It takes a lot of courage to leave everything behind and start a new life. At least that’s what everyone told me. Imagine living in a place for 18 years, having people that you trust, that you feel comfortable with, people that you call family. And then suddenly, you make the biggest decision of your life by leaving that place. It sounds crazy and scary in the beginning. But when you know that you are doing this for yourself and for your dreams, you only focus on looking forward.
I was living in Istanbul, with an amazing family and had what I would call perfect friends around me. Moving to Norwich for university was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I remember talking to everyone I know who studied abroad; listening to their experiences made me feel relaxed and excited for the future. But at the same time I was anxious. I cried so hard when I first moved in to my flat and said my goodbyes to my parents. I knew that they were only four hours away, but it was the first time where I felt completely alone, in a place I didn’t really know.
One of the main questions that I asked to myself was, ‘Does getting used to a new place mean letting go of the other?’ I constantly felt/feel like I was living a double life; a different life in Norwich and a different life in Istanbul. I never allowed one of them to get in the way of the other.
After my first Christmas holiday, returning back to Norwich was hard – just when I felt like I was getting familiarised with Norwich, I went back home and immediately adapted back to my old life. I started comparing everything, even the people around me. The time after Christmas was challenging. I was still going out and joining new societies but, emotionally, I was feeling like I could not truly adapt. And then I did the worst thing that I could possibly do: blamed myself. Everyone looked happy from the outside and I thought I was the only one who felt that way.
They say time heals everything. I used to hate hearing this sentence, because ‘time’ is an infinite term. But now, I can understand the importance of it. Time slowly but surely passed. I talked to people around me; I tried to face my problems and finished first year. And I started feeling better. I was enjoying my modules, meeting with new people. I had people around me that I could call ‘my close friends’. So all was fine. But something was still bothering me.
I was still feeling like I was living a double life. Going back to Istanbul would make me happy and even though I knew how life in Norwich worked by now, it was hard for me to get back (t)here. At the start of each term, for a couple of weeks, I always felt sad and down. Even though I knew it wasn’t beneficial for me, I kept comparing Istanbul with Norwich. I never told this to anyone because I was happy at UEA, and I always thought that this ‘double life’ idea would eventually go away.
One day, after a long Easter Break, one of my close friends asked me if I ever felt weird or sad after coming back from my home in Istanbul. Just hearing this question was a big step forward for me. And I realised that not talking to anyone about this topic and just waiting for it to be over was harming me. We talked for hours and discussed our own experiences. I felt like I was waiting to have this conversation for so long. I just didn’t have the courage to tell this to myself.
If someone told me two years ago that I would be writing an article about this subject, I wouldn’t believe it. But here I am. I am not ashamed or scared to share these experiences. Moving to a different city and country is a major life event, to start from the beginning and be alone. I say ‘alone’ because even if you have friends here, you are still dealing with everything on your own. And this is something we should all take more credit for.
It is normal to feel like you can’t adapt. It is normal to feel like you don’t belong to this place. But these are just part of the process. Some take two months, some take years. We all adjust at our own pace. Facing my problems and my feelings was the best thing I did in these past two years and even though I had times where I felt horrible, now I can proudly say that I am glad I had those experiences. It allowed me to change in a positive way and appreciate being here more. So don’t be scared to talk to someone. It really helps and it makes you realise that you are not the only one who feels that way. I now accept the fact that I have friends in Istanbul and friends in Norwich. I have things I love to do here and I have things I’m used to over there. These are normal and it shouldn’t be a reason to make me feel sad.