I have been preoccupied with the concepts of home, culture and identity for as long as I can remember.
My grandparents raised me until the age of five. While both my parents worked, they would drop me at my grandparents’ apartment for the day and sometimes the night – a fairly standard affair for my generation in Turkey. I started to live full-time with my parents when I started primary school and learned quickly that rules of conduct in my parents’ liberal environment were significantly different from my grandparents’ conservative one. Learning to renegotiate and relearn appropriate behavior at that early age prepared me for a more significant move later.
In 2001, I left Turkey to work on a large-scale software development project in the UK. The two years that followed brought lots of experiences that enriched my understanding of the world: I set up my first home in England, moved in with someone raised in a different culture, and together we went backpacking around Scandinavia and Russia and made goat cheese on a farm in the South of France.
Those cross-cultural adventures challenged everything I had taken for granted about my identity.
In my past my culture was firmly connected to places, and it was clear that if I’d been raised somewhere else, that other culture would have produced a completely different version of me. I discovered that when you moved between cultures, your identity could not be so firmly attached to places.
Traveling kept the senses alive and was a bit like being in love, according to the essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, yet he adds, “movement is only as good as the sense of stillness that you could bring to it to put it into perspective”.
By early 2008, I had moved eleven times for work, across three continents and was considering one more move – to Australia. At that point, instead of enriching my experiences, changing countries, friends and jobs every few months started to deplete me.
I was burnt out.
In early 2009, following my divorce, I found myself in a small town in the UK, completely disoriented. I had left all my cherished connections in other parts of the world and had little energy and enthusiasm left in me to build new ones. I worked, ran and wrote. And I realised, I had been so distracted by the stimuli from my external environment that I had neglected my inner world. During that long and particularly harsh English winter with short days and bleak colors, I was forced to look inward. Running and writing became my tools for meditation: everything waiting for expression poured out. The anger, sadness and loneliness. I let it all out.
Then I did a lot of pruning.
Slowly, I started to notice green shoots. Late in 2009 as I was living my personal spring, I moved to London to start a new job at ThoughtWorks, a global software consultancy. The values this company stood for resonated deeply, work was constantly challenging and teamwork took on a new meaning as we worked as squads of consultants using our crafts and relying on each other’s expertise to build software. And it was more than software. Through our selection of clients and pro bono work we did, we demonstrated our stance and a conscious decision about how we would contribute to the world.
People constantly evolve; we keep learning and reinventing ourselves. When we change, we inspire others to do the same. We feed off of each others’ energy when we are surrounded by a community of like minded individuals.
When Gezi Protests erupted and spread around Turkey, I was in my hometown Istanbul. I’d taken a year’s sabbatical leave from work to study. On May 31st, protesting with friends on the streets of Taksim, I breathed tear gas for the first time in my life. In the following days, I thought about why that scary experience gave me such a huge sense of belonging.
It was about community.
Oppression and authoritarianism brought people together around a common cause.
Until we all went out on the streets, we didn’t know there were so many of us yearning for a more tolerant and accepting society. Tired of arguing about differences on worldview, ethnicity or religion, we saw that it was possible to embrace our diversity.
This new debate on national identity is refreshing. I’m back where I’ve started, but it’s a different place. I’m a different person. I’m sure I will find myself on the road again some time, but until then, I can’t think of a better home.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot