Hello there. Just wanted to say hi! I will be in Berlin for the next few days for a seminar. More photos and film to come. Hope this Friday is a great Friday.
When I was younger, I thought being a ‘migrant’, or a ‘foreigner’ or an ‘expat’ were things that made a person different– an outsider. I thought it was easy to separate people into two categories: native and other. My world was small and my thinking black and white. But on this ever globalizing planet, where the pace of change keeps accelerating exponentially, it is becoming harder and harder to maintain such clear categories. Everyone is beginning to feel a bit foreign, because all of us, whether we’ve never left our hometowns or traversed the globe, are migrants through time. Parents feel foreign to their children and vice versa, as the lives they lead look more and more dissimilar. The borders and languages of today are a far cry from those of even just 20 years ago. Minds are educated differently in the classroom with new techniques and types of information. A child of the seventies becomes a mother of the two thousands, and then a grandmother of what is sure to be a new reality all together.
And so this year spent living abroad in a little apartment in a little corner of a ‘foreign country’ has forced me to accept my differentness and to explore the empathy that arises from the shared experience of being different. I’ve learned more about the interconnectedness of our diverse world this year than ever before, and much of that learning has occurred without having to leave my building.
On the bottom floor of my building lives a Syrian family with three children. They came to this country as refugees two years ago and have since taken up the noble and heavy task of remaking their lives. The first night I moved in they were there to greet me and carry my belongings up the stairs. They brought me toilet paper and dinner and a warm cup of tea. We laughed immediately over our shared struggle with the German language and how much paperwork is required just to survive here. Over the months, they have fixed my bike, changed my light bulbs, reset my heater, driven me to the airport, invited me over for cake and so much more. Their daughters come upstairs for a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of an older girl, and I go downstairs for a taste of the stable life of a family. In our differentness, we are one.
The second floor is inhabited by a German couple in their seventies who have lived there for thirty years. Their names are old school German and their English is broken- the tail end of a generation that did not learn it in school and did not need it in their daily lives. They are grandparents and retired insurance brokers. My first interaction with them was one of remorse- I had broken one of their hallway plants moving in a sofa and knocked on their door to apologize in murderous german. They smiled and waved it off, “es macht nichts.” Through the next few months they brought me pots and pans when I mentioned my need, left their door open when I locked my keys inside my apartment, brought my chocolate for Christmas and giving me missing ingredients to finish my half-completed muffins.
Though sometimes awkward, sometimes challenging, my interactions with my neighbors have been a highlight of my year. They teach me about kindness, generosity and community. We are a group that has almost nothing in common, and yet we decided to look out for each other simply because we are neighbors. That’s all.
I wish this for anyone, anywhere, foreign or national, young or old, rich or poor. I have felt alone much of this year, but when I see my neighbors I immediately feel less so. They brighten my day and I know I could go to them if anything were to happen. With all the xenophobia and fear mongering in culture today, it’s easy to forget how simple it is. We all need a helping hand. We all need a smile in the hallway. We all need to realize that foreignness is a shared human experience, and it is beautiful.
When my parents came for a visit, I joked that our building is the United Nations, except with less arguing. They agreed and felt reassured that their daughter was going to be alright at the end of the day. And I am. And when I move out at the end of June, I will be happy to move on to the next phase, but sad to leave the UN.
Who knows where I’ll live next– LA? New York? Frankfurt? But I do know that wherever that may be, I will try to be the first person to greet my neighbors with a smile and say “I’m here if you need anything.” Always.
P.s. Photo from here
Here is a little video I made to capture ‘Tag der offenen Tür’ at my school. This is essentially a day when prospective students and parents come to check out our school! I did face painting and the classes put on booths, games, obstacle courses and much more. It was so much fun. Take a look 🙂
- I was crying on the train and the man sitting across from me handed me an entire packet of tissues to keep.
- A little Kurdish boy started at our school this week. He doesn’t speak a word of German, so he and I colored together all class long. He is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, with long eyelashes and dark hair that sticks up in the back.
- I taught a lesson about California, and at the end asked the kids to break up into groups to prepare a typical news broadcast. It was so fun to see them stand in front of everyone and talk about the weather, sports and breaking news in California. One boy even said, “Grab your snowboots everyone, it’s going to be minus fourty degrees in Los Angeles”(!)
- Today is the school festival, where prospective students and their parents come to check out the school. I will do facepaint. Fingerscrossed that I don’t make anyone look too weird.
- I visited a friend and her thirteen year old daughter the other night. We sang songs on the piano and ate sugar cookies. The daughter turned to me before I left and said, “I like you, Micah.” It was sweeter than the cookies.
- I found Cup o’ Noodles at the supermarket. I’m never going back to regular cooking again, nutrients be damned!
- I visited a student Christian group at the nearby university last night. Everyone was so welcoming, and when one girl discovered I’d been to Texas she freaked out, because she lived there for a year. I do what I can.
- In my English conversation club, we wrote Valentines day cards. One boy wrote, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I love Trump as much as I love you…I don’t.” Haha!
- My little brother makes me proud. I read his university essay recently and it is so good!
- I went to Mainz for Fasching (a German holiday like Halloween), and they throw candy from floats. Someone threw candy and it hit me in the nose SO hard that I burst into tears. It’s still bruised. At least I experienced the culture in all it’s glory, for better or worse, and have a story to tell!
P.s. Photo from here
Hello friends! How are you? What’s new? My mood is much improved lately because the sunshine has been visiting us here in Germany, which does wonders for a person. I can’t tell you how much I missed it. If you live in a consistently sunny place, don’t take it for granted haha! Below are a few random iPhone photos from life lately. Enjoy 🙂I went to Hildesheim last weekend to visit my friends from the summer I spent there. Above is a part of the University of Hildesheim campus. Isn’t it pretty?Drinks with my sweet friend Alena! She is such a doll. I miss her!Woke up to fresh snow on Sunday. Such magic.Chillin with my favorite little guy Lasse, the son of friends 🙂My other main squeeze. He was only a week old when I arrived that summer and lived with his family as an Au Pair!Snow AND sunshine at my school.Found this cutie behind my school and petted his nose!Breakfast with my girl Elena. I may have spoon eaten Nutella…Colorful houses in the village where I work.A trip to Ikea in which I bought more than I needed. That place is like a casino- no windows, no natural light so you loose track of time. You could spend a week and all your money in there if you’re not careful!A bought this striped rug and I do not regret it.
Have a good one friends!
1. Yoga is not necessarily relaxing, especially in another language.
2. You don’t have to justify your life or tell people your ‘plan for the future’ if you don’t want to. It’s not required or even necessary
3. Any amount of sunshine is some kind of magic in late January.
4. Patience and all is coming.
5. For the love of God, you need to take out the trash more than once a month!
Notice the men in their dark overcoats and thick scarves, huddled together on the train platform talking on the phone to their wives, mistresses, mothers. Notice the Persian youths who exist in clouds of perfume and hair gel and broken German. And of course you can’t help but notice the Americans– military perhaps, or other wise on long-awaited vacations basking in their romantic visions of Europe at Christmas time. Then there– the unmistakable screech of the street car as it lurches towards you: your life line, connecting everywhere to you and you to everywhere. Board the streetcar and sit between worlds– rich, poor, men, women, black, white, young, old. Public transportation is the great equalizer. Notice how it calms you, lulls you into a sort of fellowship with the other passengers. A fellowship of transience.
Ease in your headphones to drown out your mind. Pretend you’re in a music video. Notice a couple kissing on the doorstep of an apartment in a neighborhood you only ever see in passing through tainted windows. Observe the refugees– unmistakable by the weariness in their brows as they slink down the sidewalk with bags full of groceries with foreign names no German could ever pronounce.
Listen as the man being interviewed on the podcast tells how he became a famous comedy writer. “No,” he says, “I was not the class clown. I was the quiet kid in the back of the class who observed everything the class clown did, wrote it down, and became a famous comedy writer.” Nod. So it is with you. And so it should be with a great deal more people, perhaps. Less lions and more chameleons, noticing the world in all its broken beauty. Less centers of attention and more payers of it. To notice is to cut a thin slice of joy from the meat of life and savor it as long as you can.
So go on…notice. I dare you.
Here’s a little Vlog I made of my time with Annie. We covered a lot of ground! Take a quick look if you have a moment 🙂
It was a fun one ;p