Two years ago, I found ECLA while sitting at my computer in Pakistan browsing websites, looking for a liberal arts school in Europe. I imagined actually coming to live at ECLA and thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like. In Pakistan, everyone would label me Farangi, which when literally translated means “Fake White Man.” This gave me confidence in my ability to merge into the hodgepodge of the unique Western world found at ECLA.
But it was not as easy as I imagined. From the moment I arrived in Berlin there were a few lessons to be learned. For a start, there was no one except me to make my bed, do my laundry, and wake me up in the morning. During my first week at ECLA, my friends dubbed me the “Princess of Lahore.” Yes, I was demanding … I complained about walking for forty minutes when in Pakistan, my driver could have picked me up and taken me home. All of these differences between my life at ECLA and my life back home came as a very big shock to me, a Farangi who had lived all her life in Pakistan thinking she knew the ways of the Western worldand sheltered from the storm of real life.
The process of learning began on the very first day when I learned that the initials E-C-L-A was pronounced as one word: ECLA. A unique sense of belonging washed over me and I felt like I was becoming part of this community already.
But something very startling also happened. I discovered ECLA’s size. Getting used to the idea that there were only 57 people on campus was tricky. The majority of students came from bigger schools and colleges from around the world. During the first week, living in a small community was scary. Many of us felt unable to share ourselves with anyone for fear of getting exposed to everyone.
But ECLA embraced me with open arms. I will never forget my first week — getting lost in Berlin, sharing my utmost fears with my Residential Assistant, leaning on a friend after a seminar and bitterly crying about my lack of knowledge of philosophy and that mischief-maker Socrates. I was able to develop and find new relationships based on trust and care. It surprises me now how close we all came to each other and how easily we were able to confide in people from drastically different backgrounds and communities. And all this happened in the first few days.
It could well be that the ECLA community is based on the concept of relatedness and belonging, while at same time we find ourselves far from home and confronted by strange new ideas and perspectives from day one. At ECLA, everyone’s concern is a mutual concern. Soon, we were helping each other find our own place and voice in a new land called ECLA.
ECLA has so much to offer. The Berlin weekend kicked off the year and took us from the Museum Island to the Reichstag, on a bike tour and onward to the revelry of a poetry night. It helped us all find our own selves in the large and endlessly spacious city that is Berlin and in a small community that is ECLA.
ECLA lectures and seminars always leave us thinking more deeply about life and its intricacies. During the first lecture on Socrates’ Apology, I was once again able to confront myself, talk to myself, and contemplate my innermost desires and perhaps even purpose on this pale blue planet.
Walking through the common rooms of the dorms, one hears Indian, Serbian and Arabian songs blazing out of laptops. Nobody really cares what the poor singers have to say. Rather, the music is an expression of the sheer joy of knowing and trusting each other, sharing our cultures and ourselves.
It is hard to imagine how the first two weeks at ECLA went by. For me, every day was a new day and I woke up as a new and better person altogether. Who knows what tomorrow may bring…