During my undergrad and postgrad years I always yearned to meet like-minded individuals. You know ... the ones that have treaded a similar path. First-generation (mostly working class) students that had taken the leap across the big pond to study and build a life for themselves abroad. No one in my family had studied abroad before me and being the optimist I am, I didn't think student life and career life in Europe would be worlds apart from what I was used to in Kampala. And boy was I naive!
Navigating the German education system and career landscape turned out to be some sort of rocket science that even home-bred students took years to grapple with. The Leistungsgesellschaft, meritocracy, quickly teaches you to be a homo economicus; a special species of (wo)man that is consistently rational, self-interested and, at best, optimally pursues their goals. The system has often required that one decide much earlier on what they want to be in life, ideally, prior to taking up a program of study at a university. Otherwise, you will likely miss out on coveted careers with top job security, especially those where chances of becoming verbeamtet, part of the civil service, are high.
Four years after completing my postgrad I came across the ADAN network. A community of and for professionals and students interested in African and Afro-German cultures, history and society. Last week at one of the monthly meets in Essen, a bustling city in the Ruhr-Region, I met young curious and enigmatic faces, some of which reminded me of my 23 year-old self several years ago. Some under-grad degree-holders, who came to Germany as au pairs, figuring out where the next road would lead. Some others were already grounded in their careers with impressive trajectories that sounded similar to an American dream (or rather "German dream"?) from-rugs-to-riches storyline (but this is a story for the next blog entry). A few were born and raised here, majority moved from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa; Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Uganda, Nigeria.
Most of what we chatted about, the heart-to-heart conversations and positive vibes that filled the room, I wish I had experienced and known years ago. But I was now among those holding someone else's hand letting them know that too they could walk in my footsteps and even supersede me.
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