Photo Credit: Joanna Jewell
The Black Expat: 'I Love Seeing Other Black People On A Daily Basis In Antalya, Turkey'
Joanna Jewell is a 33-year-old English teacher, content creator, and coach originally from Durban, South Africa now based in Antalya, Turkey. A conversation with her father years ago is what fueled her desire to travel and explore the globe.
“One day I asked my dad, a former English teacher, what the meaning of the word ‘citizen’ was,” said Joanna. “He explained to me that a citizen is someone who belongs to a country, and then he went on to say something that changed my life forever. He said, ‘Joanna, you’re a citizen of South Africa, but remember that you’re also a citizen of the world.'”
As a child who had never even been outside her home province, those words blew Joanna’s mind wide open, and she became obsessed with the idea of one day becoming an avid traveler. After the sudden loss of her father in April 2014, she decided to go full steam ahead with her dreams of seeing the world and pursuing a life abroad.
As a single woman in South Africa, Joanna was finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet and put herself through university. Although she was independent and had what many would deem a good job, she felt that she was working like crazy just to survive, and barely had enough time for school. She decided to relocate to Dubai, UAE. However, after securing a new job and making the move, Joanna once again found herself disappointed by her work situation.
“It was not what I expected and again, I hardly had any time left over for my studies. The company had broken my contractual agreement of working nine hours a day, and I was working up to 14-hour days. A former colleague of mine from South Africa was in Vietnam, and he couldn’t stop singing the country’s praises. I was immediately sold on the idea of moving to Vietnam after he told me about the excellent cost of living and unbelievable work-life balance.”
Joanna soon relocated to Danang, Vietnam, where she stayed for two and a half years, the longest she’s ever lived in a foreign country. During her time in Vietnam, she experienced what it meant to truly thrive in life. She was working a job she enjoyed and found value in. She was proficiently and diligently working towards her degree. And she had enough free time to be able to explore various countries in Southeast Asia.
After two years in Vietnam, Joanna managed to graduate debt-free, with savings and a passport full of stamps. She summarizes her time there as a time of peace, ease of life, freedom, safety, goal crushing, culture, excitement, smiles, dreaminess, great food, and healthy living. It truly changed her life.
“It’s because of what I was able to achieve in Vietnam that I’m so passionate about helping other women become location independent so that they can live and travel the world on their terms.”
Joanna went on to spend time living in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. In May 2021, Joanna moved to Antalya, Turkey. Her decision to relocate to Turkey was inspired by three things: a need to be geographically closer to home, a desire to go somewhere she could stay for a long time, and a forced migration out of Malaysia in the midst of the pandemic.
“When I last returned to Malaysia, my original plan had been to only spend about two weeks in my favorite place on earth, Langkawi Island, before returning to my home away from home, Vietnam. However, almost immediately after landing in Malaysia, Vietnam closed itself off to the world, my flights got canceled, and with each passing day more countries in Asia were doing the same. Five days after I’d landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia followed suit. The airport closed and the country went into its most stringent lockdown, which lasted over three months.”
Joanna ended up being stuck in Malaysia on a tourist visa, forced to think of a plan that would be feasible during the pandemic. She began researching her best options as a South African, and that’s when Turkey, which offers foreigners a residency permit of up to two years, began to make sense.
After a very sudden announcement by the Malaysian government on April 16 stating that foreigners stuck in Malaysia on a tourist visa had to leave by April 21 or face punishment, Joanna had to scramble to find a way out of the country.
“Of course, I only found out about the announcement via a DM from a friend on the evening of Saturday, April 17, after all the official buildings dealing with immigration dilemmas had closed for the weekend. Needless to say, it was impossible for me to secure all the documents and cut through all the red tape in time to make my swift exit, and I was not allowed to board my flight on April 21. I was prevented from leaving, which resulted in an overstay, and I was fined and sent on my way after ten days of dealing with immigration. It was very hectic! When I landed in Istanbul, I felt free again, in every sense of the word.”
Joanna settled in Antalya, an enchanting city on the southwest coast of Turkey that is popular among Turks, tourists, and expats alike. Outlined by the Mediterranean Sea, residents enjoy relatively warm weather throughout the year, in comparison to the rest of Turkey.
“I was very fortunate to arrive in Antalya in the spring, when the scent of jasmine flowers fills the air, and the magnificent gardens in the Old Town are in full bloom. It’s a really beautiful place to be during the springtime, a steamy hot place during the summer, and a comfortable place to spend the winter. Overall, it’s my kind of place weather-wise.”
In Antalya, Joanna is able to live affordably in a peaceful and safe neighborhood. The infrastructure in Turkey includes an efficient public transportation system and modern amenities. So far, the biggest adjustments for her have been the slow upload speeds of the Wi-Fi and having to spread her shopping out between several stores as opposed to being able to get everything from a supermarket.
Because the food is so fresh in Turkey, Joanna finds it easy to eat clean and live a healthy lifestyle there. She is always surprised how much bang she gets for her buck and how little she spends on things like groceries and well-made, quality clothing.
“The clothes are mind-blowingly cheap and stylish! People are stylish and well-groomed in general here, and I love to see it. I also love how happy the people get when you try to speak Turkish, and how much people love animals here. Dogs and cats get treated like kings and queens. It’s a really cute aspect of Turkey.”
As far as the treatment she’s received from locals, Joanna says she is treated well, and feels quite comfortable and safe living in Antalya as a Black woman. She describes her personal experience as great for various reasons.
“First of all, nobody bats an eyelid at me. This is extremely different from my time spent in Asia, where people would take their sweet time staring at me. Nobody follows me around in the stores or anything weird like that. Nobody treats me any differently in terms of racially profiling me (something that happens to me all the time in South Africa).”
“Because I’m from a very diverse country, I love the diversity of Antalya and I feel like I fit in more than I stand out. On any given day, I spot about three luscious Afros bouncing around in the crowd. That’s something that I really appreciate. I also love seeing other Black people on a daily basis, just living life, exploring, walking about, and enjoying their day.”
As far as the future is concerned, Joanna has no plans to relocate anytime soon and is content right where she is for the time being. She plans to continue enjoying this period of rest and restoration in Antalya, and looks forward to exploring more of the country and what it has to offer.
“In my mind, if I move again, I’m either getting whisked away into the sunset by a handsome gent to live happily ever after, or I’m going straight back to my mother’s house, lol. All jokes aside, my moves will be determined by cultivating a life that is more full and I have no idea where to next.”
You can follow Joanna on Instagram at @joannajewell_.
Related: The Black Traveler’s Guide To Navigating Istanbul, Turkey