What We Miss in the Rush of Life

You might have noticed that it’s been awfully quiet around here for a few weeks.
The reason is that I have been traveling for the last five weeks.

One week of a TCK conference.
Oh, it was so comforting to talk to new and old friends and ponder the deep questions in life.

One week in Brno/ Czech Republic with the school choir.
It was really interesting engaging with my students and colleagues outside of the classroom.

Two weeks in the Philippines.
No work, just rest. Sleep, beach, crystal clear water, friendly people, culture shock. This break was so desperately needed and I have seen some of the most breathtaking places on earth.

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One week in Wales with a student exchange.
The girls were very open and easy to handle, so my colleague and I could also enjoy ourselves and get to know each other a little better.

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Five weeks of travel.
Five weeks of meeting inspiring people, admiring creation’s beauty, sharing deep connections, making new friends.
Five weeks of blessings.

This sounds great, right?
Well, yes.

But while I still smile at the memory of a conversation or a funny experience, I realize that I’m not grateful.

I can’t be.
Not yet.

The new inputs have been too many in the last few weeks, my mind and soul are too over stimulated to feel much of anything.
After every trip I got home and unpacked my suitcase. I did a load of laundry. I repacked the suitcase for the next trip. I didn’t even bother going shopping, so I just stare into an empty fridge or just buy take-out.

In the midst of all this, I have no time to unpack my heart.
To let memories flash past my inner eye and marvel at what I saw, heard, felt.
All I want is to sit by the window for a bit and daydream of  what I experienced.
To write, to reflect, to process.

Can you relate?

Life dictates us around so often – faster, faster.
But the more I travel, the more I realize – slower, slower.
Only when we stop for a moment, we discover the richness of our experiences, the depth of connection, the value of home.
Only then will we be truly grateful for all these blessings and how they will shape us.

P.S.: I hope to find some time to write and share about my time in the Philippines very soon!


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

The Rough Parts of Transition

A few weeks ago I lost my calendar. For a teacher who has to keep track of lesson plans, class tests and endless to do lists, this is close to a catastrophe. So I needed to get a new calendar. I went downtown and thought I would find one within a few minutes.

One and a half hours later I was still roaming the streets.

I could feel frustration and anger rise inside of me.
Anger at myself for wasting all this time in search of a stupid calendar.
Anger at the city for being so new, so unknown and so big.
Frustration at my situation – I am the new person who has no clue on where to go.
I hate being lost and, more than that, feeling lost.

Moving to a new place is one thing, but making it a home is a whole different story. Transition isn’t over when boxes are unpacked and you found somewhat of a new routine. Transition takes time, and it’s mostly the little things that teach me how long it really takes.

When you uproot your life and go somewhere else you leave a lot behind that you simply can’t put in boxes.

Your favorite coffee place.
That papeterie shop which had everything you needed.
That path on the hill where you took walks to regain perspective.
The knowledge where everything is, what ways you have to go, which routine works best for you.
All these familiar faces and beloved friends who made life in your old home so enjoyable and memorable.

Leaving the old and familiar behind in exchange for the new and unknown is scary. So how can we navigate these rough parts of transition?

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Say a proper goodbye
I’ve written about this many times before (like here or here), but every step onto new territory is shaped by how you left the old one. It’s normal to hang in the balance while you’re transitioning, but if your heart and mind are always stuck in the old place and old routines, you will never be open to welcome new places, people or routines into your life.
So settle your accounts.
Look back on what you left behind and give thanks.
Don’t compare, but welcome this new chapter with a grateful heart and open arms.

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Translate, don’t copy your routines
This is a piece of advice I received from an American friend as he was transitioning into life in Germany. You had your go-to places and people in your old home and it’s important that you find new go-to’s in your new home. This might take a while and cost you a bit of effort. Most of the time it’s not possible to simply copy old routines into a new setting. The people are not exactly the same and there’s just one favorite coffee place.

But reflect on why you love these routines so much, what kind of people inspire your life, and then go look out for them.
You might have liked the coffee shop for its style, its staff or its coffee brands – so find a place that offers these.
You might’ve had a walking route routine to clear your head – so discover new paths.
You might’ve had encouragers, activists or believers in your circles of friends – so get to know new people and explore the qualities they have to offer.
You don’t have to forget about places and people you left behind, but give new places and people the chance to inspire you in the same way – just in a different shape or form.

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Give yourself time
Again, I’m preaching to myself – transition takes time.
How much? I don’t know, it’s different for everyone. I just know that putting yourself under pressure won’t make a transition any easier.
Your apartment doesn’t have to be finished within weeks – allow yourself time to furnish and decorate it. Wait for inspiration to come.
Your go- to places might not always be the most visible, so take some time to wander the streets without an agenda or watch in mind. When a store speaks to you, go in and have a look. Pay attention to details. Get lost on purpose.
Your go-to people need time to get to know you as well, so don’t expect too much at once. Take it one step, one person, one relationship at a time. Be brave to invite others into your home or accept someone’s invitation. Do things together. Share a meal and see what happens around the table. Allow people to surprise you with qualities you didn’t know before.

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On my involuntary walk through this new city I finally decided to not give into frustration and anger, but to accept this time of roaming and searching. I opened my eyes for new shops and surprising buildings I hadn’t seen before. It made me want to see and explore more. After a while, I found a cute little place with the most gorgeous design ideas and, finally, a calendar.

Tabithas Pfanne

The last guest post for this series comes from Tabitha. She and I met many years ago on a TCK re-entry camp. Tabitha grew up in Tanzania, but now lives in Germany. Coming ‘back’ and settling in a country that has never truly been yours is a challenge – but small things can make a huge difference. Tabitha shares one of them.

Continue reading “Tabithas Pfanne”

The ‘Treasures’ of Traveling

When I travel I dive into the smell and taste of new food. I take in the breathtaking beauty of vast landscapes. I enjoy meeting people and listening to their stories.
When I travel I take a few pictures and collect souvenirs.
Not the objects you’d expect.
I collect stories.
In the midst of people, in a public square, on a bench at the coast – I sit down and write down all these treasures that beg to be told.

I just came back from a vacation. Two weeks in the UK with many great adventures and encounters. So here a few of my ‘treasures’ from London.

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A street in Aldgate at rush hour with one office building next to another.
Facades of steel and glass designed for people with long hours and large paychecks. In between the skyscrapers you can still detect remnants of the people who used to live here: small brick houses with coal stained chimneys next to modern art temples of money and business. Instead of tiny shops you find exclusive bars and high-class take away restaurants for the people who can’t ‘waste’ time on meals.

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Instead of low-class workers you now see men and women in elegant suits hurrying down the streets – coffee in one hand, blackberry in the other. They are no longer walking, they are running as if they can’t get away form this place fast enough. Their expensive costumes are paired with bulky trainers because their feet just can’t take it anymore after a day in high heels.

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This is a place for business, strictly business.
This is London.

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London9A street in West End at night.
Picadilly Circus is pulsating with cars, with tourists, with life. The streets are heavily trafficked by the all too familiar red Double-decker buses and black cabs. They. Are. Real.

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People are invited to get lost in the crowds or spend a lot of money in the many shops within the neo classicist buildings. If you just stop for a moment you can pick up a variety of languages and faces from all over the world. In between the shops you can see the shiny billboards of the many theaters celebrating the arts in countless musicals.

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The stories range from murder mysteries to romance to historical dramas. You dive into a world where everything’s shiny, all conversations are put into song, and in the end it will all work out well. Afterwards you walk out into real life again, carrying the stories with you and wishing that sometimes life would have a score to it.

This is a place for dreams.
This is London.

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The smells of Whitechapel.
You take the Tube to the East End and when you get off the train it feels like you step into a whole different world. Just a few blocks away from the sophisticated business quarters at Aldgate the streets are suddenly crowded with people wearing long beards, turbans, hijabs, or burkas. The mosque is located right next to the Synagogue. Shop signs are in Tamil or Arabic and advertise restaurants which sell pilaw and masala instead of pie.

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The area where workers from the nearby dockyards used to live a century ago is now home to people from all over the world, forming an incredible mixture of languages, religions, and cultures. It’s one of the poorest suburbs, but also the one where world travelers might feel most at home.

This is a place for diversity.
This is London.

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The Mall around Buckingham Palace.
Thousands of people from around the world press their faces against the iron gates to just get a glimpse of the Changing of the Guards. Men in red embroidered coats and large fur hats march up and down to the ‘James Bond’ tune. The ceremony seems like a relict from the past, and yet the monarchy is as present in the British society as ever. The English love their Queen and you can’t help but admire this lady who’s seen and lived through so much and managed to stay true to herself and her values nevertheless. Across St. James’s Park you can see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The old buildings have seen great events and heated debates, and they will soon be the place of a historical decision when the British vote on the Brexit. London and its population are crucial to the polls, and Europe is awaiting the results.

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This is a place for glamor and decisions.
This is London.

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The sounds of Covent Garden around noon.
The Piazza that used to be London’s biggest fruit and vegetable market is now filled with many elegant stalls selling everything from imported shawls to handmade jewelry. Instead of groceries you can taste original fish and chips, inhale the rich flavors of tea, or admire the delicate shapes of wooden toys. The surrounding pubs are flocked with business people and groups of friends enjoying a light lunch and a pint. Yes, it’s only noon, but it’s never too early to start drinking Ale.

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Covent Garden is the stage for all the artists who haven’t made it to the West End yet. The streets become their entertainment – jugglers, magicians, comedians, and opera singers. If you allow yourself to pause and sit down for a moment you discover something beautiful: a soft melody in the midst of the street noise. A song that makes you wonder like a child. A small glimpse of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

This is a place for celebration.
This is London.

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Four days in this beautiful, complex, enchanting and intriguing city. I take away sore feet, tanned skin, and a few pictures. There’s still so many places to discover, so many stories to tell. I’ll be back.

I Am Not Anne

When I was a young girl, my favorite book was Anne of Green Gables. I loved reading about the adventures and mishaps of Anne, an eleven year old orphan who’s adopted by two elderly siblings. She isn’t wanted at first, but eventually moves in with the Cuthberts and changes life in the small town of Avonlea quite a bit. With her very open and curious personality she falls into a few traps along the way, but somehow she always manages to win people over. No mater how selfish, bitter or traditional people are – Anne finds ‘kindred spirits’ everywhere.

I have always found Anne’s character quite appealing, considering the fact that she moves into a very tight-knit community. Everybody knows everyone in Avonlea, and everyone is somehow related. This comes with the usual conflicts and gossip: once you do something ‘wrong’ (which basically means something different than traditions) everyone knows about it. And everyone is entitled to have an opinion on it.

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Anne doesn’t care. She does things differently, ignores rules, or revises old traditions. She confuses people with her extroverted character and ideas, but in the end she brings the community closer together. People suddenly help each other out and care for each other.

Grandma’s place reminds me a lot of Avonlea. A small village in the middle of nowhere where everyone knows everyone. There are conflicts and there’s gossip. There’s one right way to do it, and a lot of confused stares and hushed comments if you do it differently.

There’s close community and a lot of help, too. You can call people anytime if you need homemade food, farming supplies or practical help. People reach out and are willing to care about each other. My Grandma and my mom as well are used to simply picking up the phone and calling for help. They have no problem walking into other people’s yards.

They are at home there.

As much as I enjoy Grandma’s place I realize it’s not my Avonlea.
When I was there a few weeks ago Grandma asked me to pick up some honey from the neighbor. “You can walk through the backyard”, she said.
I really wanted to.

Instead, I stood there and hesitated.

Unable to walk through the yard I realized that I know of people, but I don’t really know them. I am not the kind of person who just walks into people’s yards and lives. I am not the kind of girl who turns others into ‘kindred spirits’.

I am not Anne.

I have had my shares of adventures and mishaps (and I hope I’m not done yet!). I have walked into cultural traps and caused more confusion than understanding. I have felt unwanted and lost in tight-knit communities.

And yet I have discovered that there’s more of an Anne inside of me than I thought.

I do have a way to look at the world that some might call daydreaming, idealistic, or naïve. I call it finding beauty in the mundane. With the right mindset you can see past the worries, pain, and problems life so often throws at us.

I do clash with people’s mindsets and opinions because I sometimes do things ‘differently’. But it’s such a blessing to see how others live and think – why don’t we learn more from each other? And more than that, why don’t we practice caring about and for each other?

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Most of all, I did and do find ‘kindred spirits’ everywhere. It normally happens when I least expect it. At a friend’s birthday party, on my way home from work, in a comment below a blog post.
‘Kindred spirits’ who have traveled the world, who have lived in different countries and fell in love with several cultures at the same time.

Who know what it means to feel lost and want to belong so badly.
Who do things ‘differently’ and yet don’t want to give up themselves.

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Who might be afraid to walk through the neighbor’s backyard, but would have no problem finding a place to stay on any continent.

Who have discovered that our Avonlea is bigger than one geographical location – it can be found whenever we let each other in on the new, weird, exciting, exhausting experiences life might bring.

That Moment You Don’t Want to Feel

You know what the worst part of transition is?
That one moment when you realize it’s actually gone.
You have left and cannot return.
You have lost something or someone and you’ll never get them back.
The moment when the missing sets in and it hurts so badly.

I miss a lot of things and people.
I miss the relaxed time table of student life.
I miss the many friends in the many places I’ve lived in.
I miss the smell of certain places.
I miss the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of and which might have led to greatness.
I miss my childlike faith which seems so far away from me at the moment.

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Missing is not a good place to be stuck in and we shouldn’t dwell on everything we don’t have all the time because it makes us blind for the wonders around us.
And yet we need to miss things and people.
Acknowledging that we miss them is the first important step in the grieving process. Allowing the motions to sweep our feet away until peace and gratitude settle in our hearts.

It’s okay to miss people, places, things, life stages, emotions.
Because I’d rather feel this than nothing at all.

What are the things and people you miss?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

 

I Wish Someone Had Told Me This A Year Ago

It sounded so familiar.

“I am overwhelmed by everything, there is so much to do and I am so exhausted.”
” I feel like I am not good at anything anymore. Teaching is really hard and I am not sure I can do it.”
” Is it ever going to get better?”

Honest words from friends who just started teaching. They are full of exhaustion, questions, despair.
They could’ve easily been a replay of my own mind and heart just a few short months ago when I felt the exact same.
I was lost in the sea of new experiences and tasks.
I was overwhelmed by the challenges a new job brings.
I was exhausted by the new schedules that were so far from my own rhythms.
I was anxious that this would never end and I wouldn’t ever feel okay again until I retired.

Most of us have been in the situation of starting a new job. No matter if you’re a teacher or a doctor or an accountant – it’s a major step in your life and doesn’t go by without any side effects.
We struggle with new schedules and tasks. We get to know a lot of new things and people. We worry how our future will look like.

A year later I have to say that it does in fact get better.
It’s different now.
The journey from there to here wasn’t easy and took a lot of growing up.
Often, growth just takes a bit of time. But as I look back I sometimes wish that someone had come alongside me and told me a few things. Not to make everything easy, but to help me understand what was happening.

Starting a Job Is a Big Deal
When you get engaged, people congratulate you. But they also give you advice: “This is a big deal, you should take a preparation course. There’s books and premarital counseling.”

When you announce you’re pregnant, people congratulate you. But they also dish out well-meant advice and tips: “A kid will change your life forever, you should take a course. There’s books and classes.”

Life is marked by changes and transitions. Marriage or children remind us that we cannot just be the same, that we actually need to evolve and grow. That we sometimes need to lose ourselves when we’re pulled up and replanted into a completely new environment. That we need to rediscover ourselves once in a while and add new features to the old self.
Changes in life mold and strengthen us.
And it’s good to know about it and prepare for it because these changes certainly don’t come without a good deal of pain and questions and hardships.

Well, what about when you start your first job ever? When you leave behind the flexible schedule of university and submit to a routine you can’t alter? When you become independent from your parents’ or state support and need to take care of bills, insurance etc.? When you’re under pressure to do a job well because your next paycheck depends on it?
Starting a job is a big change as well.  No, you don’t have a new partner. No, there’s no child waiting for your attention. But you still cannot remain the same. So yes, it’s a big deal and you should expect challenges during the transition.

Get to Know the New ‘Culture’
I have lived in several countries and interacted with different cultures. What actually happens during such a transition?
Moving to a different country is definitely exciting as you get to experience different climate, food, languages and people. This is the ‘honeymoon phase’ when everything’s new and exciting. Take it all in and enjoy.

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There’s no fixed time, but after a while the novelty wears off and you get a peek into real life in a new culture. Things begin to annoy you, people are suddenly unnerving, and you start to miss things from home. This is the ‘depression phase’ when you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. You’ve been pulled up from your familiar place and replanted into completely new soil. Instead of excitement there’s anger and doubt and fear. All you want to do is leave.

But as you fight and struggle through the strangeness of this new life you begin to realize that you are still the same. That you can actually survive in this new environment. That people are okay and can teach you something. That it’s worthwhile to incorporate new elements into your culture. This is the ‘resettlement phase’ when all the hardships have paid off and actually led to growth in a new place.

Entering the working world is like entering a new culture. You’re still in the same country, you still speak the same language. Yet, you’re completely lost in this new environment. You have no idea how to be and behave in this new culture, the work culture. So don’t underestimate this process and rather treat it as a cultural transition. This discovery alone moved worlds for me last year because it made the following process much easier.

Take Your Time
When you move into a different culture you wouldn’t expect to be all settled in within a few weeks. Why would you expect that you could adjust to a completely new lifestyle that fast? photo-1445109673451-c511bb51bd17
Take your time to get to know the new culture and how you’re supposed to act in it. Observe how people interact and deal with things. Pay attention to the little tricks here and there that might make a big difference. Don’t judge but be willing to learn something new. Open yourself up to new people and experiences.

Allow your emotions to run high and admit that things just suck sometimes.
Permit yourself to feel lost and to make mistakes at first. No one is perfect from the start.
Take things step by step. Celebrate the little victories and move on to bigger things.
Focus on tomorrow, not next week.

Seek Help
Thousands of people have made the transition into work before, they just sometimes forget to tell us about it. Things have become so natural for them that they don’t remember how hard it was at first.
Asking for help is no sign of weakness. Often it takes just one brave person who’s willing to share how things really look like that helps others to share as well. We’re stronger together, so don’t try to keep up a straight face when all you feel is lost.
Seek the company of people who are in similar situations because they’re the only ones who know how you truly feel. Friends where you don’t have to explain or justify a whole lot.
But don’t stop there. Spend time with people outside your ‘job bubble’ to get your mind off things. Don’t allow your mind to be stuck in the ever-running/condemning spiral of ‘I still have so much work to do.’

Fight for Rest
Settling into a new culture is exhausting in every aspect. I never imagined that I would be physically tired from meeting so many new people. Similarly to babies who are worn out by getting to know the world, it takes a lot of mental and physical energy to learn new names and strategies. Our body has to adjust to new sleeping/working/eating patterns and this takes its toll.

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So don’t expect that you can just continue like before. Allow your body time to adjust and give it the rest it needs.
Sleep well and enough.
Eat well.
Plan your time well, so that you actually have time to rest after all the work.
Schedule in time slots when it’s all about rest. This can be very active. Find an activity that takes your mind off work and refocuses you on the really important things in life.
This really is a fight, but if you lose it or put it off (‘I can rest later’) you’ll eventually be too burned out to do anything at all.

Focus on the Truth 
There will always be people who are better at their job. There will always be colleagues who are ahead of you. There will always be others who seem to have the right to look down on you and judge you.
Yes, being a newbie does mean baby steps again.
Yes, you do make mistakes at the beginning.
Yes, there is a lot to learn.
Yes, you’ll fall down and fail.
But you are not a failure. Not.a.failure.
There are things about you that no job you do or don’t do could ever change. Don’t allow anyone to take that away from you. Don’t compare yourself to others, this won’t get you anywhere but despair.

Starting a new job is part of life and eventually we all have to take that step. There’s no recipe to make it all easier, but knowing about the transition might make it a little smoother.
What were your first steps in the working world like? How did you cope with the transition? What would you add to help newbies with the transition?