Cultural Connections: From Turkey to Washington, DC

Thursday, February 23, 2017

BY JULIA GASPAR-BATES

Moving frequently within her home country of Turkey as a child prepared Hyattsville resident Julide Dengel for her eventual move to the U.S. Dengel spent her early years in Istanbul before relocating to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, at age 7. When Dengel was a teenager, her father’s job took the family to a different region of Turkey. She experienced culture shock, leaving behind a modern lifestyle and entering into a more traditional environment. “The atmosphere was very male-dominated. It was not easy being a young female with a vibrant social life,” Dengel said.

Dengel’s antidote to her situation was to take extra classes so she could finish high school early. She worked hard and graduated by her sophomore year. After graduation, Dengel returned to Istanbul to study textile design. “When I came back to Istanbul, I changed my look. I dyed my hair and started to dress more bohemian. It was a sense of freedom,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Julide Dengel

After Dengel finished her studies, her parents sent her to the U.S. to join her older brothers who had gone to college here. Initially she was resistant: “My view of the U.S. was McDonald’s, and I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to London to be with my cousins and not be monitored by my brothers.”  

Upon arriving in Charleston, S.C., though, Dengel quickly changed her mind because “it was so beautiful and people were so kind. It was magical, and I was very happy. … People were very welcoming and helpful.” She studied English and graphic design.

Within a short time, Dengel met her future husband, Todd, who was managing a restaurant and jazz club in Charleston. At first, they had to keep their relationship clandestine because her brothers would disapprove of her being with an American. When Dengel’s family suggested she return to Istanbul a few months later, Todd insisted on going with her. This was a big deal with her extended family, who were initially against the relationship. However, upon meeting Todd her family liked him and supported her decision, and the two became engaged during their trip.

“I am close to work in downtown D.C. and can always go right up the road to enjoy it. But when I head north to Hyattsville, I always get the sense that I am where I am truly home.”

After several years in Charleston, Dengel moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband and young son to be closer to her brother who had relocated here earlier. “The first year in D.C. was very difficult. We moved here during the recession. Todd got a job doing parking and transportation, and he worked all the time. After moving to D.C., I didn’t see my husband for almost a year.”

When she and Todd decided to buy a house, they discovered Hyattsville. After living in a townhouse in EYA for several years, they recently bought a charming Victorian home that they had fallen in love with.

Dengel said she enjoys living in Hyattsville because “there is a strong sense of civic engagement, people rally around new business and generally care what is happening. We’re on the same wavelength with a lot of people. I feel really lucky to live here. You feel good doing your shopping and supporting your neighbors. I am close to work in downtown D.C. and can always go right up the road to enjoy it. But when I head north to Hyattsville, I always get the sense that I am where I am truly home.”

Despite finding “home” in her host country, there are still aspects of Turkish life that Dengel misses. “I miss the food and the region, which is so beautiful. The blue Mediterranean water. I miss the unique daily outings to tea gardens and the liveliness. I miss taking the ferry to go to islands around Istanbul and the Bosporus. Most importantly, I miss my family. I wanted to go back and live there when we were younger, but not now. Maybe when I retire we’ll go there. Who knows?”

Julia Gaspar-Bates is a cross-cultural trainer and consultant. “Cultural Connections” is devoted to bringing forth the voices of immigrants and other foreigners who have settled in Hyattsville.