Inbetween: Countries & Cultures, is a space for candid discussions around transient identities as people move to a new country of residence. In this space, individuals share stories and reflections on their experiences, as they make their way through a new space, culture and society.
In conversation with Anahat Kaur, a student and a friend, presently pursuing a Master of Design at the Basel School of Design, FHNW, HGK in Switzerland. Anahat answers questions posed to her as part of this exchange via email, where she discusses her personal trajectory as she navigates through a new country in these uncertain times, while reflecting on its impact on her identity.
How is your life abroad different than your life at home?
The answer to this is two-fold because my life here is very different but it is also almost the same. Sometimes I joke about how being in quarantine abroad is almost the same as regular life in India for a woman. It seems like I have a lot more space and time to make errors and really figure who I am without the weight of my own community and expectations in India. This for me is not only a battle with my homeland but how I embody home inside of me. Being abroad makes you change yourself to ‘fit in’ into your new country. You start to change the way you dress, address and express. Much of this change is really valuable because you’re learning new things, but the other side of the story is the suppression of your identity rooted in your motherland, in my case, India. I am in the process of assimilation, which is the process of deciding what bits of my home do I embrace and keep and what bits am I ready to let go of. It’s important to know that there are no right or wrongs in this process but only feeling. Because beyond the voice of reason, beyond the objective lens, your feelings cannot lie to you. And what feels like home is only up to the individual to decide.
How have your social interactions changed?
Initially, I felt like I was watching a TV show, to be honest, and I couldn’t believe this was my everyday life. It took me some time to get used to the general switch in how different people looked and behaved. I struggled to get close to people and form meaningful relations but now after spending more than a year abroad, I’ve realised it’s a much slower process. Especially compared to India where people generally have tight-knit circles. Even though I often miss that closeness, I feel much more secure now with my relationships with people. I’ve learnt to really give space to myself and people to be themselves and the right friendships form naturally in this space. There is much to be learnt in your own company and I’ve realised that my relationships with people change as much as my relationship with myself does. It is first an internal process and then an external one. But I have to thank my new home in Switzerland for giving me space and security to unfold myself.
Do you intend on living and working abroad after your education? If so, how does this affect your present? How and what are some steps or changes that you presently taking or embodying for facilitating this shift?
Aaaahh! The classic question but an essential one. Yes! I do want to gain working experience abroad. It is something on my mind almost every day. Being an immigrant from India, you are reminded at every step of your position in the country. I feel like I am in the bottom of the pile when it comes to applying for jobs after graduation. Sometimes I feel I’m just a statistic. A Non-EU citizen, Immigrant, Non-German speaker, Woman, Designer. Notice how what I’m studying is the last on the list. I first have four other layers defining me before my work does. It’s definitely frustrating to face the same competition with a completely different starting point. So, I have to remind myself that after a point it is not a reflection of my value as a creative but the result of an unfair system.
The new-found sense of freedom and security I’ve experienced in this new country is very dear to me. It’s something I cannot have in India. So, the thought of going back home and giving up many of the things I’ve worked hard to attain here is heart-breaking. I’m afraid to let go of who I have become here. But I’ve found peace in the fact that my efforts can only do so much, and I have to again, remember, to enjoy my life and not spend my time worrying, planning, stressing or complaining. Because if this pandemic has proved anything, it is that you can’t take anything for granted and you never know what might happen at any given moment. So, I definitely have a newfound appreciation for the present and how precious our fragile existence is.
Another small side of me is super excited to go back to India and contribute to helping reshape my own country. I feel many people decide to leave their country in order to find better opportunities and ‘escape’ their home, I did too. But in some ways, we are responsible for being the change we want to see. Although I do not judge anyone who decides to leave, to each their own. I might do the same. Who knows? Once again, planning far too ahead has proven to be a waste of time this year. So, we will see how the future unfolds itself. For now, all I can do is to practice my craft and take baby steps to achieve my goals while keeping space to appreciate and enjoy my life in the present.