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living overseas

    Apartment Tour: Korea

    Here’s a tour of our cozy place in Seoul. We live in a villa, which sounds quaint and romantic, but in Korea, that means a small apartment building. Most villas we’ve seen have two to six apartments.

    So, flashback to July – we were in Ankara and I thought I would be efficient and pack our luggage in a way that we wouldn’t have to touch the majority of it until we got to Korea. That was wishful thinking. I had forgotten how stressful it is to pack most of your worldly possessions into a few suitcases. We went through MANY rounds of revisions and paring down. After three weeks in the States, we arrived in Seoul with five checked luggage pieces, two rolling carry-ons, one backpack, and one guitar.

    This is what our home looked like the first day we arrived. I am sharing this to remind myself to rejoice in how far we’ve come since then:

     

    When we first moved in

     

    We are fortunate that the school furnishes our apartment with the essential pieces. They also stocked our kitchen with new dishes, silverware, pots, and pans.

    Here is our entryway. The air conditioner is on the left. We keep our shoes in the built-in dolap. The hall tree and shelf are both from IKEA. The orange sticky notes around the place are my labels of Korean words!

     

    Entry

     

    Entry shelf - calligraphy plate

     

    I killed most of my first round of succulents. I’m blaming it on the low light. We have only three small windows. Here are my succulents take two:

     

    Entry succulents

     

    This is the view from the front door. The couch from IKEA (mentioned here) dominates so much space, but it’s comfortable and we live on it when we’re home. I like how it matches our Turkish rug!

     

    Entry view

     

    The walls are concrete and are covered in a textured wallpaper. We tried every kind of Command hook out there, but nothing stuck. (The only hooks that held were from Daiso. You melt a dot of glue on the back with a lighter and stick it to the wall.) I had to get creative and hung our map tapestry (from GMarket) by sticking sewing pins through the wallpaper. Isn’t it interesting how the Americas are on the right side of the map?

     

    Living room

     

     

    Tapestry hung with sewing pins

     

    Hanging photos

     

    Air plant in driftwood from Pida (피다):

     

    Air plant and decor

     

    Next to the couch is a door that opens to where our washing machine sits. We keep cleaning supplies and other storage items back here:

     

    Washing machine area

     

    Behind the dining room table is the main bathroom. There’s no tub or separator wall, so we use a squeegee to push the water towards the drain after a shower:

     

    Main bathroom

     

    Kitchen and dining area:

     

    Kitchen and dining area

     

    Stove and microwave:

     

    Stove and microwave

     

    Wedding photo and succulents

     

    Fridge

     

    Here’s the master bedroom. We call it the cave. There are no windows, so if we close the door, we could sleep for daaays. We are creatures of habit and purchased the same bedspread we used in Turkey from IKEA:

     

    Master bedroom

     

    Master bedroom

     

    This is the bathroom connected to the master. (I can’t imagine anyone taking a shower in this tiny space!)

     

    Master bathroom

     

    Also connected to the master is a storage room. It was really humid in here during the summer months, but we may move more things into this area once the cold weather hits.

     

    Storage room

     

    Off of the kitchen is a spare bedroom:

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    This bedroom has my wardrobe closet. We use the dresser in here for things like office supplies, electronic cords, and medicine. Our suitcases are in the corner for now so they don’t mold in the storage space. This room usually serves as our laundry drying area.

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    While I can’t say I adore our apartment, I am very grateful for it and appreciate having our own space to call home. We have what we need and live comfortably here. I’m also thankful we live in a safe neighborhood that is conveniently located to the school, shopping, and public transportation. Our longing for natural light may push us to move next year, but that’s a ways off and we’ll see.

    What do you think of our new place?

     

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    Expat Life: June & Goodbyes

    As expats in Turkey, we live our life cyclically, mostly based around the school calendar. Lest it appear like it’s all cool students and travel and fun, before we know it June arrives. And June is hard. June is when we say a lot of goodbyes.

    Part of me feels like I don’t have a right to claim a piece of the June-is-hard-goodbye pie; this is only our second year as expats. There are people and families who have been doing this for decades. One mom told me that while she looks forward to the no pain and no sorrow in heaven, she most looks forward to the fact there will be no goodbyes. There are kids in our community who have been saying goodbyes every year for most of their lives. And these are kids who might actually never see their friends again in this lifetime. But when I think about it, just as I shouldn’t discount the feelings of anyone else, I also shouldn’t disregard my own.

     

    Ankara orange sunset

     

    We love this international community. Since we’re all in a different culture together, we struggle together. We depend on each other for understanding and support. We’ve created our own little world. I like how The Culture Blend explains the relationship between expats:

    We like these people. We connect on a level that is deeper than the surface. We help each other. We laugh with each other. When something horrible happens to one of us we all understand the pain of going through it away from home so we all try to fill in the gaps.  –Jerry Jones, The Culture Blend

    Whether it’s because of embassy contracts or other commitments, we spend the last few weeks of school figuring out who is leaving and who is returning. We were told on the last day of school that several students found out that day they won’t be returning.

    Aside from the student body constantly changing, so does our school staff. (Note: All of this is not to discount our friends that are returning next year and the new friendships that will come.) Last year, it was very sad to say goodbye to friends. This year, some of our closest friends are returning to the States. And as much as we are excited for them and understand, it’s still hard. They’ve been such a big part of our life in Turkey, and approaching goodbyes was a grieving process.

    The reason why it was so hard is because they’ve been such wonderful friends. I’m thankful we’ve had friends that understood us, laughed with us, joked with us, shared meals with us, traveled with us, celebrated with us. Bo told us his dad said, “It sounds like you’ve found your Christmas card friends.” These are people we will keep up with for the rest of our lives.

    So Brittany, Kendall, Bo – we love you guys. Thanks for being on this journey with us and for being our family. Our goodbyes are only goodbyes for now. We’ll see you all soon. 🙂

     

    Staying In Touch While You’re Overseas: Calling & Texting

    Whether you are living overseas, studying abroad, or traveling for an extended period of time, it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends back home. The internet and our many electronic gadgets have made communication amazingly easy compared to how it was even just a few years ago.

    David and I spend about 10 months out of the year teaching in Turkey and the other 2 in the States. Apart from Facebook, email, and our blog, Google Voice is one of our favorite resources for keeping in touch with our family and friends back home.

     

    Staying in touch when you're overseas

     

    Calling and Texting: Google Voice and Talkatone

    If you have an iPod (or any iOS or Android device) and an internet connection, your iPod can be used as a cell phone for calling and texting:

    1. Create a Gmail account if you don’t already have one.
    2. Set up Google Voice. I did this on my computer, but you can probably do it through the app. (I got to choose the area code of my Google Voice number!) Note: I believe this must be done in the States before you travel.
    3. Install the free Google Voice app on your iPod. 
    4. Install the free Talkatone app on your iPod. During the set up, you’ll link it to your Google Voice account.

    And that’s it! Your Google Voice number + the Talkatone app + Wi–Fi = an iPod that can call and text for FREE! (Note: You will want to use headphones if you are in public. Otherwise, you’ll be walking around on speakerphone.)

    I use Talkatone on my Barnes and Noble Nook to text. (I can also make calls with the Nook, but I prefer to use my computer for calls.) David has a 5th generation iPod and often times, we’ll make our calls from that.

    Google does have international calling rates, but since we set our Google Voice numbers as U.S. numbers, we can call any U.S. number (or Canada) for FREE!

    We can also send and receive calls on our computers when we have our Gmail email accounts open:

     

    Calling while on your Gmail

     

    What is also great about Google Voice is that it allows you to set up call forwarding. When we were home over a break, we purchased a T-Mobile prepaid phone. We can only use that phone and number when we are in the States. However, we give everyone our Google Voice number because we set it up to forward both calls and texts to our T-Mobile phone. When we travel back to Turkey, we change the Google Voice settings so calls and texts do not forward and we don’t get charged by T-Mobile. (The only “problem” with this is when we call or text back, it shows our T-Mobile number rather than the Google Voice number.)

    Do you use Google Voice or another free calling/texting service?

     

     

    Guilt

    Moving overseas has changed my life in so many ways. In some aspects, living in Turkey is similar to when Leah and I lived in Virginia. Our families in Michigan are not physically accessible, but they are only a phone call or video chat away.

     

    The Benedict family

     

    However, something I’ve struggled with since I first moved away from home was my longing to still be an active participant in the lives of my brothers. Being home-schooled first through eighth grade, I interacted closely with my four brothers. Whether we were chasing each other around with sticks, pulling each other into a fort with a rope to depict the Ascension in our “Easter Play,” or making a roller coaster by riding Mom’s baking pans down a ladder, there was always a level of appreciation and companionship.

    Being away from my brothers has had a major impact on me. I often wonder if there’s more I could be doing to encourage them in their spiritual and personal endeavors. It is an uncomfortable feeling, but one to which I’ve become accustomed. I’ve missed many concerts, musicals, and sports events. It’s left me wishing Leah and I could be beamed home to Michigan at any time.

    Lately, this feeling has been much stronger.

    The birth of Joe and Brittany’s son, Jonah, is something that has brought joy to my heart. I am so happy their family is safe and happy. I am very excited to meet my new nephew. While I’ve seen him through Skype, my heart aches to hold him and let his tiny fingers latch onto mine. Joe and I used to be roommates at home, and I have fond memories of our relationship. He and Brittany will be great parents. I’m excited to be Uncle David.

     

    Joe, Brittany, and Jonah

     

    I miss being at home for Sam’s high school years. I have followed his athletic stats online after every game. One of my favorite things to do when I’m at home is to watch Sam play baseball and basketball. His knowledge on and off the field and court amazes me. I miss joking around with Sam. He has a great sense of humor and a great personality.

     

    Sam playing baksetball

     

    I also miss my interactions with my youngest brother Benny. Although I am 14 years his senior, we have an interesting relationship that is constantly developing. With him, it’s the little things I miss – the “funny” jokes he comes up with, his crazy brain and its academic achievements, and running around the house during Nerf wars.

     

    David and Benny

     

    I have enjoyed Daniel’s time with us in Turkey. Ever since we were little, we have been great friends (whether we wanted to admit it or not). I am sad I will miss his graduation from Liberty. Other than last semester, we have never lived more than a 40 minute drive apart.

     

    David and Daniel on the 2nd floor of the Hagia Sophia

     

    It’s not just my brothers that I miss. I miss being able to talk face-to-face with my parents. I’m almost 25 years old, and I still think my Dad gives the best hugs. Those hugs have embraced me during some of my most difficult and exciting moments. He and mom have always been a solid support system. I miss my grandparents and Leah’s family. I wish I could see Mary run cross country for her college team, and I wish I could see Leah’s mom at her various award ceremonies. I miss my close friends and my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

     

    Hugging my dad

     

    Grandpa and Grandma Wilcox

     

    I think these feelings of guilt have spurred from a lack of trust in God’s plan. Lately, God has been teaching me something valuable. Who I am and the level of influence and support I give has nothing to do with my physical presence in the lives of those I love. God has placed us in different places of the world for a reason; my responsibilities lie where God has placed me. I pray that by following His will for my life, I will be an example of Christ. Rather than being bogged down by guilt, I can praise Him for the relationships we have. 

    I’ve wallowed in self-pity because there were events I could not attend. I have realized this kind of thinking prevents me from being effective in my current career. I am surrounded every day by kids who look to me for guidance. As a teacher, I have an opportunity to display forgiveness and other character traits to my students.

     

    My sixth grade class

     

    I often take for granted the relationship I have with my wife. Leah is my best friend. She does so much for our relationship and constantly devotes herself to loving me. I am so thankful God brought us together. I want to to focus on being a better husband and communicator.

     

    Izmir sunset on the water

     

    While I may never get completely accustomed to missing important events in the lives of my family, I can rest assured my hope and my contentment lies in my devotion to Christ. My underlying fear has been that I am not fulfilling my responsibility as an older brother. I choose to redirect my thinking so I am measuring my life’s value not by my physical presence in the lives of my family, but by my obedience to Christ.

     

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    Home Sweet Türkiye

    Welcome to our apartment tour! We live in an 11-story building in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ankara.

    The picture below is our entryway. We usually pile our backpacks and shoes on the rug.

     

    Entryway

     

    Also part of our entryway is this dolop. Dolop is a Turkish word for any kind of closet or wardrobe. It’s nice to have a place to set our keys, hang up our coats, and store extra shoes.

     

    Entry dolop

     

    Connected to the entryway is the kitchen. We love the marble countertop! (There is a lot of marble used in the buildings in Turkey, especially on the outside.) The strangest thing about the kitchen is the cupboards. Giants must have built the kitchen (or very tall Turkish men who don’t ever work in the kitchen). I can reach the front of the bottom shelf, otherwise, I have to use a step stool. That was one of the top things on my shopping list after we first moved into the apartment! We have a gas stove, fridge, and microwave. You can see a blue water jug on the left hand side of the picture. We order water jugs for drinking water. It would be OK to use tap water, but excessive use over time can cause kidney stones. Across from the sink, there is access to a porch.

     

    Turkish Kitchen

     

    Next to the kitchen is the dining/living room. It was nice not to have to shop for furniture here in Turkey. Transportation can be a little complicated. As of now, we are renting comfortable furniture from the school. We have a good sized table with 8 chairs. There is also a china cabinet type thing. We’ve filled the drawers with office supplies and electronic cords.

     

    Dining room table and chairs

     

    Beyond the dining room table is the living room. This set is very comfortable. We don’t really use the loveseat or armchairs much, but we love the full sized couch.

     

    Living room

     

    Can you see why? Most couches in Turkey have this awesome pop up footrest. Super comfy!

     

    Living room and comfortable couch

     

    We also have a nice entertainment center and bookcase set. We were just given a DVD player, so we hope we’ll get a cast off TV sometime eventually.

     

    Living Room Shelves

     

    After entering the apartment, directly to the left is the hallway to the bedrooms and bathrooms. We have two bathrooms, one of which we never use. It is the Turkish bathroom – the squatty potty. We have a cover for it and store cleaning supplies in this tiny room. The door always remains shut! Sometimes it can smell a little weird. The ventilation system for all the apartments is connected to this toiletroom.

     

    Turkish Bathroom

     

    And then there is the regular bathroom (which I know you’re dying to see…). We have our washing machine in the bathroom.

     

    Bathroom

     

    Here is our bedroom. When we were shopping, David didn’t understand why we needed a comforter. Afterwards, he agreed it looks nice. The mattress lifts up for more storage.

     

    Master bedroom

     

    This dolop is in the master bedroom. I so graciously allowed David to use it as his very own closet.

     

    Master bedroom closet

     

    Because the next room’s dolop is all mine! Just kidding – I share. He uses one section and we store linens, towels, and extra bathroom supplies in it, too. There’s a small balcony off of this room.

     

    Dolop room

     

    The third bedroom is our guest bedroom slash laundry room. And by laundry room, I mean we hang dry our clothes in here. Hence the drying rack and clothesline.

     

     

    God has blessed us with a roomy, comfortable place! We would love to paint some of the walls and get a couple rugs for the floors. However, right now we are okay living with just the essentials.

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    Week One and a Confession

    It’s been 8 days since we arrived in Turkey. We attended new teacher orientation this past week in the mornings. Our afternoons have been filled with settling into our apartments, preparing our classrooms for the school year, and shopping for supplies.

     

    David in front of the school

     

    Most days have been “çok iyi” (choke-eeyee) – very good. It’s been wonderful to learn more about the school and our host country at orientation. The returning teachers have been arriving back to the school and they are warm and welcoming. We’re learning more Turkish phrases to help us at the grocery store and restaurants. We met a friendly neighbor. The apartment is slowly coming together and becoming more of a home.

    There was also one day that was “çok iyi değil” (choke-eeyee-dee-eel) – not very good. This particular day’s emotions was an accumulation of several things. Though we didn’t suffer greatly from jet lag, I was fatigued, became more irritable, and was not kind to my husband. Things selfishly became all about me and my inabilities. I felt worried about and unequipped to do the job I was hired to do. We went to the grocery store and instead of grabbing the toilet paper we needed (at a great price!), I got an 8-pack of paper towels. I started a load of laundry – the typical, easy task of laundry – and I broke the door handle off of our washing machine. The day ended with me sobbing in David’s arms. I so undeservingly have a kind and forgiving husband. We both needed forgiveness that night, and vocalized that the frustrations we had with adjusting to our new surroundings should not be aimed at each other. We are on the same team.

     

    These two verses will be very important to me as I continue to adjust:

    • Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20–21 {emphasis added}
    • He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:30

     

    [box] PRAYER REQUESTS

    1. Safe travel for the rest of the teachers: Some of the teachers will be traveling this weekend from the states to Turkey.
    2. Prayers for our roles as teachers: We have a lot to prepare before the school year starts!
    3. Our adjustment period: There is still a lot to learn – public transportation routes, language, more about the school, paying bills,  etc. Please pray we will have patience and an open heart and mind.

    [/box]

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    Our First 30 Hours in Ankara

    After about 18 hours of travel, we arrived in Ankara yesterday at 3:30 pm (Turkey time). The three flights went very well; there were no long delays and all of our luggage made it to our destination. It was quite the experience for me as I had never before flown overseas. I think Leah got a kick out of me looking at our GPS location and how excited I was about flying over various places. This trip was our first time riding in a plane together!

     

    In-flight GPS

     

    Upon arrival, our director picked us up from the airport to take us to our new home. Immediately we noticed how the people of Ankara are packed in tight. The city is filled with high-rise buildings, and most people live in apartments. The “packed-in” feeling is also evident in their driving. There were several times when drivers filled the road five cars wide in a three lane area. Our director said the philosophy of driving in Turkey is “find a place that’s empty and fill it.” The Turks have a much smaller driving “bubble” than Americans, and it is not uncommon to be within centimeters of the car beside you.

     

    Ankara from the plane

     

    Our apartment is much bigger than we expected — even larger than the house we rented in Virginia. We have two balconies, a full kitchen, and were provided with plenty of modern furniture. Last night we sat out on the balcony and took in the noise of the city and the cool breeze. Some new sounds are the Islamic call to prayer and the packs of wild dogs that roam the forest next to our building.

     

    Ankara at night

     

    Last night, I thought I’d give Turkish grocery shopping a whirl. It turned out to be a bigger whirl than I had predicted. Leah stayed in the apartment because we were having issues with our keys and lock (which is now fixed). My first challenge was trying to order baklava; I realized I didn’t know how to say the quantity or number of pieces I wanted. I had two teenagers behind the counter laughing as we tried to overcome the language barrier. After getting about five times the baklava I wanted, I decided to try something where I could choose my own quantities. As I was selecting produce, I noticed a gentleman trying to tell me something. After many hand motions, I found that unlike Walmart or Meijer, this guy had to weigh the produce before I checked out. My last communication challenge came at the register. I didn’t realize it was bag your own food until my stuff started piling together with someone else’s. This bagging strategy makes sense — it’s my food, so if I want it in bags, why should someone else put it there? Eventually, I made it home and made our first meal in Turkey.

     

    Our first meal in Turkey

     

    Today, we went on a tour of our school and neighborhood and did some small scale shopping. On the tour, we ate at our first Turkish restaurant. Each meal comes with complimentary salad, a salsa type dip, pita bread, fried vegetables, and hot tea. For my entree, I chose Döner Kebap. This delicious dish consisted of fried strips of beef served over a pita with a spiced grain (similar to couscous).

     

    Eating out for the first time in Turkey

     

    We are enjoying our new home Ankara. The people are friendly, the food is good, and jet lag has not hit us much yet. We have a lot of language yet to learn in order to function well on our own. Until then, the few phrases we know in Turkish will be most important: “My Turkish is not very good” and “I don’t understand.”

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