, Leslie (from Knoxville, Tennessee) came to Turkey not long after, the two of them decided to start sharing their love of Turkey’s people and places with their friends and family back home through writing and photography on their website, West2East. Be sure to find and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

You can also read more about expat life in our essential Moving to Turkey guide.

About Ginny LouGinny Lou

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am from Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Adana, Turkey.

Q: When did you move here?
A: We moved to Adana in 2016.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, we (Leslie and I) both have had opportunities to travel to countries in Central America, Africa and other parts of Europe. Leslie had the opportunity to spend a summer in Poland during college. 

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I have been interested in Turkey since childhood – for some reason I always wanted to come here. After graduating university I had the opportunity to take some time and come for a short stay. The idea was to learn a little bit of the language and experience some of the culture but, as many of the expats interviewed about their time in Turkey here have said, this country has a way of keeping you around. When my friend Leslie moved here we decided to stay long term. Currently, we are documenting our lives and experiences here in Turkey through writing and photography on our blog West2East. 

Living in Adana

Q: What do you enjoy most about Adana? 
A: Probably the people. They are warm and inviting. Turks, in general, have a reputation for hospitality, and Adana’s people live up to that. Customer service is a big deal here. Every detail is waited on. No request is too large. While this hospitality is seen in all aspects of life here, there is nothing like being hosted in a Turkish home. They hold nothing back in ensuring that their guests are comfortable, well fed and taken care of. They have a belief that a guest brings '40 blessings', and these blessings are generously repaid to the guest. We have definitely gained weight since moving here due to Turkish hospitality.

We aren’t complaining, though. We love Turkish food, and Adana has a reputation around the country for its cuisine, its meat in particular. Adana Kebab is famous and, of course, the best version of it is right here in its birthplace.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: At times, especially in some of the more touristy parts of the country, foreigners can be taken advantage of when it comes time to pay the bill. We can be perceived as wealthy and, as such, targets for price gouging. A lot of our Turkish friends here try to warn us about this. They tell us to watch out for such people and they do their best to help ensure that we are given a fair price when they are with us.

Sometimes I miss being able to blend into the crowd. Again, a lot of times being recognised as a foreigner here comes with its perks, but there are times it would be nice to be able to blend in more and just go about my business as usual.

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: Turkish culture is highly community-orientated. There isn’t a lot that is reserved for the individual, whether that is possessions, time or even information. It is common to be asked very personal questions as a matter of routine. It’s normal to be asked about your weight, your salary, your religion, your political leanings and the cost of your rent all in the same conversation. This is just small talk for them! This took some getting used to. 

Q: What’s the cost of living in Adana compared to the USA? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Turkey?
A: For an American, the cost of living in Adana is quite affordable. Depending on the US city, a typical year’s rent here could amount to the cost of a couple of months’ rent in a comparable house back in the States. Groceries are cheap. Entertainment is cheap. 

Unfortunately, what is affordable for us as expats isn’t necessarily so for locals. Due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira in recent years, even those who earn standard wages can struggle to make ends meet. Something that does come with a higher price tag here, however, are electronics, such as cell phones and computers. Due to import taxes, these can be quite expensive.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Adana? What is your most memorable experience of using Adana’s transport system?
A: You can get anywhere you need to go in Adana using public transport, but it may require using more than one means. There is a city bus, a couple of different private bus systems, including minibuses, and a metro. Like most things in Adana, public transport here is very affordable. 

Minibuses here are notorious for their driving. Generally, they take the right of way, no matter what the official traffic guidelines might be, they drive too fast and they use their horns freely, all while talking on their cell-phone or to the passenger in the front seat. 

One of my favourite things about using public transport is the occasional stop-off for the driver to get a cup of tea. Turks drink multiple cups of steaming black tea every day, and public transport drivers need their fix too. It’s not uncommon for the driver of the bus or minibus to pull over, run into a café or their friend’s shop and come back with a cup of tea. In the meantime, all the passengers sit on the bus, patiently waiting for them to come back. No one complains. After all, it’s perfectly understandable – you can’t live without tea!

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Adana? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare in Adana available to expats is good. In Turkey, there are two types of doctors and hospitals, public and private. Due to the socialised system in the country, public doctors and hospitals are available free of charge to citizens and long-term residents. This can be convenient, as nearly every neighbourhood has a public clinic. If you have a residence permit you can walk in, request to see a doctor and receive an exam and a prescription right away at no cost. They also provide free vaccinations for children.

Private doctors and hospitals, on the other hand, require private insurance. If you don’t have insurance, you can pay cash, but they are more expensive. We have used public doctors and hospitals, but in general, we go to a private hospital called Acıbadem. It is a chain with several hospitals in the country and their healthcare is top notch. 

Besides doctors and hospitals, pharmacists here can give simple diagnoses and prescribe treatment. Pharmacies are everywhere here and you can simply walk in and describe your ailment and they will give you medicine accordingly.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Adana or Turkey? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: There’s not a lot of random violence here. One of the biggest risks expats face in Adana is pickpocketing, which only occurs if you're not staying aware of your surroundings. Honestly, the biggest risk we face daily is in crossing the street. Traffic here can get pretty out of hand.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Adana? What different options are available for expats?
A: The standard of housing here really depends on the area you live in and the age of the building you want to live in. There are some nice apartments available to rent or purchase, as well as some stand-alone houses. These can be furnished or unfurnished. The newer buildings generally have natural gas hooked up, but the older buildings might not. Adana is known for its hot summers, so I would recommend that you plan to purchase air conditioning units for your house if it doesn’t already have them. 

Depending on how brave you are feeling, you can choose to go through a realtor’s office for renting an apartment or you can come to terms with the homeowner yourself. In general, if you don’t know the language, I would recommend going through a realtor. Sometimes homeowners can be a little wary of renting to foreigners. Also, a realtor can help you go through all the necessary steps to hook up utilities, etc.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Some of the more popular areas for expats to live in Adana are Pınar, Gazipaşa, Ziyapaşa and Mahfesığmaz.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Adana?
A: Of course, this depends on the particular people you are encountering. Some cities in Turkey are more welcoming than others towards foreigners. Adana, in particular, is a warm place. It already has a lot of diversity in its makeup. Due to the long-term presence of an airbase nearby, Americans are well liked by locals. But, because of a large influx of refugees in recent years, and the stress this has put on the economy, people coming from border countries such as Syria can be discriminated against. We have not experienced discrimination in Adana.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Generally, meeting people here is easy. As mentioned, Turks love drinking tea and coffee, and it’s not uncommon to be invited to join them for a cup, whether they are your taxi driver or the proprietor of the store you are shopping at. Our neighbours welcomed us when we moved here, and we have been able to make friends with others in our immediate community. 

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: We have some really good local friends here. Language is important, though. Even being able to speak a minimal amount of Turkish will help a lot as there aren’t as many English speakers in Adana as there are in other parts of the country. When you show efforts to understand and speak their language, Turks are appreciative of this and it goes a long way in building relationships.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Adana or Turkey?
A: As I said previously, I would advise them to learn as much of the language as their situation allows. Even basic 'get-to-know-you' questions and answers mean so much to the people here and can open doors to relationships, to better experiences and a better understanding of this place. Seek to learn about the people and culture, don’t be content with the stereotypes you might bring with you. Rather, try to understand them on their terms. This will help you to adjust better to life here and appreciate your surroundings more. And be warned: the people love to eat, dance, laugh and tell stories, and the history and natural beauty of Turkey will take your breath away – this place will steal your heart!

►Interviewed July 2020

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