Carmen began ‘living abroad’ at a young age after her family left their native Peru for Canada. Her life to date has already seen her live in 5 countries and learn to speak three languages. Currently residing in Berlin, Carmen tells us about her life, as a truly international soul, in her own words.
I am one of those people who does not have only one place to call home. I know that may seem sad – and it is to some extent. I miss my family and friends dearly, and sometimes I feel like I don’t really belong. But studying, working and living abroad has exposed me to the most incredible array of people, a high degree of independence and self-awareness from a young age, and a collection of wonderful experiences. This short piece takes you through some of them.
From Lima to Berlin (with a few stops in between)
I was born in Lima, Peru. My family moved to Canada when I was young. It’s easy to see why my parents chose Toronto: security, economic opportunity, solid education system. My initial move away from Canada was not really planned. Like other 22 year olds before and after me, I followed a boy. My boy was Austrian.
Living in Vienna was a challenge. I did not speak a word of German when I arrived, which made it extremely difficult to integrate into what is already a relatively closed society. At the same time, Vienna has many things that I value from a city: culture, safety, beauty.
After two and a half years doing a Masters and working in Vienna, I moved to London to do a PhD. The choice of where to live was again made for me: I wanted to go to the London School of Economics, and the rest (including location) was secondary. My London experience was fantastic, not least because of the caliber of the students I taught and the people I worked with. However, in terms of living in the city, a high standard of living is inaccessible below a certain income. This not only makes achieving a certain quality of life difficult, but also underlines societal inequalities that I do not wish to surround myself with.
I now live in Berlin. It’s the first time that I have actually chosen the city rather than moved there almost by default. The best description of the city that I have ever heard is ‘bunt’ – colourful. And it is! A high quality of life, resplendent with culture, surrounded by lakes and green. Open, liberal, alive – this is what attracts me to the city. It’s a place where anything goes; you can truly live out your individuality in whichever way you choose.
Of course there are challenges. I do not yet feel like a true Berliner, and I am not sure if I ever will. I started learning German while I lived in Austria, so in this sense neither the language barrier nor the culture shock pose insurmountable obstacles to me. I am also lucky that my workplace is extremely international. In fact, my team is made up of mostly non-German speakers. Still, it is a personal goal (one that I have to push myself to fulfill) to be able to work fully in German by the end of the year.
Working As An Expat
Fittingly, I currently work for a company in the travel industry – an online marketplace that matches up travelers with hosts offering private accommodation. Wimdu is a well-funded internet startup in a converted electrical power station in the heart of the city. My colleagues are some of the brightest and most motivated individuals that I have ever met – even compared to the academic environment at the LSE.
The company is built around the notion of social travel and collaborative consumption: sharing is better than owning. In this way, it fits well with my own international experiences: building a network and social interaction are imperative for feeling at home. I have had many wonderful experiences staying with Wimdu hosts, and I continue to believe in the company’s broader raison d’être.
Finding A Home
I have been out of Canada for seven years now. The realization that I will probably never go back hurts. However, I know that when I start laying down my own roots (I don’t have children yet, and my limping tabby cat isn’t exactly what I call roots), Berlin will feel more and more familiar.
The immigrant / expat experience in a way has defined me and my family for a long time now. My parents left our home in Lima for greater opportunities abroad. They went from always seeing the Andes to the East, to being surrounded by flat Ontario fields. “Without the mountains there is nothing to orient you,” I have often heard my parents say. In a way, we all go through this experience when we are uprooted from our homes, voluntarily or not. We lose our main orientation points and must find our way in new environments while we attempt to create a home.
In the end, a home is the byproduct of many elements that come together: having loved ones nearby, professional fulfillment, and, at least for me, being surrounded by support and positivity. Moving homes has taught me to meet change, uncertainty and challenges with a deep breath and a smile. The rest just comes with time.
Dr. Carmen Gayoso is Head of Affiliate and Strategic Cooperation at Wimdu GmbH (www.wimdu.de).
She loves intense working weeks, energetic Saturdays and lazy Sundays.
Please connect via LinkedIn!