Just over three years ago, I was sitting in the office of my newspaper's executive editor. The editor was staring at me, stunned. I had just given her notice that I would be leaving, a whole year earlier than my contract technically allowed.
"Do you realize what you're giving up here? The industry is losing a very good reporter if you leave the profession."
I smiled at her, as professionally as possible without being smug, and told her that it didn't worry me, that there would be other opportunities for a "good reporter" like me, even overseas. I didn't mention that they likely wouldn't be at newspapers.
The decision to leave journalism to move to Turkey was a gut-wrenching one for me, one that seemed completely anathema to the years I had spent preparing for it, nurturing it, cultivating it. I spent four years at university, studying not only journalism, but politics, history, culture and literature to prepare me for the rigours of daily newspaper reporting, a job that requires a wealth of knowledge that extends far beyond how to write a lede.
I worked 11-hour days at a Philadelphia daily newspaper -- for free -- just so I could work alongside veteran city reporters who taught me way more than any of my journalism classes did. I drove my car many, many more miles than I was reimbursed for at my first job, just so I could attend city council meetings and chat up locals at coffee shops.
And then, after only two years in, I threw in the towel. At least in the traditional sense. I decided that I wasn't leading the life I wanted to have, and that I needed to go somewhere else to get it.
And so we moved to Istanbul.
Of course, giving up a job in newspapers wasn't the only thing I gave up when we moved to Turkey. There are many other things -- some small, others large -- that I knew going in that I would have to forgo: the ability to see my family more than once a year, if I'm lucky, being the biggest one.
But for me, living in Turkey offered me a chance to live my life more closely to my ideal: a life where pharmacies, markets, bars, restaurants, dry cleaners and the like are literally steps from my door. A life where owning and driving a car is not only unncessary but uncommon. A life that encourages social interaction in public spaces -- gardens, terraces, tea houses, pubs, sidewalks. A life where I could be somewhat on the fringes and no one would care.
In exchange for the things I gave up, I gained a wealth of a different kind of knowledge, the ability to travel more freely, to speak a foreign language in its native habitat, to meet people from all over the world who were leading completely different lives from mine.
Through the friends I made, neighbors I met, colleagues I shared office space with, I saw that life could really be what you make of it, that career wasn't everything, that getting married did not put a timeline on popping out a kid, that if I didn't buy a house by age 27, everything would still be okay. I saw these options, and I embraced them. I gained the tools to create a life for myself that I wanted to live.
I try not to think too often about what I gave up to move overseas or to be an expat. I don't regret leaving the newspaper industry because now I'm making my own way in my career, slowly but surely. I do sometimes wish, however, that I could be closer to my family, that I could have been there when my niece was born and at my husband's grandmother's funeral and for all the random weekend dinners that make a family.
Do you feel that there is something you've given up to live overseas? Do you miss those things? What have you gained in exchange?