So today I got my sponsored work visa to stay in Germany. My youth working holiday visa finished at the start of September (because I am no longer a youth – I am 31 and old according to governments the world over) and the kindergarten that I work for offered to sponsor me so that I could continue working for them.
It was a strange moment when the woman at the Auslanderbehörde (Foreigner’s Registration Office) handed me my passport with the new visa inside. Not least of all because she decided to speak English to me, and I had been pretty certain, up to this point, that all German bureaucrats had to speak German to everyone at all times because they are:
a) working in Germany for the German government and
b) could mistranslate something and then give someone the wrong information and then get the government into a lot of trouble.
That’s a reasonable sounding rationale I made up in my head to explain why everyone in Berlin speaks perfect English except the people in bureaucracy, and especially the people who might need to actually speak a language other than German (for example, at the Foreigner’s Registration Office).
Nevertheless, the strangest thing about getting my visa today was opening up my passport and seeing that, as long as I kept working at the same kindergarten and did nothing else, I could stay in Germany until August 2018.
3 more years.
That seems like a really long time.
Of course, it’s not. The years are going by faster and faster these days (and yet, I still don’t seem to be able to get anything useful done – how did I ever have time to graduate high school and also watch daily episodes of Neighbours and The Simpsons?) and I even have friends with children older than 3 years (which is, incidentally, terrifying) and just next year we’ll have another Australian federal election (though it sometimes seems we have changes of government even more regularly…)
However, for the past 5 years, I’ve been living visa to visa and every time I’ve made a move, it’s for a limited amount of time, usually under 2 years. Ireland was meant to be a year and I stayed for a year and a bit. My UK visa was for 2 years and I stayed for just under that. My original German visa was for a year. And in between times, I’ve had all sorts of other plans that never came to fruition. At some point I was considering moving to Canada for a year. For a couple of months near the end of my UK visa I was coming to terms with the idea that I would have to move back to Australia and deciding what kind of life that was going to be. At the start of my Irish visa I was going to live and work in Cork for 6 months, then hike the whole island of Ireland and some of the UK and then travel home to Australia via the Trans-Mongolian railway (some day, my friends, some day).
This slightly nomadic existence hasn’t always seemed entirely of my own choosing. Once I started I was unable to stop. I collected countries and youth visas the way that children used to collect Pokemon. There was a strange compulsion to the country hopping. Sure there were always reasons for the next country (not least of all because the visa in the last one had run out), but at no point did it seem to enter my head that I could just stop. Go home. Be still and quiet and nest for a while. There was a time limit to the visas I was on (the 30 year limit), which perhaps created the whiff of desperation. There was also a reluctance to return to Australia once I’d gotten out here. Not because Australia is horrible, but because… Australia is far away. And once I’d gotten far away, it seemed like a lot of effort to go back. And to go back to… what, exactly? Yes, my family is there and friends still, but there wasn’t exactly a life that I left behind. I had no job, no career, no house, no pets. I knew I didn’t want to live in Sydney anymore, I probably didn’t want to move back to Newcastle, but there was nothing that said I had to come home. There seemed no reason to end the ‘adventure’.
With a 3 year visa in my hand, the nomadic existence seems to be at an end. I’m not exactly sad. But I’m also not exactly certain about the place that I’ve landed. I came mainly because another visa was at an end. For the first few months I resented being here and that coloured a lot of my initial impressions of the place. My lack of German makes working in a German environment hard – not because I can’t understand instructions or what’s going on around me. But because it makes me feel like a different person – a quiet one, an introspective one, a boring one, someone who sits on the edge of conversations and barely keeps up, instead of someone who actively, happily participates. I’m aware that I want to do *something else* but whether or not that *something else* (whatever it is) is possible in Germany without qualifications or proper German is also up for debate. The German government has opened it’s arms to me, warmly, strangely, unexpectedly, in a way that the Irish and British governments never did, would never do, and yet all I can say is, ‘uh…. I dunno… let me get back to you.’
Obviously just because I have a 3 year visa doesn’t mean I have to stay here. I’m not exactly certain if the constant moving is really at an end. Maybe A. and I will go back to Cambridge in a year (though we also said that a year ago when we first moved to Berlin). Maybe we will move back to Australia so that A. can get acquainted with the poisonous snakes and I can remember all the good things about my home. Maybe I’ll start writing racy historical bodice rippers for the self-publishing arm of Amazon and I can buy A. a run-down Irish castle, who knows? But wherever I end up, this new visa is the end of an era. The youth visas are over. From now on my choices of country will have to be more deliberate and more permanent.
I suppose there’s a comfort in that feeling of permanence, of stability, of knowing where you live and who you live there with and what that place is like, of knowing that things will happen at certain times in certain places, of knowing how to tip and how to buy a travel card, of where to get a good breakfast and where to get a good dinner, on knowing the exact phrasing and intonation on public transport announcements, on having supermarket preferences. The dull bits of life I got bored of in Australia are the things I am now most loathe to lose the next time (if there is a next time) that we move. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s because I’ve worked out what I actually want. Or, maybe it just is what it is and there is no deeper meaning.
I went out looking for adventure and found my ordinary life.