When Emily and Jesse first considered living overseas, they had no idea of the life-transformation they would experience. Turkey rose to the surface as their top choice for many reasons: its culture of hospitality, its people's devotion to beauty, their affinity for creating, and their general tendency to be community-focused. Coming from a Western, more individual-centred mindset, they have appreciated the many lessons they have learned from their neighbours and friends in the country. You’ll most often find them enjoying a large Turkish breakfast on the mountain, hunting for the most scenic picnic spot, or chatting to their neighbours over a cup of coffee.
Their blog, The Best of Bursa, is a great resource for anyone thinking of making the move. It's packed full of information, advice and stories that highlight this Turkish city and everything it has to offer.
About Emily and Jesse
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: We hail from various parts of the United States including California, Texas, Illinois and Montana.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Bursa, Turkey
Q: When did you move here?
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: We both travelled internationally prior to getting married, but this is our first experience living in a foreign country for an extended length of time.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: We moved a few years after we were married, with a small babe in tow. We’ve since added a few to our numbers!
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We originally decided to move here in order for Jesse to pursue higher education. Jesse had lost his job in America due to the recession so we thought it was a good time to invest in the next step of our lives. Turkish turned out to be a harder language to learn than we anticipated, so plans to continue education fizzled out, but after developing a community of relationships and a new life in Turkey, we were hesitant to leave. Jesse spends his time volunteering as a sports coach and Emily works remotely as a web manager and graphic designer.
Living in Turkey
Q: What do you enjoy most about Turkey?
A: We enjoy the warm welcome that most Turks offer immediately upon meeting a new person. There have been countless times where we have met someone on the street or in passing and have ended up sitting for hours, drinking tea with them and getting to know their lives. The pace of life here is different than we experienced in our home country. America tends to be 'get it done' oriented. Turkey relaxes those expectations in us and reminds us to take time to be with people.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Our negative experiences have been few, but present. Occasionally you meet individuals that want to argue about politics or religion. Early on, we were taken aback by how many people commented on our children's dress and how (in their minds) insufficient it was. We came to learn, however, that this was simply their way of expressing care and love for our kids.
What do we miss most about home? We miss our families, of course, as well as gatherings during special holiday seasons.
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: From what we’ve heard, experiencing culture shock is a normal part of anyone’s expat experience. We certainly had some, but we came into it knowing it would happen. During our first year in the country, there were times of stress when learning Turkish felt overwhelming, when we just wanted a big cheeseburger or a burrito (both of which we can sometimes find here now!), or when we just missed what was familiar to us. Over time, new things began to feel familiar. Having relationships with people around us really contributed to helping us get through the difficult days.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Turkey?
A: The economic situation in both our home and host countries is changing, especially as COVID continues to affect the world. Costs in general are going up, but items in Turkey tend to be less expensive than in America. We are always so thankful for the price of fresh fruits and vegetables here compared to the States. The local bazaars might be one of our favourite places to spend a morning, just admiring the mounds of colourful produce. More expensive items here would be things like electronics and English-language books.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Turkey?
A: Bursa’s public transportation is excellent. The lightrail through the centre of town is an efficient way to get around and beat traffic. Buses run mostly on schedule and minibuses are common in the smaller neighbourhoods for hop-on-hop-off travel. In recent days, we’ve even seen the micromobility scene open up here with the introduction of bicycles and scooters for rent! Living in Bursa without a car is definitely doable.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Turkey? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Overall we have been pleased with the medical care we have received in Bursa. We have primarily utilised the private hospitals, but the public hospitals are also an option for expats living in the country. Private hospitals will often keep a translator on staff. Compared to the American healthcare system where you have to wait for referral appointments and test availability, most of your medical needs can be addressed the same day in Turkey.
One of the major private hospital chains in Turkey is Acibadem and, while expensive, seems to offer quality and comprehensive care to their patients.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Turkey?
A: Since we moved here, there have been some times of unrest including the war on the border with Syria and the 2016 coup attempt. We’re happy to say that things have quietened down in that regard and we personally feel safe living where we do. We would encourage anyone considering moving here to check with their local embassy for advice on places to avoid or ways to be more prepared for emergencies.
In terms of natural disaster, various parts of Turkey rest on prime earthquake zones. Smart practices to mitigate risk would include not renting an old apartment or one that has not been built to earthquake code. Also keeping an emergency bag with water and battery packs is a good idea no matter where you live.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Turkey? What different options are available for expats?
A: Apartment-living is the standard practice here. Villas and townhouse-style homes are available at times, but tend to be far more expensive.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: In Bursa, expats tend to live in Nilufer, Mudanya or Osmangazi counties.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups?
A: As in any country, there sadly is discrimination. We have seen it mostly with regards toward the refugee community that has grown in recent years. Turkey is not a very diverse country, ethnically-speaking, so people of different races tend to stand out more here.
Apartment owners are sometimes hesitant to rent to foreigners. Sometimes people don’t want to be neighbours to foreigners just because of the unknown cultural differences. We have found, though, that kindness and respect go a long way to overcoming these trust issues and allow for future friendships.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy?
A: We are naturally friendly people so making friends for us was not terribly difficult. We made a point to meet our neighbours early on and to engage with people regularly. We found that any time we made an effort to interact, people were always eager to respond in friendship.
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: If you haven’t noticed in our answers yet, we definitely encourage other expats to get to know locals in their communities. While there is an expat community here in Bursa that people can enjoy, your overall experience will be so much richer if you branch out and invest in other relationships. You might even end up with some life-long friends like we have!
Working in Turkey
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process?
A: Visas are an ongoing conversation for expats. The system changes frequently and needs careful attention. Work permits are issued with strict regulation. Resident tourist permits are given on a five-month to two-year spectrum. We encourage people to check with the local immigration office where they want to move to learn what the current requirements are and whether or not they offer interpreter services.
Q: What is the economic climate in Turkey like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job?
A: The current job climate in Bursa is difficult. While many have opted to pursue teaching English, there are times when there don’t seem to be enough jobs for that option. Starting a business is a viable option, but again requires careful acquiescence to the law in terms of hiring enough employees and keeping operations above board. There are many social media groups dedicated to listing jobs for foreigners in cities throughout Turkey. Those may be a good place to begin a search.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Turkey?
A: The one cultural difference of note in terms of work-life is the power distance. In the west, it is far more common to be friends with your employer and to interact as equals. In Turkey, understanding the power difference between various employer/employee relationships goes a long way. The best practice we can recommend is to come as a learner.
Family and children
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: You’ll find a plethora of ideas on our website for families with children, but some of our very favourites include the Bursa zoo, the botanic park, Kultur Park, and the cable car up Mount Uludag.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Schools operate as both public and private institutions. Testing increases in importance the higher the grade. Required religious courses begin in grade 5, which may be a topic for some expats to discuss and find alternatives with their school’s principle.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Turkey?
A: Take time to assess what is important for you and your family. Make sure before moving here that those things exist in the city to which you want to move. Other expats can offer you one perspective on living here, but locals are excellent resources as well and most of the time would be happy to offer help. Expect to have your opinions challenged and for your perspective to broaden. Always do your best to make it easier for the next foreigner coming in by living and leaving a good reputation.
►Interviewed in May 2021