Thursday, August 3, 2017

Not my president - but still my country.

If you have ever wondered why anyone would choose to live in a country with Trump as president, you have likely never experienced the reality of homesickness. And I'm not just talking about missing mom's cookies - I mean the all-consuming, debilitating yearning for a place where you feel safe, comfortable, and happy. Let me tell you what it feels like for me.

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. 


  1. I hope the next decision you make feels like the right one.

    1. Thanks <3 I don't regret this decision, but I do look forward to making the next one.