How Three Years in San Francisco Changed My Life

Moving half way around the world changed my perspective on belonging

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Life felt like it was going down hill, then I moved to San Francisco

I left my home city of Istanbul in 2016 and arrived in San Francisco with only a suitcase.

When I arrived in San Francisco, I found physical similarities between the two cities; the waterfront, fog, bridges, and hills surrounding the bay, the trams and trolleys – all felt vaguely familiar to me. The language and food were strikingly different.

“Separation isn’t time or distance, it’s the bridge between us, finer than silk thread sharper than swords.” 

Nazim Hikmet, Turkish Poet

My arrival in San Francisco gifted me with experiences (good and bad) that I didn’t have words for. I recognized laughter as the universal expression of joy and happiness. I had a lifetime of phrases inside me, some that simply don’t quite translate to English. Learning a second language has given me an unusual perspective on the world. I was startled by the clash of multiple cultures in crowded areas of the city. With English as my second language, I learned to place more value on people’s tone of voice. I noticed tones of kindness and friendly smiles more frequently than I might have at home.   

Being a newcomer to a foreign city presents a constellation of concerns, among them, learning the norms of attitudes and patterns of behavior. Our culture has a dramatic influence over the way we think, feel, and act in public and private settings. Some things can be understood and interpreted without words. It comes as no surprise that people in San Francisco act differently in public than people in Istanbul. It’s both entertaining and sometimes alarming, sad, and other times, inspiring.

My love of two cities is equal parts emotion and imagination. It was my imagination that drew me to San Francisco. My aspirations conspired to create a vision of a shining utopia. All I knew of The City By The Bay was based on what I read, saw on TV, and heard through friends. It also brought a lot mixed emotions about leaving my family and former life behind for an unknown period of time.

San Francsico has given me a sense of place. It became increasingly meaningful to me as my relationships with its residents grew along with my familiarity of the city. As my relationships deepened, so did my sense of belonging. Istanbul is the place my family has lived for generations. It was my home city for 27 years. It will always provide me with a sense of rootedness. Like love, people ascribe different meanings to their home cities. With time, we develop a tenderness, affection and friendship with the places we call home just as we do with the people we love.

“The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction the weight, the weight we carry is love.”  

Allen Ginsberg, American Poet
Foggy San Francisco Bay
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