Chapter 10: the triviality of changing life

After spending the last evening with your loved ones, you are on your way back home. As the trees rush by the window of the van you are sitting in, you wonder whether winterbreak will change anything. You ask yourself if the little notes you gave your friends right before leaving were enough, if they were able to communicate the deep respect and gratefulness you feel for them, the delight you take in your conversations, the level on which you feel connected to them, even after such a short time span. You become aware of the uncertainty that awaits you at home. Not knowing how many of your “old” friends would turn out to be worthy of that title. When you see your family at the airport, you cry. After living four month in constant movement, your home is a welcomed constant. And time flies by, you meet with people, reflect on your past, try to organize your future, to clean up your life, you eat a lot and well, try to get some of that homework done. Ultimately, it is time for you to make all those choices again, to decide what part of your life at home should accompany you to that other home, that other life. And after a few more hours you sit in that van again, this time in the other direction, you watch a snowflake-ballet unfolding in the sky, clouds scattered across the pale grey. You notice the trees high up in the mountains that seem frozen, like delicate lace bordering the horizon. Then you are back. And it is as if you had never been gone. At that point, it is ridiculously easy to accommodate to one life or the other. Even if you still feel a clear distinction between here and there, both are a part of you, both are equally real (or unreal). And you are reunited with your other family.

What has changed is maybe you. Maybe you decided to change your lifestyle after you had time for reflection. Maybe you realized that time is scarce and that you should use it. It is winter and you can’t wait for spring to arrive. And as you sit and enjoy your last free day with a nice hot cup of tea with honey and milk, you realize that you look forward to whatever is to come.

It shocks you that your thoughts don’t linger more on the past. What you were decides on what you are. But in this place, there’s not much space for melancholy or nostalgia. All is new, all is future.

Chapter 9: 5am, Köln/Bonn-airport

It was only now that I realized that all those weeks I had remained passive, watching as time flew by, occasionally waving and one or two golden moments that would continue existing in my memory. It is only now that I sit in Köln/Bonn-Airport, at 5 in the morning, surrounded by familiar sounds (the sounds of my mother tongue) and the familiar feeling of tiredness and wonder. It has been a good 6 hours that I have spent in that specific spot, at terminal B, I think, watching as passengers, flight attendants, pilots and cleaners come and go. Some of them hurry by, some of them look curiously at the two curled-up figures that are lying on a yellow metal bench. As I watch them, I wonder where they are going, what their story is and what justifies their existence at that specific location at that specific point in time (for instance terminal B, 2am). Obviously I talk to none of them. It would destroy the game of guessing and the magic of imagining the wildest tales about their pasts.

That man with the bright yellow suitcase over there. He just came back from an exploration at the north pole, to inquire on the number of polar bears that live there. After his exploration gear got blown away by a particularly heavy snowstorm, he had to fight his way back to the nearest town in Russia, with nothing but a broccoli and a string of wool. After he found his way back to civilization he bought this bright suitcase because his eyesight had declined in the blinding brightness of the northern snow. He can’t tell anyone about his adventure because in order to go on that journey, he took a month off at work, telling his boss he was seriously ill. But that thin scar that a splinter of ice had left on his cheek would always remind him of the power of nature and this life-altering experience.

That woman over there, with the funny haircut and the stressed face. She had a tough morning. After both her flights to Indonesia got cancelled yesterday, she took the next best alternative available. She is here because they need her. In her purse she carries a flash drive with all the important information needed to take down a group of poachers that hunt down and brutally kill the Orangutans of Indonesia’s forests. Her suitcase is filled with medical equipment. She is reading through the latest report, her phones vibrates, everyone is waiting for her. This very morning she quit her job at a big oil company where she was working as an attorney. Her parents think she is insane, but they don’t understand.

Those two curled-up shapes on the yellow metal bench, the ones without shoes, determination radiating from their eyes. They once wanted to change the world and were only recently reminded of what their mission is. They were at a meeting of people their age, young, you might say, you might even call them children. They had gathered in the city of Maastricht to listen, to think, to discuss. What we know about those two is that they are concerned about the future, about our future. And they are willing to act. Now.

I think for some time about those two. They seem rather naive to me. Do they know what the real world looks like? Do they not know that their cause is lost? What difference do they even make?

But the truth is that I admire them. They stay positive and don’t lose hope. They bring change to the world, the change that is needed. And they are not alone. I wonder what I could do to join them.


Chapter 8: the uncomforting silence and the procrastination song

There are the two kinds of silence:

1 .When you get home after a long day of school where people were talking (a lot, sometimes nonsense), screaming and yelling, when you have avoided to get your ears destroyed by the noises of the streets; the cars, the dogs, the summer hits from 2009 they play in trashy cafés and the overly protective mothers, when you shut that door on the washing machine that is rumbling in the bathroom, and on the heated discussions your co-years have in the corridor, when nothing is left but the soft breath of the residence and a distinct breeze roaming through the city. That is the good kind of silence. The one you want and need.

But then there’s 2. The dead silence. When everyone is gone. In the movies they say it’s too silent. Something just feels wrong. And this is what happens in the residences during project week; most people are somewhere in Macedonia or Serbia, helping refugees, while I am staying in Mostar to be creative. Which is great, honestly. Everything just gets more creepy with no one around.

One creative thing we achieved was to write a song. The Procrastination song! When you know a friend who should really start to study, grab another friend, your ukulele and come to his room, pull out the four chords and start singing:

Come on now, it’s half past eight
You’ve been on Facebook much too late.

You’ve been on Tumblr all day long,
Which is why we’re here singing this song,

Twitter, Snapchat, not to mention,
this is the procrastination intervention,

That feeling: you’ve got so much to do,
You need a song to get you through,

You’ve cleaned your room, the laundry’s done
Called your friends and your mum

You’re not here to procrastinate.
Now’s your time, go be great

Close your laptop, here’s some tea,
Get out of the bed: chemistry

Even thought it’s not exciting,
Don’t forget your essay writing.

Take a stand to be your best
Start studying for that physics test

and if you’re done don’t think you’re through
Psych IA is waiting too.

And don’t forget about EE
Why didn’t you start last summer, like everyone else?

Now that you’ve heard our voices
please reconsider your choices

And what we’re trying to say is this:
[Forget about MIT: Shelby Davis is rolling in his grave; You’re so pathetic; Get your shit together, man; Your parents would be ashamed; How did you even get in?]

Lyrics by UWCIM-Students

Chapter 7: Chocolate Day

Chocolate is a deity, Willy Wonka is a prophet.

And just as religions have their specific holidays, it would be natural to assume that chocolate needs holy days too. Chocolate day. Every 4th of the month is a special day. To worship the cocoa bean and the generally associated cult of sweetness, abundance and rainbows, every food consumed will consist of either chocolate, biscuits, palacinkas or cake (other foods are still allowed in little concentrations).

And thus was the 4th of October a glorious day filled with chocolaty wonders and caky treasures. Not only was it the foundation day of a new belief and the unique and intense experience of an endorphin-rush but also he beginning of a new time, a 1-month-era without added sugars. The abstinence of our most worshiped will only increase our ecstasy, our anticipation of the next chocolate day. This may be a lost cause, a pointless plan, a religion without history. But we are giving chocolate back the glory it deserves. Its status of origin.

The 4th of october was the day when I learned to cherish Musala kitchen. When we created tray after tray of magical muffins, listening to magnificent music and the sublime sound of dough turning into something delicious and sumptuous. Our clothes were indistinguishable from the table and the floor and the walls, all turned to a rich brown color, the rays of sunlight became visible in the flour-dusty air, and small spots of soft dough covered our skin. To provide enough raw materials, we would go to Konzum, running in order to get the next load out of the oven in time, barefoot like children, in our pyjamas, chanting to the joyful melodies our heartstrings in the rhythm of our hurried steps.

A wonderful first chocolate day. All hail. Chocolate.

Chapter 6: one month

It has been one month now. One month of insanity, adventures, people, faces, names, conversations, questions and answers. It passed so quickly. What could one do in one month? Become an expert in wine. Learn tricks to show at parties. Learn how to dance. Or how to play a song on the ukulele. Learn how to knit or how to crochet. Build a tree-house. Get to know new food. Learn how to program. Or learn a new language. Become fit. Write a novel. Create Art. Quit your bad habits. Travel. Explore new places. Read that 1000-pages-book. Watch movies. Make your own movie. Write a song or a poem and find a place to perform. Create a new religion. Learn to do the split. Learn about trees. And so much more. But what did I do? What happened? Life happened, I think.

I just came to realize how many co-years I actually have. While browsing through the pictures of other colleges’ UWC-Day, I saw so many unknown faces. Knowing that I could have ended up with them. I am very happy here, but as the UWC-community expands, the individual feels smaller, insignificant. I am one Name among so many others. It is great in a way, but as a family grows, you lose contact with your distant relatives.

The beauty is that by the power of numbers, we can make a real difference. And that is what we should cherish.

Chapter 5: Water

Water from within

It is the most important kind of water. It appeases your thirst, gives you back the energy you thought you had lost and makes the heat more bearable. Life began in the ocean. Water is what nourishes your flame.

Water from without

There has never been a more effective way to cool down than to take a cold shower. Water as a soothing liquid that relieves you from the weight of excessive heat. The feeling of little water droplets running down your skin, carrying away what has held you down during the day.

Water from above

It is not the mere sensation of humidity that makes rain appealing. All the senses are involved. It is a spectacle. Dramatic cloud constellation announce the beginning of the first rain, awaited for so long after a period of aridity. The light breeze that refreshes the air and makes you shiver in anticipation for what is to come. Then the first appearance of little, thick droplets dancing in wild whirls to meet their kind on the dusty ground. A ballet of a million dancers fills the air when the first lighting strikes. A short moment of astonishment, and then follows the thunder, a choir of thousand magnificent wolves growling, demonstrating their dominance over this tiny earth. Drums roll as the droplets grow bigger and hit rooftops and streets, the mountains melt into the sky as the line between heaven and earth becomes blurry, leaving isolated lights seemingly floating in  the air. All you feel is numbness and isolation, while being submerged in a pile of soft pillows.

Water from below

If you stare into the turquoise waters for too long, you lose track of time. Your thoughts start wandering off to places unknown, as if the river underneath the bridge you are standing on carried them downstream. It is a strong pull, it is so easy. And while you continue staring into the green depths, the sounds around you start to merge until nothing but a strong ripple dominates your ears. This continuous stream of water, this uninterrupted inexorable flow, reminds you of time and of how little you have left. The water that runs underneath your feet in that exact moment passes by and will never come back. You can look at it as it continues its path, but soon it is too far away, soon it will meet the ocean. You cannot inverse its flow. With all your power of will, you free your eyes from this infinite blue and move along to the end of the bridge. Elders told you not to listen to the river. But you like what it tells you.

Chapter 4: The Lost Children

The second most frequent question you get asked is probably “where are you from?”. It is an accepted convention, a conversation starter, small talk. But the answer to that question isn’t always profane. Many of us are third culture kids. We haven’t known life in only one culture. Once I started thinking about my national and cultural identity, I became very conflicted. As a reflex, I would answer that I am from Germany, which is true, but does this make me a German? I am half french as well, but have never lived there, would people consider me french? I speak both languages, but they aren’t exclusive to one culture. People here remember where you are from, they start defining they view of the country through you, but I feel in no way capable of representing Germany or France. I wouldn’t want that. I have the right to be considered as an individual.

Of course, my (cultural) environment has shaped my personality to a certain extend but there has never been a conscious presence of “German culture”. It is so hard to define that term, that I am more comfortable with saying that I am from Berlin. It is smaller, people have more in common. It is always easier to identify with a tinier group of people who share certain characteristics. The only things that relates me to another German from a small village in Bavaria may be the fact that we speak the (approximately) same language (which is the case for Austrians as well) and that we both coincidentally live inside the random borders of a territory called Germany (which is also the case for immigrants or exchange students who wouldn’t consider themselves German). It is not easy to come to any conclusion. The only statement that seems legitimate at that point was made by Sokrates a long time ago:

I am a citizen of the world