Photo: (c) Maria Sukhareva
Where are you originally from and where do you live now?
I was born in Russia, all the way in the North in the Polar Circle. I moved to Germany seven years ago on a German University scholarship. Right now I am a traveler, researcher, and Ph.D. Student, in that order.
You came here for university? Will you be staying past your PhD?
Absolutely. I guess I’ll be traveling a lot, I try to go on at least two big trips every year, but Germany will be my homebase. I have very little left that ties to me to Russia, except for my mother and she likes it better in Germany, too.
So, what do you do?
I joke that I read the Bible every day. Which is pretty much what I do, I am a Computational Linguist, working on automatic processing of old Germanic texts. Old Germanic peoples wrote pretty much only about one topic: religion, namely the Bible. Now we ended up with tons of religious texts which we use in a non-religious way by teaching computers how to translate them.
Tell me about your travels, that sounds pretty exciting.
Well, yes. This year [ed: 2014] I went to North Korea and Malaysia. The Malaysia trip was a little bit of a last minute thing. I’d planned to go to Costa Rica but when I arrived at the airport I was told that, since I wasn’t allowed to transfer in the US I couldn’t go there. So I looked around and found a last minute flight to Kuala Lumpur. I arrived there with my Spanish dictionaries and Costa Rica tourist guides and three months of Spanish. I had no idea where the city was or what currency they used. But it was one of the most successful trips I ever had.
North Korea was much better planned. Not by me, of course, by the North Koreans. I drove to Berlin to get a visa and they were closed already so I rang the doorbell. The lady at the embassy was totally surprised that I wanted a visa, guess there aren’t so many tourists. A few minutes later the consul came down himself and stamped my passport saying “Russia and Korea are friends, welcome to our country”. Totally nice and no hassle. People wanted to know so much about my trip, I even have a FAQ on my blog.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I speak German, and I have German and expat friends. What I miss in Germans is that they usually lack any rebellious spirit and longing for adventures. Instead they are all about having rules and organisation in everything. Thus, when they hear about my travel experiences they look at me like at a strange animal.
But it’s easy to make acquaintances, especially here in Frankfurt with its big expat community.
What do you enjoy most about living abroad, Germany or elsewhere?
That you don’t have big problems. I mean, if you have so little problems that a few flies in a kitchen, two or three Neo-Nazis walking around the city, or five percent less payment for a similarly qualified woman are your biggest ones, you have a pretty great life. It is not that I think it is ok that women are 5% underpaid, but I would rather be concerned with it than with unemployment, corruption and high criminal rates.
Also that everything is so close, here. You can actually travel. In Russia we measured distances by days, not minutes or hours or kilometers. Everything below a day or so was “close by.” Here you can get anywhere. I am not planning on being unemployed but if I had to be I’d like to be unemployed here.
Leaving the house here, you still feel safe. In other parts of the world there are two states — being at home and not being as safe. In Germany you’re still safe, mostly, even when not at home.
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
No big ones. It is usual cultural differences. For example, a Russian person would never take drinks he brought to a party back home if it isn’t consumed or would never occupy 2 seats on a train when there are people standing. In Russia, you first make sure that you do not bother anyone and then that no one bothers you, in Germany it is the other way around.