Saturday, 30 August 2014

Goodbye to England

Autumn - my favourite season - has come early here in East Anglia. It's become considerably cooler (over the past few nights I may as well have been sleeping under the stars) and I'm getting that back-to-school, fresh feeling, which is good motivation for the big changes coming up in my life.

Preparing to move abroad is a headache. I knew this already, of course, but it had gradually lost its impact during the past five months I have spent at home. Orchestrating this move has been hard, sometimes disheartening. I have not been sleeping well this August. The pollen count has been high and there were whole weeks where I would lie awake until 4am hoping my coughing would subside. The news has been so troubling this month that I've been finding it much harder than usual to relax and forget before I go to bed; certain events have literally haunted me.

I'm happy to say, though, that I am now in a very confident and positive position.
For one thing, I've sorted out where I'm going to be living for the next month. Being proactive goes a long way! I was extremely stressed and fed up of negotiating hostels and Couchsurfing for when I arrived. I finally thought, it's a week away, I might as well start putting myself out there (I had been holding off from doing so because I assumed that people already on the ground in Berlin would have the advantage). On WG-Gesucht, the standard site in Germany for finding room(mates), I messaged someone who was subletting a room for a month, and half an hour later she replied asking if we could Skype. After getting to know each other a bit, she decided I would be a good fit, and now I have a room until October!

I must admit that I have had a couple of moments where I've asked myself what the hell I am doing. But then I think, what else would I be doing? What else can I be doing? And nothing really springs to mind.

To say that I'm feeling "nervous" about going would sound a little tired, as well as dismissive of the fact that I'm no longer the timorous girl who went to study in Belgium this time in 2011. I'd call myself a seasoned traveller now, and my concerns are far different. In these last few days at home, I haven't been anxious as such, but it's more like this intense wave of realisation washes over me every so often, the realisation that I'm right on the edge of living in my favourite place in the world, and it makes me want to dance, work off my spare energy.

So it probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that I'm more than ready to leave. Five months ago, when I came back from Canada unexpectedly, I really had to take pains not to retreat back into myself. Sinking back into a cosy, familiar environment, I feared that everything I had learnt and been through over there would just be washed away. I very much knew that staying wasn't an option, not least because I'd long since resolved to move to Berlin one day. There's also the fact that I didn't seem to have any career prospects in this country.
I was lucky enough to get my care job and have a stint volunteering in a local charity shop, so that I was still engaging with the outside world, but there was still always this end goal in sight. I think that's what kept me going during the times when I was mourning my social life. And, you know, I did get out sometimes. I made a couple of trips up to Leicester to see friends, as well as being in Oxford for my birthday with my sister, spending some time in my nearest city, Cambridge, and visiting my grandparents on the Suffolk coast.
This week I've been reading Small Hours by Lachlan MacKinnon. Although he is a Scottish poet, his work reflects on Oxford and Suffolk - so pretty relevant for me lately. It's delicate and personal work; the second part of the book, 'Emma', is about a person he vaguely knew at university who had an early death. This part is not poetry, it's about a paragraph of prose on each page. To be honest, I read most poetry with great difficulty. I get frustrated that you can't read it in a linear way, that if you get to the end of the poem and don't feel or understand anything, you have to go over it again. It aggravates me that you have to read it out loud in your head; I think, who do you think you are, Homer? If you want me to read a poetry anthology, you really have to sell it to me, whereas with novels, it will probably take two seconds of reading the blurb for me to be interested in it. Plus, you can really get lost in a novel. This is different, though, probably because of my personal connections with the subjects.

Good coffee isn't exclusive to Germany, evidently, but I look forward to getting back into the continental coffeehouse culture; sitting outside with your coffee for hours, reading, without the employees breathing down your neck. I can't wait to live in a place where recycling is actually taken seriously. I'm also excited to use urban transit again - yes, I know it can be shit, especially in a city that's as rough around the edges as Berlin. But nothing makes me feel like I'm part of a city's fabric like waiting for an underground train, my hair blowing back as it pulls in, stopping at all the stations and hearing the muffled announcement, reflecting on the millions of people who've also passed through it, before climbing concrete stairs, ready to join superterranean life.

Also, I am really aching to speak German daily again.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Berlin: a new chapter

This blog has been a little bereft of photos lately and I fear wall-to-wall text could scare potential readers off. So, here's me and the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford a couple of months ago.

So, er, in four weeks I'm getting on a one-way flight to Berlin?

You might be surprised to find that I'm 10 times more stressed right now than I was this time last year, when I was preparing to get on a one-way flight halfway across the world. I don't have anything or anyone waiting for me in Berlin, which is a big part of it. But mostly, I think that the deeper something lies under your skin, the more you feel there is to lose.

Let's flash back to 2010, when I attended a German summer school in Berlin. That was the second time I had been in the city. For context, this was just after my first year of uni, and I'd been pretty unhappy. I had made some good friends on my course but there wasn't much else about the whole experience that I liked. There had come a point where I was seriously considering dropping out and just getting a regular job in Berlin, spurred on by the fact it was cheap and arty; I even spoke to a tutor about it, who of course advised me against it.
Anyway, I was staying with a host family for three weeks, commuting to this language school each morning on the S-Bahn, so I was having an experience outside the touristic norm. A couple of my university friends were also there, but I often hung out with these two American guys in my language class. One of them had grown up in Turkey, but moved to the US to study, which had been his dream.
One afternoon we were walking around Kreuzberg after class, chatting and having ice cream. I was complaining about how unhappy I was in my then-situation and how I was dreading going back in September. The guy from Turkey listened diligently, casting no judgement, and responded with his immigration story: how it took him so long to save up and to immigrate to California and everything. He said that I needn't worry: since I was an EU citizen, I'd have relatively little trouble moving to Berlin. I already knew this, of course, but it was the first time anybody had validated it and had made it feel like more than just a silly romantic idea.

On the last day of school, when we were all saying goodbye, he said, 'I hope you get to where you want to be', and I knew exactly what he was referring to. That stuck with me for many years.

It may turn out that my intuition is way off, and everything goes horribly wrong. I'm totally aware of that. But I have to remind myself that these feelings and indeed these circumstances are perfectly normal: how many people moving to a new city abroad have got every single thing sorted out in advance? When I lived abroad before, it was through programmes, so a lot of the practical stuff was taken care of for me. That's something I can only appreciate now that I'm doing something completely independent...

Here's to Berlin, the next chapter of Rose ailleurs.