Whilst coming towards the end of my Master degree in England in the Winter of 2010 and talking to a few friends about having applied for PhD positions all over Europe, everyone seemed to be positively surprised for me. However, at a barbecue party with some friends, I was excited to tell a German friend that I was invited for an interview in Jena in Germany, he surprisingly questioned, ”Where is Jena?”, to which I replied by pointing it on Google Maps. He, then, with a frown on his face said ”Oh, Jena!”, whilst correcting my pronunciation. FYI: In German ‘J’ has the sound of a ‘Y’ in English — my ignorance, I thought! He continued, ”That’s in East Germany. Why would you go there? I’m sure there are many more places to study in other parts of Germany”. I stood there baffled, not being able to decide whether it was the fact that he, being German, did not know of a city in his country simply because it was from the East, or whether he simply never bothered to find out what was on the other end of his country. P.S. I later found out that he was from Nordrhein-Westphalen.
Counting back in time, it has been more than four years since I moved to Germany. That Sunday morning in May, I landed in Frankfurt with my entire life’s belongings stuffed into two humongous suitcases, taking a 3-hour train journey to Jena. After having changed trains thrice, all whilst carrying around my luggage up and down the staircases of the ‘Bahnhof’, I soon realized that a) not all the train stations were equipped with elevators directly leading to the platforms, and b) that not too many people stopped to help. Nevertheless, being tired from the entire travel and not having much energy left to complain, I arrived in Jena, where someone from my new job was to meet me to show me where I was going to stay for the next few months. Little did I know that nothing was opened on Sundays in Germany to buy
some any food.
The next ten months were spent on finding a better place to live in — a ‘Wohngemeinschaft’ (Flat share) closer to the city centre, opening bank accounts, registering myself with the authorities, taking driving classes, re-discovering my zest for learning languages, getting a feeling for scientific research and trying to make friends (more like ‘kumpel’). I was progressing rather quickly in grasping the complex, yet well-structured language. However, it took me quite awhile until I was confident enough to try out my broken German with friends, mostly just nodding and smiling to their conversations. During all this time in Germany, I had always thought of my German friend’s comment about East Germany being intolerant to foreigners and, to be honest, I hadn’t experienced any racist behaviour (coming to think of it, I actually might have experienced some in Newcastle, England). The only ever-so negative experiences involved the lack of knowing the language, but I always compared this to how India would have reacted to foreigners, say, just 20 years after its Independence. After all, is anything in this world ever just black and white?
(Will be continued)