These women don’t choose… between Istanbul and Amsterdam!

Move to Istanbul? Or stay in Amsterdam after all? Aygül, Cigdem, Mine and Ebru decided not to choose, but live their lives in both cities!

(These are not the pictures used in ELLE, these were provided by the interviewed women themselves.)

She remembers exactly how it was twenty five, thirty years ago. Her parents would buy plane tickets to Turkey months in advance. And on the day of travel, the whole family went with them from the small eastern-Dutch town of Westerveld to Schiphol airport, to wave them goodbye.

Aygül Sonkaya (32) sometimes thinks about it whenever she arrives at or leaves from Schiphol again. ‘Of course I plan my trips in advance as well, but not months in advance, and it often happens that I buy a ticket online in the morning and fly the same day.’

Aygül lives in Amsterdam, but also in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul. Every three, four weeks she travels between the two cities. Choose between the two? She would never consider that. Aygül: ‘I have both identities in me and I want to feel, to experience them both. That is only possible if I don’t restrict myself to either Amsterdam or Istanbul.’

Aygül Sonkaya

Her own company makes it possible: she wanted her own advertising agency, and decided that Istanbul was a better location for it than Amsterdam. Aygül: ‘In the Netherlands, the advertising market is full and the economy is very slow. In Turkey the economy keeps on growing and there is much more development going on in the advertising business. But it’s a small world and it’s not easy to find a place in it. My business partner and I had to find a way to compete, and we do that by offering European quality for a good price. In practice that means that we do all the production, like making video footage, in Istanbul, because the production costs are low. The post-production is done in Amsterdam. Clients love it, rushing off to the Netherlands for montage and final touches. And me too!’

Every time she comes to Amsterdam, she has a feeling of relief, she says. ‘In Amsterdam I feel free. As a woman you don’t have to be constantly aware of your attitude and behaviour, like in Istanbul. The Netherlands has no class society, everybody is equal and I can’t live without that feeling.’ But it would be boring to only live in the Netherlands, she thinks: ‘Istanbul gives out so much energy. I need that too.’

Aygül is far from being the only young Turkish-Dutch woman who refuses to choose between Istanbul and Amsterdam. Who found a place to live in both cities, and who planned their work just right so it can just continue wherever they are, and who pack their suitcases again every few weeks to fly either east or west. There are no statistics, but if you ask around, you find one example after another. About migration itself of course there are statistics: in 2010 more people than ever moved from the Netherlands to Turkey: 2607 to be precise. 1569 of them were born in Turkey, the rest were born in the Netherlands and are either fully Dutch or have one or two Turkish parents.

‘Choosing would feel like a hindrance’

Cigdem Senel (33) is a good example too. The interview with her was to take place in Istanbul, but suddenly a text message came: ‘Sorry, I’m flying to Amsterdam today, can we do the interview when I get back?’ We decide to do the interview by phone so as not to miss the deadline. She gives her Dutch mobile number and a few days later she elaborates about her life in two cities.

Cigdem was brought up in a cosmopolitan environment. She was born in Amsterdam, lived in the North-Turkish province of Ordu from age five to sixteen, returned to the Netherlands, enrolled in an international school and built a colourful social life. ‘My father’, she says, ‘was an international furniture removalist. When we lived in turkey, we often went to Holland. And we travelled through the whole of Europe when we were on holidays.’

Cigdem Senel

She studied in Amsterdam and England, worked as a project coordinator for the Amsterdam municipality and was often in Istanbul, even more so after she found love there some five years ago. Coincidentally she came in touch with an American firm selling biological food supplements and energy drinks that wanted to open a branch in Turkey, starting from their office in Amsterdam. The perfect combination and Cigdem took the opportunity immediately: ‘I spend most of my time in Istanbul, but go to Amsterdam often, mainly for meetings and training. Of course, the travelling is tiring sometimes, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I had to choose one of the cities, it would feel like a hindrance.’

Cigdem likes the Netherlands because it’s quiet. ‘Amsterdam is a big village, I feel safe and sound there. ButI can’t be there too long: Holland is so structured and predictable. In Amsterdam, you don’t have to make an effort to exist. In Istanbul you do, nothing is certain there, it’s so dynamic and gives out so much energy. That is great and I couldn’t live without it. In Amsterdam I enjoy the canals, the small streets, I love to cycle, and Holland is so green.’

She explains the interaction: her life suits her personality, and at the same time her personality is shaped by the life she leads. ‘I don’t really plan my life, I only know I don’t want to be in one place. I want to be open to whatever comes my way, I want both rest and energy, and that’s what I have now.’

The urge to live in Istanbul

The differences between Amsterdam and Istanbul and between the Netherlands and Turkey are big. Istanbul has some 16 million inhabitants, Amsterdam less than 1 million. The average age of Turkey’s population is 28, in the Netherlands just under forty. The Dutch economy is very slow, the Turkish economy grew the last couple of years by at least five percent per year. For many Dutch people with Turkish roots, these differences give them just the last push to dare to move to Turkey.

Besides that, both cities are only three hours flying time from each other, the price of tickets keeps going down, and the cost of living in Istanbul compares favourably to that in Amsterdam. In short: no need to choose any longer. Life as a city hopper has become easy, now when the number of self-employed people is increasing.

Mine Önsöz

That’s all great for Mine Önsöz (30); she can’t even choose what to drink when she’s on a night out. ‘AndI don’t let go of things easily’, she adds. She has been living in both Amsterdam and Istanbul since 2008. When she is in Istanbul for a longer period of time, like five months, then she just has to fly to Amsterdam once. And the other way around it’s the same: because of her work she stays in Amsterdam now for a few months, but at least once a month she flies to Turkey.

She feels at home in both cities, but if she’s honest: just a little bit more in Amsterdam. Because of the family and friends she has there. But the urge to try to live in Istanbul was just irresistible years ago. She had her own business as an event organizer, had a job in Istanbul for a few months in 2006, and felt that she belonged there too, just like she belonged in Amsterdam. Her sister Ebru (33) was yearning to live in the Turkish metropolis as well. Ebru, in her office on the outskirts of Istanbul: ‘I wanted to leave the Netherlands soon after secondary school, but my parents stopped me. They insisted I study first. I did, and I got settled in Amsterdam with a boyfriend.’ But the relationship didn’t last, she didn’t feel she could get ahead in her job for the Amsterdam municipality, and the old dream reappeared.

The conclusion of the sisters was only logical: start a bureau for event organizing together, have an office in Istanbul and work for both Dutch and Turkish clients. Four years ago they got on a plane and kept one home in Amsterdam, because they would have to visit the city often.

Mine and Ebru talk in superlatives when they speak about that first year in Istanbul. Ebru: ‘Everything was an adventure, even paying the bills. Sometimes we had no idea how things worked, but it didn’t matter, we had such a good time.’ Mine: ‘Everything was exciting and positive. Ebru and I are sisters and friends, we complete each other and had the time of our lives.’

‘I sometimes wondered where my home was’

The sisters worked very hard, were flying back and forth to Amsterdam and had a lot of visitors from the Netherlands, who they took from club to restaurant to lunch cafe. Mine: ‘Our business was doing well enough to make a living in two cities. That was a grand feeling really. But it was also exhausting. I travelled more than Ebru, sometimes up to three times a month. It was kind of a strange life. I sometimes wondered where my home was.’

Ebru Önsöz

After a year the intial excitement was gone and the Big Adventure feeling slowly subsided. Mine missed Amsterdam and longed for a rather quieter life, a bit less travel. Ebru felt the event organizing business wasn’t stable enough and wanted something that would give more security. They both found a new path: Mine kept the business and would operate more from the apartment in Amsterdam, Ebru found a business partner in packing materials in Istanbul.

But by doing that, they didn’t choose for either Istanbul or Amsterdam, but still for both cities. Ebru produces her merchandise in Istanbul but sells it to Dutch businesses, and therefore she needs to be in Holland often. She might even open an office there. Mine still organizes events in Istanbul when they come her way: last year she spent months in the city organizing a ‘birthday party bigger than ten weddings’. And she just started organizing medical trips to Turkey, not for groups but for individuals who want full attention. ‘When that part of my company gets bigger, I will again spend more time in Istanbul. I’ll rent an apartment there, that’s very easy to arrange in Istanbul.’

Mine and Ebru mainly point at their parents as the ones who gave them their talent for living in two worlds. Ebru: ‘As a family, we never had the wish to return to Turkey. Our parents sent us to schools with few immigrant children, so we could put down roots in the Netherlands as much as possible. That was very successful, we never felt we were living between two cultures. But we did go to Turkey on holidays, and at home we learned to speak proper Turkish. I think our parents did that just right. We are anchored in the Netherlands, feel secure there, and that’s why we can easily adapt to life in Istanbul.’

A reflection of her personality

Mine adds: ‘In fact, we only got to really know our Turkish side when we discovered a youth club in Amsterdam where many Turks came. Turkish parties with Turkish music, and we met people who knew life in Istanbul very well. We were intrigued by that. When we visited our nephews and nieces in Istanbul on holidays, we saw their exciting life. That’s what we wanted too!’

And now they have it. Ebru says in the life she lives now, she can perfectly use her ‘luggage of life’. ‘In my job at the Amsterdam municipality I could also have worked with both my identities, but in the Netherlands that usually means you get a job in ‘integration policies’. I do find that important, but it’s also work with a negative angle, focusing on problems and differences between people. In my current life, the quietness of the Netherlands and the excitement of Istanbul come together, the both sides I find in myself too.’

For Aygül Sonkaya that’s exactly the same. How she works – offering European quality for competitive Turkish prices – could be seen as a reflection of her personality. Aygül: ‘I wanted to combine Amsterdam and Istanbul to get closer to myself, and I sure succeeded in that.’

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