Lily Wang: “For me, home or the German ‘Heimat’, does not necessarily refer to a particular location”
Name: Lily Ling Yun Wang
Lives in: Beijing, China
Country of origin: China/Canada, it’s hard to tell
Period in Germany: October 2015 to July 2016
Funding organisation: DAAD
Occupation: Student and currently GIZ Intern
What makes a true local? Lily Wang was born in Qingdao, Shandong province, on the Chinese east coast. Her father and her mother, one from Xian, in the North of China, one from Chongqing, in the Chinese Southwest, had moved there to make a life for themselves. Although both were born in the same country, their hometowns are roughly as far from Qingdao as the distance between Berlin and Barcelona. So even in her place of birth, Lily never felt like a true local, noticing the differences in customs, dialects and lifestyles between her family and their neighbors and friends.
At the age of ten, her family uprooted and moved to Montreal, Canada. She found herself in a new country, not speaking the language, getting accustomed to new surroundings, new people and a different climate from her old home at the Oceanside. The excitement of starting out new and discovering different perspectives on life was exhilarating and would stay with her when it was her turn to choose her next destination. After starting college her restlessness brought her on a field research assignment to Sololá, Guatemala. Another one of her stops was Freiburg, Germany, where she studied on a DAAD undergraduate scholarship.
Being a Germany-Alumna, Lily joined the Alumniportal Deutschland to stay in touch with Germany after she left. During the Alumniportal’s virtual career fair Trained in GermanY China 2016 , Lily visited the GIZ in China virtual booth and got to talking with the staff of the GIZ country office. The talk eventually lead to her applying for an internship at the project “Capacity Building for the Establishment of Emission Trading Schemes (ETS) in China” implemented by GIZ in China on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).
Lily is currently making Beijing her temporary home, working for GIZ. The Alumniportal caught up with her to talk about what “Setting out” and being on the move means to her.
“When you are not seen as a local, integrating into the community takes effort”
What does the phrase “living abroad” mean to you?
Lily Wang: Normally, I would have answered something along the lines of getting to know a new country, new customs and traditions, new sets of rules and norms, new languages … in brief, everything NEW! But most importantly, it means for me to learn about new sides of myself and the world around me.
“Abroad” for me can only exist when there is a border between different entities. In the most commonly accepted sense, confined by national limits. Since a very young age, I was already troubled, yet quite fortunate, to encounter this invisible border that we, as people, have created for ourselves with the purpose of better governing the world. However, through my upbringing, I have always tried to break down such borders/barriers because they are what set people apart from each other. Really “living abroad” thus means to me to live in a world of borderless human interactions.
What were your reasons to leave you home country?
Lily Wang: During the first move, from China to Canada, it was really not up to me. I couldn’t choose, but moved with my parents, who made the decision. Even before we moved, I never really felt like a true local. My parents migrated from different parts of China to settle down in Qingdao, so I never enjoyed the advantages or disadvantages of being a local. What I mean by that is that when you are not seen as a local, integrating into the community takes effort and you have the feeling that you don’t really fit in. But for me that supposedly negative feeling of not fitting in is something I cherish. Arriving in Canada gave me the sense of being kind of special, precisely because I was different. I felt privileged that I got to experience things in my life that were totally different from the realities the locals lived in.
I enjoy living as an “outsider”, having a different perspective on life than the people I met. The experience was probably the main reason for me to leave my various homes when I was able to choose to do so. Every time I would arrive somewhere new, a process would start in which I would critically reflect upon the society I’m walking into and the ones I left. I think it’s easier to find the beauty in the little things when you have experience to draw upon to compare and contrast different lifestyles and cultures.
On a more practical note, leaving home also meant being able to immerse myself in new communities to learn the local language. Learning a language without being in a country where it is spoken is rather difficult, so for both Spanish and German I made the conscious choice to go to the countries to learn the language.
“The feeling of being at home somewhere has a very strong temporal component for me”
What are the major challenges you faced when leaving your homes?
Lily Wang: With new environments always come new challenges, as well as new opportunities. More than simply new cultures, languages, customs, traditions, and so on, for me, the biggest challenge has always been to face my new self. It is a self that constantly changes, absorbs new inputs, and hopefully, evolves to become a better self. Of course that is not an easy process because it puts me in a situation where I have to question my already established worldviews and values constantly. After having experienced this self-questioning over and over again, I do believe this presents, indeed, a positive challenge.
What is tough though is when you always have to question your worldviews and values, sometimes very conflicting ideas grow within yourself and it is hard to keep them all under one roof. I especially see that when switching between languages, because you don’t just switch the language you speak. Connected to the language is always a cultural setting to which you readjust.
Another challenge is how to keep in touch with everyone and everything I left behind. You put yourself into a situation, where you constantly adapt and move forward, so how do you deal with going back is another question to which I haven’t found a viable solution yet.
What does home mean to you?
Lily Wang: For me, home or the German “Heimat”, does not necessarily refer to a particular location. It more encompasses experiences, feelings, memories, and people. If I had to choose one place to call home, I would say it’s Montreal. It was there for my formative years, where my cultural identity formed and the place I identify myself the most with. I still have my closest family members and friends there.
However, the feeling of being at home somewhere has a very strong temporal component for me. A place can feel like home at one point in time, because of the people you meet there, the experiences, the emotions you feel there. But going back to that place at a different point in time might not evoke the same associations because the people already left, or you yourself changed.
We would like to know what home means for you!
For Ana Riza Mendoza from the Philippines, home is a feeling of belonging: “Home is where the heart feels completely at ease. This might be your place of birth, but not necessarily.” Read what other Germany-Alumni associate with home and share your thoughts with the community!
Can a different country such as Germany become home for you?
Lily Wang: Like for many other foreign countries, I had some preconceived notions as well as certain expectations about what Germany would be before I arrived there. However, once I was there in person, I found out that it is not what I used to think it to be. I think clinging on to preconceived notions can prevent you from feeling at home in another country. For me the feeling of home has a lot to do with the people I meet there because they are the ones who make me feel at home no matter where.
I think it would be so much easier if we could just approach and embrace new environments we enter like babies do. No expectations, no prejudice, just accept and embrace the situation in which we find ourselves.
What are the major advantages for setting out? How do you imagine your future?
Lily Wang: International experience is valued very highly in today’s globalized and connected world. So I would say that on a professional level, one of the biggest advantages you gain by setting out is the possibility of entering into a broader job market.
On a personal level, I believe that all the experience I gained by setting out makes my life so much more colorful and richer. Other than being able to appreciate the music, literature, history, mentality and lifestyle of places that were once unknown to me, the feeling of being able to relate myself to much more people and their experiences is the most gratifying.
In the future, I would like to pursue a lifelong career in the field of international development and cooperation. Where and when? I will find out along the way… Que sera, sera!