Museum Hundertwasser
Exploring an exhibition at Museum Hundertwasser, Vienna, Austria. 5 Nov, 2022.

Music has a weird effect on me. Whenever I listen to a good song, it motivates me to write something. I’m currently listening to Nirbhau Nirvair from Qala, and I can feel the words flowing – so many feelings that I hope to summarize in this essay. I’m supposed to write a bunch of code, do a literature search for my master’s thesis, and, more importantly, sleep. Not tonight. I’m going to write a semester review tonight because today is my last day of classes, and I want this essay to mark the occasion.

I’m not writing the essay for a particular audience, but it might help my younger sister or my kids. Looking at the pace of life, I’m sure I’ll forget some of these aspects a few years later. “Why not write it for yourself in a journal?” you may ask. Since I do not have a permanent address, I’ll probably lose the journal entries. But, hopefully, the internet will stay on forever, so here goes nothing.

Living abroad is hard. Things seem pretty bleak at times, but not all is lost. In all fairness, I think I’m living through one of the happiest periods of my life thus far. I’ll explain what I mean in a later paragraph. I’ll also narrate other aspects of my stay here because my experiences are not isolated from each other; instead an amalgamation of various incidents and my upbringing.

Every time I sing the Indian national anthem, I get goosebumps without fail. I attended the Republic Day celebrations organized by the Indian Embassy in Vienna. I met a lady in a traditional Manipuri costume. She immediately reminded me of mom, and when I remarked, “mom would have put on something similar,” she asked me if I was from Manipur. We had a happy conversation.

It was a pleasant interaction all in all, which is something I did not expect when I left India – no, I expected friendly interactions, I just did not expect to meet people from the Northeast, so whenever I meet a few, it makes me quite happy. In fact, one of the highlights of my time here so far is meeting a family from Tripura. They were kind enough to invite me to their house for Christmas eve. They served me rice with chicken curry and fish, which is everything I could ever ask for.

These experiences were lovely but left me longing for “home.” I would love to take a break from eating spicy oily food and go back to eating boiled vegetables with rice. What would I not do to eat an eel boiled with onions? I met Indians from various walks of life; some moved here right after I was born. And they chose to settle down here and make a “home.” I won’t get into the more complicated questions, such as what I call home and whatnot. Families would not invite me every day of the year, and not everyone is free to hang out with me whenever I feel low.

I live 4.5 hours behind most people I know. That results in so many misalignments. Long conversations over dinner or after a good game of badminton turned to, “bhai kya chal raha hai?” “bas chal raha hai.” Intimate in-person dates turned to pixelated virtual dates, and “gyaan” sessions with my sister turned to “Why do you not call me more often, I always have to call you? You’ve changed so much since you went abroad.” Weekly catchups with friends turned to “see you soon when you’re in India.”

4.5 hours does not seem like a lot initially, given that humans are not very good with estimates. But try staying up 4.5 hours after everyone you know are asleep – it’s the world against you. India may have awakened to life and freedom when the world slept, but this boy definitely does not have a great time when India sleeps. My sister would be in class when I’m asleep, I would be in class when she calls, and when I come back from class and call her, more often than not, she’d be asleep. Similar stories go with friends. I would reply to spontaneous texts only hours later, and vice-versa. And I hate voice calls so much.

In addition, matching my energy levels to those I know seems impossible sometimes. Humans go through different emotions during different hours of the day. I would be in a great mood, walking around outside when my friends are done with their day, probably reflecting on shared experiences and life. And what happens when I go through these “I miss you” emotions? Well, they are all probably asleep, and it makes sense; why should anyone be up for my 2 AM thoughts when it’s 6:30 AM for them?

“Why did you go abroad at all?” some might question. Did you not bring all these on yourself? People have “dreams,” you see. One of the prime ones for me was “to get to all these places my ancestors never even dreamt of.” I’m happy to report we are slowly getting there. Hopefully, I’ll be a more resourceful ancestor for the upcoming generations. Whenever someone asks me if I miss my village life, my first response usually is, “do you know how hard I worked not to ever go back to that life again?” “Farming/agriculture seems pretty exciting, have you ever done it?”

“Do you know how hard I worked so that I don’t ever have to go farming? I want next-day delivery service from Amazon, that’s why I’m worked so hard.”

Despite these apparent hardships, I’m pretty happy at this point. I love the city, the weather is incredible, and cooking for myself feels like an accomplishment. Cleaning the utensils seems dreadful sometimes, but I generally love washing dishes, so we’re good.

I made pork curry, chicken curry, and chicken biryani for the first time in my life, and they turned out exactly how I expected them to. I have mastered the art of boiling rice, and my onion-chopping skills are unparalleled. I’ll be a top applicant if there is a job interview where they judge your rice-boiling skills. The few months here taught me to be more independent, self-reliant and grounded. I always thought I was above human feelings. Turns out I’m just an ordinary 23-year-old, after all, who feels myriad emotions and gets annoyed by silly things at times.

I’m pretty proud of myself for getting all the paperwork in order and continuing my studies here (legally). Previously, I’d have just given up and chosen the most convenient option. Talking to public officials doesn’t scare me anymore, nor does reaching out for help. Most importantly, I learned that people value my skills and respect me for what I am. What?! It turns out people expect a lot of things from someone who is an IIT-IIM graduate, and they also show respect for them.

Reading the feedback for one of the courses, I felt like I know some things, and all hope is not lost. Speaking of academics, it is pretty different from the ones I’ve experienced. The classes happen in a block format. That is, instead of having 3 sessions of 75 minutes each over the week, I might just have one session which lasts for 5 hours with some breaks in between. I’m free to do whatever I wish during the rest of the week. Of course, I am expected to work on assignments, but I can spread them out and get them done.

The Professors and colleagues understand and value input from everyone instead of discounting your opinion just because you said something different. They know that as adults, other things going on in life. Everywhere I went, I’ve been treated with kindness, perhaps the aspect I appreciate the most. I’ve been here only for a semester, but the city and the university have started to grow on me. If you’re interested in the actual courses that I took, you can check this out.

In closing, sometimes things seem pretty hard, but when things seem like they are at the breaking point, more often than not, things work out in my favor, and I’m genuinely grateful for what I have. I’ll also be in Vienna next semester, so if you’re here, feel free to say hi! If you’re generous, you can buy me a cup of coffee. I have intentionally left out the coffee story from this essay – Vienna has a great coffee culture. Soon I’ll write a review of every coffee house I’ve been to (so far) in Vienna.

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