on creating a social circle abroad
Moving abroad for beginners
So you're a twen, and have moved/ are planning to move abroad by yourself? Well honey, you are in for a long swim in the deep waters ... on many levels. Creating a circle of friends is one of those deep water things I initially took for granted. (Un)like poles attract automatically, right? In retrospect I have discovered a lot of truth in the saying "Choose your friends wisely." Moving to a new place (country, city, town) on your own can be a daunting experience at first but it also harbours many undiscovered opportunities. 11 years of living in an industrial town close to Düsseldorf have taught me a few things about creating a social circle in Germany:
It's normal to have the urge look for your 'kind' when in a new environment. After all, birds of a feather flock together. The most important thing seems to be finding people that you feel are best suited to give you a sense of orientation, a shoulder to lean on and can understand 'where you are coming from.' Belonging to the minority in my city, I thought that only African/Black people could possibly 'get' what it must be like for someone like me to live abroad. But over the years, I have come to learn that ethnicity, race, gender and all those (other visible) categories don't necessarily determine who has had similar experiences and who can fathom your diasporic experiences. Keeping an open mind is key to discovering other like-minded people and getting different perspectives of living abroad.
Be prepared to invest time and energy in creating a circle of friends. There are many unwritten rules of socialising in different cultures and you pick up many of these as you go along. What I have found to be true in Germany is that on average you will almost always be expected to take the initiative. Whether this is at your new job (say as an expat), in the lecture hall (as a student), at a house party etc. The unwritten law is; the go-getter certainly gets the unfair advantage.
Another unwritten law that ties in with the merits of being an extrovert is; getting into an inner circle as a newbie often takes a little longer in Germany than in many other places. Personal experience has taught me that takes a bit longer here for people to warm up to newbies in general, irrespective of creed. During my first couple of semesters as an international student, I remember sitting alone a few times in the university's mensa, with no one coming to spontaneously ask if they could sit next to me and chat me up, as we were accustomed to doing in high school or at Makerere. It is moments like these that made me realise I wasn't in Uganda anymore. It sometimes helps to wear new cultural lenses, those that help you see and understand your new surroundings a little better. In retrospect, I have learned that people around here don't want to seem imposing. So they will give you privatsphäre, leave you to enjoy your meal by yourself in a public place - it's courtesy. They will most likely join you after a semester or two of visiting the same courses/lectures - months after warming up to you.
Finally, and we know that Madea is always right (wink) ... Some people come into your life for a lifetime and others for a season. This unwritten law of friendships/relationships is very much applicable to life abroad. You ought to differentiate between co-dependent versus true, fulfilling friendships/relationships. Adapting to your new surroundings is a process in which you evolve as an individual. Your needs, wants, future plans etc. change from time to time and become clearer as you go along. You want to surround yourself with people that have your best and long-term interests at heart ... sometimes it takes time to hand-pick such people. Also remember that you might have to ditch some of your long-term 'loyal' friends if their myopia is hindering you from becoming the best version of yourself.
My definition of diaspora
Living between cultures in Deutschland
21. July 2016
Everyone that has taken that bold leap to the other side - living abroad - probably initially underestimates the process of coming to terms with a new culture.
At 22, I was certain I wanted to leave my comfort zone in exchange for the cool breezes overseas ... open end. "If not now, then when?" My initial plan sounded something like this - polish my rusted German for about a year, and then hope to have an urge to do a Masters' immediately after that or, better, find a well-paying job in good old Deutschland. I didn't know what to do with myself after three grueling years of earning an Education degree at Makerere and working at an NGO that was in its final year of existence. Neither career paths seemed my cup of tea, anyway. And how I hated confessing that to anyone I knew because where I am from, you had to know where you were going in life by the age of 22!
That was 10 years ago. Fast forward to today and I can compare my diasporic experience in Germany to a roller coaster ride with many highs and lows. The bends and turns are unpredictable, which can be quite scary, but at the end of the day it has been a ride worth taking.
One of the strangest things for me, though, has been how you suddenly start getting more aware and self-reflective about your culture when living abroad. The things you used to take for granted exaggeratedly become apparent, especially if they are out of place in your new home away from home; like saying a casual hello to your neighbour(s) on the bus, engaging in meaningless small talk while waiting in the queue, singing a favourite tune to yourself whilst walking down the street, the dominance of male chauvinism in your value system, avoiding eye contact with your conversation partner, not speaking a language native to your own, ... etcetera.
A barter trade of cultural values is usually the inevitable result of such an awareness. You find yourself consciously or unconsciously taking on values (from both cultures) that make sense to you and discarding those that don't ... living abroad and living in-between cultures - living in the diaspora.
Hot off the press
October 2018: A short portrait about my life in Germany was featured on the local prime news channel - WDR. In a 3 minute-clip talk about society's misconceptions about black people in Germany since the refugee crisis, non-verbal communication in Germany and art.
Auf dem Weg zum Doktortitel (On the Road to a PhD)
June 2018: This is a short interview (in German) about my on-going PhD project (Page 6).
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