Where do I come from? – Becoming a world citizen.
I will never forget that day in mid-October 1995, when I flew 11 hours from Frankfurt to Narita on a “jump seat” to take over the position of Marketing Manager Japan for a 3-year assignment. The first days in my new working and living environment felt somehow strange; not being able to communicate with people on the street, not being able to buy toothpaste in the supermarket on my own, because I didn’t know how it’s written in Japanese. In case you have seen the movie “Lost in Translation”, you might get the picture. Nevertheless, the kindness and support of my colleagues and new friends I made there helped me get through this difficult time and adjust myself to a totally new world. And I was hungry to learn more about the Japanese culture, the people, the customs, so I started taking Japanese lessons and tried to integrate myself into the new environment.
After approx. 6 months on the job, my Japanese boss tells me one day over lunch that in his eyes I was a “Germatino”. What did he mean by that? He was referring to the fact that my behavior was neither German nor Latin, but somewhere in between. How right he was! Born and raised in Peru with a German mother and a Peruvian father, I graduated from a German school in Lima before moving to Germany to study industrial engineering in Karlsruhe. After graduating from university, I joined Lufthansa Cargo, working in Frankfurt for 5 years before venturing to the Far East. Wow, that was a lot of information in only two sentences!
So, there I was in Tokyo as a “Germatino”, hanging out in the international community and occasionally conducting free Salsa workshops for Japanese friends. And this is when I met my wife in Tokyo. No, she is not Japanese, although she often behaves like one. She comes from Argentina. We married once I got transferred to Osaka as Sales Manager Western Japan in April 1999. We lived in Kobe, where our two children were born, until I got the opportunity to move to my next assignment in Seoul in November 2005, where I spent another 6 amazing years working for Lufthansa Cargo in South Korea.
I had the privilege of working and living in Asia for 16 years in total! The experience I had (not only in Asia) is that you always take a little something with you from the places you have lived in. This “little something” could be a particular new favorite dish that you continue cooking on your own, a particular custom like taking off your shoes before entering a house or a particular behavior or gesture like always having a small gift once visiting someone.
In retrospective, I spent approx. 40% of my life in Peru, 30% in Germany and 30% in Asia. So, sometimes I ask myself: “Where do I come from?” I don’t think I am any longer a “Germatino”. My former Japanese boss in Tokyo might now say that I became a “Japagermatino” or something like that. In other words, the environment you live in shapes you, to some extent unknowingly, until you realize that you may feel at home at different places in the world. Therefore, without doubt, moving around the world makes you a world citizen.
And now, I’d like to close this blog article with a question for you: You have learned that I was born and raised in Peru, that my mother is German, that I met my wife from Argentina in Tokyo and that our two children were born in Japan and lived in South Korea. So, what do you think my children would reply, when asked by their classmates in their current school in Mainz the simple question: “Where do you come from?”