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.’

Freelance correspondent doesn’t get satiated but specialized

After almost five years of freelance correspondence, somebody recently asked me if I’m not satiated by now. Am I still able to look at Turkey with ‘Dutch eyes’? Can I still think of stories that appeal to Dutch readers? ‘It is not for no reason’, this colleague and friend mailed me, ‘that correspondents with a contract rotate after about five years’. But the contract correspondent is a species about to be extinct. The new correspondent is a freelancer. Or, in other words: an entrepreneur. He doesn’t get satiated, he gets specialized.

Before I went to Turkey in December 2006, I had been writing about medical subjects for about fifteen years. First in an office job, later freelance. In those years nobody ever asked me if it wasn’t about time for a new specialization. People I worked for liked the fact that I knew my subject, that I had a good network, spoke the ‘language’ of my interviewees and that I didn’t propose obvious ideas but came up with stories that had more depth.

The craziness of the news

As soon as you cross the border, it apparently raises suspicions if you know your subject. Even stronger: many people find it very normal that correspondents move to another country after about five years. Just as they get to know ‘their’ country, have build up a sufficient network and speak the language. Are correspondents really satiated then? And if so, to which correspondents does that apply, and to which media?

I work in an office with about twenty freelancers from different countries. The Spanish guy is about to leave us. He is done with Turkey after six years and is moving to Athens. One of the French colleagues recently told me she doesn’t find Turkey that exciting anymore after six years and has written many stories several times already. The Italian correspondent is also not going to stay in Istanbul that much longer either, I reckon. The similarity between these three? They work for one medium – a newspaper or news agency – and follow the craziness of the news the whole day. They produce a lot, but it doesn’t need to be very creative. News articles and background stories, now and then a tourist story but always in the tight format of paper or agency, and that’s it.

A dynamic combination

They are very fine journalists, but they are no entrepreneurs. The developments in the market are not so interesting for them: as long as the news agency or paper exists, their sales are guaranteed. How different it is for freelancers. I have no contract at all – even though the cooperation with news agency ANP has been nicely steady for four years now – and I have to make an effort to find a suitable medium for every story I want to write. In the last five years I have managed to do that for a wide range of media, from weekly news magazines to papers and monthly women’s magazines and magazines about human rights.

I can only be successful in that if I know exactly which magazine or paper wants what kind of stories. In other words, if I know my market. Turkey is developing quickly in several areas, as is the enormously broad Dutch magazine market. A dynamic combination, and Turkey is of course not the only foreign country that this applies to. Freelance correspondence forces you to think creatively, which leads to startling articles, often with an unexpected angle. Stories that provide readers with a new vision on Turkey, or at least makes them think again.

You can only make such stories if you not only know your market, but also know your subject. When I re-read the stories that I wrote when I had just arrived in Turkey, I see that there is nothing wrong with it journalism-wise, but that they sometimes lack a certain depth. Just like the stories I wrote when I had just started as a medical journalist. And many of the stories that I do now, I couldn’t have written five years ago. Because I just didn’t see them, or because I had too little background information to contrive them, or because I didn’t dare to write them because of insecurity about my knowledge about Turkey. That is (mostly) over now.

A ‘fresh’ correspondent needs to be flown in

It is of course important to focus on media that are open to another view of Turkey than the most obvious one. Luckily, there are many of those. They don’t say: ‘Geerdink, sorry, but you’ve been there for five years now, you are satiated’, they see the value of a specialisation and the depth that comes with it. And media with contract correspondents don’t see that value? That is indeed the impression I often get. In pure news media – that’s where most of the contract correspondents are – the news needs to be presented and analyzed quickly and not made too complicated, so as to prevent the readers or viewers from getting confused. So after about five years a ‘fresh’ correspondent needs to be flown in, who, all things considered, looks at the country in just as clichéd a way as the average reader, and starts making the same stories his predecessor made five years ago.

Such a richness that the number of correspondents who are also entrepreneurs is increasing. To think they are satiated after five years totally disregards the reality of journalism entrepreneurship, which thrives with a solid specialization. You don’t throw that away after five years, you expand it.

This article was published on Dutch journalism website De Nieuwe Reporter.

Being a contract correspondent? Please, no!

Sometimes I am asked who sent me to Turkey. Which paper or broadcaster delegated me to this journalist’s paradise? Well, nobody. Or I should say: my boss. Me.

Entrepreneurship is the new form of foreign correspondence. And that means: look as far and wide as possible to where you can sell your stories, develop yourself in multimedia, specialize yourself, and look beyond the borders of the Dutch media landscape. In one sentence it comes down to a single piece of advice: don’t aim for a contract correspondence!

Easy for me to talk, of course. I started as a freelancer in 2000 after working for eight years in paid employment. By now, freelancing is so much in my system that I just can’t do otherwise anymore. In 2006 I decided to follow my dream and start freelancing abroad. Turkey seemed to be the best country for it. There are strong economic, social, cultural, personal, tourist and historical ties between the Netherlands and Turkey, and Turkey is in many ways in transition. And, also important: life is cheaper here than in the Netherlands, so I didn’t have to immediately achieve a huge turnover to make a living.

Use the whole media landscape

That there are so many ties between Turkey and the Netherlands automatically means I can sell my stories to a wide range of publications, from weekly news magazines to monthly travel magazines, women’s magazines, newspapers and youth publications. Only for the ANP news agency do I work continuously. But not so continuously that it takes all of my time, or that I have to consult them first before I work for others, like some of my colleagues with a steady contract have to.

And then there are still a whole lot of publications I didn’t write for. The huge specialist farming journal in the Netherlands, to name just one. I will one day. So Tip number 1 is obvious: look at the media landscape in Holland as broadly as possible. Every magazine wants a story about ‘your’country, as long as you think of the right angle. How often does a weekly women’s magazine want a story from another country? Not every week, but when I offered them this story, they immediately wanted it.

Write, film, blog, make radio

With ‘look broadly’ I don’t only mean the written press, of course. Get involved in radio, in video, know what’s possible online. That’s tip number 2. I have to admit in this area I need a kick in the ass myself. I did a course in video journalism but so far I haven’t really done anything with it.  The same applies to the lessons in radio journalism that I got from a friend who is very experienced in that field. But I will one day.


Tip number 3: specialize. Especially when you work in a country with a lot of correspondents. In Turkey years ago there were only two correspondents from the Netherlands, now there are seven. Do we get in each other’s way? Not at all! On the contrary: we make each other stronger. Together we make sure Turkey gets a lot of attention in the Dutch media, which only increases the possibilities for each of us. We all report on themes like politics, human rights, minorities and religion. I specialize as well in women’s lives, one colleague knows more than the average about the economy, yet another focuses more on narrative journalism.

And if that’s possible in Turkey, why wouldn’t it be in other countries in transition? In Surinam, Indonesia, Russia, Poland, Malaysia, in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Libya or Mexico?

Start an English language website

And do you, foreign correspondent, have an English language website? No? Pity! Its Tip number 4. My English language website attracts twice as many visitors as my Dutch site (resp. 6000 and 3000 unique visitors a month). It doesn’t only expand your audience, but also the number of potential clients. I recently for example worked for a week as a fixer for an Indonesian TV crew that found me via my website (and via an acquaintance of theirs that they know via Twitter and whom I know via Twitter as well). Nice job, and thanks to it I can pay my monthly expenses almost twice over.

This fixing work you can only really do well when you know the language. I’ve made enough progress in that to feel confident enough to try to get more fixing work, for media all over the world.

Find money!

And by the way, my stories are read world-wide as well: they have been published in for example Norway, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. Through an international agent, The Cover Story. Doesn’t make you rich, but a few hundred Euros extra for a story that you had already sold for a reasonable price in the Netherlands, why not? It costs no effort at all, so for me it’s money for nothing. That’s Tip number 5!

Be an entrepreneur besides your foreign reporting

Don’t turn away from commercial work, that’s Tip number 6. Or from work that doesn’t have anything to do with your correspondence. I have a few regular final editing chores for a Dutch magazine, I blog and twitter for a Dutch organization, and now and then I still write a health story, my speciality when I worked in the Netherlands. And I recently started a new business in Istanbul, IstanbulCongressCity. And please, do take such a business seriously, then, like an entrepreneur, invest some money to launch it well with a proper website.

These jobs next to your pure correspondent’s work give you the financial space to use your journalistic freedom to the fullest. Because I don’t have any freelance contract for a medium that constantly demands hard news and for which I would need to work full time, I can make background stories that hardly even touch current affairs. I can jump on a long distance train whenever I want and just see which stories come to me. I call it random travelling, and it makes me extremely happy. Wouldn’t be possible if I had to consult first with a medium in the Netherlands about the costs, the question if it’s the right time to leave my office and about exactly which story I will come home with.

Shortly I will start a beautiful project with a friend, a Turkish photographer. A totally new kind of project for me. It will cost a lot of time, but the boss, me, is okay with that. She knows (pretty) well how I want to fill in my correspondence, and arranges things just right so I have all the space I need. The freelance existence, in short, gives me all the freedom I need to be the business woman and the journalist that I want to be.

Tip number 7? No, a call!

So don’t aim to be a contracted correspondent. Is that Tip number 7? No, I would call it a call. A call to take correspondence into your own hands. The worldwide media landscape is developing so fast it is necessary to respond to it flexibly.

The paper you work for today can cease to exist tomorrow. The TV network that provides you with enough work in country A., can decide tomorrow that they find country B more interesting and insist you move if you want to keep working for them. The home base you work from now can be cancelled due to a lack of money. Of course I don’t recommend always staying put where you are, but what’s nicer than deciding all by yourself when it’s about time for something new?

After four years Turkey still continues to astonish me. And my love for Istanbul is growing. Just like my curiosity about people and stories from all the corners of this country that I haven’t yet seen. My foreign reporting in Turkey is a chain of inspiring travels, talks, observations and encounters. I can’t imagine being able to shape all that as anything but a free entrepeneur and a free journalist.

Happiness – 4 women share their story

Are you happy? Where ever in the world you ask that question, you can always identify with the answers. Journalist Frederike asked women in the Turkish city of Bursa. What defines their happiness?

‘Green Bursa’ is how Turkey’s fourth biggest city, Bursa, about a hundred kilometres south of Istanbul, is often referred to. And indeed, there is no lack of parks and lanes, and then there are the surroundings of the city: huge forests and green hills. It’s a city with more than two million inhabitants, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly busy because the city is built spaciously. There is a lot of economic activity: because of the car, food and textile industries Bursa is actually one of the richest cities in the country. The city is modern, but rooted in tradition: it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire before 1453, when Istanbul was conquered, and the city breathes history.

A good city in which to seek happiness. Especially when it concerns women, because Bursa has been a developed city for centuries and that has also given freedom to women. Much more than in the east of the country, for example, where family traditions oppress and the male dominated culture doesn’t give women many possibilities. More too than in small villages around Turkey, where you will easily become the subject of gossip if you stray from the beaten track.

The modernity and the traditional roots of the city are reflected in the women of Bursa. Happiness, it turns out from conversations with four women, doesn’t play a big role in making choices. Often there is even really a choice. Getting married is obviously one. Having children – or at least trying to have them – is another. And Turks, both men and women, generally don’t work out of a longing for self expression but out of pure necessity. The question of how happy they are doesn’t seem to be one they often think about in daily life.

Her face glittery with party make up

Take for example Arzu Yahsi (33). She is still wearing her party dress and her face is still glittery with party make up. A pearl necklace, matching star-shaped earrings. A friend, a bit younger than herself, just got engaged this afternoon with an official ceremony and reception. It reminds her of her own wedding in 2000. ‘The same night we had already had our first fight.’ She married young, as tradition demands, but when her marriage turned out to be dramatic, she decided to get a divorce – an increasingly common phenomenon in Turkey.

Arzu’s marriage lasted for nine years, and last year she and her husband officially separated. She still has a hard time dealing with that, even though she really wanted the divorce. ‘We got married just after he finished his army service. He changed so much. He was jealous, aggressive, he wanted to control everything, from my looks to who I visited when.’

Arzu lives in the city centre of Bursa, on the third floor in a narrow street. Small living room with pink couch, white walls, a simple carpet, a TV. A room for her, a room for her 8 year old son, Cihan. She doesn’t have to think about the question of whether she is happy or not. ‘I’m unhappy’, she says. She gives her happiness a 5, on a scale of 10. She sums it up like this: she doesn’t see her son often enough, her parents have health problems, her brother is jobless, and her salary is not in tune with the responsibilities she has at work. For four months there has been a new love in her life, but that hardly contributes to her happiness, she says. ‘I’ve become scared. Scared that he too will change just like that.’

Her biggest grief is that she doesn’t see Cihan enough. Even though her marriage was bad, looking back she gives her married life a 7. ‘I saw Cihan every day, and now only from Friday afternoon till Sunday evening. On weekdays he’s with my ex. I miss him so terribly much, I can’t describe that feeling.’She walks away, her party dress feels too tight and she wants to get out of her tights. She comes back in a pink jogging suit, with tears in her eyes and a pack of paper handkerchiefs. Why she is crying exactly? ‘I keep wondering if it was maybe my fault that our marriage didn’t work out. He has a new girlfriend and I think he treats her properly. He gives her presents. We were together for nine years and he never gave me a present. Was I such a bad wife?’

She focuses on her work. In ten years she worked herself up to being branch manager of a bank and she works long, stressful hours. Good for her self confidence,, but happiness? No, she doesn’t find that in her work. Work is necessary. Happiness is in her son. Only when he is grown up, Arzu thinks, will she be able to really feel happiness again. ‘When he becomes independent, does well in life, goes his own way, that would make me happy. He’s doing very well in school. Recently he got an A for a test. That made me very happy.’

‘My future husband has to find me’

What a contrast with Selin Yazicilar (28). She doesn’t think for a second and gives the happiness in her life a 9. It shows: she is radiant. Why? In love? No, on the contrary. She is free and can do whatever she wants.

Selin is hardly ever alone: she has a lot of friends and often visits her huge family. And she travels: she has seen a lot of Europe and every corner of Turkey. She usually travels with a friend, on her own or with a group. She can afford it, because she studied economics and is head of a financial department of the Bursa municipality. ‘No, that was not my dream job as a kid. I wanted to be a TV or radio producer. For that, in secondary school you had to choose a social stream, but well, my friends chose beta classes so I did the same.’

But however free and modern her life is, in the end she also wants a traditional life. Marriage, children, her family close by. In five years’ time she wants to look back at her wedding day and hold a son or daughter in her arms. She had a serious relationship between her 19th and 24th years, but eventually it broke up. But she is not looking for a man. She says: ‘My future husband has to find me.’

And he should, in line with the demands of modern Turkish women in search of life fulfilment, meet a set of demands: an equal level of education, an equal job and an equal income. And a car, because she has one too. Selin: ‘I have a certain level of material wealth, and I want to keep it when I get married and have a family of my own.’ What if she falls in love with a poor guy? She looks shocked: ‘I will really not fall in love with a man without a career or a certain standard of living. I won’t lose my senses!’

She means to say: you create your happiness all by yourself. Selin: ‘By positive thinking, by knowing what you want. And of course, I’m healthy and I have a good family, those are the presents I got in life. I know how unhappy it can make you if you lose those things, since I lost my father four years ago. I could think negatively, I could lose everythng that makes me happy, but what’s the use of constantly being aware of that?’ And it won’t happen to her either, she’s convinced of that. ‘Because I have a positive attitude.’

Havens in her busy day

In a slightly more traditional neighbourhood just outside the city centre lives Zeynep Teymur (33). Her life is in the hands of Allah. And he is generous to her: her prayers are heard. She is living in Turkey again, in her own house opposite her mother’s, she has a child and a happy marriage. ‘My husband and I lived in Australia for five years. He worked as a teacher, I worked in a child day-care centre. Beautiful years, but I missed my family and country dearly.’

She still prays every day, five times. It takes her a maximum of ten minutes per prayer and those are the havens in her busy days. Zeynep and her husband Ahmet have a small business in office materials: the shop is stuffed with an enormous variety of school exercise books, note blocks, pens, pencils, leads, envelops, gift paper, school books, hobby glue, glitter glue , super glue. The shop is open seven days a week, and Zeynep works six half days, more or less from two in the afternoon till six at night. In a corner of the shop there is a desk and a chair, with internet connection: after four o’clock daughter Alanur (13) does her homework there.

‘I was born and raised in this neighbourhood’, says Zeynep, ‘and I always want to stay here. I feel at home, I’m part of this community. I know everybody, everybody knows me. I like that.’ And elderly man comes into the shop with some text written on a piece of paper. Can Zeynep and Alanur please put the text in a computer file, print it and make twenty copies of it? Alanur starts typing. It’s an invitation for a ‘mevlüt’, a farewell ceremony for a deceased person. Zeynep talks to the customer, gives him tea and a chair and helps Alanur with the graphic design of the text.

‘I wanted to be a teacher as a kid’, she says. ‘That didn’t happen, but I’m very happy that I work and I’m not just a house wife. Sometimes I would like to have more time for Alanur. She goes to school, of course, but still.’ That’s why she doesn’t give her happiness a 10, but an 8.

Quitting work is not an option: the shop needs her. Her situation is an exception to the rule in Turkey: usually women work full-time, or they don’t work. Part-time jobs are rare and would also not pay enough to live on. Working is often not a way to express and develop yourself, but pure necessity in a country were social welfare just doesn’t exist.That Zeynep and her husband have only one child doesn’t influence her happiness. Not any more. She has been sad about it when she didn’t get pregnant again, but she found comfort in her religion. ‘Allah wanted it like this for us, and that’s why I could accept the disappointment.’ Alanur still asks for a brother or sister now and then, and Zeynep then tells her that she can pray for it, but that that’s all they can do. ‘I don’t pray any more for a second child. It’s okay the way it is.’

‘I am 46, who wants me?’

The consistent life of Zeynep is in sharp contrast with that of Selma Polat (46). Her life is: start over again and again. Her husband worked as a policeman, which means you’re transferred to another city every five years. When her first daughter was born, in 1985, she lived in the extreme south east of the country, in the province of Hakkari. When the second was born, five years later, they were living in Tekirdag, west of Istanbul and not far from the Greek border. ‘I learned to quickly make new contacts, but of course that didn’t change the fact that his work defined our life.

The time in Tekirdag she remembers as one of the happiest in her life. You could just leave the key in your front door when you left your house, the neighbours were all friendly and helpful, and she enjoyed being with her two little daughters. But that ended again when her husband was transferred. ‘I didn’t immediately move with him because the children were still so small and he wanted to try to get transferred back to Tekirdag. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We had to pay rent on two houses, but luckily I found a job in a kindergarten. My parents-in-law didn’t like it that I worked, being a young mother, but the job was necessary so they saw there was no other way. The job made me happy, working with children was great.’

That she doesn’t work now largely defines her lack of happiness in life. She applies for jobs again and again, but is never hired. Not in day-care, not as a secretary, not as a telephonist. ‘I’m 46, who wants me? They prefer young girls just out of school.’

So she spends her days with her now retired husband. In an apartment on the sixth floor of a group of concrete apartment blocks close by the highway on the outskirts of Bursa. Not the sort of surroundings that cheer you up, she agrees. ‘But we moved to Bursa because Şeyda, our youngest daughter, studies here. We could have found a home closer to the city centre, but then Seyda would have to travel far every day. From here it’s only a short distance to the university.’

Her work raising the kids, that was her life, her happiness. She doesn’t expect to find work again, her youngest offspring will soon leave the nest. She has to give it some thought, but then decides the happiness in her life deserves a 6. Just enough. ‘We are healthy, we have health insurance, no financial worries. Our daughters are doing well. That’s happiness, right?’

Selma and her husband will go to a city close to Bursa next week. A smaller city where they still have a lot of friends and where life is cheaper. Maybe they will buy a house there. The first in their lives, because her husband’s work always made it more practical to rent. They could go to that house when Şeyda has her holidays, or maybe move permanently when she has graduated and ‘settled’. In five, six years maybe. Maybe then Selma will be ready for her ‘old days’. Now she’s not yet ready. She doesn’t yet accept that the things that gave her happiness are gone.

The euphoria of a new language

Lots of young people enrol in courses at all sorts of language schools to learn a new language. From business English to Japanese, from Spanish to Turkish and Arabic. Freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink, herself studying Turkish in Istanbul, explores the backgrounds of this language passion.

Evelien still feels the euphoria when she thinks back: in a supermarket in Utrecht she heard two men talking in Arabic about which bean would be the best for a certain dish, and she gave them advice in reasonably fluent Arabic. ‘Their mouths literally fell open, they were dumb-struck’, she says, ‘and after that they stammered ‘thank you’ in Arabic. I felt so good when I walked away!’
Evelien Meijs (29) learns Arabic at the Alifba language school in Utrecht, after earlier efforts in Wageningen. She’s been busy with it for four years now and quit once. ‘Sometimes I felt like I would never ever learn. But I started again anyway, because I was still motivated, and I still am. The fire is also re-ignited when I find that I actually did learn something, like that time in the supermarket.’

Language learning for seniors? Something you start doing when your working life is over, and then choose Spanish or French because you want to spend some of your retirement days in Spain or France? No: even though quite a few seniors enrol at language schools for exactly that reason, there are also many young people in their twenties. They also learn Spanish or French, but often choose a much more exotic language: Japanese, Arabic or Turkish for example. And Polish and Russian too are in demand, as I discover from calls made to several language schools and adult education centres. Most of the language schools don’t routinely register the ages of their students, but distance education institute LOI does. Jan Jelle Bouma of LOI: ‘Almost half of our students are under 35 years of age, and 60 percent of those are female. We don’t exactly ask why people start learning a language, but the statistics show that young people more often learn a language for their career than older people: young people are an absolute majority in a course like Business English’.

‘I picked up street-Arabic pretty well’

As a freelance correspondent in Turkey I have good reason to learn Turkish: not only do I want to do my work with as little help from interpreters as possible, but of course I also  want to learn the language of the country I’ve been living in for three years now. Without the language it seems impossible for me to really understand a country and get to know it better, and that is both my personal and journalistic goal.

A similar situation applies to Evelien, even though she didn’t choose to live in an Arabic-speaking country. She has been learning the language in Utrecht after she became acquainted with it in Yemen: ‘For my studies, International Development Sociology, I lived in Yemen for six months and picked up ‘street-Arabic’ pretty well. I had to, because in Yemen hardly anybody speaks English. Before I left, I did a crash course of ten lessons, and when I came back, I could communicate reasonably well. Without the language, I would have learned a lot less about the country and would have gotten to know the people a lot less.’
That she wants to upgrade her Arabic now, after completing her studies,  is not just for hobby reasons, but also because she expects to be able to use it in her work. ‘I’d love to work at a university, and then I would like to return to Yemen to do research. It turned out to be hard to find such a position, but I can probably use the language in another job as well. My studies were aimed at an international work field, and Arabic is spoken in so many countries that it will surely be useful one day.’ Even in her current job helping immigrants to integrate in the Netherlands, she occasionally uses her Arabic, ‘even though most of my clients already speak pretty good Dutch’.

A carreer in language

Career is also an important reason for young people to learn a language, according to Jan Jelle Bouma of LOI. He already mentioned Business English, but also the choice of many young women is remarkable: ‘Women more often than men aim for a career in languages by enrolling in a complete higher-level vocational course in translating, where English and Spanish are very popular.’ Theo Ruiter of the Adult Education Center in Rotterdam says:  ‘For business reasons, here in Rotterdam Polish and Russian are rather popular. Poland and Russia are countries where a lot of entrepreneurs see growing possibilities, as do young men and women.’ And the Alliance Française in Amsterdam declares with a thick French accent that many students between twenty and thirty years old want to learn French for work, for studies and for exchange programs, ‘but also just for fun’.

Fun, that’s what it started with for Julie Soedirman (27), who learns Japanese. ‘Since childhood I have been interested in Japan. I got that from my mother, who was very interested in Japanese culture. Once I even started studying Japanese.’
Private circumstances prevented her from finishing those studies. After that, she had several jobs, but with no satisfaction. ‘I was so confused about what kind of work I wanted to do’, she says. ‘And it turned out that it was right in front of me without my realizing it: Japanese! I already knew quite a bit about the country and the culture, I had a Saturday job at The Japanese Shop in Amsterdam, and when there was a job vacancy in the Japanese travel centre, I knew that was it!’ She got the job and now works daily in an environment that ‘breathes Japan’, as she says. ‘I want to make a career in this world. I picked up the language course again, and even though I have to push myself sometimes to learn new kanji, (the Japanese characters), I am delighted that I found my destination.’

For lack of money she is yet to visit Japan, but she’s looking forward to going and starting a conversation with her beginner’s Japanese. ‘But I also get insecure when I think of that’, she admits. ‘Japanese has several politeness forms. What if I use the wrong one and appear very impolite? That would be horrible!’

‘My Arabic appeared to be full of mistakes’

Julie’s answer to the question “will she ever speak fluent Japanese”, sounds self- confident: ‘yes, definitely.’ That quick come-back is also a sort of incantation to keep her courage up: ‘I just started again this season with the lessons, and my goal is within two years to be, not fluent, but to reach a reasonable level. I work on it an average of ten hours a week. That should lead somewhere, shouldn’t it?’
Evelien didn’t set herself any time limits. She doesn’t have the illusion that she will ever speak Arabic fluently. She says: ‘The language is way too complicated for that. But I do want to keep increasing my communication skills.’ After she returned from Yemen four years ago, she subscribed to an intermediate level course. She spoke some Arabic, but didn’t have a good foundation in grammar. Evelien recalls: ‘The Arabic I spoke appeared to be full of mistakes, and I had a strong Yemeni accent. I had to un-learn a lot, I lost all my courage, and after two lessons I quit. I thought: Never mind, I’ll do it myself!’

But when she went on a holiday to Yemen, it turned out she hadn’t made any progress in those years. On the other hand:  ‘I was also surprised that my level hadn’t gone down , even though I hadn’t visited Yemen in three years. That motivated me to do better and to find another course in the Netherlands. Now I go to a language school that teaches both grammar and conversation. That suits me better than just memorizing rules. And when something happens, like in the supermarket with the two Arabic men, that is really great. It re-lit my fire for learning Arabic. I want that world to open up further for me.’

Oh, how familiar is the frustration of grudgingly coming to the conclusion that it will never work out between you and the longed-for language, and the euphoria when you notice you make progress. Okay, I would have done better if I had closed myself off entirely from Dutch and English and immersed myself in a bath of Turkish language, but that’s just impossible in my life and work. I don’t go very fast, but I learn thoroughly, and I don’t doubt that fluent Turkish is within reach!

Learning a language: hard work for adults
Neurolinguist Peter Indefrey is a specialist in multilinguistics. He is convinced that not only children, but also adults can learn to speak a language fluently. Only your brain has to work a lot harder: ‘When you are young, the neurones are still flexible. They pick up new information more easily and also reproduce is with less effort. As an adult it’s harder, but it’s definitely not impossible.’ He adds that ‘older’ and ‘younger’ are not easily defined, and that it also comes down to which part of language learning you are talking about: ‘To learn to speak a language without any accent, you have to start as a child, but your vocabulary can be expanded right up to old age.’ And he has a nice tip: sleep a lot. ‘And learn new words before you go to sleep. While you sleep, the brain will store those words systematically.’
He rejects the notion that children learn a language in a trice: not true. ‘Learning a language takes years. A three year-old doesn’t speak his mother tongue fluently, does he? A child is at best six years old before it can express itself properly, and then it still makes a lot of mistakes and keeps on learning new words all the time until it is an adult, and even then the learning continues.’

Around the world

(For monthly magazine Onze Wereld – Our World – I often write short interviews that are used in bigger articles to which different correspondents contribute. My interviews are used alongside interviews on the same subject with people from countries in south-America, Asia and Africa.)






Name: Ipek Kutbay from Turkey

Age: 26

Profession: teacher



Ipek Kutbay shows her dramatic side when she says: “I want to live and die in Istanbul.” But in other respects she is not sombre, but more cheerful, energetic, brimming over with life. And full of faith about her future in Turkey: “I studied at one of the best universities in the country. In Turkey I can achieve something with that, but in Europe? There I would be a Turk, always second choice.”

A large number of Europeans fear Turkey’s future EU membership, partly because of their expectation that a sizeable proportion of the 72 million Turks would come to Europe as soon as they get the chance. But there is a large group of young Turks who don’t give a moment’s thought to leaving Turkey. They studied at good universities and usually get their first job offers before even graduating. Ipek is a private tutor in French and Italian and is about to start a job as a school teacher. She has been living on her own in a trendy part of town since she was nineteen and has been financially independent ever since. “I work hard, but I have a good life.”

Studying in Europe, by the way, is rather popular in this group of young people, as it is good for their CV. Kaan Alpaslan (24), who studied environmental engineering and went to a German university for a year, was offered a job a week after he graduated, and now works for a German company which has just established a branch in Turkey. Did he consider staying in Germany? “No”, “he says. “Environmental engineering is a developing field in Turkey and I think it’s exciting to contribute to that.” Ipek also has a profession in which she can contribute to the development of her country. For her it’s an extra reason to stay in Turkey: “It would be wonderful to help the next generation to also have a successful life in their own country.”






Name: Ridvan Tuncer from Turkey

Age: 30

Profession: office job at a record company




If you ask around in Turkey for a single male around thirty years old, you get a weird counter question: is it okay if he is in a relationship? The concept of ‘being single’ raises questions. The Turkish word for it is bekar, which means ‘unmarried’. So you can be bekar, but be in a relationship anyway. When this relationship is serious and about to result in marriage, then you are no longer bekar but nisanli, engaged.

Ridvan was once nisanli, but the wedding was called off and now he is both bekar and without a relationship. “I was in a serious relationship when I was studying. She was studying medicine, I was studying to be a teacher. The wedding date was set, our families had met, but all of a sudden, we ran into trouble. She said that I would probably ‘never be more than a teacher’, and the arguments about that got totally out of hand. That was weird, how it was only after we decided to get married that we started to have serious discussions, and it turned out we weren’t a good match.”

Ridvan is happy to live in Istanbul as a single. Unmarried people in their thirties have an easier time in this big city than in smaller cities or villages, where both single men and women are pressured to settle down and start a family. Ridvan: “My mother went through this period when she selected girls for me, but I never reacted and luckily she has stopped doing that now.” No arranged marriage for him, even though a lot of his peers still trust in their parents’ choice.

Another advantage of living in a bustling city is that there is plenty of entertainment to be found. “But many of my married friends don’t want to go to a bar or a concert with me any more. These are places for ‘singles’, married couples go out to dinner with other married couples or they visit each other at home. But I meet new people all the time when I go out. Women too, of course. I’m open to a relationship. I like to go out with a woman now and then for a beer or to a concert. But usually that’s not how it goes once you are married. Turkish women have this habit of calling their husbands all the time when they are out. Where are you? When will you be home? Who are you with? That must be so tiring!” He admits it would be quite okay to stay bekar for a bit longer yet.


“This is where the action will be, not in Europe”

Turks all long to move to Europe. Isn’t it? Well, not the more highly educated Turks. Turkey offers them enough opportunities!

Exactly one week after finishing his studies, he found a job. Majoring in environmental technology, Kaan Alpaslan (24) modestly says he ‘was lucky’, but there is more. Not only the company that hired him apparently sees a future for him, so he has everything going for him to make a good career in Turkey. Kaan studied at an excellent university, he lives in Istanbul and speaks good German and English. Young people like him don’t have to be concerned about their future for one second. Kaan: “I always laugh a bit when I hear that many Europeans think it’s every Turk’s dream to live in Europe. Why would I want to go to Europe?”
The Turkish economy is growing, over the last couple of years at an average of 5 to 6 percent a year. Foreign investment is growing, and in Istanbul and also (but less so) in Ankara there’s enough jobs for higher educated Turks. There are no exact numbers, because the statistics cover all universities, and the different academic levels (and consequently the chance of finding a job) between Turkish universities is enormous. But someone with a degree from a good university can usually find a job before graduation.

Going abroad is temporary 

Yasemin Sari, an energetic student of 23 who carries her laptop around Istanbul on her way to university, work, or a date with friends, studies philosophy. Not really a field of study that guarantees a job, is it? “Oh yes it is”, she says. “No problem.” If you graduate from her university, Bosporus University, commercial companies want you, whether you are a philosopher or a technician. Yasemin already had part time jobs that look good on her CV: she worked in marketing and for an IT company, and now she has a part time media job. “But I don’t want to work in the private sector”, she says. “I want an academic career. First a promotion in the United States, then more steps up here in Turkey. I have already studied in Germany for one year. Going abroad is temporary, I’m sure I will always return to Turkey.

Turkey, and especially Istanbul, is alive, says Yasemin. The country is developing and she enjoys being part of that. “In Europe, everything is more arranged, especially in Germany”, she says. “Well, of course, it’s nice that the bus comes on time, but I missed the dynamic atmosphere of Istanbul.” Later, when she is asked whether she also wants to live in Turkey to make a contribution to the development of her country, she gets a bit irritated. “Why would I need an extra reason to just want to be in Turkey? It has nothing to do with idealism. Europe just has nothing to offer me that I cannot also find in my own country.”

The EU is rather closed

Refik Erzan, economy professor at Bosporus University, estimated that by 2030 at the most between 1 and 6 percent of Turks will migrate to Europe. “At least, when migration becomes free some time within a decade”, he adds – and that change is minimal. “Going to Europe is not beneficial now”, says Erzan. “And young Turks with a good education know that. They may want to go to Europe to study or to work for a short time, but really settling down in Europe is not advantageous. They have access to all modern media and know all about the social problems and the troubles faced by immigrants in Europe. Also, the European economy isn’t growing as fast as the Turkish one, and the labour market is not accessable to people from outside the EU. The EU is rather closed.”

Kaan Alpaslan also has professional reasons to work in his own country as an environmental engineer: “In Europe, all sorts of environmental technology is rather advanced and developed, whereas in Turkey it still needs more development. For me, that’s a much bigger challenge then to work in a place where everything is already done. The German company I work fordidn’t open a branch here without a good reason: this is where the action will be in the years ahead, not in Europe.

(published in daily newspaper De Pers)

Back to Turkey

The number of migrants returning to Turkey is increasing. The more negative attitude towards foreigners plays a role, but is not the main reason for leaving Holland. Four women share their motivations for taking the step.

Cabaret artist and writer Nilgün Yerli (37) has been back living in Turkey for a year
“I left Holland because I love it so much”


 “I was so tired of being Turkish in Holland. I almost got depressed, mainly because over the last couple of years in Holland debate about foreigners has been raging. Everything was, and still is, about foreigners, even if the topic under discussion is health care or education, and always in a negative way. That had its effect on me. You were expected to integrate, but if you did, they would say you should not deny your roots. You can never get it right. 
My last performance was in Kampen,  in April 2006. At the end of the show I told the audience: Holland is so beautiful, cherish it and don’t destroy it. So I left Holland not because I don’t love the country anymore, but on the contrary, because I love it so much. I had to go and see again how beautiful Holland is. How freedom gives people the opportunity to get where they want to be. I succeeded in that too, I managed to win over one place in Holland,  where I was able to display my emotions. Every evening a full hall listening to me. But over the last few years, I was seen more and more as an alien, as Turkish, as a female Muslim. I’m not even a Muslim, I’m a Buddhist. I wanted to be a woman without a nationality, but that became impossible.
At the same time, I got into a relationship, with a Turk of part British descent. From then on I traveled a lot, because he is a businessman and lived in Turkey and London. When I fell pregnant, we had to choose where to live. We chose Izmir, on the Turkish west coast, and London. Recently we have spent most of our time in Izmir.
Turkey is so different from the stories I know from my mother. I remember only a little bit about Turkey from the first years of my life. I was too young, but I see clearly that my mother’s Turkey doesn’t exist anymore. The Turkey in which people bring each other soup, help each other. Well, maybe it does still exist, but only in villages, not here in the city. Sometimes the culture confuses me. Turks can be rather dour, they take everything so seriously. My husband and I decided not to get our son circumcised, so that when he is grown up he can decide that for himself. That’s not something you can say out loud here. It’s playing with tradition and Turks can’t stand that. 
Soon I will be starting a column in a Turkish newspaper. Exciting, because I will bring up themes that are sensitive in Turkey, like religion and traditions. What complicates matters is that I grew up in Holland and have been out of Turkey for many years. Turks might think: “who does she think she is?” So I will start cautiously. In the first few columns I want to explain what my roots are and that in large part they are Dutch. I will give my opinion, but I will always write with subtlety and I will not incite controversy. That balance has always been important to me. 
Over the coming months I will spend more time back in the Netherlands. A new book will be published and I’m working on a new theatre tour. No doubt I will be seen as the alien again, as a Turkish woman. But I can put up with it now. When I left Holland, my resilience was finished, but now I’m all fired up again. “

Sibel Muftioglu (44) returned to Turkey 25 years ago
“It seemed exciting, adventurous, to live in Istanbul”


“Leaving Holland felt like leaving my roots behind. I was born in Istanbul, but came to Holland as a toddler and knew Turkey only from holidays. I didn’t have to go back, my parents made me choose whether to go back to Turkey with them or stay in Holland. I decided to go with them, for various reasons. I didn’t think I would make it on my own in Holland, and at the same time it seemed exciting, adventurous, to live in Istanbul. 
In the beginning, it was more difficult than I expected. My background is Turkish, but I was used to Dutch society. My parents were both born and raised in Istanbul, and that’s a totally different world to the villages in central Turkey where most of the immigrants in Holland come from. In Holland, we were always more in touch with Dutch people than with Turks. I didn’t even feel Turkish, I was not brought up more strictly than Dutch girls and never felt an outsider.
In Istanbul I got to know the Turkish mentality better. Turks are less direct, they are not so punctual for their appointments, life is less ordered than in Holland. I just didn’t fit in and didn’t know what to do. I could not adjust, I got irritated and missed the Netherlands. What’s more, my Turkish was not as good as I thought it was, and with my high school diploma I could not take the entrance exams for university. If I wanted to study, I had to do secondary school all over again, and I refused to do that.
In that period, I got in touch with the Dutch consulate in Istanbul to ask if they offered some kind of help for returned emigrants. Somebody to help you find your way. They didn’t offer such a thing, but through them I got to know other repatriated Turks. That gave me just enough of a boost: if I wanted a life in Istanbul, it was up to me to take action and do it. Slowly slowly I became more active. I got involved in organizing a cultural festival, I worked as a volunteer and my network expanded. Then I was offered work, at KLM, the Dutch national airline, and with a textile company. For the textile company, I was to manage the customer contacts in Holland, and that sounded great to me. I remember landing at Amsterdam airport and hearing Dutch again. How wonderful, I thought, my own language! 
The more my life got on track, the more I discovered the beautiful sides of Turkey. Turkey is more chaotic than the Netherlands, but because of that it’s also more dynamic, especially Istanbul. The country is developing rapidly, and more and more I felt part of that. The eagerness to have your own company is big here, it’s everybody’s dream to be his own boss instead of working for one. Now I have my own company too: for the last ten years I have owned a textile business. I visit Holland regularly on business and I’m sure I will keep going there for the rest of my life. But I will never live in Holland again. Now I belong here.”

Ayla Aydoğmuş (35) returned to Turkey 18 months ago.
“He thought going back to Turkey would be a solution”


“I resisted leaving Holland for a long time. Holland was my home, I grew up there since I was six. I had a job, friends, family, a beautiful house, everything. In Turkey, I had nothing. But for my husband, it was the other way around. He came to Holland when we got married and left behind his life in Turkey. He missed his family, his friends, his work, Turkish life. He wanted to go back, I didn’t. 
The longer my husband lived in Holland, the unhappier he got. He learned the language, but that was not enough to find a suitable job. In Turkey he had his own business, he was used to arranging his own life, and in Holland he ended up in a factory. And he would probably never get further ahead than that, because he has no Dutch diplomas and he never became fluent in Dutch, even though he tried so hard. 
He was totally dependant on me and that was no good for our marriage. I took care of our finances, I did the housekeeping and organized everything for the children, like day care and contacts with school. And if something needed to be fixed in the house, I arranged for someone to do the job. I felt like father and mother, husband and wife, I carried our whole life. That was hard for me, but also for him.
He thought going back to Turkey would be a solution, but he knew that was not his decision to make. He didn’t want to rob me of my job and bring me to the same position in Turkey as he faced in Holland. But he kept bringing the subject up, and we fought about it more and more. That was very emotional. When I went to work the day after such a fight, my eyes were still thick from crying. Something had to happen.
I decided to seriously consider moving to Turkey. I was happy with my work, friends and colleagues, it was good to have my family close by, but what was the value of that if things were so difficult at home? Sometimes I thought “I don’t even feel like his wife”. I mean, in a relationship you have to be equal so you can lean on each other, and that was totally not the case. I thought: let’s see if I can find a job in Ankara, where we already had a summer apartment. If I could find a job, then maybe moving could be an option. 
My resistance against going back softened, and then I realized more clearly that other aspects of my life were also deteriorating. For example, my job as secretary at an art academy. For medical reasons, I didn’t work for some time and when I returned, other people had partly taken over my job. That bothered me. Because of the situation my husband was in and because of the negative atmosphere concerning foreigners in Holland over the last few years, I also felt more and more like a foreigner, and I never felt like that before.
Every other month I called the embassy in Ankara to ask if they had a job for me. They didn’t, but eventually the human resources department wanted to see me. If a vacancy came up, they would consider me for it. Rather vague of course, but still, it gave me some confidence that it would be possible to find a job. It was the beginning of 2006 and actually a good moment to make the decision. The children were three and six years old, ages at which they would probably easily adapt to Turkish life and the language. If we got things started now, we could move in the summer and the children could start their new school year in Ankara.
Apparently it was a good decision, because everything went so smoothly after that: our house was sold in no time, all of the home furnishings were sold as one lot through the internet. But of course it was also difficult. When I think back to the goodbye dinner my colleagues organized for me… Really, I could only cry. But I didn’t doubt the step I was taking, I had confidence.
In August we left, in October I found a job. Not at the embassy, but in the Dutch Institute for Higher Education, which was about to be opened at the time, and which had inquired at the embassy if they knew anybody that would want to work for them. I was hired as management assistant. After the job interview, I already knew I would get the job and I took my husband out to dinner. Things turned out perfectly. He had his own business again, and I had a full time job that suited me perfectly. The children adapted easily, and between my husband and me everything changed. We share the housework. He can be a better father to the children, a better husband to me. The balance is back, in every way.”

Asuman Aray (56) has been living in Turkey again for 7 years.
“There I was, in my own house in Rotterdam. I felt so lonely”


“Looking back, I was never happy in Holland. In Turkey I worked as a stewardess, I had a good education, but in Holland I was at home with the children. It was never my choice to go to Holland. I followed my husband, who fled to the Netherlands in 1980, after the military coup. I learned some Dutch, but a job on my own level, like I had in Turkey, I would never find in Holland. Our marriage was also in a bad way, we had many quarrels. When I went to Turkey on a family visit, I sometimes considered staying there. But, of course, I could not leave my children just like that. About eight years ago, the marriage was really finished. I don’t want to tell all the details, but I found another house and moved. That was very special for me. I mean, in Turkey that would not have been an option. What would I have lived on? In Holland, I lived on state welfare, and many women helped me out in many ways. That gave me strength.
But, well, there I was, in my own house in Rotterdam with two teenagers and a social welfare income. I felt so lonely. I had no job and I saw no way of improving my situation. I had no working experience or diplomas and my Dutch was not fluent, so I could never be financially independent. In Turkey it would be easier to really stand on my own two feet, and I desperately wanted that after I found the courage to leave my husband. Not that there are many jobs in Turkey, but at least it would be my own country with my own language. I used to have a good job there and I still had contacts. And I speak English, and that is still a valuable asset in Turkey.
The only thing I worried about was the children. Could I take them away from Holland and let them go through this change as teenagers? The youngest had just started secondary school, the oldest almost graduated from high school. Wouldn’t they have better opportunities in Holland? I talked to them about it, especially with the older one. He understood why it was so important for me to go back. If I wanted to make something for myself, this was the time, and the children could still easily come with me because they were minors. I gave them the choice to stay in Holland with their father, but they didn’t want that.
I succeeded in making a new start in Ankara. Because I was living on social welfare in Holland, I could take advantage of a law that provided me with some money on which I could subsist in the first few months in Turkey. After that, I found work as an English translator and I am now an English teacher. In Delft, where I lived for years, I had flamenco lessons, and here in Ankara I’m a flamenco teacher. My children, in their twenties now, live with me. My daughter is studying, my son just finished university and is looking for a job. They did well finding their way here.
When I think back about Holland… It was an unhappy period in my life, but I also have good memories. I got to know different cultures, and that enriched me. And my first step to independence, the divorce, I could not have taken except in Holland.”

The law
Since 1 April  2000 people who want to return to their home country (or who want to migrate to the country from which at least one of their parents came) can make use of the Remigration Law. This law arranges two different sorts of remuneration: a once-only ‘basic provision’ and a long-term ‘remigration provision’. The remigration provision is meant for people on social welfare of 45 years and older and provides a monthly payment at a level that is sufficient to live in the particular country. Applicants have to give up their Dutch citizenship.
The basic provision is an allowance for travel and moving costs, and living expenses for the first two months after (re)migrating. The amount of money depends on the country you migrate to, the number of migrants in the family and their ages. For Turkey there is an allowance of € 275 for travel expenses per adult, and € 1140 moving costs for one adult and his or her partner. For children, lower amounts are paid out.

The figures
Exact figures for the number of second generation migrants repatriating to Turkey are not available. The statistics only count the migrants who leave Holland officially, which is not always the case. Besides that, the statistics count all people who move to Turkey, including people without a Turkish background.
The number of migrants to Turkey is growing. In 2006, 2189 people left for Turkey, in 2002 it was less then 900. Since the mid nineties, every year more than 2000 people have left for Turkey, but there is a change between then and now: nowadays, the share of emigrants born in Holland is bigger, namely forty percent against thirty percent back then. The migrants to Turkey who were born in Holland are likely to be second generation Turks, even though part of the group are Dutch people with no Turkish blood.
There is no research on why the number of people moving to Turkey is increasing, but one explanation could be the growing Turkish economy. The more negative atmosphere regarding foreigners in Holland is usually not a main reason to leave there. It plays a role, but leaving Holland is only possible when you have an alternative. Turkey offers that alternative more and more. By the way, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a job in Turkey. Finding a job still depends very much on the network you have, and such a network is all too often what migrants who grew up in the Netherlands lack. How many people regret their migration to Turkey and return to Holland is not known.

Published in womens magazine Esta 

Pictures by Hanneke Geerdink

I am where I’m supposed to be

Emigrating is still popular. Freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink (36) made the decision too: a few months ago, she moved to Turkey. With the help of some psychological research and an ’emigration-coach’, she reflects on her reasons to go and her future.

On the left the lights of the mainstreet, a bit further to the right a big rock with carved in it the houses of the old part of town. On the left on the rock a viewpoint, a Turkish flag on it. The viewpoint opposite of it (an appartmentcomplex against a hill), that’s where I live. The village: Ürgüp, in the middle of Turkey. This is where I’ve lived and worked for a few months now. Continue reading “I am where I’m supposed to be”