There is no shame, treachery or convenience in living abroad

Photo by Joan, Flickr

Photo by Joan, Flickr

A few days ago, a full year has passed since I started living in Berlin. The first time, a couple of years ago, I was here for a few hours as a tourist. The second time I came it was for some days as part of a research project. The third time, being an Erasmus+ student, I stayed for a year. My fourth stay at the German capital, which started in the end of August 2016, a year after my last visit in the city, won’t be coming to an end anytime soon.

Even before my Bachelors graduation in Greece I was searching for institutions in Berlin, in which as an Erasmus intern I could carry out an internship. In general that was however more or less an excuse in order to be able to leave Greece maybe permanently, because having the chance as a kid to travel a little bit, I wasn’t feeling like I really belonged there. Knowing that something out there was waiting for me, having found an institution for my internship, I couldn’t just cancel everything. Apart from that, having committed to something like this can be very helpful in terms of one’s mental state of mind if you are coming to a foreign country planning to move in permanently. If from the moment of your arrival you know that in a few days you will have to go to work, you have a mental safety net in comparison to just packing your things and leaving and then being in state of insecurity, where you have to fill your days and hours with time consuming and compulsory procedures and necessities such as like the search for an apartment, the registration at the local authorities, the job applications and so on.

At the same time my escape abroad was a result of my wish for postgraduate studies outside of the Greek frames or reference. From the beginning of my studies I was convinced that my Masters programme should be abroad. Being a student and afterwards a graduate of sociology I always regarded the experience that one can get living abroad as of great importance, even if the final destination is Greece. The number of things that you can learn from a year’s stay abroad amount to more than ten years in any country you’ve been born in. And all these things follow you afterwards in your life and they change you for the better as a person (or at least that should be expected). Having lived abroad you experience, see, hear, and get to know things that are not part of your country’s reality: how the country, the cities, and the public transport are structured, how people interact with one another, what kind of habits they have, how they entertain themselves, how they think and other innumerable small information and details, which whether you want it or not force you in comparing them with what you’ve taken for granted so far. This is by no means a bad comparison, as it makes you reflect and think outside of what you’ve learnt your whole life.

For me, my immigration abroad was always a matter of belonging. In Greece since I was young, even more after I started studying, I had a constant feeling of intolerance and ‘must’ surrounding me. A feeling that all of us (should) belong in certain boxes and frames. You must act like a man, because this is what you are, you must not cry, you must have a girlfriend, you must love your grandparents even though you don’t share a word with them, you have to be social, you must be Christian, you must, must, must. And if you don’t fit into the box they moulded for you and you can’t adjust to it, then there is no room for tolerance. In Berlin, maybe because this is a huge impersonal city, maybe because people here are socialised differently, all this doesn’t apply in such a strict way and you can more or less be as you are.

Later as the crisis intensified and became more visible and was felt more than ever, my immigration took on a more financial aspect. As a graduate even if I had a Master’s and a PhD degree I knew that in Greece the chances of finding work in the field I am interested in are minimal, while at the same time in order to finance my studies beyond the undergraduate level while living alone, I would have had to work infinite hours and overtime for 500 euros maximum, or stay with my family sharing a room with another person, with no personal space and time. In Berlin I can have my own room and at the same time the state can on the one hand partially support me during my studies financially and on the other hand it prohibits me as a student to work beyond a set amount of hours per week, something that in Greece is not the case, nor could it be under the current circumstances.

Obviously immigrating is not something easy and in no case is it a treachery or a convenience against those who stayed (since we left for a richer country) as some believe and report in the public sphere. To leave the place where you were born and grew up in for something unknown and uncertain isn’t that simple and for sure it needs much more strength and decisiveness than staying in your country, even if this country is crisis-stricken Greece. You might not be able to find a job, you might hardly make ends meet or you might not be able to do otherwise but to stay with your parents, but you are never ever a stranger. The language that you speak is your language, you own and possess it and it expresses you. You can explain everything and saying ‘do you know what I mean?’ is to be heard only sometimes, when you really lack the words for that. You say it when you want to describe your admiration for your favourite female author or for the theory you just read or for the person(s) you love, but for which the meaning of the words is simply not enough. ‘Do you know what I mean?’ is not your daily life however, as when you are struggling with a language that is not yours, a language that is not a second nature. A language that in order for you to comprehend you have to constantly be alert and in order for you to learn it, you’ve spent money and time, since you didn’t learn it like your mother tongue, as a child, naturally and self-evidently.

Immigration at the very end is not just a matter of finances. It much more means education, awakening, reflecting, self-improvement, love. Because all these that you will experience abroad, you haven’t experienced in your whole life. Whether they are positive or negative. In no other way do your horizons expand, as with leaving your country.

Living abroad is not a shame, nor an act of treachery or a convenience. Nor is it full of misery or is it a compromise contributing to another (preferably western) country’s wealth. Shame and treachery is to blame someone for something that neither of you is to be blamed for (directly). And to blame them because they decided to act. Living abroad means becoming a better, open-minded person. At the bottom line, living abroad means to blossom.

Konstantinos K, Berlin, Germany

 

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