The Last Two Years
I’m sitting in my old Glasgow flat in front of my laptop, doing some reading for the second week of classes. I can hear my flatmates, one whom I grew up with in my wee rural village, and the other, with whom I lived with in my first year of university, cooking in the kitchen. Later I’m meeting an old friend for coffee and then going to the pub with my course mates, before going to my first live concert since March 2019. It’s all a bit surreal and I feel like I’m living a dream. I’m back to my old life, my old routine, with familiar faces and the same daily walk to my classes at university. But it’s not the same: cafés and restaurants in the city have come and gone, with a whole new fleet of places to explore; many of my friends have graduated and moved on to new adventures in other parts of the world; and I’m not the same. The last time I lived in this city, I was 19. Now I am 22 and back in the West End of Glasgow after spending the last two years in Germany. In that time, I lived through a pandemic, broken bones, and survived all the challenges that come from living in an unfamiliar country.
I remember thinking to myself in Summer 2019, just before moving to Germany to study abroad for a year, “what happens if I really, really enjoy it and I don’t want to come back home?” Two years later and I’m only back now. The pandemic, as devastating as it has been for everyone, was a gateway for me to chase what I wanted and trust my instincts. I had drifted from high school to university without knowing if what I was studying was what I really wanted to, but feeling pressured to study “because everyone does” and using university to tread water before entering the ‘real’ world. Only on my year abroad during my Erasmus study exchange did I really feel content with the path I was following. When my exchange was uprooted by the pandemic, I ended back in my childhood home with my eldest sister and parents in the Scottish countryside. On a walk with my sister, I let out all my frustrations and heartbreak that I couldn’t be in the only place I had really felt like myself in, to which she responded: “Well, why don’t you just stay longer?” I toyed with the idea, but it didn’t seem realistic: how could I find a job or internship in Germany with my mediocre German language skills in the middle of the pandemic? Hours of being led from website to website to another and to another led me to the ESC portal, and despite my initial confusion on how offers like these even existed, I didn’t look back. An application, a couple interviews, and suddenly I had an offer to volunteer for a year and a train booked to Bremen.
Moving to Bremen during the pandemic was challenging, especially with a lockdown that began at the start of winter and was relaxed just as spring was ending. During summer I tried to make the most of my remaining time in Germany, as I had booked my ticket home for September, re-enrolled at university, and everything was ready for me to slot back into my former life in Scotland. More and more aspects of my volunteering transitioned to an offline setting, such as participating in outdoors events led by other NGOs and organising a fundraising charity concert with the other volunteers. I spent my last few weeks visiting old friends, going on trips with my friends from Bremen, and enjoying the summer weather (when there was any!) by going wild swimming and on bike rides. The long train and bus journeys whilst travelling gave me time to reflect on my time in Bremen. Have I achieved everything I wanted? Did the experience fulfil the expectations I had before starting my ESC volunteering? It’s hard to reflect on these questions. I loved my volunteering despite not being able to do all the tasks I should have because of restrictions, and I try not to be too hard on myself when I think about all the things I wish that I could have achieved. Naturally, my mind wanders and I can’t help but think what if? In terms of expectations, I’ve learnt that I should have less. The last two years have made me (and most likely all of us) realise how unexpected everything is and that planning ahead can be fruitless. I’ve also learnt to just follow what really makes me happy in the moment, and not force myself to continue on the path I am on just to fulfil the (most likely hypothetical) expectations of others or the pressure I put on myself. I will always be grateful that I listened to and trusted myself to follow what I really wanted to do, and that ESC provided me with an opportunity to go and do just that.
And now my time in Bremen is over and I am back in Glasgow. This city and country were once familiar to me. They still are, but sometimes I feel like a stranger here. I don’t know which way to look when I cross the street, and I’ve narrowly avoided being hit by a car on too many occasions now. I still try to pay with the 2€ coin that lingers in my wallet, and I stand puzzled above my kitchen bins each day, having no idea anymore what I can and cannot recycle. I bump into friendly faces and old friends almost every day on the street since being back and I have learnt how to explain the last two years in a two-minute summary. Two years of memories, experiences, and life-changing moments reduced to a short abstract. I still don’t know how to introduce myself in class or to new people, but so far it goes like this:
My name is Eilidh.
I am 22 years old.
I study German and Politics.
I am in my fourth year of university.
My mention of studying a language and being in my fourth year brings up the inevitable question every time:
Oh! So, does that mean you’re just back from your year abroad?
Well, yes. And no. Years abroad. Technically I am just back from my university year abroad: I haven’t been back to Glasgow or Scotland since I finished my study exchange until now, but a lot has happened between then and now. I followed my gut, moved to a new city to volunteer in a country that is now more familiar to me than my home country, and I grew up. In response to the question, I tend to just say:
Well, yeah, I did my study exchange in Freiburg between 2019-20 and liked it so much that I decided to stay a year longer and moved to Bremen to volunteer through the European Solidarity Corps programme.
I know that right now the dream I feel like I am living in will kick into reality. This familiar and unfamiliar city will become my home again and I will fit right in again soon. I will look back on my time in Germany with a sense of fondness and nostalgia, and not as if it is my life right now and I still live there, and that I’ll be back just next week. I’m giving myself time, patience, and understanding to settling in, readjusting and the tsunami of emotions and ups and downs that are coming with it.
Onwards and upwards, it’s time for the next chapter.
Eilidh was hosted in our team as part of the project “From Global to Local”, financed by the European Solidarity Corps and JUGEND für Europa.