meet simay karakaş: a turkısh psychologıst ın thessalonıkı

Simay Karakaş is a 28 years-old clinical psychologist originally from Istanbul, who has been living in Thessaloniki (Greece) for around two and a half year. She is currently working with asylum seekers and refugees at an NGO as well as providing face-to-face and online psychological counseling. Today, as Baklava Mag, we directed a bunch of questions to Simay regarding the social differences between two lands through the eye of a psychologist, the ongoing global refugee crisis with a particular focus on Greece and Turkey and the reflections of pandemic.

Read on to get your daily dose of inspiration.

Simay in Thessaloniki

Simay is used to be a frequent visitor of Greece since she was 10 years-old. “I always liked the idea of being here and one day, I took a step to see how it looks like living in a country that makes me feel like home.”, she says. “Since it is a small and peaceful city that is surrounded by sea, I chose settling down in Thessaloniki. It provides everything you need with its own pace, which is called halara.”


She describes her interest in psychology as a life-long curiosity towards human mind, body and the reasons behind of our differences.

“In the last grade of high school, I decided to move on in psychology. Afterwards, throughout my university years, I was impressed by the wide range of clinical applications. This was my main motivation to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology. During the time of my studies I started working in Istanbul but following my my graduation, I have ended up in Greece. Here, I am working at an NGO that is titled “IFRC”, in which we provide services including including primary health care, food distribution, first aid, psychosocial support, restoring family links and cash assistance. Where I have been working for is known as the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Apart from that, I have been offering psychotherapy for Turkish and English speakers, but mostly for immigrants and expats from all around the world.”


Simay considers Greece as a second hometown and feels like a part of her belongs there.

“I feel peaceful and happy in where I have settled in. One thing is for sure that the similarities of my two lands, Istanbul and Thessaloniki, are quiet a lot but that helps me as well in hard times that I have. In Istanbul, people are in rush due to too many reasons so that they constantly ignore the purpose of life. Particularly, the importance of being alive. The rhythm of life in big city life effects the psychological states of both individuals and societies and that can be observed through the speech given by politicians and the street interviews. Here in Greece, I feel more free and less stressful since neither Greece nor Greeks expect a lot from me or the others. 

“Greek way of living, specifically in Thessaloniki, is all about enjoying each moment.”, she states. “They are pleasant and calmer in comparison with people in Turkey. For instance, after a work-day, you can reach home easily to spend time with your loved ones without dealing with crowd or traffic or you can go out for a drink since you still have time and energy to fulfill your individual needs. Just as Greeks care about personal life outside of work, they have a collective way of living. Their family members gather so far as possible -especially in the period of special occasions such as the Easter and Christmas. No need to mention that religion plays a significant part in Greek culture. As a person who grew up in the multicultural atmosphere in Tatavla (Istanbul), I am already aware of the spot of similarities and differences within social dynamics. For that reason, I was not in the need of adapting myself to the new conditions since there was non for me.”

Simay in Istanbul

“Both countries have been dealing with economical crisis and its affects are visible on their societies. Mostly, young generations are anxious about their future although their families try supporting them both financially and psychologically. In addition to that, both countries are hosting a great amount of asylum seekers and this creates tension between two contiguous countries on the ground of politics. As a result of all of those, individuals are getting more aggressive and discriminative.”


When Simay moved to Greece, she did not know Modern Greek at all. To learn the language properly, the first thing she did was to enroll in Greek Language school for 6 months.

“Thankfully, Greeks have a good level of English due to being a major tourist destination in Europe.Thus, in shopping or socializing hours, I got the chance of speaking in English. However, it was still a self-restriction and a major challenge for me until I reached to the adequate level of speaking. Plus, learning bureaucratic and health system of Greece was a bit challenging even today, as well as learning a new language.


“Greece in comparison with Turkey, is a small-sized country but it has a European Union membership. As expected, there are some positive and negative outcomes as result of that membership situation. According to my observation, Greece needs more understanding and support from the European Union but at the same time, it might be better to accept and find solutions towards the current situations.”


“1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. This is not an easy situation to cope with especially when you find yourself in a foreign country, where you do not have any idea about what happens around you and your faith is on the hands of some important people. Before pandemic, refugees were already facing with enough difficulties on mainland and islands. There is not enough capacities in the sites or other accommodation facilities to host asylum seekers. They absolutely need better conditions to stay healthy and more assistance in terms of medical and psychological support. There are so many associations like NGOs and movements running by locals which are trying to help as much as they can do. On the other hand, there is also an opponent side, which thinks that Greece is not in charge of this issue and they cannot do something for that anymore.”

“Thanks to the rising COVID-19 pandemic, the whole situation got worse and locals are afraid of getting infected since some migrant facilities were being put under lockdown after the test positives. The glance towards towards those people might be less friendly and more hesitated until we get over this period.”


“All individuals have been facing with pandemic with their own ways. On social media, there are so many suggestion lists and articles to push people for taking those times as a chance to improve their skills. According to me, the recommendation must be something like: “Don’t listen them. You know what is the best for you. Do not feel bad, if you can not spend your time effectively because there is something outside that we don’t have a control over it.” “

“The future is uncertain for all of us and we feel under threat. This is something real and not being able to manage your fear is a natural outcome of it. However, if you feel like it effects your daily activities and you feel in the need of extra, don’t hesitate to go for it.”


“For near future, my aim is to get proficiency in Modern Greek to continue my profession here in Greece as a member of some occupational Greek Associations. I am not planning to move back to Turkey yet.”


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