This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat Series Is Written By Menorca.
In the autumn of 2011, as my ‘City of Joy’ Kolkata (India) geared up for Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the year, I packed my bags to fly to Germany.
Studying abroad had been a dream of mine since school, but I didn’t get any encouragement as such to do so for my Bachelor program. Like many others around me at that time, I too aspired to go study in the USA. After all, it probably had been one of the most popular educational hubs for a long time, or as they put it, it was the ‘land of opportunities’.
Besides, this was also one country where a lot of people, including me, had some family. So, I spent the last two years of my Bachelor studies preparing for the GRE, shortlisting universities, arranging for recommendation letters, spending hours on applications, etc. However, in my last semester, I also decided to apply to a few European universities, just in case.
As luck would have it, I got a scholarship to pursue my Masters degree in Germany.
Was I upset or thrilled? I was really on a rollercoaster of emotions, I think. Disheartened that all those hours researching into US universities didn’t pay off, but excited about Germany; a country about which I had no idea about. All I knew was that the quality of education and research was great – and the first thing that all my friends said was that ‘the beer was cheaper than water’!
Moving To Germany: An Expat Life Begins
As time passed by, my excitement increased. I started reaching out to students in Bonn, reading up about Germany and dreaming about how my life was going to be in a few months. And when I did reach the country, boy was I not stumped!
Sankt Augustin and Bonn just seemed to be taken out of a fairy tale book! I was thrilled beyond words and enthusiastically started meeting up with other incoming students. Of course, there were moments when I felt homesick and helpless; sometimes while thinking of the tears rolling down my mother’s eyes at the airport; or at other times while failing to unpack and organize my new flat properly or even while cleaning up the toilet.
I actually started appreciating all the people who do household and administrative work all the more; and had a deeper respect for all mothers who would juggle everything so brilliantly. I had never lived alone in an apartment before; so that was a period of a whole lot of firsts for me. I didn’t know how to cook and only had basic knowledge of the German language. I think the language barrier sometimes made me feel helpless to the nth degree.
I remember this time in my first semester when my friend had a leg injury and the hospital handed out a form to be filled in German. Some of it was really complicated for us to understand!
Finding The Benefits Of Living In Europe
We all started adjusting to the environment and culture much better eventually and in fact, started loving it. Granted, that it took me a while to realize that all those inexpensive McDonald’s burgers and delicious flavoured yogurts were not doing any good to my body! I started referring a lot more to the recipe book I had made at home and would also often call my Mom or friends to clarify recipes and ask about the spices! You also learn a lot about budget control and finances when you live alone and receive a fixed amount every month for your expenses. It was difficult sometimes, but I was surely learning a lot of life skills!
I think that it was only after a year of my stay that I actually decided to start travelling and exploring the countries around. The first ever foreign trip I made with my friends was a train ride to Amsterdam. How much fun that was! From then on, I started researching and planning out several travels to take. And only through the hard way, did I realize that if I waited for everyone to agree on a plan, I would never be able to explore at all! If I had to travel, I would have to do so on my own – or with anyone else who would readily jump onto my plans.
I loved how easy it was to get around and how many offers existed out there. If you are travelling with friends, there were group offers and reduced tickets. And even if you were alone, there were day passes and saver fares and carpooling and cheap buses too. It was like a whole new world for me!
After three semesters, I moved to Heidelberg, Germany for a coveted internship, and lost my heart to this beautiful city. Those six months were probably the best period for me, in terms of self realization, deep thinking, exploring my capabilities and thinking differently.
I battled some bottled up emotions, got inspired by some amazing and strong people, traveled a lot and also opened up my home to Couchsurfers, who were traveling through. I just had the most fruitful time there and was in no mind of leaving at all. In fact, I also started my travel blog with my first ever poem dedicated to the city.
Moving To Switzerland For Another Adventure
However, I had received a thesis opportunity in Basel, Switzerland, about 2.5 hours away and I was once again, on an emotional rollercoaster as I moved somewhere new.
So, there I was, getting off at the Basel station and trying to have the feeling sink in. This time too, I didn’t know what to expect and had no idea of how different or similar things might be to Germany. After a few visits to the supermarket (and a rapid decline in my bank account), I realized that their form of greeting people was different from what I was used to. I also noted several other things and after talking to some Swiss people, started realizing the differences between German and Swiss-German, which I have also written about.
Where I Am Now
I have been here in Basel for two years now and am so glad to have made some wonderful friends in both countries.
When you are so far away from home, friends often become family and your support system. And when you get to go home once a year, the excitement begins a few months in advance! I’m also glad that I can keep revisiting Heidelberg – solo as well as with the purpose of introducing the city to my friends.
Besides, I have been able to travel to a lot of places I have always wanted to; attended a travel conference and became regular with my travel blog in the past year; got stranded for an entire night in Salzburg; learnt some life lessons while carpooling; made friends with strangers in Paris, and even got chased by wild cows in the Swiss hills – rupturing my ligament while hurrying to escape!
I deeply cherish all the experiences I’ve had so far and never want to stop learning new things. Retrospectively, it was great that I had decided to apply for Europe .Everything turned out to be just right! I also make sure to tell people and publish articles about how there are so many opportunities in the world out there, and that one doesn’t need to restrict themselves to the old notions of higher education anymore.
I absolutely love getting to know people and their stories, which is why I also started a special series on my blog called ‘Travellers’ Tales’, so I can feature them.
To anybody else who might be anticipating moving abroad, I would like to say, NEVER stop dreaming and do make use of every opportunity you get. Success seldom comes easily and you will reach your goals probably only after going through a lot of rejections.
And speaking of goals, they can evolve over time for sure. It is never too late to rediscover yourself; to find out what you are passionate about and what you would enjoy doing the most in life. Of course, you are most welcome to drop me a message if you’d like to ask me anything or simply chat!
If you enjoyed this, make sure you read Alicia’s story about moving to Prague from the United States.