Welcome to Merbabi!

Being away from family is rather arduous, demanding at times, especially when things occur at home that you cannot be there for. Thinking about whom you are going to see when you go home, whom you may not see. Wishing for a hug from a family member, a conversation with your grandmother, and to play with you nieces and nephews.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

But then you being thinking about the new family you have made and their contribution to your life. Including you with the family, allowing you to help or watch the cooking for the day, and talking to you about cultural differences you probably not yet know.

You open up a little at a time, gaining a new language, a new culture, and a new family. And it’s tough, tough to put your culture, language, even your friends and family in the backseat. Turning around for brief periods to ask how every one is, if they are comfortable, and then facing forward so you don’t crash or go off road.

This strong desire to return to your roots, where you grew up, to those who helped raise you, but reality is as you step away from that foundation, new roots being to dig into the ground. They soak up the nutrients of this new place, albeit slightly wonky at first because of the culture shock, but as the local people open themselves, helping to share their culture, new buds begin to grow.


Gigi and my nephew.

But the new roots, new buds are not up to those people, who are willing to share their culture, but up to the willingness you provide to this fresh way of life. Asking questions, remaining positive, smiling, what ever it may look like in this different place.

And it’s challenging—I’ve struggled with culture shock, homesickness, and the change of language. Not always knowing exactly what to do, misunderstandings, misusing the language, which usually produces laughter from those listening.

For instance, after hiking a nearby mountain, I went home to my host family. They asked how the hike was, and I showed them my photos while explaining certain aspects. As a photograph of other surrounding mountains came up, my host sister asked the mountain’s name, to which I replied confidently, “Oh! Ini Merbabi!” Silence, and then the whole family was besieged with fits of laughter, holding their stomachs as what I said sank in. “This is Mountain of Pigs!” And recognizing the ridiculousness of my words, I joined with their continued laughter.


Laughter. There may be a lot as you struggle through the culture and language, but the best thing to do is join in the laughter, join in the good feelings. Sometimes it’s hard when you do not understand what is being said, but that is when you ask what they are speaking about.

Living abroad is challenging. Its not a beach vacation, it’s not joining in protests if there exists any, it’s not for you or about you. But about those you are learning from, struggling to break down shyness, the turtle shell, learning a new way to life in order to share with those who live far away. It’s about uniting in the sharing of life with those who you now live with, knowing that they may be just as shy as you are, not knowing your culture or language.

Even if it seems that you are failing, there does exist people who are willing to answer your questions, help you with what you may be struggling with, so you can learn how to honour their culture. Just break down those barriers of independence, of the thinking you can it yourself when in reality you cannot. You have to be dependent and push down ego, pride, and resilience. Smiling in the faces of new family and friends, shaking every one’s hands, fighting off the desire to scuttle into your room, burrito wrap yourself in a blanket, and sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

Living abroad is not about you. It’s about the people you are sharing life with, and we must remind ourselves every day of this authenticity. It’s serving and learning together as a unification of cultures that are meeting for the first time.

But don’t forget the challenging bit because learning and serving takes while you give and receive.