After the second world war, Germany was severely damaged and needed help getting back on its feet. People from surrounding countries saw this emergency as an opportunity to help rebuild the country. In order for Germany to restore for its broken-down economy, countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and former Yugoslavia dispatched some people to Germany based on mutual agreement.
The biggest group of migrant workers came from Turkey, one of them was my grandparents. “Gurbetci” is a common Turkish term used for those leaving their home country and deciding to live in a foreign one, while still feeling connected to their roots. The initial intention of these workers was to return to their countries after a fixed period of time with profit from this win-win situation, since the amount of money they made in Germany would be much more than what they would have made in their home countries.
However, the German government did not expect them to stay longer and especially not for these workers’ families to actually emigrate there. The thing is, after building yourself a stable existence and seeing the opportunities in a country, many workers decided to share this lucky chance with their loved ones and secure for themselves a good life.
Currently, many people with foreign backgrounds are living in Germany and some are already third generation immigrants. Furthermore, many of these family members still visit their home countries, making sure their children keep in touch with their cultural roots. This leaves many of them questioning which country they truly belong to and which one they should consider home. Is it the country they grew up in or the culture they were raised in─ At home, my parents teach me the culture of their home country, Turkey, but once I step out of the house I have to adapt to German society and its customs.
Such a dilemma can be confusing to one’s identity but also houses big potential at the same time. In Germany, families like mine are the minority, but when visiting relatives back in our parent’s home countries, we get to experience society from the majority’s perspective. The way I dress, what I prefer to eat and drink, how I spend my free time, etc., is influenced by my Turkish and Muslim upbringing. In Germany many of these things are out of the norm, resulting in misunderstandings that require constant clarification. Contrarily, in Turkey, all of these habits are mostly aligned with Turkish society, which makes me part of the majority for once.
As a result, this constant switch harbors the ability to make one see life more neutrally─the ability to step back and see the bigger picture before judging a nation’s customs. Each country has its own culture and habits, acceptable behaviors and not and its own worldview, which might not be shared by other countries. Realizing that there are always at least two sides to every issue can make you a more open person. Thus, having a broad mind, even beyond the duality of Germany and Turkey, can come in handy, for example during a semester abroad in another country. Once confronted with something strange and new, the initial reaction is trying to understand and respect it, instead of prejudice and judgement.
Interestingly, this hybrid personality of many migrants results in a subculture. Most of us feel the need to introduce ourselves with both nationalities, because both of them matter to us and play a part in who we are. It is a way of expressing how we are integrated into German society, while still staying true to ourselves and not letting go of what makes us unique. Some companies, like “Ay Yildiz,” target this very subculture and provide useful services specifically for us, such as sim cards that can be used in both countries. Their most famous advertisements are even broadcasted in both languages within one clip. The protagonists are purposely mixing their sentences, half in Turkish and the other in German, allowing only us hybrids to understand what it is about.
Hence, our definition of home is not limited to a single geographical location, but rather the people we love and the memories we share with them, no matter where they are from. Growing up with two cultures, two languages and two sides to every story can widen one’s horizons. Therefore, our identity becomes a reflection of our experiences; the more diverse those experiences are, the more colorful our life can be. It is up to us what we make out of it. Feeling like a constant traveler might be burdensome, but it is actually a gift that enables one to enjoy the best of both worlds, and for that, I am thankful.
By Kubra Berna Ayyildiz