Hello all, my name is Irma Kern and I am very glad to be a part of the wonderful project that is multicoolty. I’m also a student and doing my double major in media scienes and soon history at the University of Bonn.
What brings you to Germany?
My way to Germany was a simple one as I didn’t even have a say in it, which doesn’t mean that I’m not glad about the decision. It was my mother who got married to a German, which led us leaving the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia and coming here.
How do you like your life in Germany?
At this point I should probably say that I’ve spent almost all my life in Germany – 13 out of 19 years. I do remember some of my time in Tatarstan, but I know that that hardly counts as a ground for comparison. Nevertheless, the answer is I like it quite a lot. Visiting other countries you learn to set aside what bad feelings you might have about your own country and appreciate what it has to offer, which in Germany, in my opinion, is order, reliable social services and, to a certain degree, independence.
Do you consider yourself German?
I was dreading this question. See, anyone who has two or more nationalities and cultures, I believe, comes to a point where they ask themselves: Who am I? What culture do I belong to? What do I call myself? You’d think, after having pondered over these things ever since realising I should be sure about my own identity, I would finally know what to say. Well, I don’t. The thing is, I would readily sign up if ever a representative of the Tatarian culture was needed, I miss my birthplace and its peculiarities and tear up everytime I have to leave. At the same time, I refer to Germany as “our country”, say “my hometown Augsburg” and I certainly feel integrated into the German society.
Then again, I feel like I belong to the Kabardinian culture as well as my biological father is from there. And over and over again I find myself talking about Turkish culture to other people and teaching them some lovely Turkish expressions and traditions (having learned quite a lot about it through my friends) as if I were Turkish myself. And that’s not even the end of it.
So, do I consider myself German? Yes. Do I consider myself only German? No. I wouldn’t dream of it.
What is it that you like/dislike about German universities?
Once again, unfortunately, I have nothing to compare it to. What I do like very much about the University I study at is that it’s perfectly normal having people from other countries around you. And once you find yourself in a position where you’ve somehow became friends with many international students, as I luckily have, not one day passes by without you talking about your own and learning about their cultures. What was a big suprise for me, and a very pleasant one, was that many German people here seem interested in intercultural exchange. Where I went to school, I was mostly alone with my interest in learning other languages and about other countries. At university, you can participate in language courses and activities that circle around gaining international competence. The languages I want to learn are not part of the offer, though, and I wish those activities were more promoted so that more people knew about them.
What would you like to “import” from Germany to your home country?
There is quite a lot, actually. First and foremost, it’s the awareness that people can and actually do differ from what is considered avarage, even normal. It would start with adding a vegetarian dish to the menue and go on with accepting a child’s passion even if it’s not what is expected from him or her. I’m not saying that these objectives are completely achieved in Germany, but it seems to be a bit easier here.
Furthermore, I would love for the public transport in Russia to take Germany as an example. I find it very disturbing that I can’t plan my day because you just never know if and when the bus/tramway/train will come. It’s not that big of a problem for me as I only ever am there on holidays, but living there it would be pretty troublesome. All in all, I wish for the public services to be more consumer friendly. Even if it is only for the sake of appearances people in public places like shops or hospitals could smile a bit more. 😉
Does Germany seem multicultural to you?
There are, undoubtedly, many different nationalities represented in the current population of Germany. For me, it is a wonderful thing and I see in this diversity a chance to enrichen our lives. People are afraid of what they don’t know and here we have the perfect opportunity to come in touch with the people from countries we hear so many bad things and have prejudices about. In most cases you come to see that yes, we have our differences and we don’t have to approve of all of them, but once we have the will, we can live peacefully together disregarding those cultural differences.
Why don’t I feel that Germany is, in fact, multicultural then? I think, maybe it’s because the various cultures seem to coexist without ever coming in contact with each other. While a reason for this most probably is that some communities just keep to themselves, another factor certainly is the lack of interest in the rest of the population. While I cherish the freedom that was gained by abandoning some inacceptable cultural practices, I wish one wouldn’t be considered backward once one values tradition. Being emotionally invested in trying to keep culture alive sometimes is met with the lack of comprehension.
You can’t force an interest upon someone if they just don’t care, of course, but if one was to put just a little effort into looking for multiculturalism, one would find a whole room full of treasure.
So for me, Germany could be multicultural and you can make it so for yourself, but the country in itself probably isn’t (yet).
Then there is Russia. One would have a hard time trying to claim one nation as the main nation of Russia. There are about 20 republics and even more nationalities all of whom may speak Russian, but have their own languages as well. Tatarstan, more precisely Kazan – capital city, puts its efforts into being known as the city where two nations, two languages and two religions meet: Tatarian and Russian, Islam and Russian Orthodox. And while I’m always wary of big projects in Russia (see Sochi) I must say that this seems to have good effects on the city, as well as the people as it gives them something to belong to while on the same time reminding them that there is another…. this situation is something to be celebrated.
What is the first thing you do when you go back home?
I eat. I grab my grandma and take her to places where they serve all the dishes I’ve missed over the year – mostly Tatar soups, with the occasional Uzbek dumplings, Korean cabbage salad and Tadjik rice. Then we go buy the apples, cucumbers and bread that just tastes differently from their Germany equivalents and are happy sitting near the Volga drinking our tea Kazan style (which is with lemon or with milk next to a dessert called „Chak-Chak“). Sorry, I got overly excited.
Have you learnt anything about your home country while living in Germany?
Yes. Everytime you visit your home country you start noticing things because by living in another country you’ve just become different from others. One thing I noticed really disappointed me. A young journalist once said to me: „Never underestimate the power of media and the stupidity of men“. Well, calling the people there stupid might be completely ridiculous. I would say it’s more the lack of awareness which leads to many of them not questioning the actions of the government. They are constantely surrounded by the higher-up’s efforts to bring forth a division into “us” and “them” making it easier to blame “them” while present their own actions as righteous. Also, I was furious to witness that while being a (European) foreigner is all nice and fancy, as soon as your skin tone is a bit darker and it’s obvious you’re from Asia or any Arab or Turk countries, you get labelled all kind of nasty things.
And still, there are many specialities of Tatarstan and its people I wouldn’t miss in the world. Apparently, there can’t be one without the other, but there’s always room for improvement, right?
Advice to a new expat who is thinking of moving to Germany?
In Germany, we say „Probieren geht über Studieren“ (The proof of the pudding is in the eating – ed.). I could say as much as I want about Germany, it’s always different from what one imagines. I do think, though, that you won’t be disappointed. The country offers many opportunities, you just have to find the right people.
Speaking of whom, there really are many people who are willing to guide any newcomers through their new life in Germany. And a guide is what I would recommend to anyone. While Germany is not a country where traditions play a big role and there are many social practices to be observed, it still can be a bit hard to know your way around as to not negatively attract attention. So make use of any international groups your institution has to offer or just look for some groups on Facebook and let yourself be known. Your call won’t go unnoticed!
Just cherish diversity and don’t let the anti-multicoolties let you down!!!