The view from the ivory tower

Towering above the city at 52 meters (170 ft), the Philosophy Tower is the tallest building on the University of Hamburg campus.

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The view from the 14th floor of the Philosophy Tower overlooking Hamburg. As you can see pictured, Hamburg has a TV Tower as well, though it’s not as famous as the one in Berlin.

Officially called the Philosophenturm, it is colloquially known as the Phil-Turm. The building houses a cafeteria, no fewer than three libraries, a handful of auditoriums, and dozens of classrooms and offices.

And it’s my new place of work.

Life updates – Dr. Alison Haywood?

Shortly after the official completion of my master thesis, I met one of my thesis advisors over coffee and talked about my future plans. To my utmost surprise, he invited me to do a Ph.D.

My professor, Dr. Hans-Ulrich Wagner, is creating a research network around the theme “Media and migration in the Baltic Sea Region.” As my thesis topic was media use by young refugees in Germany, it fit very well with the theme.

As I am eager to start working full-time and earning a grown-up’s salary, I have been putting off accepting or declining his offer. However, my professor did offer me  part-time student job in the meantime: being a research assistant for the Hans-Bredow Institute, an academic research organization focused on media and communication studies that both of my academic advisors are heavily involved in.

I officially started after Easter during the MeMiBaS kickoff meeting, where academics from various Baltic-Sea-area universities came to Hamburg to discuss their research interests and how they might fit into the theme. I served coffee and set out snacks, and then just participated in the conference, contributing my knowledge on refugee studies to the discussion. Now that the exciting conference is over, my tasks are much more mundane, and generally involve checking emails, making photocopies and scans, and picking up books from the library. His office is on the 14th floor, and if I am in the office alone, I often take the opportunity to snap photos through the window of the city below.

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From the tower, you can see the Alster lake in the middle of the city.

But what about that other job?

Yes, I still work for the medicine tourism company. I celebrated my one-year work-a-versary at the beginning of the month. I had been hoping the company would offer me a full-time job after completing my studies, but unfortunately, neither the hours nor the salary they offered me matched my expectations. As I had neglected to apply for other jobs and I needed to renew my visa very soon, I was forced to take the offer so I could show I had a source of income when I went to the Office of Bureaucracy to renew my documents.

Because the company offered me so few working hours, and because I hadn’t received my thesis grade yet which meant I hadn’t officially completed my studies, I chose to re-enroll in university for another semester to continue reaping the benefits of subsidized health insurance, free public transit and low-cost sports classes. Between the two jobs, I currently work 27 hours per week.

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In the Philturm, I found the secret staircase to the 15th floor. Also known as roof access. Unlike my company job, my academic job has “Aufstiegsmöglichkeiten.” Ha! I made a pun.

So what next?

I’m actively applying for jobs in the fields of journalism, PR, digital communication, web content writing, and online marketing. At this point, things like salary, benefits and a good working environment are more important to me than the work itself. Once I find my “dream job,” I will quit my current jobs, dis-enroll from university and start working full time (or close to it) as soon as possible.

I’m applying for jobs in Hamburg and Berlin, because I haven’t given up my dream of moving back to Berlin yet, but I feel very at home in Hamburg, too, and am not sure I’m ready to leave yet. So I will let the fates decide.

Gathering moss

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I feel very torn between Hamburg and Berlin. The two cities are very different, but I like them both in their own way. Berlin is more crazy, more wild, more free. It’s more artsy, laid-back and hip. It’s more diverse, with each neighborhood having its own distinct feel, and it feels like living in a bunch of different cities all at once. Hamburg is more cozy, manageable, more finite than the sprawling Berlin. It’s more German, it has a single city center, and has the pros and cons of being a very rich city – beautiful houses, thriving cultural life and excellent infrastructure, but more expensive than Berlin.

I’ve lived in Hamburg for nearly two years now, and I am starting to put down roots. While my friends circles have changed and I’ve not had any major romantic interests while I’m here, I’ve found a couple of communities where I feel like I belong. I volunteer teaching German to refugees with the hyperlocal organization Welcome to Barmbek, and am slowly taking on more responsibility and coordinating tasks there. I go to yoga and pole dance classes in my neighborhood to stay fit, and all of these activities have been a nice way to meet people in my part of the city. I write freelance for Indie Republik, a fun culture blog/online magazine I really like. I like my routine of cycling to yoga after work, eating lunch at the Phil-Turm cafeteria before joining my boss on the 14th floor, and spending Sunday afternoons with refugees.

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I know I could find a community and opportunities for engagement in Berlin too, but to be honest, I’m loathe to start all over again, because it takes a long time, and I don’t want another dark, lonely winter in a strange city where I have no close friends.

But at the same time, I feel like I’m too young to “settle down” and stay in Hamburg forever. If I don’t move back to Berlin at some point, I fear I may regret it.

Oh, and since everybody asks, plans to go back to the U.S.? Sorry, no way. While of course I miss my friends and family, the high cost of living, the terrible transportation infrastructure, the price and quality of healthcare, and the current political climate are enough to make me want to stay in Germany forever.

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