It may come as no surprise to those learned in the ways of babies, but our 3-month-old is growing. His occasional smiles have turned into regular smiles, and his scattered coos have turned into a sort of talking, and laughing, and whining, and sharing. Small things have become exciting for me–like describing all of the items in a grocery store, or narrating the curious characters who may cross our paths.
But these developmental events will be compounded by an even grander experience for our young one: As of June 2, our family will be residents of Berlin, Germany!
Between my wife and I, we’ve racked up an incredible number of transatlantic miles. An engagement trip through Northern Italy, Austria, Germany and France; my Arthur Burns Fellowship to Germany last summer; my renewable energy tour in December. And now the Robert Bosch Stiftung has granted me and the family its fellowship for young leaders. For a year, we’ll live and experience Germany as residents and workers, to better establish transatlantic understanding.
After an intensive 3-month language course, fellows take placements at public and private institutions to accomplish a personal project. I proposed a continuation of sorts to my work as a Burns fellow, inspired by one young German woman’s identity crisis. Zeynep Balazümbül told me simply, “Someone asked me where I’m from, and I said I’m German and she was like ‘Oh come on.’ If you have one person who tells you ‘Oh come on you’re not German’ that one bad experience is enough to just give up and say they just don’t want me.”
She went on to say immigrants wanted to be German, but that some Germans didn’t know what that really meant. How can an immigrant fully integrate, when the native population is still unsure about its national identity? How does an area historically divided by kingdoms and principalities; by republics and empires; find a united identity? And how can solidly independent regions (for example Bavaria in Germany, or Texas in the US) remain culturally rich, without alienating the rest of the country?
These questions make up the core of my project. I’d like to study the identity of the German people, through the eyes of immigrants, as an outsider. I imagine it will be difficult, yet rewarding endeavor.
In addition to resigning my position in Phoenix radio, moving to be with family for a few weeks, and preparing to move abroad, I’ve been trying to complete my family tree for our young one. In doing so I’m given a new, and almost ironic perspective of the experiences I’m having. My family, as many families had, migrated to North America (first to Canada, then the USA) to find a better life. My ancestors were farmers, and hardworkers, who sacrificed immensely to make it in a new world. And after scrimping and saving, these ancestors laid the groundwork for the blessings I enjoy each day.
But now, at least four generations later, my troupe of three is heading back to the old country for opportunity and a global perspective. I can only imagine what my ancestors would think of the paths available nowadays, but I hope they would smile. After all, their decisions led to the life I’m fortunate enough to live.
Hopefully, wherever my travels take me, I’ll do them proud.