This post is about shiny things, global traditions and Jesus.
Also, automatically it is about me since my birthday happens to be on Christmas Day, December 25th 🙂
Most people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th and some on January 7th (For example in Russia). For some people, the night of 24th is the time of celebration (For most Catholics) and for the others, the celebrations including the church ceremony and dinner takes place on the 25th.
Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, today it is more cultural than religious and it is celebrated by billions all around the world.
Weirdly enough, in a Muslim country like Turkey, Santa Claus and Christmas decorations are figures for New Years, since we do not celebrate Christmas. Santa Claus’ Turkish name is Noel Baba (Father Noel) and his pictures, toys and sculptures can be found in every mall and around the city during December.
Before I talk about Christmas in the USA, I also want to mention how it is observed in other countries.
In Korea, Christmas is a national holiday, but they don’t celebrate it as a family holiday. It is more of a romantic one, like Valentine’s Day.
In China, one tradition that is becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night‘. The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.
In, Brazil, devout Catholics often attend Midnight Mass or Missa do Galo. The mass has this name because the rooster announces the coming day and the Missa do Galo finishes at 1 AM on Christmas morning! On December 25th, Catholics go to church, but the masses are mostly late afternoon, because people enjoy sleeping late after the dinner called Ceia de Natal or going to the beach. These pictures are from Rio De Janeiro on Christmas Day:
The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer.
Do you want to see what these lights and statues? Here are some pictures.
Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve! Christmas Carols and making ginger bread houses are also among American traditions. Families buy Christmas trees and decorate them together. Stalkings are hung buy the fireplace and gifts are left under the tree. First thing on Christmas mornings, kids open their gifts and after the church ceremony they come back home and enjoy the feast. Although it is called dinner, it susually starts anywhere between 12:00 PM- 2:30 PM on Christmas Day and Turkey is a classic member of the Christmas dinner.
In the US, The holiday season starts with the Halloween Day, October 31st. Thanksgiving is the last Thursday of November and then Christmas is on December 25th. Every store will have holiday-themed everything. People shop like crazy.
Due to Christmas gift shopping frenzy, the days like ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Boxing Day’ were born. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the US and everything is on sale, so people line up (or beasically camp) in front of the stores from the early morning hours. Then they litterally run in the stores when the doors open. Boxing Day (in the UK) is the day after Christmas, It is a time when shops hold sales, often with dramatic price reductions.
On Christmas, you HAVE TO buy a gift and gift cards are a big tradition in the US. So you have to get a card together with your gift. There are many creative and fun cards out there but they can be as expensive as your Christmas gift! Honestly though, I still find the gift cards waste of money since you only look at them only once.
One thing that amazes me in all this, is the beauty of the gospels and Christmas songs. I have attended many church services and some Bible studies in Kansas before. I don’t consider myself as a religious person (Especially after seeing religion bringing more harm than good to people these days) but I love studying the cultures and they come with religion. Although I was from a Muslim country, I always felt welcomed by the people at the church. They were always so kind and positive not only to me but also to each other. It has been amazing to see how they enjoy their worship when they are singing together, united, with one love: Love of Jesus Christ.
With their simple but powerful lyrics, but most importantly wonderful melodies, here is my favorite five gospel songs. It is hard not to enjoy these no matter you are Christian or not. I also tried to choose the best versions of them. Hope you enjoy!
Number 5 – Hallelujah
Number 4 – Mary Did You Know
Number 3 – O Holy Night
Number 2 – Amazing Grace
Number 1 – Awesome God
PS. if you haven’t seen this video below before, please watch in order to see how important the Christmas gifts are for American kids. This video is hilarious.
First of all, I want to say that this is more than a book review. After reading Professor Hofstede’s book and searching through his website, I learned a lot of useful information about international relations. With the knowledge I had, I prepared and presented workshops about teaching in multicultural classroom and how as educators, we could use these cultural differences for our own good.
The whole book is a summary of Professor Hofstede’s years of study. This is what the research summarizes:
Unconsciously, you bring your own cultural frame of interpretation to any situation.
Think about cultures as if they were a pair of glasses. Each time you wear a different one, you see the world differently. What causes these differences?
The author of 2002 book “Exploring Culture – Exercises, studies and synthetic cultures”, Gerard Hendrik Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He is famous for his research on cross-cultural groups and organizations and he identified these 6 main differences among cultures.
According to Hofstede’s research, culture has 6 main dimensions:
Identity (Collectivist vs Individualist)
Hierarchy (Large power distance vs small power distance)
Gender (Masculinity vs Feminity)
Truth (Uncertainty avoidance vs. Uncertainty tolerance)
Virtue (Long term vs Short term orientation)
Indulgence (Indulgence vs restraint)
Identity defines the relationship between the individual and the group. The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty (Hofstede-insights.com).
Individualism: The cultures of most wealthy countries are relatively individualistic. As countries have become richer, they have moved toward the individualist end of the spectrum. Wealth makes it easier for people to take care of themselves, to make is on their own. In very individualist societies, people may feel lonely, isolated or can develop antisocial behaviors.
Collectivism: Earliest examples are hunter-gatherer societies. Every culture was collectivist once: First for survival we needed each other, then agriculture and religion brought us together.
This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. The degree of inequality between the people that is assumed to be a natural state of affairs. This is called ‘Power Distance’ (Hofstede-insights.com).
Small Power Distance: People are equal. Some people are better leaders than others, but they won’t show off their skills.
Large Power Distance: Nobody thinks that people are all equal (or even should be). Parents are not children, leaders are not followers and kings are not citizens. There is a clear distinction.
Within Europe, studies showed that power distance in Northern and Western European cultures is smaller than in countries in Eastern and Southern Europe. These two areas are separated, roughly speakig and not by coincidence, by the former boundary of the Roman Empire. A similar line separates Anglo American from Latin American countries.
Researchers have found that as a country has become wealthier, power distance has decreased. Large power distance is easier to maintain in a situation of poverty or limited resources.
Although this dimension is divided into two as masculinity vs feminity, this is not about ‘supportive of man role more’ or vice versa. It is more about the tendency of the society’s behavior.
A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life Hofstede-insights.com).
A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine) (Hofstede-insights.com).
Feminine: Caring for others and being modest are important. Small is beautiful, no need for bigger or something more assertive. Little difference between the education of boys and girls and between the roles of mothers and fathers. Men and women can wear the same clothes, go to the same places, and have the same rights and duties. Good control of agression.
Masculine: Tougher society. There is more emphasis on achievement and fighting than on caring and compromise. Unequal distribution between men and women. Very competitive.
Cultures of Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are very feminine, but those of Germany, Switzerland and Austria are strongly Masculine.
Costa Rica and Portugal are feminine, but Colombia and most other Latin American countries are masculine.
Thailand is feminine,but Japan is very masculine, Britain and the US are also rather masculine.
How people in a culture cope with the unpredictable and the ambiguous is called ‘Truth’. It has to do with anxiety as a human feeling, or in other words with fear of the unknown.
The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance (Hofstede-insights.com).
Uncertainty Avoidance: Many people in this culture believe what is different is dangerous. Anxiety and the search for truth is closely related. This is not as same as risk avoidance. If risk can be acknowledged and quantified, it is not threatening to people.
Uncertainty Tolerance: More tolerant towards the unknown and ambiguous situations.
Russia and the countries of Balkans have cultures of strong uncertainty avoidance, as do Japan, Korea, Mexico, Belgium, and France.
Germanic countries are very uncomfortable with uncertainty. English speaking countries and China tend to be more uncertainty tolerant. Singapore, Jamaica and Denmark are very uncertainty tolerant.
The problem is the choice between future and present virtue. This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies. which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future (Hofstede-insights.com).
Long-term Orientation: Hard work and persistence are important values and children are taught to sacrifice the pleasures of today for the benefit of their future.
The issue of virtue is particularly important in Asia and explains why non-Asians find it hard to come to grips with this cultural concept. Where Europeans and Americans are more concerned with truth, Asians are more concerned with virtue.
Short-Term Orientation: No savings for the future. It is more important to use your resources for present wealth. Not enjoying present for future savings is stingy.
Many countries of East Asia, such as China and Japan are considered long-term oriented, but some are not, for example, the Phillippines. Most European and American countries are fairly short-term oriented. The Dutch, with a reputation in Europe for stinginess, are long term oriented by European standards. African countries, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are very short-term oriented.
Indulgence can be summarized as the degree to which small children are socialized. Without socialization we do not become “human”, says Hofstede on his website (www.hofstede-insights.com). This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained (Hofstede-insights.com).
Most of the Latin countries have high indulgence, where as most east Asian societies are considered as restrained.
The way in which a group of people resolves these six issues is what we call ‘culture’.
The book talks about misunderstandings. How one culture might read the other’s reaction in a completely wrong way. For example, individualistic cultures such as Americans, British, Germans, might be perceived as cold and selfish to collectivist cultures such as Saudi Arabians, Africans or Chinese.
Or a short-term oriented culture, such as Colombians can perceive a long-term oriented culture, Chinese or dutch very stingy.
As you see, there is no right or wrong, but there are differences.
The book tells this interesting story about two Germans (Highly Masculine culture) going to a bar with a Dutch (Feminine culture). They order their beers, they are having so much fun. But all of a sudden, the conversation is taken over by the two Germans who are very passionately arguing about which Euro-league team is the best. One guy says his team is the best, they won the championship three times in a row,and the other said “No, my team is the best, they were the champions last year, they have a good team!!” This lasts about half an hour. The Dutch gets really bored and can’t take it anymore. He doesn’t understand why these two guys are wasting their time arguing about who is best.
The Dutch interrupts them and says: “Hey, you both have very good teams, why don’t you stop fighting and we talk about something else and have fun?” The two German guys suddenly stop talking and look at each other confused. Because, they weren’t fighting, actually this is how they were having fun and building mutual respect. However, they didn’t understand why their Dutch friend didn’t join the conversation and they blamed him being boring.
Another interesting example is again from a Dutchman (Low Power Distance, Feminine, uncertainty tolerant culture) who was working in Belgium (High Power Distance, Masculine and high uncertainty avoidance culture). Here is what he said:
During my work as a regional management assistant at a firm providing cleaning services in Belgium, I came into contact with a lot of people. Because I had to make new cleaning schedules and cost calculations for new and old customers, I met all the employees.
The first thing I noticed was the relationship between a superior and a subordinate. Orders from a superior were to be obeyed, not questioned.
Informal relations between people from different positions in the hierarchy were minimal: For example, no secretary had lunch with her boss.
Subordinates expected superiors to tell them what to do (Large Power Distance). When I talked to the people on the work floor, they always called me Mr. so-and-so, although I had told them my first name. They also expected me to tell them what to do, even if they had more experience in their areas than I did. This was difficult for mein the beginning. Sometimes people stared at me in surprise when I did something they did not expect, for example, when I helped carry some cleaning materials, which in their eyes, was inappropriate.
The Belgians were used to following the rules, and when rules where absent, they wanted a direct and clear decision or order from their superior.
Their work schedules and job descriptions were really detailed (Uncertainty avoidance) If something went wrong, the employees often referred to their job descriptions and schedules and said according to these, they hadn’t done anything wrong.
To Belgians, a good job meant high esteem in society (Masculine). Almost everyone was trying to improve his or her position. Not only did the money one earned tell something about the job one had, but this money also made it possible to buy a largeand beautiful house and a big car.
According to the Dutchman, the Belgians seemed like they were wanting to make themselves look better, they appeared obsessed with detailed instructions and greedy. However, they were just culturally different.
COMPARISON OF CULTURES
Hofstede provides this great service on their website. You can compare dimensions of different countries here:
As an example, I did Turkey vs. The USA and China. Here, I want to share the results with you:
Turkey is a large power distance society. In Turkish Culture, kissing hands shows respect to the other person. In the picture you see a youngster kissing an elderly man’s hand to show respect. On the other one you see an elderly person kissing the Turkish Prime Minister’s hand, since he is hierarcially higher than him.
Turkey scores high on this dimension (score of 66) which means that the following characterises the Turkish style: Dependent, hierarchical, superiors often inaccessible and the ideal boss is a father figure. Power is centralized and managers rely on their bosses and on rules. Employees expect to be told what to do. Control is expected and attitude towards managers is formal. Communication is indirect and the information flow is selective. The same structure can be observed in the family unit, where the father is a kind of patriarch to whom others submit.
The American premise of “liberty and justice for all.” This is evidenced by an explicit emphasis on equal rights in all aspects of American society and government. Within American organisations, hierarchy is established for convenience, superiors are accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently. At the same time, communication is informal, direct and participative to a degree.
At 80 China sits in the higher rankings of PDI – i.e. a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. The subordinate-superior relationship tends to be polarized and there is no defense against power abuse by superiors. Individuals are influenced by formal authority and sanctions and are in general optimistic about people’s capacity for leadership and initiative. People should not have aspirations beyond their rank.
In China, family values and traditions are so important.
Turkey, with a score of 37 is a collectivistic society. This means that the “We” is important, people belong to in-groups (families, clans or organisations) who look after each other in exchange for loyalty. Communication is indirect and the harmony of the group has to be maintained, open conflicts are avoided. The relationship has a moral base and this always has priority over task fulfillment. Time must be invested initially to establish a relationship of trust. Nepotism may be found more often. Feedback is always indirect, also in the business environment.
The society is loosely-knit in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families only and should not rely (too much) on authorities for support. There is also a high degree of geographical mobility in the United States. Americans are the best joiners in the world; however it is often difficult, especially among men, to develop deep friendships. Americans are accustomed to doing business or interacting with people they don’t know well. Consequently, Americans are not shy about approaching their prospective counterparts in order to obtain or seek information. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative. Also, within the exchange-based world of work we see that hiring, promotion and decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do.
At a score of 20 China is a highly collectivist culture where people act in the interests of the group and not necessarily of themselves. In-group considerations affect hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) are getting preferential treatment. Employee commitment to the organization (but not necessarily to the people in the organization) is low. Whereas relationships with colleagues are cooperative for in-groups they are cold or even hostile to out-groups. Personal relationships prevail over task and company.
Turkey scores 45 and is on the Feminine side of the scale. This means that the softer aspects of culture such as leveling with others, consensus, sympathy for the underdog are valued and encouraged. Conflicts are avoided in private and work life and consensus at the end is important. Leisure time is important for Turks, it is the time when the whole family, clan and friends come together to enjoy life. Status is shown, but this comes more out of the high PDI.
The score of the US on Masculinity is high at 62, and this can be seen in the typical American behavioral patterns. This can be explained by the the combination of a high Masculinity drive together with the most Individualist drive in the world. In other words, Americans, so to speak, all show their Masculine drive individually. The British, however, have the same culture in this respect. The question, therefore, should be: is the same drive not normally to be seen on the surface? This difference is a reflection of the higher score of the US on Uncertainty Avoidance than of the UK. In other words, in both societies we find the same drive, but Americans show it up-front whereas the British will take you by surprise.
This American combination reflects itself in the following:
Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life. Being successful per se is not the great motivator in American society, but being able to show one’s success Many American assessment systems are based on precise target setting, by which American employees can show how well a job they did. There exists a “can-do” mentality which creates a lot of dynamism in the society, as it is believed that there is always the possibility to do things in a better way Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can obtain monetary rewards and as a consequence attain higher status based on how good one can be. Many white collar workers will move to a more fancy neighborhood after each and every substantial promotion. It is believed that a certain degree of conflict will bring out the best of people, as it is the goal to be “the winner”. As a consequence, we see a lot of polarisation and court cases. This mentality nowadays undermines the American premise of “liberty and justice for all.” Rising inequality is endangering democracy, because a widening gap among the classes may slowly push Power Distance up and Individualism down.
At 66 China is a Masculine society –success oriented and driven. The need to ensure success can be exemplified by the fact that many Chinese will sacrifice family and leisure priorities to work. Service people (such as hairdressers) will provide services until very late at night. Leisure time is not so important. The migrated farmer workers will leave their families behind in faraway places in order to obtain better work and pay in the cities. Another example is that Chinese students care very much about their exam scores and ranking as this is the main criteria to achieve success or not.
Turkey scores 85 on this dimension and thus there is a huge need for laws and rules. In order to minimize anxiety, people make use of a lot of rituals. For foreigners they might seem religious, with the many references to “Allah”, but often they are just traditional social patterns, used in specific situations to ease tension.
The US scores below average, with a low score of 46, on the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension. As a consequence, the perceived context in which Americans find themselves will impact their behaviour more than if the culture would have either scored higher or lower. Thus, this cultural pattern reflects itself as follows:
There is a fair degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices or food. Americans tend to be more tolerant of ideas or opinions from anyone and allow the freedom of expression. At the same time, Americans do not require a lot of rules and are less emotionally expressive than higher-scoring cultures. At the same time, 9/11 has created a lot of fear in the American society culminating in the efforts of government to monitor everybody through the NSA and other security organisations.
At 30 China has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance. Truth may be relative though in the immediate social circles there is concern for Truth with a capital T and rules (but not necessarily laws) abound. None the less, adherence to laws and rules may be flexible to suit the actual situation and pragmatism is a fact of life. The Chinese are comfortable with ambiguity; the Chinese language is full of ambiguous meanings that can be difficult for Western people to follow. Chinese are adaptable and entrepreneurial. At the time of writing the majority (70% -80%) of Chinese businesses tend to be small to medium sized and family owned.
Turkey’s intermediate score of 46 is in the middle of the scale so no dominant cultural prefernce can be inferred.
But as your blogger, and as a Turkish person, I can tell you that definitely we are not long-term oriented. A lot of people who doesn’t earn much money have Iphones, expensive cars or motorbikes. Besides, a summer get away is more attractive than putting that money away for retirement.
The United States scores normative on the fifth dimension with a low score of 26. This is reflected by the following:
Americans are prone to analyse new information to check whether it is true. Thus, the culture doesn’t make most Americans pragmatic, but this should not be confused with the fact that Americans are very practical, being reflected by the “can-do” mentallity mentioned above. The polarisation mentioned above is, so to speak, strengthened by the fact that many Americans have very strong ideas about what is “good” and “evil”. This may concern issues such as abortion, use of drugs, euthanasia, weapons or the size and rights of the government versus the States and versus citizens. The US is the one of the only “Caucasian” countries in the world where, since the beginning of the 20th century, visiting church has increased. This increase is also evident in some post-Soviet republics such as Russia. American businesses measure their performance on a short-term basis, with profit and loss statements being issued on a quarterly basis. This also drives individuals to strive for quick results within the work place.
China scores 87 in this dimension, which means that it is a very pragmatic culture. In societies with a pragmatic orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results.
With an intermediate score of 49, a characteristic corresponding to this dimension cannot be determined for Turkey.
Again as your Turkish blogger, I will share my opinion here. I think we know the importance of children playing together, growing up together with siblings or cousins, etc. They are not forced to give up their entertainment or socializing time to study or work extra hours like in China or Korea, where students start school at 8:00 AM in the morning and finish at 10:00 PM in the evening.
The United States scores as an Indulgent (68) society on the sixth dimension. This, in combination with a normative score, is reflected by the following contradictory attitudes and behaviour:
Work hard and play hard. The States has waged a war against drugs and is still very busy in doing so, yet drug addiction in the States is higher than in many other wealthy countries. It is a prudish society yet even some well-known televangelists appear to be immoral.
China is a Restrained society as can be seen in its low score of 24 in this dimension. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism. Also, in contrast to Indulgent societies, Restrained societies do not put much emphasis on leisure time and control the gratification of their desires. People with this orientation have the perception that their actions are Restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong.
I hope you found this book and the website as interesting as I thought. I will see you soon with yet another interesting blog, soon!
Ladies and Gentleman, meet the Romanian singer, Brianna, who is getting widely popular in Turkey.
Her last single back in March 2018 was ‘Lost in Istanbul’. It is a great video if you want to talk a short walk along Istanbul streets (Mostly in Istiklal street, Taksim, Karakoy and Besiktas). Her voice is also very very nice, I can see that this is going to be a real hit this summer in Turkey.
Any tourist that has been to Istanbul, Turkey will tell you the beautiful stray cats they saw. ‘Both the dogs and cats are so friendly and calm’ they would say.
While I was staying at an Airbnb in Cevahir, Istanbul last June, I had the chance of portraying some. These pictures are all from my camera. What is noteworthy is how healthy they look. I think Turkish people constantly feed and build shelters (see pics) for them. I know the dogs look drugged but actually they are not. They are just super lazy. They are everywhere: on streets, on motorbikes, at coffee shops, at restaurants. Here is a picture story of Istanbul’s street cats and dogs during one day.
When I came to the USA in 2008 for the first time, I was in so-called ‘honeymoon stage’: Everything was new and exciting. Even my jet-lag. I was ready to explore, meet new people, eat new food, buy new clothes. However, after about a month, I started to feel frustrated, lonely and tired. Everything was so different that learning curve was painful. So many things that I had to figure out ‘by myself’ and when I couldn’t figure it out, there was no one to cry to.
In this post, I would like to share with you the things I wished I had known before I arrived. Although I believe that learning these by experiencing on your own would be challenging but fun, also I know that a lot of people eventually go back to their countries because they can’t cope with these challenges by themselves, especially in the first critical 1-3 months. Statistics say that around 34% of all new college students will drop out in the first year. One of the main reasons is homesickness.
If you want me to define ‘homesickness’, it is not just missing your parents or best friends. It is losing the sense of ‘belonging’, also the fear of the ‘unknown’ and lacking the strength to fight with ‘problems’ as they hit hard one after another. I remember one day I missed the bus to school which was running every 30 min. I was running late for the class, so I had to walk to the class in snow. But half way to the school, I realized that my cute looking boots that I bought from Turkey were not suitable for snow. By the time I arrived my class, my socks were soaked in snow water. The very same day I learned that for my thesis, I needed to go on a field trip and camp for at least 40 days. The problem was, I hadn’t had a car or driver’s license at that time, I hadn’t camped in wild at all, not even for one day. Then of course in the evening I felt sick because of the cold and I remember shivering and thinking to myself: If I die here, nobody will know. I’m so alone.
Now, let’s talk about the most important things before you move to the USA:
CULTURE SHOCK, HOMESICKNESS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
As I mentioned, it was very difficult for me to adapt the host culture. It took me 5-6 months to start feeling normal. I was home all the time, watching movies and doing homework. I wanted to make friends, go out and explore. But I needed a car to go anywhere in Kansas and it was too hard to make friends. Americans seemed like they were communicating among themselves very effectively and confidently. Yet, I felt like I was left outside. Masters students at Geology department were doing projects together, were going to a bar (Henry’s in Lawrence, KS to be exact) every weekend but nobody was inviting me. That made me feel rejected… How was this even possible? The social butterfly in Turkey (me) had turned into a caterpillar.
Then, we went to this Spain field trip. I was staying with 5 other friends in the same hotel room. We finally started talking about things that are different than geology. We went out at night and we chat about everything. We were laughing, dancing. The whole week we spent in Almeria, Spain, I had gained a part of me back. I thought to myself “I’m still lovable and respectable”. After we returned to KS I joined their gatherings a lot more. When I confessed that I was waiting for an invitation, they were puzzled. They asked me why I waited for an invitation. They said they were discussing about where to go right in front of me, that meant I was automatically invited! Oh boy, how could I know that?!
Then as I read about it, I realized that it wasn’t only me! There was a science behind it. They mapped the psychological ups and downs. Now, you can learn about it too here and I hope that it will help you during your journey.
Below is a chart that shows the stages of adaptation process to a host culture:
During the first stage, Anticipating Departure, you go through mixed feelings. You are anxious about leaving your family and friends behind. You are trying to be excited but the fear of the unknown still makes you feel on edge.
Upon entering the new country, your excitement will be at its top level. This level is called ‘Honeymoon Stage (Emotional High Point)‘. This stage lasts about 1-3 months. Everything is new, there are so many things to explore, so many things to take picture of, to taste and to smell. I still remember the smell of the BBQ sauce on the first ribs that I tried. And the taste of fried pickles. The smell of Britney Spears perfume (There were so many cheap perfumes everywhere). Also, I remember taking a picture of birds and bugs. They looked and sounded different. At this stage, I was like a tourist and I was enjoying it!
Then comes the Critical Low Point. This was the time when I first realized that I didn’t have anyone to share this excitement with. This was the period that I realized, in order to buy a toothpaste or a loaf of bread, I had to drive to Walmart which is 10 minute drive from home. There was a little problem though: I didn’t have a car. I didn’t even have a drivers license. Then I realized my masters program was way different than what I was expecting (It is way different than Turkish education). So much homework, so many lab and field reports. Proposal, poster presentation, application for scholarships and funding, everything had strict deadlines. Besides, my adviser was horrible, so it didn’t help my adaptation process at all. I remember crying in front of her once. I truly think she didn’t care.
Then comes the ‘Initial Adjustment‘. When I met my Turkish neighbors, Fatih abi and Zeynep Abla, I felt so happy, they were letting me borrow their car so that I could do groceries whenever I wanted. I had figured out the school’s system better, so I was finally meeting the deadlines and I was made aware of the danger called ‘plagiarism’ (please read more about it here: http://www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-plagiarism). On the Spain trip I mentioned earlier, I had gotten closer with my American friends, I had joined ISA (International Student Association) which was the best decision I have ever made. In this organization, I met so many international students who were going through the same stages as me. This was such a good relief. Besides, we were having so much fun while we were learning about each other’s cultures. For the very first time, everything seemed to be working… Until the next stage…
‘Confronting Deeper Issues‘ is an interesting stage. Because this is the stage after which you decide to stay or go back. Also, if you decide to stay, this is the stage that will make you more mature than ever. This is the time period that your communication with your home country gets little disrupted: Some friends of yours stop talking to you, or they get really busy with their own lives that they become not as available as they were before to chat. Suddenly when you look around, you see that you are living in a dorm or in an apartment with used furniture, your school work is a constant struggle, you are still trying to figure things out: You are trying to understand why your new friends are not checking in even though they know that you are sick. You are still trying to figure out how to open a bank account and call the bank when a problem arises. You, for the first time in your life, shovel the snow. You can’t figure out why your engine is not working after a freezing night. What is that scary storm alarm? Why do you have to make reservation for a taxi 24 hours in advance?? What is a social security number and how do you get it? What is credit history? Why do you even need it? How do I pay taxes here? While working on those complicated issues, your friends and your relatives in your country are getting married, getting promotions, celebrating birthdays, having babies. Your family members are having health problems, and you can’t be there. This feeling of ‘helplessness’ -can’t help anyone, can’t even help myself- is a real struggle. Because of these negative feelings, you will tend to focus on negatives, so you will start using phrases like “This is easier in my country” “This tastes better in my hometown” “In my country, they do this way differently! Ugh” So this is why it is called ‘deeper issues’; you question everything: your family and friendships, YOU and your country’s weaknesses and strengths. This is the stage you analyze all the ups and downs you had.
‘Adapting and Assimilating Stage’ is the best. You realize that you can enjoy the new culture while still keeping your core values. You accept the difficulties, find ways to solve them. You accept the good sides and bad sides of your own country and the host country. For example, I really like how people respect you as an individual and give you your own space in the US. Also the fact that the system rewards you if you work hard. But I still miss the warmth, friendliness, helpfulness and randomness of people in Turkey.
In this stage, your small circle of friends and acquaintances keep you occupied. Finally, you start traveling or focusing on your hobbies. Finally, you think about buying new furniture for your apartment, maybe some plants, some photos and paintings? You start to invite people over and cook for them. You start to find what to discuss with Americans since you know the local sports teams, TV shows and local news. You enjoy the cultural exchange; learning about their culture and teaching yours.
Finally there is this ‘Reverse Cultural Shock‘ stage which is labeled as ‘re-entry adjustment‘ in the chart. After you adjusted yourself and accepted your host country as your ‘home’, going back will be a different experience. Your people will be more different than where you left them. It will be hard to explain them what you saw, what you experienced. Some of them won’t understand very easily. They might underestimate the difficulties you went through and think that what you encountered could not be such big deal because you live in the strongest country in the world. You are finally in your country, the food is great, you go to the places that you missed, meet up with people that you love but then you can’t help but focus on rude people, traffic, long bank lines, smokers, governmental procedures, so many things that will annoy you, and you wished that were different. You will have difficulty adjusting back to your own culture. Frankly, I think this was the weirdest feeling that I experienced in this all adjustment period.
If you are going through any of the above stages, I have a few suggestions for you:
Get involved! Socialize. This is crucially important. Put yourself out there. Sign up for a student organization, or find your country’s cultural group, or join meet-ups. Go to school gatherings and talk to people. Don’t be afraid about your English. People in America are used to accents. Also, you are the one who knows two languages! I have found it easier to socialize with international students or expats rather than Americans because we all were going through the same issues.
Make your living space unique, your style. Place things that will give you positive energy around your room: Pictures of your family, your best friend’s gift, your favorite book, a Star Wars poster, a fish tank or a cute little plant. Make your living space your ‘shelter’ your own ‘peaceful space’.
If you are a student, contact your school’s international students services office. Learn about activities, deadlines, etc.
Talk to your family and friends back home via Whatsapp, Facetime or Skype regularly. It really helps.
Stay connected with your peeps on social media. If you don’t have one, open a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account.
Get hobbies! You can keep the old ones or you can find new ones. You can read a book, write a blog, take drawing or dancing lessons. It is always great doing something different than papers and work.
Get an on-campus job if you can. It keeps you busy, allows you to meet different people, besides you make some pocket money!
Save money for your future trips! There are so many places to see in the USA! You would like to visit these places before you leave.
Exercise! When you start exercising (at gym or at home) you will be in a way better mood.
Eat healthy food. Eating crappy food everyday will also make your mood crappy.
Be careful about parties. American colleges are party lands. They start partying on Thursday and it continues till Sunday. Of course it is your right to join these parties and have fun, but do not forget about your reason to be here. Do not get side tracked, or alcohol poisoned.
Have you ever spent 1.5 hours in a supermarket? It is ridiculous. It was my first time in Walmart: It was like going to IKEA, but for food. That is how big it was. Now another question: Have you ever spent $100 for food for 1 person? I did. I was so curious about the new brands, new tastes that I realized I bought too much stuff. Plus, back home, I used to shop for 3 people: my brother, my father and I. I guess I just didn’t know how much a single person would eat (Bloggers note: Also, do not go grocery shopping when you are hungry)
LEARN ABOUT YOUR AREA
In the US, most cities do not have a good public transportation. This wasn’t a problem for my Saudi Arabian students who mostly drive anywhere back home, but if you are from Turkey, you might have a difficulty getting used to driving everywhere. When I lived in Chicago public transportation was great. There were two trains running 24 hours. You could go anywhere in the city by buses or train/metro (known as ‘L’). In Boston, also the public transportation works pretty well. You can definitely see public transportation in New York City, Jersey City, Washington (in Seattle), Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. But other places are usually a hit or miss. So please arrange your budget accordingly: Are you going to need a car? How much are second hand cars? How do you get a driver’s license?
Learn About Crime Rate in Your Area
It was around midnight when I woke up from my sleep with sounds of gunfire in my apartment in Uptown, Chicago. Someone was killed in our backyard. It was a gang crossfire. Then I couldn’t help but think ‘What if I was taking the trash out at that exact time?” I wished I had lived in a safer area. Bear in mind that the less safe neighborhoods will have cheaper housing options. So, if you are going to live in an apartment, and you are looking for cheap rent, make sure to check the crime rate online. One of the options you have is here: Go to http://www.mylocalcrime.com to check the crimes around the area you are planning to live in. Don’t forget, there will always be some sort of crime reported. Americans are pretty good about reporting a crime.
Check the Weather
Please check the climate and weather information about the city before you arrive. Some people cannot really survive in cold and in some cities in the US it is brutally cold, especially if you are from a country that has warm climate. My students from Turkey, Brazil, Colombia, Saudi Arabia were complaining about how cold Chicago and Boston were. But my students from Northern Europe and Russia were totally fine with it. Also, don’t forget to check the weather everyday before you leave home, because it might change pretty quickly.
Here are two videos about two extremes: A little girl Mila is talking about Arizona summers (42 Celsius-average, 49 Celsius recorded) and in the second one you see a news report talking about last December’s arctic wave.
What is the City Like?
Some of my friends confessed me that before they arrived in Kansas, they were expecting to see skyscrapers, expensive cars, bars, restaurants and cafes everywhere (In other words, they were expecting to find a replica of New York City). They imagined lots of people in the streets. Instead, this was what they got:
Learn what your city offers and what its limits are. For example, if you live in a bigger city, your chances of finding a market that sells ingredients for your cuisine are high. Also, if the city has colleges and these universities with international students, then you are lucky. Again, you probably will find some international markets or restaurants in your city. But frankly, don’t expect to find Iskender kebab in Idaho, or grape leaves in a market in Mississippi. However, one thing I learned about America is that it can surprise you. So, I cannot speak for sure.
Do not bring your electronics here other than your computer and phone charger (if you need to). Because of the voltage difference, your electronic devices will break down. While it is 220-230 V in most European, African and Asian countries, it is 120 V in the US (https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plug-voltage-by-country/). It happened to me with my toothbrush charger, hair straightener and epilator. First they worked slowly, then they completely stopped working. Besides, you will need a converter (see the image) if you are using a device from your country in the US.
Do you remember those days that you had a migraine or persistent stomachache and you couldn’t help and went to emergency room? Well… You can’t do that in this country unless you are wealthy enough. Let’s look at this hospital bill of Peter Drier, 37, who had a neck hernia surgery in 2013:
As you can see ‘ER General’ Says $976. Let’s say your insurance will cover half of it. You still will need to pay about 500$. Also, let me remind you, monthly insurance payments vary but they can go from 150$ to 500$ a month. So, please do not get sick in the US.
Dentists are also another story. These numbers are taken from the website: http://www.phoenixendodontist.com/blog/root-canal-cost-vs-cost-of-implant
The most pricey ones are implants, as you all know. So, let’s look at this comparison:
As you can see, there is a huge gap between the medical costs in the US and in other countries. One might argue that the equipment used is the highest technology and that is why the costs are high. Although I believe this is partly true, there is also the fact that hospitals are trying to find ways to get more of your money. If you are rich, you get the best treatment. If you are poor, you might get a below average treatment and we don’t care if you die in 10 years. I’m not talking about doctors or nurses here, I’m talking about the health system. Insurance is also such a complicated issue that (deductibles, in network versus out of network, HMO PDO plans, etc) I still have many questions and confusions even after 6 years I spent here.
BE AWARE OF SCAMS
When you are looking for a room to rent or a car to buy, be aware of scams. They will try to get your money or credit card information by sending genuine-looking emails. Especially with Craigslist, you have to be extra careful. One of the ways you can understand if the email is scam or not, scam ones tend to have too many personal details or many grammar or spelling mistakes. Let’s look at this example:
As you can see from this email, the person is in Alabama and he will ‘mail’ the keys to them once the buyer sends the security payment. Do not fall for this, my friends. No realtor, no landlord will ask for your money without meeting face to face. They would NEVER mail you the keys, either. Look at all the grammar mistakes he made! Especially in the last paragraph: “My job factor” “very saddened (without ‘I am’)” “very perfect (no native will say this)” “you meet up with application process?? (haha application process is a person’s name I guess)” “my keys will be mail to you (Wrong passive voice usage)” and nobody will use “God” in their ads. This is also a big red flag.
Another thing that you should be careful about is the phone calls you will get while in the US. I remember one time a person called me and said they were from “Credit Card Protection Services” and my card needed to be protected. They had a jingle and everything when they put me on hold. They sounded real! But then he insisted on learning my credit card number. I was trying to be polite but at that moment I understood that they were just a scam.
Your phone or internet company, maybe AT&T, Xfinity, etc. They will keep calling you as well. They will try to convince you to upgrade your plan, which means you will have to pay more. I remember when I first moved in the US, I got a call and the person was speaking English with a heavy Indian accent and he was so fast that I had no idea what he was talking about. After saying ‘Could you repeat please?’ like 2 times, I gave up and I started to say ‘Yes’ to everything he said. After about 3 and a half minutes, we hung up. Oh Lord, at that moment, I was so relieved. Well… The following month my telephone bill came and it was 250$. Apparently I had upgraded my internet and phone to the most expensive plan!!! It was painful to call them back and fix everything again.
LEARN ABOUT YOUR VISA (STATUS) AND ITS RESTRICTIONS
Some students come here with the wrong idea that they can both go to school and work. For student visas J-1 and F-1 you cannot work except campus employment. There is also a myth that your SSN (Social Security Number) allows you to work legally in the US. Again, this is a myth. If you are working without a valid work permit, you will get in trouble. People who are caught working illegally are deported and they can never come back to the US again. Please read the below link carefully:
Before you come tho the US, you have to learn about American culture. While most western countries have similar cultural elements with Americans, when you compare Asian, African, Latin and Middle Eastern culture to America, you get a very different picture. I can only speak for my own cultural experience, of course.
Americans prefer indirect communication in one sense and direct one in another. For example, it is not OK to ask about one’s salary, their personal life or their illness. You cannot comment on their hair looking messy or the pimple on their nose (unless they are your best friends). Before giving any criticism, you have to make sure that your words are encouraging and friendly. While discussing about racism, gender inequality, you have to be extra extra careful not to offend anybody. On the other hand, when they ask a question, they usually want a straight answer. They appreciate honesty. Let me give you a funny example. My first year in the States, we went to a bar with my friends from Geology department. My friend asked me if I wanted a beer. Because I was culturally programmed that way, I said ‘No, thanks’ Even though I would, of course, want a free beer! (duh) In Turkey, when someone offers something, it is polite to refuse it for the first time. That’s why you should keep offering till the person finally says yes. Well, after my first ‘No’ my friend said ‘OK’ and just left!!! Haha. I was like: “But… But…How about my beer??”
Americans will have this distance from you that is called “personal bubble”. Forget about getting intimate on the train, in the movie line or restaurants. Forget about giving a warm friendly kiss to your friend on the cheek. Forget about giving random hugs to your colleagues. Oh and of course, forget about hand jokes including hitting on the head or back. My American friends walking down in Taksim Square, Istanbul were so confused with the fact that guys were walking arm in arm, girls were holding hands but they weren’t gay or lesbian. They were just showing friendly affection. Also, not only at work or school but be aware of the personal bubble in the customs at the airport. One day, one of my students with a very low level of English was trying to tell the customs officer her purpose of visit. The envelope that she handed to the officer included some complicated paper work. So, my student wanted to help and leaned towards the officer and put her arm through in the glass. That moment was the scariest memory of her. The officer went for his gun in a tiny fraction of time and yelled a ‘Put your hands up!’. She was questioned for half an hour after this incident.
Most Americans are religious. All Protestant denominations accounted for 51.3%, while the Catholic Church by itself, at 23.9% is the largest individual denomination. God is the Father, Jesus Christ is the Son and there is Holy Spirit. This is what they call ‘Trinity”. In Catholic belief, Virgin Mary is holy. Christians’ holy book is holy Bible and they worship every Sunday at church. Unfortunately, I’m not a very knowledgeable person when it comes to religion, but please do some research before you come to the States. I highly recommend going to church one day, it is a remarkable, interesting experience.
When you are driving, if a police officer stops you, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR. Pull your car off the road, stop your engine and wait. There might be an awkward 5 minutes that you are sitting in your seat and the officer is sitting in his seat. What he is doing is that he is communicating with the main office and trying to gather information about your license plate before he talks to you. Also, don’t even try bribing. Bribery is one of the biggest offenses in the States. You can literally go to jail.
Americans love socializing and entertaining people. You will find yourself eating and drinking out a lot. Watch those pounds on the scale! I have personally gained 22 pounds (10 kilos) here! Their burger, fries, BBQ and pizza are the best! Make sure you exercise daily! Although Americans are famous for the high obesity rates, they are also aware of self care. Most Americans that I met don’t smoke, and more than half of it exercise daily. It is such a great motivation (!) when you open your mouth to eat that juicy greasy slice of pizza, you see those runners outside running in snow with their perfect bodies. Another reason why it is easy to get fat here is the amount of variation. Variety of snacks, alcohol, soups, sauces, Indian food, Viatnemese Pho, Chinese dim sum, Korean BBQ, Italian lasagna, Brazilian steak… You want to try all. Then you get fat.
I hope this article will help you before your adventure begins in the USA or in another country! Make the most of it! Many wonderful memories are awaiting! Enjoy this incredible experience 🙂
Think about a country that is 96% Muslim (I believe in reality this number is way lower than the official one), and although alcohol is forbidden by their religion, their national drink is ‘Rakı’; a hard liquor with 40% alcohol. Imagine a country that ranks in the top 5 most Facebook users, top 10 most YouTube users, and top 6 most WhatsApp Users in the World, and yet still prefers socializing mostly by going out with their friends, no matter how broke they are, and paying random visits to their neighbors or family members. A country that follows the latest technological trends, buys the latest version of their favorite cellphones, but still uses a printed plane ticket rather than a QR code at the gate because it feels ‘safer’.
Think about a country that admires, respects their gay and transsexual music stars deeply, but when their own family member admits that they are homosexual, it is (in most families) absolutely unacceptable.
When I tell you ‘think about China’ or ‘Think about the USA’ or ‘Think about Kenya’ or ‘Think about France’ what do the people look like? What is the religion like? How about the culture? Which continent are they located in? You have most of the time a somewhat clear picture in your mind. But when it comes to Turkey… The picture gets a little blurry for everyone.
My country, Turkey, has been in so-called identity crisis since its birth in 1923. This makes me sad because Turkey has SO MUCH potential to thrive, to be unique, to be successful in many many ways. However, In my opinion, it is this so-called identity crisis that is preventing it from moving forward.
I’m pretty sure some people will be surprised or maybe even upset that my very first post about Turkey is not about how breathtaking its nature is or how its history is mind-blowing. I will talk about those later for sure. But first, I chose an issue that I have been wanting to write about for a long time. I’m not a historian, politics major or sociologist. Thus, only my opinions are discussed here. I just want to make sure that nobody gets offended since I’m going to touch on some sensitive topics here.
Turkey is one of the two countries in the world that has its soil on two different continents (the other one is Russia): Europe and Asia. So can we count Turkey as one of the eastern or one of the western cultures? Culturally speaking, it would be safe to say my country is a lot closer to Asian cultures than European ones; highly hierarchical, collectivist, and engraved with very old roots of traditions. Turkey was the home for some of the oldest civilizations that are known: Hittites, Lydians, Ionians, and Urartus. Also, it was home to Byzantines, Romans, and finally, Ottomans. Each of them worshiped different Gods, lived under different rulers with different rules. Years of immigration from Asia – including east Asia and the middle east-, European countries such as Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Hungary created such an interesting mixed blend.
Since the Republic of Turkey was founded by one of the greatest minds ever existed on Earth, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a lot of things have changed. When he ended the monarchy and brought democracy, I think Turks were not ready for this change yet. It was a huge step forward, which I will explain here later. Ataturk changed the alphabet from Arabic script to Latin alphabet so that we could improve in world literature, science and technology. He shut down religious schools so that the focus would be science and there would be equality between women and men. Ataturk reformed the clothing style from a traditional to a western look, so that we could set our eyes on more modern. He knew that how we look represented how we think. So we needed to change. He gave voting rights to women before Italy, France, Switzerland, Japan, or China did. By the time 19th Amendment granted the ballot to American women, it was 1920. But let’s remember, the USA was founded on July 4, 1776 and when demand for the enfranchisement of American women was first seriously formulated at the Seneca Falls Convention, it was 1848. So America waited 144 years whereas Ataturk did this in just about 10 years. That is why these quick changes were not very welcomed by some traditional and/or conservative Turks.
Ottoman Fashion Before Ataturk’s Clothing Reform
His reforms, victories and patriotism are the reasons why most of the Turks have been thankful to him. Unfortunately I said ‘most’, because there was a considerable amount of Turkish people who didn’t like what Ataturk did. They didn’t like this change at all. They felt like they were suppressed. Even though there was the freedom of religion, freedom of thought, this group of people didn’t like the fact that religious schools and institutions were shutting down, the religious outfits were gone, and Arabic script, in which the original language Quran was written, was all gone. All happened in a relatively very short period of time as well and that created uneasiness among people.
Another possible reason for Turkey’s identity crisis might be the ‘Nationalistic Indoctrination’ that Ataturk had to implement those days in order to build a republic from scratch. Because he needed a reason to unite everyone against the Monarchy (Power of Sultan) and knowing the behavior and culture of the Turks very well, nationalistic approach was the best way to go: modern nation had to become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion, language and national identity. This meant bad news for minorities. Especially for the Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds. They paid a price while Turkish Republic was being born. It’s my belief that with the early death of Ataturk at the age of 57, a big void had opened in Turkey’s heart. People in charge thought to themselves: “Everything is still new, Ataturk would have known what to do, how to run the country, how to bring back all those minorities together, but now… He is gone!! What the heck are we going to do??”. This early loss and the dependence of the baby republic to its father created a big big problem later in shaping the identity of the nation.
The mourning Turkish nation after ‘Father of Turks’ Ataturk dies on November 10, 1938.
Without a ‘father’ figure, Turkey was lost: the baby republic had just lost the only parent it had. Now, it was going to grow up with self-esteem problems, and it will have painful, angry adolescence years… Actually by the end of this post you will have realized that Turkey would never learn from its mistakes or, in other words, would never actually be a grown up due to its relentless search of another ‘father figure’.
1960, 1962, 1971, 1980, 1997, 2007, 2016… Marks the military coups and military coup attempts in Turkey. In one of which, the president of the country was hanged in public. Many arrests, torture in investigations, lost jobs, soldiers wandering around the streets with machine guns and tanks. These caused instability and fear in the nation and as we all know, fear eventually leads to wrong decision making.
Since the beginning, we have been divided, constantly: Students fought with police, ‘Sunni’s fought with ‘Alevi’s, leftists and rightists killed each other, military was against the government, Kurdish vs. Turkish, women with veil vs women without veil, and now, pro-government conservatives versus anti-government democrats. We have been always and we still are…DI-VID-ED.
The assassination attempt for Pope John Paul II took place on Wednesday, 13 May 1981, in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. A Turkish extreme nationalist Mehmet Ali Ağca was the assassin who murdered left-wing journalist Abdi İpekçi on 1 February 1979, and later shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, after escaping from a Turkish prison. This opened a whole can of warms. Later, in the light of a highway accident, the Turkish nation learned about the existence of ‘Secret State’: a combination of nationalists, mafia, police and the rich: On the surface, the government was ruling, but the secret state was the one who was actually running the country.
Journalists who attempted to investigate ‘Secret State’ later, were all going to be assassinated so that nobody else could dare to write about them again.
Many singers, journalists, writers, poets (including the writer of the Turkish National Anthem) were forced into exile. Most of them died far away from their own land.
Now for the past 15 years, the same single party has been ruling us; The conservative ‘Justice and Development Party’ won the elections in 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2015 with almost 50% of the votes (again you can clearly see that we are divided). My country is clearly deteriorating in the hands of a dictator leader and this 50% is OK with that. The current President, and 3-times-elected former Prime Minister Erdogan knows how to manipulate Turkish nation, so well that in every speech of his, he mentions ‘us’ and ‘them’ and each time, the number of his supporters grows. He says: “We are the good ones (conservatives), we are hard workers, we are villagers, laborers, farmers, and they (meaning democrats) are mocking us! they are terrorists, anarchists, OR alcoholics, atheists, OR they are rich and educated, they think they are better, smarter than ‘us'”
Why I mention Erdogan here is the fact that how well he used this ‘identity crisis’ of Turkey for his own good to become the absolute power:
He knew that with the failing coalitions and the former disastrous female prime minister, and for the obvious historical reasons, Turkish people would vote for a ‘self sufficient’ ‘male’ figure with a ‘strong personality’.
In the beginning of his term he was talking about reuniting with minorities; he played us well. The first time he was elected, he re-opened an Armenian church in Van after 100 years, he lead the way to open a Kurdish TV channel and a radio station. He seemed friendly, fatherly, kind of liberal-conservative. Economy was improving and unemployment rate was diminishing. Then in just a few years, everything has turned and he revealed his and his party’s real identity. He started to suppress the media, arrested people as he liked, tried to raise drinking age to 24, made the relationship with Kurds worse, opened more and more religious schools, stole money from the government assets, made the judicial system corrupt, and so on.
He was aware of the fact that we had been going through self-esteem problems: We were not ruling the world like once Ottoman Empire did and we were not as strong anymore as in those times Ataturk brought us together, we were weakened by military coups and fights between divided groups. Having been rejected by European Union so many times, we were feeling frustrated, degraded. He saw this status quo as an opportunity to promote himself as a hero and in his hate speeches he made it clear that: “We don’t want Europe, we don’t need European Union”. Suddenly everybody was in agreement with him as if they were all hypnotized: “Yeah! Why do we need Europe?” He literally finished almost our all relationship with the West and he pushed us towards the Middle East, where people adore him and he could reign like a king.
He was aware of that suppressed anger people had towards Ataturk and his democratic republic. He used this in his speeches, everywhere he went.
He knew well that he could divide us pretty quickly. With the chaos he created each time, he knew he would split the opposition parties’ votes.
I feel like Turkish nation has been in some sort of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological attachment with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. Psychologist, former FBI agent Thomas Strentz states, “the victim’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma.” A positive emotional bond between captor and captive is a “defense mechanism of the ego under stress”. Some of the people who voted for him in the first place want to keep him in power because they are afraid that without Erdogan, everything will be worse, they will lose their jobs, their food, their lands. The sad fact is, everything has already been going downhill, but their denial is blindfolding them.
Final words… Here comes the question: Now what? When is this problem with our identity will be solved? My answer is when we stop looking for one. Maybe we don’t need to belong west, or east. Maybe we should create our very own identity. Call it ‘Turkish Way’ of doing things. An identity that cares for others, value family, respect people, works hard, thrives for advancement, improvement, production, believes in religion and respects non-religion, sees people through without labeling them, known as being self-sufficient and self-confident. But most importantly, an identity that doesn’t require a savior, a leader, a father figure to function…
As Ataturk said: “If you feel desperate one day, don’t wait for a savior. Be the rescuer yourself.”
“Şayet bir gün çaresiz kalırsanız, bir kurtarıcı beklemeyin. Kurtarıcı kendiniz olun.”