This story is part of our Mystery of Heimat series. It is an exploration into what binds people in Germany together: religion, profession, hobby, background or economic situation. It is, in short, a search for the contours of the concept of home.
When she leaves her building in the morning, the smell of mohinga, a fish soup made with rice noodles and lemon grass, wafts through the streets. She loves the smell, but in contrast to her neighbors, she prefers eating it in the evening rather than for breakfast. She already knows the soup vendor. "Mingalabar," the man calls out and waves in greeting, and she does the same in return. Her language skills are good enough for such simple greetings and things like "How are you?" or "I'm from Germany." Sometimes, though, she wishes she could have a real exchange with the vendor – ask him questions and answer his. But her Burmese isn't good enough for that.
It was different back in Vietnam. The euphoria of finally living somewhere other than Germany gave her so much energy that she quickly learned the new language. But that was 16 years ago. She has grown older since then and Burmese is not as easy to learn as Vietnamese. Plus, Myanmar is not her first overseas home, but her third. Yet even absent the ability to communicate with the soup vendor, the greeting ritual every morning helps her feel comfortable in a foreign city. It makes her apartment feel that much more like home.
Christiane Schultz is 57 years old and has been living in Yangon, the economic capital of Myanmar and the country's largest city, since 2016. The quarter she lives in is called San Chaung, a place that is home almost exclusively to Burmese and very few foreigners. She intentionally chose this part of the city: She doesn't like impersonal neighborhoods full of expatriate Europeans. She wants to be a part of the fabric of the country's life. Plus, her small flat on the seventh floor of a nondescript apartment block also has the advantage of being close to her office.
Around 3.4 million German citizens are currently living abroad and around 1.9 million of them are gainfully employed, often well-educated and in positions of responsibility. Schultz is one of those to have taken the plunge. According to surveys, fully 15 percent of Germans would like to live abroad, but only around 4 percent actually end up doing so. Schultz grew up in Aachen but moved to Hamburg after graduating from high school to study fashion design. After completing her studies in 1986, she worked for several different companies in the areas of design, product development and purchasing. But she never really felt completely comfortable in those jobs. She didn't like the "hierarchical labor system and conditions in Germany," as she puts it. She says she experienced "constant rivalry battles and social coldness."
By 2002, after more than 15 years in the fashion and garment industry, she had finally had enough. She was 42 years old and thought: "Something has to change." By chance, she found a job advertisement looking for experts in the apparel and textile industry to engage in development work in Vietnam. She applied, got the job and headed off to Hanoi with the Center for International Migration and Development (CIM), which is closely affiliated with German government agencies.