Rediscovering the “homeland”

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It wasn’t a surprise, but it also wasn’t necessarily the easiest solution:  my former employer World Radio Switzerland was sold by the public service, destined to become a local commercial station in Geneva.  That change has happened, and the vast majority of regular news staff from the public service were let go.

Our station had a tough history–one better explained in person and over a beverage–but it had accomplished an impressive task of producing award-winning coverage about Switzerland, and educating Swiss and ex-pats alike as to how that idiosyncratic country works (or doesn’t.)

The staff of WRS was given about a year to prepare itself for the eventual sale.  Some claimed our jobs would be secure until 2014, others, myself included, expected less.  We lost our political reporter and news director right away, and others were looking at the door.

As my family had to begin to think about schooling for my child, and I had to focus on my dissertation for my MA, we made one of the hardest decisions we have ever made: quit, leave Switzerland, and leave Europe, after four years abroad.  Shortly after we made this decision, and I gave my notice, the station’s sale was finalized and a timeline was in motion.

Staff had about three months before they would be laid-off, and the station and all content would disappear to be reborn as another kind of radio.  It is not my kind of radio, but it didn’t really affect me; my plans were already in motion.

Readjusting to the USA, which I hadn’t visited in two years, has been difficult.  It is even more difficult than when I returned from two months in Germany back in 2008.  At that time I wrote this: “People ask if it’s hard to readjust after two months abroad.  In some ways it is: the little German I know is now less useful, and I have to be careful not to use it without context.  It’s weird not using trains and public transport, even walking everywhere.  And it’s weird answering the question “is it hard to readjust after two months abroad.”

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Analysis: The state of journalism and multiculturalism in German public radio

Journalism's changing

Editor’s Note:  This is a personal narrative and commentary about German public radio, and multiculturalism therein, based on my experience in the last years.  I offer my observations, suggestions, and hopes, perhaps to prompt further thought or consideration from journalists and newsreaders alike.  Warning..this is a long one!

“You have no idea what you are talking about, Luka*.“  The small Greek colleague pushed a harshly dismissive comment toward Luka, incensing something primal in the latter.  I had not yet met this colleague, after all I was just considered a Praktikant, an intern, a visitor, a stranger and kept more or less to myself unless prompted.  I sat at the back corner of the meeting table in a German editorial meeting.

“How do you know what I have an idea about?” Luka shot back in his thick accent—Bosnian or Hungarian, I wasn’t quite sure.  The other members of this multi-cultural editorial staff shifted their eyes nervously, some chuckled, not sure what to do.  I stopped moving all-together, frozen in a pose for observation: my posture slouched, my chin buried in my hands, my eyes fixed.  A discussion about refugees from Eastern Europe quickly turned heated.

“You don’t know what the refugees need.  You don’t know who they are, or what they are doing.”  The Greek colleague looked sure of himself, almost taunting the situation to escalate.  A soft winter light shone in through the windows behind me, and story ideas pinned to a tack board fluttered slightly.

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Melting Winter

There is something soothing about the sound of running water.  As the elixir of life barrels over itself from mountains to sea the air inherits a freshness.  Luckily for us, bordering one side of our neighborhood is a small river.  A well-flowing creek keeps the water circulating in a near-by pond .  Ice still covers much of this tree-lined pond, but the ducks still find space to dunk their heads, and search for food.

To us, this bit of nature is a respite from a city’s chaos.  We have lived in Berlin, Munich, Phoenix..all cities with an abundance of movement and healthy populations.  Even our former neighborhood in Zurich was suburban but dense–a view of a tree was enough to be considered experiencing “nature.”  A meeting with a few (Swiss) neighbors yesterday gave glimpse at how our pond and river-rich neighborhood once was, before “change” moved in.

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Sliding into the New Year

New Year
Compared to our New Year’s Eve last year in Munich, Switzerland seemed like it slept through the “slide” into 2011.  (German speakers wish you a good slide into the New Year) Munich was like a war-zone, and bottle rockets and various explosive devices like the one pictured above would surely unnerve even the most fearless sober reveler.

Switzerland likes to temper itself, and everything from recycling to celebrating must be done orderly and Swiss-like.  Oh yes there were loud booms, and lights flashing, but all but one celebrant stopped igniting things at 00:30 on the dot.  The last hold-out must have been from Munich.

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Integrating the Swedish Way

The life of an “expat” is an experience that comes in varied shades, with light-years between one extreme to the other.  Some companies totally fund a relocation abroad for example.  An employee might be paid $120,000 a year, given a company car, might have private school for his or her children paid for ($20,000/year value), full transport of furniture and personal items via ocean container might be paid for–add any number of other perks beyond my experience and expectation.

My reality is very different from that portrayed above.  My salary is modest, my transport is public, my (toddler) child is schooled by loving parents and paperbacks, and furniture…well…most of our furniture still sits in the US and came from the Swedish pre-fab giant Ikea, a branch of which sits conveniently right down the street from our new apartment.  And buying anew and reassembling our apartment turned out to be much cheaper than shipping over our sentimental loot from American storage.

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Tis the (Swiss) season

Christmas markets descend on the German-speaking world like sunlight cast over a dark, helpless countryside.  Pre-fabricated huts designed to appear like miniature log cabins populate town squares irresistible to many in Switzerland, Germany and Austria.  Heated wine served in decorative mugs flows by the barrel-full, and crafts, textiles and miscellaneous “stuff” can be purchased for only a slight mark-up…think of it as paying for the experience of an outdoor seasonal market.

We find ourselves now in a new season, in our new country, and a new apartment, breathing in yet another trove of experience in this whirlwind journey we call life.

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