Monday, 9 June 2014

Sink fast



I recently moved to Berlin, and while escaping to a foreign land may sound like a stressful process, for me the logistics have been fairly simple. 

My friend had arranged the flights and accommodation for the first part of our trip, and once we arrived he took responsibility for getting us around and dealing with the local people (his German is very good, you see). Everybody speaks English in Berlin, as it happens, so I could have gotten by. All the same, I was nestled comfortably under his wing. 

It wasn't long before I began looking for work as an English language teacher, and I planned to go out alone to visit employers in person with my CVs. I wrote the address and contact information of every language school I could find, and used Google Maps to plot the point of each one. I then took a snapshot of the routes between them and uploaded it to my phone. 

I would be able to see the location and street name of every destination I was going to visit, along with the fastest route to them. I estimated the whole journey would take roughly two and a half hours. I would wake up early. I was totally prepared...

It was two o'clock by time I escaped my apartment. Using an ingenious pulley system, I was able to slide beneath the shutter covering our front door without the use of our lone front door key, which had been taken by my room-mate. (Our apartment was once a bakery, in case you were wondering.)

A minor hiccough, I thought, but if I stick to the schedule I'd still have more than enough time to complete my rounds. 

First stop, the questionably named “Copy Con” to print my CVs. According to Google Maps' traffic indicators the trip should have taken a mere seven minutes had I left on the night I researched it.

It took 90 minutes. What a difference a day makes.

I produced ten washed-out CVs. The gentleman at the counter told me the cost of my printing in English (which he guessed was my mother tongue, based on all the English I was speaking). His friend laughed at him. The cashier looked at me and said “'one euro fifty,' that's how you say it in English, right?”

I said “perfecto”. This wasn't English. Maybe I was jealous that he could speak a foreign language and I wanted to throw him a curve ball? Maybe I thought I was speaking German?

Maybe it was 4pm and I wanted to do a little bit of a cry somewhere? 

I carried on. Reaching my next destination took no time at all, I was there within fifteen minutes. Now we're cooking!

However, instead of gazing up at the grandieur... the spectacle... of ExploreEnglish's cutting edge language building... I was in fact looking at a man selling nuts from a cart.

No problem, I'll just give them a quick call and make sure I have the right address.

They had no address. ExploreEnglish was one guy, giving English lessons, from his apartment, in Düsseldorf.  

I felt a sincere temptation to become mildly frustrated and dare I say, disappointed by my experiences...

I had spent all of my money on flights and accommodation and food. I had only one friend in Berlin. I was living in an apartment that only received WiFi in two rooms, one which my friend had won in a coin toss when we got the place, and the other (which I am typing this in right now) is a hallway. I had to re-watch several episodes of MacGyver just to let myself out of the front door. 

I was sleeping on a mattress in a dining room.

I was cold every night. 

Our apartment had no spoons.


But, somehow, I wasn't disappointed. Or frustrated. I wasn't angry or upset.

I was happy. I was almost blissfully happy. 

I had been stressed, I was exhausted and sweating. I had been uncomfortable and embarrassed talking to blank faces in broken German, asking why they could only print in Schwarz und Weiss.

But it was invigorating. I learned more vocabulary on this one day than any other - that's the honest truth. I learned bus routes and where I could buy tickets. I learned how to ask for food to take away. I learned to make sure the job I wanted definitely was available and definitely wasn't in Düsseldorf. I learned a whole bunch of stuff that I never would have learned if I hadn't have braved it alone. 

I didn't hand out any CVs. I didn't visit eight language schools. I visited one old man, struggling to stay conscious while selling salted almonds in the sun. But after this embarrassing mistake, where I found myself on Berlin's Gaza Strip dressed like a lawyer, I called the other offices which I had planned to visit - something I should have done hours previously. None of my prospective employers were willing to see me on that day. However, a few were interested in me... they said I should maybe stop by next week... have a chat.

Even if I screw it up again next time. Even if I lose my way and feel embarrassed. Even if, even if, even if...

I discovered more in one rough, lonely, lost day, than two weeks in my bubble. I can live with screwing up again.


You will always remain in the shallow end of the pool if your feet never leave the ground. The sooner you sink - the sooner you'll swim.