Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 Years In Geneva

It's been a while, I know, but this blog has never really been far from my mind. From time to time I make a mental note of some experience or another that I would like to share with my very special audience. It's true, I don't really know much about you. The stats show where you are from, but other than that it's pretty much left to my imagination who I'm writing these posts to. And my audience, however fuzzy my image of it might be, is the main reason I'm writing these posts. I believe that what connects us is the interest some of us share in traveling and visiting new places and the experiences we've had living abroad and/or constructing a life from scratch. But also, I believe, we share a strong will to go on and a dream to make all dreams come true. And that makes us special, yes, very special.

It's been a great while. Five years ago, when I landed in Geneva, I had no idea how long this phase of my life will last. It had always been pretty fluid, my plans were not at all localized, and let's be honest my ideas were rather naive. I had already been in Switzerland several times and had also visited Geneva on one occasion. The place had struck me as quite alien back then, but I was also very young and it was a Sunday -- the place still looks pretty outlandish on Sundays. =) But I did quite like it, I found it pretty and clean, cute and just a tiny bit orderly. Diving into its life at first was all but exciting and delicious. I still had my little nugget, I could afford to live the life of the newcomer, the leisurely tourist, away from home for good, but never so far that reality would hit.

But making your own life in a new country begins exactly when funds run out, when you have to 'live off the land', when you become one of them. I've found that it's easier for those who know who they're becoming. Some choose to stay true to their roots, and even take on the expat badge voluntarily, proudly or happily. Others find the local culture so appealing, or the prospect of expat life so bleak, that they integrate into their new environment by becoming part of the local community. Labov would have a lot to say about these choices, but I'm no sociologist, so I'll just stick to what I've seen. The key to happiness, so to say, is to find who you want to be in this new setting.

And that's not always easy. Turns out the part I'd dreamed up for myself was not to be. You see the way Swiss society works is for every member, expat or Swiss national, to have a definite place in the system. Coming from a country that's pretty much an open orchard of slightly wizened fruit, tart but easily reachable, I found the secret garden of Switzerland strangely cold and depressing. Here you take a bucket, climb up the designated tree, and start picking the allocated fruit every weekday, nine to five. They're big and red, beautiful and delicious -- but they grow real high and take a lot of sweat to reach. Not only that. I pretty soon realized that while all the locals had their shiny sturdy buckets and good stainless steel ladders, I was standing there with a moth eaten sack and not even an idea where to get a ladder from. We don't really have that sort of thing back home, you see: a ladder could get chopped down or stolen, so you are either born with wings or learn how to fly.

I was very much of the latter kind. With all my determination and sheer brainpower, I grew myself a tree. You see, I still don't really have either a bucket or a ladder. But I now have my own little tree, with its delicious little fruit, and I only smirk on all these orderly people with their smart suits and tall ladders, eating my apples as they grow. This is the life I've dreamed up, this is the life I've built from out of a suitcase, and it's a life I can enjoy and love to pieces.

And I can tell you all that daring to dream is a bigger power than any bucket or ladder. It's been so rough going that I don't imagine for a second that I'd jump into it again without hesitation. But, considering the alternatives, I am quite proud and happy with how it turned out. I'm so glad I've never given up my principles or my personality. I'm actually not all that bad. As far as the system goes, I'm playing by their rules. I stay in my little fenced off corner of the garden. But I've stayed true to myself, and I'm happy with who I've become.

All this might sound terribly conceited, but believe me I'm not, not really. If you know how much I've suffered (this blog is quite a good gauge of that...) it's not all that surprising that I'm content and, yes, proud of what I've achieved. And I can't tell you how important staying true to myself is for that happiness. We're all different, but I know I can't change the core of who I am. I simply cannot become Swiss, as much as I've never been Hungarian. I've always believed that we have so many different cultures precisely because there are so many ways of being, and, wherever you happen to be, you have the right to pick and choose and build your personality to your liking. And I'm happy I've followed it through.

So what's my takeaway at the mature age of 30 =), after 5 ways of digging out my own little ground in this weird garden of Eden? Don't give up. Don't give in. Your dreams are bigger than any system, any society, all the petty rules combined. And they're yours to dream.

It's all possible. It's all in you. Whenever the going gets thick, remember that your dreams are there at the end of the road and they're more solid than you'd think. Only you have the power to make them true. You might decide to settle a couple of chores before going on, but never lose sight of your dreams. And don't be shy to look around you for help.

We're all in this together in a way. I've met so many wonderful people who helped me in the most magnificent, the most every day ways. And I'm infinitely grateful to them. I also know that an outstretched hand only helps someone already willing to climb out of the pit. Never forget that. And I'm also grateful to all those I could help. As I said, we're all in this together. We're the dreamers of a better world, and my story is that of many others. I would like to send a silent thanks to them now.

It's important to respect the rules of the system we choose to live in. It's important to be polite and show respect. That's the first thing to learn if you want to be respected in turn. I've had to learn that the hard way, I've had to bump into a lot of walls, I've had to become a bigger person, I've had to grow up. It wasn't easy, but it taught me so much, I don't think I'd be able to become who I have to become without all these experiences. With all the sweat and blood I've shed I've made way for a new me. But it's still very much me, and my life is more my own than ever.

My thanks go to all of you, whether you've helped me out or have accepted my help at some point. And my best wishes too.

Go on dreaming, go on fighting, go on building. Your life is your own. Your dreams are your own. Only you have the power to make them true.

1 comment:

  1. Your stories are so inspirational! Why don't you write more?