5 minutes ago I had just poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down with a contented sigh in the staff room, flipping open my laptop to get some much-needed Internet time (due to my horny estate agent being a disorganised twit – don’t even get me started).
How is it, I find myself wondering, that I am now perched on a step on the dirty floor of a minibus hurtling along dusty back roads, possibly to the theatre (if the Turkish word for theatre happens to be similar to the English one) with a bus driver whose general beauty does not make up for the speed at which he’s driving, and 20 unseatbelted children dancing most enthusiastically to the loud music he’s playing?
Welcome to my life in Turkey.
That journey of growth and character-building I found myself on in Korea was clearly a series of training exercises to prepare me for working in a Turkish school. It is, in a word, chaotic. “Mental” would be another word I find myself reaching for on occasion.
There is none of the awed reverence for foreigners here. Gone is my celebrity status as the white girl in the quiet little neighbourhood in Daejeon. Gone is the elevated status I enjoyed as a native English speaker in my school, which made me one of the most important people there. Gone is my ability to shrug helplessly and expect my director to help me out with the day-to-day challenges of life in a foreign country.
The attitude here presents a much harsher reality. Do your job, figure things out fast, and learn the language immediately. Which is fair enough, you know. Why should I be coddled just because I have no idea what I’m doing? You move to a different country, you learn the language, and you work out how things are done, or you get out. Korea was just a special case, I think. There were still difficulties to overcome, of course, but for the most part I was taken care of. It was a gentle introduction to ex-pat life.
I could not have done this if I hadn’t already lived elsewhere as a foreigner. It has been a very stressful month, and I’m still not entirely in control of things, but I’m enjoying the challenge and tying to freak out as little as possible. If I was the same person I was when I first left NI on my travels, I would have run home trembling long before now, too shy and nervous to cope. As it is, I’m having my moments of panic but mostly just keeping my head down, trying my best to work out what people are trying to tell me, shaking off sex-crazed men, and sitting on bus steps in varying states of bemusement, clinging on for dear life as I’m flung around, with no idea what’s going on or where I’m going.
On the plus side, I’m probably (read: hopefully) going to be able to speak Turkish a lot better than I was able to speak Korean!