Why I Call My Apartment Building the United Nations

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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

Best Friends Forever?

IMG_3335.JPGHey friends, how are you? I went to the pier this weekend with a sweet friend, and it got me thinking about the topic of friendship. Below are a few words on the subject if you’d like to read:

For the majority of my life, I wholeheartedly believed in the phrase “Best Friends Forever.” I thought once you became friends with someone, it was a bond strong enough to last forever. I always prided myself on being a loyal friend who stuck by people through thick and thin, but over the past few years I’ve come to realize that while that sounds lovely, its just not realistic.

People play different roles in our lives during different seasons. Loyalty is not the most important part of a friendship. Love is. There have been people in my life whom I love dearly and will continue to love, but from afar. Our close, intimate relationship simply wasn’t sustainable for the long haul, or might have held us back from pursuing other opportunities. No one can be your everything all the time. Maybe you were best friends with someone in high school, but that closeness didn’t translate to college. Or perhaps you just started dating someone, and your friend can’t relate and doesn’t want to hear about it anymore. During this seasons, perhaps it’s time to find someone else who shares your current life stage.

Sometimes you just have to flat out say goodbye to a friend forever, for whatever reason. I have had to do this in the past, and it was extremely difficult even though I knew it was the right decision. And it is something I need to get used to, because I will grow apart from countless people throughout my life. The only thing that keeps me from despairing at the thought, is that it means making room for new, vibrant friendships.

I have a handful of friends from childhood with whom I’m still close. They are extra special people who have seen me grow into the woman I am today. I will cherish them always. But not everyone can be this way, like I used to think. Many friendships are time limited, and that’s perfectly okay. Don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up for parting ways with a former companion. Longevity is not the main goal, but rather love. So don’t try to be best friends forever, be the best friend you can be right now in this moment.IMG_3281IMG_3287IMG_3302IMG_3308IMG_3314IMG_3317IMG_3321IMG_3326IMG_3329IMG_3332IMG_3333IMG_3336IMG_3337IMG_3339IMG_3340IMG_3341IMG_3342IMG_3346

Question of the Day
Have you ever drifted apart from a close friend? What was the experience like?