Swapsy Scholarship Program - Life as an International Student

Anchita Addhya · April 14, 2019

About the author: Anchita is originally from India. She is now studying in Germany. Besides lab work and academia world, she also has a passion for the stage. She is a a trained painter, a theatre enthusiast, editor, public speaker, closet poet and a traveller in search of home!


Most nights, around 1 AM, I have imaginary conversations with the white ceiling above me. Once in a while it leads to beautiful poetry, but mostly it’s the uncomfortable feeling of the walls closing in on me; and me begging the ceiling to hold them apart for one more night. Whenever I am in Hamburg, I develop this uncanny urge of bonding with inanimate objects, because socializing after excruciatingly long hours in the lab is too much work. And this forged distance from humans in general is very conducive to my creative spurt. I often find myself wondering about the plight of the poor pink carpet on my floor and maybe penning down a line or two! Solitude, assuredly, enhances creativity. On the surface, it looks like this loneliness is pushing me towards madness; but aren’t we all crazy in our own little ways. So, in all my craziness, I ask, how far am I from the edge; how long until this seclusion stops being my creative induction and instead starts pushing me dangerously close to depression. I stare hard at the ceiling demanding answers and in the midst of such semi-philosophical discussions; I fall asleep on some nights. On others, podcasts on my phone come in as a convenient cure for my insomnia.


The days aren’t too different either. Amidst the murmur of a foreign tongue and the cacophony of children crying in a foreign language, I have imaginary conversations with the people around me. Sometimes, silently, I admire the tattoo on the neck of the teenage girl sitting in front of me and even more her guts, because I could never muster up the courage to even tell my parents that I wanted to keep my hair long. And then there are days when, I exchange glances and shy smiles with a cute German guy; but all through my life, I have been taught not to trust strangers, so I look away. I am a twenty-something woman living alone. Of course, I don’t want any trouble. My dating history hasn’t been particularly reliable either, so I look away before things become too suggestive. I get down from the bus, dejected, and inch towards the ice cream truck, in the hope, that chocolate will be the perfect solution to my failed romantic attempt. But, the last few euros in my wallet remind me that my empty refrigerator needs a refilling and that, ice-cream is a luxury I cannot afford. Thus, nursing my lonely heart and empty stomach, I enter the lab hoping to find solace in my experiments. However, my equipment isn’t always too compliant, its mood-swings are worse than mine and once in two days, it decides not to work, jeopardizing my whole schedule. 


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(author working in the lab, picture provided by author)


Three things however always remain constant in this dynamic life of mine; first, waking up to a flurry of missed calls and urgent messages from my mother every morning and, second, an ominous and cloudy Hamburg sky absolutely adamant not to let me see the Sun.  The third constant is my cup of freshly concocted coffee sharp at 2 PM every day. Every afternoon at 2, I am free from expectations and responsibilities for half an hour. I swear I don’t waste a single of these eighteen hundred seconds; I dive right into mulling over my existential crisis and how an artist at heart ended up in a physics lab in a foreign country. It almost feels like having an affair with physics while my whole being belongs to writing. It feels wrong. Some days, the loneliness in this foreign land gets the better of me and I almost decide to walk up to my supervisor and say “I quit.” However, it isn’t always so easy, is it? My love for science, however secondary it is, is there and it feeds me. It takes me to conferences, so that I can write about chasing sunsets on the waterways in Venice and scaling mountains in Austria. It brought me to this foreign land and made me fiercely independent. It gave me the distance from my friends and my mother, that is much-needed for composing the late-night verses on love, loss and everything in between. Amidst such ruminations, before I realise, my thirty minutes get over, my leftover coffee goes cold and my heart decides to go to the lab and start afresh!


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(trip to Venice, picture provided by author)


Sometimes on Fridays, I socialize as well. And I have managed to find four people from four different countries (it wasn’t intentional), who are equally crazy as I am, if not more! Our conversations generally range from science to politics to music and even our partner preferences, to which I mostly remain silent, courtesy my ‘amazing’ dating history! Whenever my turn comes, I mostly bore them to death with every tiny detail about my mother. I miss her. A lot! And they, being beautiful souls, empathize. They too have moved out of their homes to this faraway land in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s absolutely beautiful how, for a moment, all lines become blurred. Our cultural and linguistic differences are overpowered by the stronger emotion of missing our loved ones. We stare into the distance; until one of us, usually the most drunk one, decides to lighten the mood. Thus, begin a series of ill-timed jokes and invention of weird dance moves to creepy songs - leading to embarrassing videos, that we can laugh about on the next morning. Life seems not so bad after all!


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(ice skating with friends, picture provided by author)


While returning from these late-night revelries of Friday, I mostly take the shuttle, because public transport at 4 in the morning becomes pretty scarce! I get to meet shuttle drivers from different countries, and if I am lucky, once in a while I come across an Indian driver. Speaking in my native language, even if for a few minutes, becomes the highlight of my day. It is as though a thirst (that I didn’t even know existed) is satiated. However, as I step out of the cab, unknowingly “danke schön” slips out like a half-hearted prayer to thank the driver. While walking on the pavement in front of my home, I look up as the stars align and I wonder; I wonder, whether this foreign land has indeed become my home and their language my prayers. I turn the key and open the lock to a desolate house, cook an incomplete meal of scrambled eggs and sit down. Sometimes, a lone, traitor teardrop spills out. I wipe it off. I don’t have time to cry, do I? I have a life-long journey ahead of me. I will change houses even before I can call them home. My itchy-feet will look for the next adventure and white ceilings of empty houses would be the only companions I will learn to live with. So, I grab my headphones and have a lonely dinner with Porcupine Trees blaring in my ears, as I sing along to the lyrics of “Arriving somewhere but not here”, under the white ceiling, the lone witness to my pathetic singing skills!