In two weeks, I will be completing six months of living in Germany. There is so much that has happened in these few months. As I look back, the initial few weeks seems like a distant memory, life from a different era. This month also marks the first anniversary when my ex-adviser in the US told me that my contract will not be renewed. One thing led to another after that, and seven months later, I eventually ended up in a small port city on the northern fringes of Germany.
My earliest memories of the first few days in Germany go back to sitting in my room and staring blankly at the water in front of me. I did that a lot, introspecting and looking back as the huge ships crawled by in front of my window. It was raining the day I landed, bags and suitcases and all, and in a way, it felt like I had never left Seattle. By the time I was done with my ten and a half hour long flight and another tight connection of an hour long flight, I had lost my sense of time. My immigration took no more than two minutes. Coming from the US, the concept of a hassle-free immigration was so new to me. There is something written in my visa in German that I do not understand. It made the officers at the airport say, “Oh, you are a scientist?” I realized that it was in my best interests to say yes, rather than argue that I am not a scientist the way you would imagine a formidable looking person in white lab coats and glasses mixing colored chemicals in the lab. So I lifted my head, flexed my shoulders, and said, “Yes, I am a scientist”. And that was it. An immigration process that took all of two minutes, and I heard the golden words: “Welcome to Germany.”
This was the beginning of a brand new chapter in my life, at age 33, after living in the US for 8 years and never imagining that I would leave that home.
A colleague from the department was waiting at the airport to welcome me, with his shy smile and shiny new rental Mercedez Benz. As we drove through the Autobahn (a freeway without speed limits), he confessed that his English is not so good. After a good 70 minute drive during which I spotted a spectacular sunset, a rainbow, and two IKEAs, he dropped me to my guest house. He had picked up the keys already, and as I entered my room, I wondered where the rest of my apartment is. All I saw was one room, smaller than my bedroom in Nebraska. I tried opening the two doors, hoping that there will be more rooms. One led to a tiny but very clean bathroom, without a bathtub. And the other one led outside, to where my colleague’s car was parked. He asked me if I had cash, and when I said no, he gave me a 50 euro bill and disappeared, not before telling me that the department secretary would pick me up at 11 the next morning.
After he left, I collapsed on my bed, more out of the initial shock of feeling like an American leaving America for the first time, and discovering how tiny the rest of the world is. This room reminded me of my first dorm in Seattle, exactly the same size, furnished, with a common kitchen and a view of Mount Rainier during a few lucky days. I noticed that I was sitting on a twin bed, something I haven’t slept in since I left that dorm in 2007. Every year, my apartments got bigger, and so did my bed. Something in me felt so defeated, I opened my suitcase and changed into my Google tee shirt and track pants.
Slowly, I started noticing things around me. I guess when you ask for single housing, the Europeans take you literally. There was a tiny dining table at one corner that had exactly one chair. My laptop has a wider screen compared to the television set. A set of drawers, one book shelf, one table, one chair, and a couple of lamps. Very functional. I stepped out of my room to the common kitchen. Everything was very neatly organized and labeled. I saw my room number on the fridge, freezer, and spice racks. I was to share a fridge with four other people. There were plates, cups, bowls, and glasses, all in twos. My stomach was screaming, and I had no energy to step out in the dark in an unknown city with a 50 euro bill and hunt for food. Thankfully, G had packed me an apple and a packet of biscuits, and there was a piece of cheese I had not eaten earlier from my flight, which was my dinner for the first night. I somehow managed to set up the internet, only to realize that there was no wi-fi in the building. I had high hopes of using my iPhone to stay in touch with friends using Whatsapp and Viber. Little did I know that my shiny red iPhone, which cost me quite some money because I had to break the contract when I left the US, would be reduced to an alarm clock. Later when I lay in bed, I remembered asking everyone and their mother (including my mother) to visit me in Germany. I wondered how that will happen, given the size of my room. I browsed through some photos of friends and their kids on my phone and involuntarily, a few drops of tears fell on the pillow. The last thing I remembered was asking myself not to cry, because if crying made me hungry, there is no way I could find more food. Those were my initial few hours in Germany.