Mermaids away from home

I recently moved to a different continent and it sure feels like the other side of the world to me. I live at the US Pacific coast now, a nine hour time difference away from home. When my day starts, my family and friends at home are just about to end their workday to start their evenings. I didn’t know anyone in the city that I moved to before I arrived and was hesitant to move to the US in general (let’s just say: Trump & guns). In the past I’ve always rolled my eyes at international scholars that seem to stick together in groups of people from the same nationality – you often see large lunch groups of Chinese, Spanish or Italian students. Whenever I introduce myself here, people would reply “Oh, I know another German! The two of you should meet!” And I think: Why? It’s not that I came to the US to meet Germans, but rather try to mingle with the locals. Somehow it still seems as if some people carry a built-in sensor that leads them towards people from home…

So the other day I was sitting in my new office when I heard a knock on the door. There was an older man standing there, who introduced himself as Karl and wanted to welcome me to the new department. He handed me an article and told me that he hoped I had time for a meeting the next day and that he would bring me more things to read then. The article that he gave me was on the biology, culture, and demise of mermaids and I only found out then that I just talked to Karl A. Banse, a German Professor emeritus at the University of Washington, a brilliant scientist with a great sense of humor. Karl is 89 years old, started his scientific career in Kiel, Germany, but has been living in Seattle for ages. Despite his age, he comes into work every day, still doing lab work and giving lectures. He seems so thrilled to have found another German colleague in his department now, that he comes by each day to talk to me in German for a few minutes, usually bringing me articles and suggestions for cultural activities in the city. He now offered to share his subscription for the German newspaper “Die Zeit”, which he receives every week, and when I come in in the morning, I sometimes find hand-scribbled notes on my desk with ideas for concerts I could attend or maps, in which he marked the most scenic hiking trails for me. He’s just so kind and considerate, and it’s nice to see how much he is enjoying to talk in German for a bit. Somehow, I start to understand why people seem to long for something familiar while away and I sometimes catch myself now being disappointed when he is not coming in.

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