Thursday, August 3, 2017
It has been 3 years, 11 months and 20 days since I moved to Germany. I speak German rather well, would consider myself fairly assimilated, and have the privilege of not being visibly foreign. So why does this country not feel like home?
What is home? If home is where my hat is, home could be the Frankfurt airport where I left my favorite hat over five years ago. If home is where my heart is, home could be my favorite bed on my favorite ship on the Baltic Sea. If home is where my friends are, home could be in Iceland, where a meeting of European AFS volunteers is about to take place. If home is where my family is, home could be in Thailand, where my sister lives. But I believe in something more abstract: "Home" is a feeling, not a place. (See more musings on this topic: Home, Sweet Home.) And right now, my home feels like Alaska.
There were times where Germany was my home. My family in Hoyerswerda, my favorite flatmate in Leipzig, the exchange students in Saxony... They (and others) made me feel at home. But, over the years, there as been a little rock in my shoe, reminding me that I am different. A feeling that I do not belong. And, as long as I feel like a foreigner, I will not want to stay.*
Being a foreigner. One can always argue that being different is choice - something you can choose to not identify with. But how can I move past being "different" when I have to explain the story of why I moved to Germany on a weekly basis?** How can I move past being "different" when my desk at work has a pile of dictionaries and grammar books, without which I could not write a professional email? How can I move past being "different" when every time I see salmon on the menu, I wonder what species it is? The ability to move past these differences and accept who you are, can, in my opinion, only be done when you feel accepted. As long as you are judged for your differences, (even if it isn't meant negatively!) you cannot begin to ignore them.
So here's the real kicker. When my life in Germany was just starting, people remarked at my 'bravery' and 'strength' for being so far away from home for so long. They expected me to move home. Yet, as I have begun to tell people that I plan to move home, I find myself stuttering to find a response to the big question: Why would you move back to that country, where Trump is the reigning president?? (Let me add that I have yet to meet a European Trump supporter here. So you can safely assume that the people posing this question are somewhere on the scale between annoyed indifference and making jokes about plotting an assasination.) Feel free to insert a bewildered face and distant jokes about the administration here - all while the speaker never considers what it means to not have a European passport.
Is my sense of home affected by who my president is? Is yours? How about who your local representative is? Or the principal of your school? Or your neighbor's dog? Sure, these people can have an impact on your life (and yes, Trump's policies are impacting my life for the worse) but isn't home the place you would fight to protect and only abandon if there were no other options?
The anniversary of my move is coming up and, like every year, it is bringing a wave of homesickness with it. Why did I move? Was it the right decision? Where would I rather live? Life is full of existential questions - most of which bring me more stress than inspiration. My yearning to return to the country where my passport is identification enough comes from a place of frustration, love and, most importantly, an understanding of my personal development over the last few years. I just feel like it is time to take the next step - and to start that next step from my home base.
Please, dear friends, remember that biased, generalizied views of a country can be far from the feelings of one's heart. I may not support the president of the country I call home. But that country will remain my home - at least for a little while longer. Despite the risks and the rights I am losing within this administration, I am priviliged enough to have a safe home to go back to.
Only time will tell when and where to I will move, but I can feel it coming. Germany has hosted me for so long now, and I will never regret that decision. But there is still so much of the world to see. And there will always be politicians that remind us of why we fight.
* There are, of course, people who thrive on being different, on being a foreigner. I am not one of them. I prefer to assimilate, to understand the culture, and to integrate myself into it.
** Seriously. Weekly. There are weeks (like weeks spent on the boat or attending AFS events) where I answer hundreds of questions about my origins, language skills, country choice..... And I swear, I am not exaggerating.
P.S. I'll be in Germany a little while longer, but the next step is somewhere else.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
A thought just fluttered through my mind. It was profound. At least to me.
There are a few areas of life that I have always drawn back from: the artistic ones. Things like music, painting, creating, even cooking. I spent time playing cello, making jewelry and doing a few doodles, but to be honest, creativity scared me. Now that I am an adult (or something) I can confidently say that I was scared of being judged on the results of my creativity. Art class never seemed like a place to explore and be free. It was a competition. At least, that was the message I somehow received. And so, as the years went on, I stopped being creative. I stopped doodling on my notebooks and I stopped trying to join the choir and I stopped playing cello in groups. Why? Because I was scared. Of not being good enough.
Now the basic fear of judgement is one that every person experiences and learns to handle eventually. I, too, have worked to decrease its impact on my life. And I'm pretty happy with my progress. But maybe there is a way to make this easier for the young people in our lives.
My, how talented you are! Wow, you have such a gift. You are so lucky to be so good at this.
This is what we tell people. This is what we tell people who are creative. Our words, although meant as compliments, portray a kind of uncontrollable power that has given this person: their ability to be creative. We are pushing the idea that you are born being able to sing, paint, or play. You either are good at being creative or... you didn't receive that gift at birth.
What this means to me and my mind is that the hard work that creative people put into their creations is seen as meaningless. Or rather, it is forgotten. We assume that painting is a skill you either have or do not, not one that you train for. We don't congratulate people on the hard work and the endless hours that they have given. We congratulate people on having been lucky enough to receive a gift from fate. And how disrespectful is that? I know, it's not on purpose. We don't always mean what we say. But an opera singer should be praised for the work that they do to get to where they are just as much as an doctor.
I admit, I believe that some skills come easier to some people. That's just the way things are. But need that shape our perception of their hard work? No creator has gotten to where they are without hard work, for which every person deserves praise.
Friday, September 30, 2016
7. Solitude. Anchorage is a city, but Alaska is a vast wilderness. There is something fascinating about traveling for miles and not seeing another soul. I love planning where you will get gas because eventually you will be two far from a gas station to think twice. I love walking over tundra in the foothills of Denali and seeing no man-made trails around. I love the internal quiet that comes over you when you realize the sheer expanse of nature around you.
8. Coffee. When I watch someone make a shot of espresso I try to gauge how many pounds of pressure they are using to press down the grounds. I watch the shot glass filling and try to see the three layers of important stuff. I love how Alaska is home to so many little drive-through coffee shacks that I can make pro/con lists and collect punch cards from my favorites. And although I really like my plain-old coffee or simple latte, I love seeing the seasonal creations and crazy names. Besides, coffee is yummy. AND there's something about coffee in Germany that is... just different. And don't you dare say something about how 'well that's because coffee much stronger in Germany' or whatever. Cuz no. Coffee is more complicated than that. And deserves more respect than that.
9. Fashion. Well, Alaskan fashion. Alaskans are not know for good fashion sense. Rather... the opposite. However, we have a few things down: colorful skirt/tights/clogs combinations; winter skirts (yeeeah!); hand-made, local jewelry; winter sandals (as long as there's no fresh snow, why not?); mukluks, kuspuks, Alaska Grown, State-Fair-products and everything Alaskan.
10. Winter. Yeah, this one makes sense, right? sheesh. Alaskans. Did you know that when the first snow comes I tend to run outside and dance around? I have run out of class, AFS events and peaceful evenings in my apartment to do this. Snow makes me feel cozy inside. The crisp winter air is a fresh reminder of how beauty hides everywhere we look. Have you ever looked outside your window in the dark of winter and seen the brightness that snow shares with the world despite the darkness around it. Have you ever seen the vast white wilderness around you sparkle before your eyes? Ugh. I love squeaky snow under my boots, I love frost on my eyelashes, I love the sight of undisturbed fresh show on the street. And I really miss putting on my skis, V2ing across the stadium and feeling like I am flying...