Trading the safe and familiar for an adventure
Emigrating on your own does get lonely sometimes, but I am lucky to live in an age where I can communicate with my friends scattered all over the world, writes Kate Katharina Ferguson.
Emigrating on your own does get lonely sometimes, but I am lucky to live in an age where I can communicate with friends and family scattered all over the world, writes Kate Katharina Ferguson.
On my way from Berlin airport to my new flat last month, I stopped at a kebab shop. I hauled my enormous suitcase to a metal table and ordered a falafel sandwich. Two men with grey beards were sitting nearby. They were staring at me.
Eventually one of them leaned over and said “Where did you go on your holidays?” He had a Turkish accent.
I explained that I hadn’t been on holiday but was moving here.
“To work?” he asked.
He scrunched up his nose and shook his head. “There are no jobs here.”
I told him that there were even fewer where I’d come from and that I’d been promised some freelance work translating for a TV station.
He asked me what I’d have to drink. I said I was fine, thanks. He pretended not to hear and ordered something called “Ayran.” When it came he told me it was a Turkish speciality. It tasted like very salty yoghurt.
He told me that he’d come here thirty years ago. His companion, who was Greek, had been here almost as long. Lately work had become scarce. “If you want to work here, you’d better register with the police and fill out all the forms,” the Greek man said. “Otherwise things can get very messy.”
This was the first conversation I had in my new neighbourhood. It reminded me that people have been emigrating forever, and that no matter what we all think about the state of the German economy, things aren’t rosy for everybody here either.
This is the second time this year that I’ve arrived in Berlin. When I last wrote for Generation Emigration, I was finishing up a three-month internship at a news website and was unsure about what to do next. I ended up finding another placement with a TV company and was offered some freelance work there starting in October. I returned to Dublin for a few weeks in August. I think I caught the sunniest weeks of summer. I spent hours upstairs in Bewleys, drinking coffee and catching up with friends. In the evenings I went to the pub and was appalled to find the Guinness had become too bitter for me. I’d become a Wiessbier girl after only four months. I felt fickle.
Emigrating for the second time is not quite as exciting. I’ve moved from a gritty area in east Berlin, full of punk bars and anarchic types, to a leafy superb in the west full of older people walking their dogs. I’ve had a lot of time to myself while I wait to start my job. I enrolled in a yoga course, thinking I might make friends there. When I arrived to the first class, the room was already full of middle-aged ladies sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed, breathing deeply. The teacher, a round-faced man with a benevolent countenance, was humming. He was wearing a yellow t-shirt, featuring pictures of monkeys gradually became more upright and finally evolving into a cross-legged man doing yoga. The class was full of people who already knew each other. The teacher scolded them gently for enrolling in the beginners’ class again.
I figured that I might have more chance of cultivating a supple mind than a flexible body so I decided to teach myself Arabic. My friend linked me to a wonderful online course and I’ve been practising making guttural sounds anytime my flatmates are out of earshot. I’ve also enrolled in a free online mathematics course, one of many offered on www.coursera.org. I wrap myself in a blanket, make myself a cup of the Lyons tea I imported and settle down to watch Mr Devlin of Stanford University tell me all about the ancient Greeks and about how numbers are 10,000 years old.
It does get lonely sometimes and my personal university, for all its advantages, suffers from a social deficit. But I couldn’t be more lucky to emigrate in an era in which I can benefit from online educational tools, from instant communication with my family in Dublin, my friends in London, my sister in Philadelphia, my boyfriend in Edinburgh, and the many other friends I have scattered around the world. Moving somewhere alone is always a bit of a risk. You trade the safe and familiar for an adventure that could go either way. But when you’re young and excited by the world around you, it seems like a fair deal. Whatever becomes of me here, Dublin, hopefully, will welcome me back some day.
Kate blogs at katekatharina.com and tweets as @Katekatharina. Her article A city that has thrived against the odds was published in The Irish Times as part of the Generation Emigration series in May, and The difference between the Germans and the Irish was featured on the blog in June. She is open to commissions.