Happy International Women's Day!
“How will you manage?”
“How will you manage?” was the remark I heard from lots of people the day my parents proudly announced my engagement to a boy living in “Germany”, quickly followed by the wedding ceremony. The first perspective I gathered from that remark was that they told me because they thought I was too young. I was just 21 when I got married! While all my classmates were still studying, I was working since 2 years already and the thought to get married was not so negative in my mind.
However over a period of time, I realized that the remark was made not because I was young but because they always thought that the girl who had made a career in French and had been associated to France, what she will do in Germany! Some other remarks also included the assumption that being so fluent in French, adjusting in Germany will be quite an easy job.
The struggle to cope with German language started right after our engagement. After working in a night shift on a French process in a multinational company, my German language starter books would await me at home so that they could prepare me for an exam which was just 20 days away. The exam that was compulsory for a visa to live in Germany.
Anyway I managed. I managed to convince the examiner that I could speak German well with a French accent.
I decided to visit my husband for a month after we got married since the long term visa application would have taken a little longer to start. Hannover, which I now call my home, welcomed me with lots of snow. Not only was I experiencing snowfall for the first time in my life, but the idea of managing a home, struck me hard then. A totally new country, no luck to understand the language (owing to their speed), fully snow covered city, a kitchen (not to forget -a bachelors kitchen) to handle on my own were some things which struck me quite quickly.
Again I managed. Of course with full cooperation and support of my husband, I managed. Managed to meet few (this few has now turned into lots) people, managed to cook (it was the first time I independently cooked for 1 month), managed to invite people over dinner. I managed!
Time came back to go back to “home”, to India in that then “cosy” environment. While the visa application and the constant fear of getting rejected stayed for all those 3 months, I survived through Skype calls and support of my parents.
I was basically too not occupied to think of productive things- leave apart the ever linguistic girl did not even bother to learn German sincerely, in spite of knowing its importance and necessity.
Visa Application approved! Time to go to reality! It looked all jolly jolly while we packed our bags to go to Germany, but a great adventure was just about to begin. Life began with moving to a new apartment from a bachelor’s apartment. Mind you- “to move” was just a word. The cleaning of old apartment so that the owner approved of its condition, the disassembling and re-assembling of furniture and of course the real “move” was all included in the word “MOVE”. It did come as a shock to me initially. The shock was not just because it was all to be done alone or with help from friends and family but also because of the exorbitant prices of labor. The concept of labor intensive economy taught at the university in India was slowly moving away from me. I gradually understood that the cost of hiring a labourer to assemble a piece of your furniture would be almost equivalent or perhaps even more than the value of your furniture. Back home, when I discussed this with family, it was hard to digest for them too. But I managed! I managed to slowly adjust to a capital intensive economy.
The “move” was finally over followed by a quick visit of family from India. To be honest, my parents were quite curious to see me adjusting in a totally foreign country. They saw however that I was learning slowly.
Over the period of my first month in Hannover, I realized that language was the key to success. I made up my mind to forget the grudge of having left my French career behind and started learning German sincerely. I managed! In six months, I managed to speak German to at least survive in a super market, pharmacy, and train station and to be able to easily commute in the local transport.
Amongst the entire struggle, I managed to make few friends through the Indian association in the city. They slowly started seeming like a family to me. Good attributes always follow along with struggle. Separating waste and following waste rules, following traffic lights (even if it was just as a pedestrian), going on a bicycle to language classes (never travelled on a bicycle since I finished my 10th grade), not to walk on cycle track on roads, maintaining silence during “quiet times” (there are assigned noise free times in the day which one must always maintain in Germany) of the day were some basic lessons I learnt. I feel so nice to have this basic education in me. I must admit I lacked it…
Eventually I had managed to speak enough German to survive through basic necessities. I would manage to go to super markets alone and buy basic stuff. (I still am discovering many Indian cooking ingredients which are right in front of our eyes in German super markets but they look little different and the need to translate the names to English or our mother tongue still remains.) I would also easily commute by local transport and thanks to the super-fast internet would also manage to use maps and walk down to required destinations! One really nice thing I learnt was “WALKING”. Oh I knew how to walk since I was 1 year old, but the real walking I learnt after coming to Germany. People walk, walk and walk. It’s a must to be able to walk.
I slowly started feeling that basic German would easily help me get a job. The quest started with making a German requirement specific CV and a professional photo! Yeah- that’s how it officially works. I applied at various places that involved a multi linguistic role. I did get interview calls. I went to all of them. Sometimes even to remote places. Slowly with one rejection following the other, I realized that the basic German skills were not enough. I stopped applying. It was sad and frustrating. But I coped up. I decided to polish the German skills further. I started going to advanced German lessons.
Meanwhile I took up one of the most difficult tasks I have done in Germany! And guess what was it? I started the process of getting a driving license. Trust me, it was scary. It’s not scary any more today but then it was really scary back then. Particularly for us Indians, who have driven in India, its too many rules to follow! I never followed any written rules while driving in India. I followed my rules! And here- every single step had rules. The exams were tough, really tough. People (Indians around us, there were quite a lot by now) told me it’s really rare to pass a practical test at the first go.. they somehow were right. I did well in theory test (I studied for it more than I studied during my entire 10th grade). But practical exam I could not succeed in the first go. Second time, I managed! However the confidence to drive independently was less.
Within a month after I took my driving license, I decided to start applying for a master’s degree. Thankfully bachelor’s degree taken in India are mostly valid in Germany (many countries’ degrees don’t stand valid in Germany). This decision was quite a tough one. Starting to study was one of the things that came to mind once I felt that with my existing educational background, it would be a little difficult for me to get a job easily in Germany. I decided to take benefit of a wide variety of English courses available in and around Hannover. I got admitted in a MBA program in a university about 200 kilometres away from Hannover. The motivation to come back home every day (which meant 4 hours of train journey every single day) always stayed high till I finished my course. This decision was difficult. It was difficult not only for me but also for my classmates and professors. But the education system is so flexible that it was not as difficult as it looked. I finally learnt the importance of planning. Planning for studies, planning for weekly grocery shopping, cooking, maintaining home, fulfilling commitments etc. all of this came into me automatically. Not to forget my genes and the experience of having seen my mother managing it all. I started planning things so nicely and that perhaps gave me more strength to cope with a 6 am to 6 pm schedule followed by coming home and cooking dinner and then studying. Not to forget those cold days when it was even more difficult than exams on every single Friday for the entire course. But I managed!
All this while, even though the course was in English, my German skills continued to get polished because of the continuous exposure I had talking to people while traveling, commuting, etc.
Things were going well and I discovered in the middle of my studies that we were expecting a child. The pregnancy was quite complicated and meant rigorous follow ups with various kinds of doctors which again was difficult in one sense but not to forget German skills were getting polished. I slowly realized that to have a baby would mean for me to take a short break from studies. I wondered how it will happen, but thanks to the flexibility of education system, I took a short break after my classes got over. I decided to take some classes after the baby was born and the thesis naturally remained pending.
However I managed to finish my classes. Traveling when pregnant is sometimes a big “No No” in India, but here doctors encourage women to stay active as long as it’s possible. I managed to adhere to the 6 am – 6 pm schedule. Can’t thank enough the cooperation of my husband though. Time for the baby’s arrival slowly approached. Prenatal classes helped us so much to prepare for the arrival. Also a very good system (which I had not seen in India) was that of consulting a Hebamme (midwife) over and above your doctor who would not only listen to your troubles relating to pregnancy but also take care of your child’s development after birth for a few weeks.
Once the baby was there, life changed again. To be honest, it was fun to bring up a baby. We came across lot of new things and learnt at every stage. After a while, time came to finish some pending classes and then thesis. This meant lots of adjustments in our schedule so that one of us could be there with the baby. During that phase, I always felt the need of family. But- we managed!
I was writing a Master thesis for the first time. With a baby to care for, it was difficult. There were so many nights when I would be awake from 11 pm to 6 am (till the baby slept basically) to productively write something. During the days I slept while the baby slept. Not to forget the very cooperative thesis guides who understood me at every step. The end was close and struggle to finish was getting harder. But I managed. I managed to write a good thesis and defended it well to get a good grade.
The real fear had begun now. The money in the course was already invested, the course was already over, the degree was already in my hands, the baby had already settled in her day care. Everything was in its place. Now came a time when to get a job was the top most priority. I started applying. Like before, I again applied at lots of places, I got lots of interviews and I did get some rejections as well. But this time around, almost all interviewers told me I had really good German skills (thanks to watching German television for all these years). During my quest for the job, I focused on applying for multi lingual jobs so that I could impress my employer with my English more than my German. Another focus was to just keep applying. Getting negative responses is normal. Very normal! But I had decided not to get disappointed. I applied at several places and kept applying till I had a signed contract in my hand. I managed. I managed to get a good job in a reputed company. I am glad I managed.
It has been almost 4.5 years to that day now when they asked “how will you manage?” Thankfully I am managing. With so many good friends (who are as good as family!) and such a wonderful husband, and a loving daughter, we are managing. God has supported us through all ups and downs and we are blessed.
Hannover has been my home for 4 years now. The weather does annoy me sometimes but the city has given me so many memories to cherish that the weather becomes a negligent factor. The internationalism of the city never fails to amuse me. There is always something to do here. A small and cosy yet happening home (city) is what most of us wish for!
From not knowing how to cook, to inviting lots of people home, to learning how to drive a car, to confidently driving every day, to bringing up a child, to be able to successfully communicate in German, to getting a master’s degree and a job, I gradually learnt it all. I MANAGED!
And so here is this one to all of US! All the strong, bold and beautiful women out here who have taken the brave step to leave their family and start a new life here in Hannover!
Happy International Women’s Day!