The most difficult thing about living abroad

Of course people often ask me if I miss my home country the Netherlands. No, not the country, but I do miss people. Not the Dutch people in general (even less since I’ve come to know them better from a distance), but the people close to me. My family, who has known me for fourty years. Friends since my teenage years, and friends since ten, fifteen years. People who really know me well.

In Turkey, nobody knows me longer than the time I’ve been here, which is 4,5 years now. Most people know me even much shorter. Besides that, Turks of course don’t automatically understand my background, shaped by where I come from. So when I meet new people, we mutually have quite some figuring out to do. Which is nice, but also difficult. And can go dramatically wrong sometimes.

Well, dramatically… Sometimes it’s not so dramatic. Some weeks ago, I had some misunderstandings with someone I haven’t known for long, and I think a young possible friendship ended. It wasn’t so painful, it was okay actually, but still, at the time I felt it rather deeply: now she thinks I’m a hysterical person. I’m not, really, but from her perspective it could very well be she thinks I am. It made me feel not known. That’s not a nice feeling, especially when there are no people directly around to go to, who know you better and where you can be your total self, with all your mistakes.

This week, something happened again. Again with somebody I haven’t known for long, but with a person who in this short time became rather important to me. I wasn’t that much aware of that fact, until we were a night out together and I made some stupid mistakes. I’m not going to get into the details (sorry ;-)), but later, he expressed his anger and disappointment. I liked that in itself – better to talk than to get silent – but it hurts terribly. I could be exaggerating, but I feel I’ve destroyed a young and good friendship. He must be thinking I’m just not a nice person, a woman he totally misjudged.

Why is this more difficult when living abroad? Because you have no common ground to begin with with the people you meet. You are an outsider already, and situations like these make you feel like an alien. Unseen, unknown, not part of the country you chose to live in. I can blame only myself (and the circumstances a bit) for my mistake, but I miss it that I have no automatic mutual understanding with anybody here. It makes (potential) friendships so fragile. I wish I could shout around: I make my mistakes, I’m not perfect, but really, I’m okay. But I don’t even know which words to choose to make my message come across in Turkish, nor if they can ever be really understood.

I came back Sunday from twelve days in the Netherlands. And I miss the common ground and the people who really know me deeply.

8 replies
  1. Perrie Hoekstra
    Perrie Hoekstra says:

    It’s a sad story, can imagine (a little bit) how you feel. It’s the cultural difference that attracts and makes it difficult at the same time. But don’t give up to try, you’ll get new chances and will do better. And maybe meet people who better understand your situation. Just a little note from here, take care. Perrie

  2. tamer donmez
    tamer donmez says:

    such examples have room for recovery; i’d imagine getting hurt emotionally or physically due to a misunderstanding would be the “actual” most difficult thing about living abroad; therefore i’d advise you’d better not rebound to any other extreme of a “self-mistake” just because you think you were the one that made the mistake and think others are innocent by definition…

  3. Nav
    Nav says:

    I personally have struggled a lot when I moved to western turkey were it’s predominantly Turkish. I have missed my Kurdish friends and family deeply and yes, misunderstandings can and will happen. Later on, I did have some Turkish friends, even a few of those who understood and respected my identity. This was long time ago, when people still believed that was no such thing as a Kurd. Point is, do you really need a friend who is not willing to look deeper? 😉

  4. Saviour
    Saviour says:

    Cultural difference unfortunately, westerners are more straight talkers with no limits to thought whereas easterners more controlled of thought and what they say unless they’re rude. My recommendation to you is that until you get to know how the person you meet behaves and thinks, you talk less, or express lesser opinion(stay neutral) and just listen more often..Getting to know Islamic culture would help you a lot. but than again once you know islamic culture and used to living and making friends here for long than your feelings about Dutch people and living in Holland would reverse itself.Life is tough but just as much enjoyable to discover and certainly worth to live wherever you are. Good luck.

  5. Karina
    Karina says:

    The Dutch are one of the rudest people on the planet: we call it ‘direct’. I’ve had clashes with Brits over this. I was being frank, they thought I was insulting. Living abroad splits your personality, I think, yet people are at their most interesting where the two parts come together.

    And you are soooo okay.

  6. Gerard
    Gerard says:

    – Mooie persoonlijke blog. Deed me denken aan . Je persoonlijke blogs spreken me meer aan dan je verhalen over Turkije omdat dat land me maar zijdelings raakt.

    – Leven binnen verschillende culturen, met culturele verschillen, is zondermeer verrijkend, en ze kunnen persoonlijke relaties belasten, en daardoor ook weer verrijken. Die spanning rondom die tweede vriendschap (He must be thinking I’m just not a nice person, a woman he totally misjudged.), behoor je, net als altijd, gewoon te kunnen oplossen met een goed gesprek. En het zou me niet verbazen als deze blog daaraan bijdraagt/juist daarvoor bedoeld is. Wat dat betreft zijn die culturele verschillen niets uitzonderlijks.

    – Common ground and people who really deeply know me, als het moeilijkste van in het buitenland leven. Eerst vond ik het vreemd dat ik dat totaal niet zo voel. Toen ik er langer over na had gedacht, besefte ik dat ik me zo overal zou kunnen voelen, in Amsterdam, in Kaapstad, in New York of Jipsingboertange, wat die ‘common ground’ betreft al helemaal. En Ik heb echt niet de illusie dat iemand me really, truely deeply, kent. Dat kan aan mij liggen, het kan mijn gebrekkige perceptie zijn, of wat dan ook. Maar het resultaat is dat ik het niet navoelen.

    Jammer dat je niets hebt geschreven waarom je in Nederland geïnspireerder was dan in Turkije. Daar had ik graag wat over gelezen!

  7. Karen
    Karen says:

    This is so dead on true. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels very lonely to be in a foreign country, not understood.

  8. Eline
    Eline says:

    Wat een mooi persoonlijk blog, het/je raakte me. En het is helemaal waar, gewoon omdat jij dat zo ervaart. Ik vroeg me af of ik dat in het verleden in het buitenland ook zo heb ervaren. Het antwoord voor mij is: deels. Ik merkte pas hoe Nederlands ik was toen ik niet in Nederland woonde.
    Deels zit het voor mijn idee in hoe vriendschap kan functioneren. Vrienden die je al van kleins af aan kennen, hebben zich al in je verdiept. En nemen je (goeddeels) zoals je bent. Anderen, die je nog niet zo lang kennen, missen misschien niet alleen de context en historie, maar ook de drang om heel veel te investeren in een nieuwe (niet romantische) vriendschap, om je goed genoeg te leren kennen. Vaak hebben ze al een hechte vriendenkring. En daaraan gekoppeld: verwachtingspatronen naar nieuwe vrienden.
    Terug naar jou: het wordt vast gemakkelijker. Er zullen steeds meer mensen zijn die jou steeds beter kennen en begrijpen, en zelf zul je steeds beter de Turkse ongeschreven regels aanvoelen.
    En zoals Karina al zegt: je bent al zo okay 😉


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