Having left Germany about twelve years ago to live abroad, I struggle to figure what who I am. My passport says German but after having lived in Ireland for the better part of eight years, I find "European" a more fitting label, which I lately, after nearly four years of living in China, have also begun to question.
When in China, I mostly follow local customs, but then there are those times when things get so utterly intense that I find myself rejecting all that is usually norm for me, an inner rebellion if you will. I compare everything to familiar places such as Germany and Ireland, and unable to cope with the oppressing avalanche of a completely different world, I find myself deciding that a European lifestyle suits my needs, is easier to stomach and most of all comprehensible.
Then, ultimately the moment passes and I find myself embracing the different culture I chose to adopt. I master it better than some expats around me, stubbornly find ways to deal with all the nonsense and then -all of a sudden- find myself so at home that those very things that drove me nuts just a few days before, become perfectly normal.
Until... Yes, for there's also a but! Until I find myself suddenly ripped out of the familiarity of a life full of unfamiliarity. I find myself on a plane, bound for Germany, a long overdue trip home to see family and friends. Once off the plane I'm oddly confused. I mumble to myself in Chinese, my eyes drink in the familiar bilingual airport signs... Those peculiar German words fail to make sense and my tired eyes drift to the English signage, ah yes now that's easier. In a dazed state I follow the crowds, grab my suitcase and find my sister. For the next few days I proceed to speak an oddly familiar language where I have to translate half the words from English because I simply can't remember them. A few days later I find myself in a Vorlesung (lecture) at the University of Applied Sciences in my hometown, dragged there by my best friend, and while I understand every word, on the whole it makes little sense. Maybe it's because I lack the expert knowledge, though I presume it's because my brain is utterly confused about which language to use...
The words mix together, forming a sticky, unusable mess. As the days advance, things slowly get easier but unless directly spoken to my mind thinks in English, my fingers type Chinese. Someone asks me count to 30 while watching me closely as I administer CPR to a plastic doll and my brain goes into overdrive because I don't know in which language to count, it's maddening. German? No too difficult... Chinese? No I might forget a number, get confused and mess up my compressions. English then! Well, yes, surely that's the safest bet, isn't it? I'm so torn up about which language to chose that I decide to leave it up to the adrenaline and once I start those compressions I naturally, without much thinking, count in English in my head.
Then there is that familiar sense of belonging brought on by being surrounded with known things. Yet, it doesn't feel quite right. Something's off. It's all a false sense of security. It's all unfamiliar. I find myself sure-footedly walking the streets I grew up on yet at the same time asking for directions to places that should be familiar, that I should know, that I couldn't possible have forgotten, yet I have. A night out? No clue were to go. Park the car? No idea either. Busses to surrounding smaller cities? Friends will surely know the answer. Doctors, pharmacies, shops, supermarkets? I ask a million questions, a habit I adopted in China, instead of just doing my own investigation.
A few days later it then all comes back, like an avalanche, dragging my feet from under me, throwing me off key, and I'm left more confused than ever!
Where do I belong? Where is home? I've no answer...yet.