• coping with a GLOBAL PANDEMIC

    abroad

    ... seeing the good in everything

    Credit: Christoph Kläser and afro-diasporan

    April 2020

    The outbreak and sporadic spread of COVID-19 has had most of us shell-shocked to this day. Or, perhaps let's just say that human arrogance in the era of the Anthropocene finally caught up with us. Let me break it down for you.

     

    Never in my 30+ years had I ever imagined our humanist world, in an age of medical sophistication, coming close to a stand still. My parochial mind always thought that the Nobel Prize winners of science that are scattered allover Western Europe would come up with quick-fix solutions for a such pandemic such as this, especially one that is claiming lives in Europe! That even the West had no band-aid solution, other than imposing the now famous lockdowns, got most of us in a situation of Angst. The stock-piling and long queues at the supermarket reminded me of the stories that my parents told about the era of civil war(s) in Uganda.

     

    While Angst and uncertainty are still prevalent not just in Europe but all over the world, I want to join in on the chorus of those routing for seeing the good and positive in every situation. In what will now go down in history as a deadly global pandemic that has claimed many lives, is it possible to see anything positive about these dire times? This is a rhetorical question.

     

    Entschleunigung ... slowing down

    I must confess that for me the world was moving at a fast pace, pre-Corona, especially if you are working as a full-time PhD student/lecturer/student mentor/choir-leader/ ... etc. Depending on your type of job and side-hustle, working from home can be a blessing in disguise. A win-win for me is being able to be in one place being able to attend meetings, talks, and conferences without the pressure of catching the next bus or cab to the next meeting. I conjure up the 'post-Corona' world as devoid of unnecessary face-to-face meetings

     

    'Checking in' on loved ones more often

    If there is anything that COVID-19 is making apparent, it is the need to return to one of the cores of humanity ... the need to nurture fulfilling relationships. This seems somewhat paradoxical given the social distancing regulations. But I guess these rigid regulations have only made us realise how relational we are. We cannot do without each other. We need each other - I am only referring to non-toxic relationships. I have never kept so regularly in touch with long-lost friends and family members as I have been doing since the semi-lockdown was announced in parts of Germany

     

    Making the most of time

    Those privileged enough to be working in jobs where home office is an option and being laid off is not a lingering fear have certainly realised what a luxury it can be to design your own work schedule. A dear friend of mine who is a high school teacher was ecstatic at not having to perpetually wake up at 6:00 a.m in order to be stand in front of a class of teenagers at 8:00 a.m every morning. For us working three jobs or more, it is certainly a plus to finally make time for those side-hustles such as blogging and vlogging ... (especially on the weekend) since you won't be missing out on rendezvous with friends anyway

     

    Self-improvement

    With less time spent hanging out, it is possible to not only find time for hobbies, but to also tap in on self-advancement. Join (free) online MasterClasses in photography, cooking, budgeting, name it. Google, YouTube and Spotify are certainly your friends.

    Plus, take time to breathe. Make time for prayer and meditation ... quiet time to reflect on open-ended philosophical questions like; "Why am I here and what is my purpose in life?" "What makes me happy?"

     

    Mariam (Germany)

  • on creating a social circle abroad

    Moving abroad for beginners

    Credit: Christoph Kläser

    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.

     

    Mariam (Germany)

    Credit: P. Bozkurt
  • My definition of diaspora

    Living between cultures in Deutschland

    Credit: Christoph Kläser

    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.

     

    Mariam (Germany)

  • Press

    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.

    Erst Au Pair, jetzt Promotion (First Au Pair, now a PhD candidate)

    July 2018: My move to Germany and the story behind it was featured in Wuppertal's leading newspaper (WZ)

    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).

    April 2018: I chatted with one journalist at my university's online newspaper about what made me move to Germany.

    (Die deutsche Version des Artikels befindet sich hier).

  • ABOUT

    Hey!

    Thank you for stopping by. My name is Mariam and I have been living in Germany since 2006. I am a PhD fellow working on African diaspora literatures in Europe. I created The Afro-diasporan as a platform for sharing my experiences along with stories of other 'diasporans' about the perks and quirks of living abroad as an academic. I am also interested in intercultural topics especially cultural shock. My Instagram showcases these leanings. For blog updates, please fill in the contact form below.

    I'm glad you can join me on this journey. You can also connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hey!

    Danke fürs Vorbeischauen! Mein Name ist Mariam und lebe seit 2006 in Deutschland. Ich schreibe meine Doktorarbeit im Bereich der Anglistik, genauer gesagt geht es in der Arbeit um die Inszenierung von Afro-diasporischen Identitäten in fiktiven Erzählungen aus Großbritannien. Die Idee hinter The Afro-diasporan ist es über alltägliche Erfahrungen (positive sowie negative) rundum das Leben Menschen schwarzer Herkunft in Europa (in der Diaspora) zu berichten. Ich interessiere mich außerdem für interkulturellen Themen besonders Kulturschock. Ich freue mich, dass Du dabei bist! Für Neuigkeiten auf meinem Blog kannst du mir gerne auf Facebook, Instagram, Twitter und Pinterest folgen!

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