That thing on everyone’s mind when they move to a new country. It’s even more important when you move to Europe, with its deep cultural roots and the language barrier. You either decide to integrate, or you take your world with you, wherever you go. And if you decide for the former, well, its definitely not a one-step process, or a wall you have to climb, after which its over. And lo and behold! You fit in. No, its more like walking across a minefield, where every step is measured and every averted disaster fills you with relief. You are regularly pleasantly surprised, sometimes you are grateful, sometimes frustrated and very often you doubt yourself. Every now and then it makes you want to give up. Give up and go home to where everything is familiar, where everyone can say your name and understand you. Where every time you meet an asshole, you don’t have to wonder if they are just an asshole, or whether its because You. Are. Different.
Sometimes home comes to you. My family visited and lived with me for a while. All of us, together in one place, after a year. When I shared my joy with people, I found myself answering “No, its not too cramped in my apartment. No, I don’t mind that I don’t have space”. This concept of space, its so different for Europeans and us. With a billion people to share every resource with, I really don’t find it challenging sharing a 2-bedroom flat with my family. Yes, we are used to much more space, but it really doesn’t matter if we can be together. Somehow, saying this out loud is seen as accusing others as not being close enough to their family. No, that’s not what I mean. But just maybe, its different, and you see that when someone who lives on a different continent has someone to come home to, for 1 month in a year. They don’t have the opportunity to visit home for a grilling session with their family every month or so.
Funnily, my family seemed to make themselves at home here in Cologne faster than I did. They found their way around without knowing more than 3 words of German, they determinedly located things in the supermarket that I insisted wouldn’t be available, and they threw themselves whole heartedly into shopping for unnecessary things from Ikea. We took a trip to Poland together, and what an amazing 5 days those were. Filled with adventures and misadventures, I realised how lucky I was to get the chance to travel with my parents. They are curious and energetic to discover the world, in a way that I can only hope to be when I am their age. They even trudged all over Italy by themselves for nearly 2 weeks, something that I’m quite sure I’d be too lazy or exhausted to keep up for that long. They push me out of my comfort zone (or rut) and that’s how during their stay I discovered more of this wonderful culture and city. Their experiments with food and drink have broadened my horizons. I never realised how “conservative” I can be with food – I hardly pick up something from the supermarket and say to myself “let’s just try it”. But they did, and more often than not, we enjoyed something new and delicious.
But once they are gone, starts the challenge. As I pull out my key to let myself into my empty apartment, I wonder if its time to call it quits and leave. Does it really make sense to aim for something that high? Will it be worth the risk to wait for this elusive ‘happiness’ while everyone around is comfortable in their choices? It makes me feel like the outsider, that Indian girl looking for something in Germany, the single girl while everyone has found someone. The girl still worried about making rent while her friends buy houses. The girl that’s aiming too high perhaps. Of course people ask because they care. They try to understand what I have "planned", because they want to help. But how do I start to explain that I don't have a plan, only a vague idea of what I want. That the road I'm choosing is lonely and risky. And that unfortunately, or not, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.
Will it pay off in the end? Will the sacrifices be worth the results?
We’ll just have to wait and see.