Lately, I started noticing that I prefer spending my evenings with an interesting book rather than hanging out with a noisy company. Heroes from a book or sometimes even the author become my companions. I prefer classical literature; you can talk to authors of such books only in your imagination. However, if I get hold of an interesting modern book, I don’t miss an opportunity to talk to its author. Sometimes it’s a couple of messages on Linkedin or, with a little luck, talking over a cup of coffee.
Speaking with authors about their books, I understood that a writer is like a far star. You see the light, but in reality, it’s just a reflection of the star thousands of years ago. The same with books. What we read are the thoughts of an author in the past. Often writers admit that now they would change most of the contents or would not even write the book at all.
I’ve been reading posts of Tamriko Sholi on Facebook for about two years. She flabbergasted me being frank and direct. With each post, I found more and more similarities between us. We were born the same year, even the same month, both have a foreign father. We both grew up in the eastern part of Ukraine (I am from Donetsk, Tamriko is from Lugansk), both received a degree, but don’t work in that field. We even moved from Ukraine in the same year on student visas. The only difference is that I moved to Canada whereas Tamriko moved to Germany.
Tamriko Sholi (real last name Shoshiashvili) is a journalist and a writer. Born in Lugansk, she moved to Kyiv in 2000. Tamriko graduated from Kyiv National Trade and Economic University with a Master of Law degree. She worked at publishing houses Edipresse Ukraine, Bigmir Online, Ask Online Media. She advanced from a reporter to a project manager (woman.ua, mama.ua, etc.). The first paid article was issued in 2006. She published her first book “Inside a Man” in 2012, second – “Inside a Woman” in 2014, third – “Hello, Myself” in 2016. The electronic book “Want to Go Home” was issued in 2017.
All heroes of stories for my project Those Who Dare help me solve my internal conflicts and issues, fight doubts and uncertainties. The people I interview have the role of a mentor, even though he or she does not give me advice directly. I invite people who have successfully overcome situations like mine. Asking them questions, I learn their experience and make decisions.
Tamriko has a similar story of moving to a different country, therefore many of my questions turned to be related to immigration.
Despite I had a dream to move abroad for several years, everything happened spontaneously. I left my country with a student visa for just nine months. There were several reasons for the move. One of them was to learn how to be a better version of myself. I was full of illusions. I thought there were fewer problems in countries of the First World, people were more conscious, cities were more beautiful, the culture had risen to a higher level. The reality sobered me up.
I faced a bureaucratic machine, people projecting opposite values, incredibly beautiful nature and grey houses in cities. I felt deceived.
I was angry. I was furious. Even after a hundred attempts, I kept refusing to adapt to the new environment and tried to change everything without knowing the rules of the game. Over three years I gradually calmed down, understood a lot and thanks to the hurdles, I truly became a better myself, built my backbone, my own opinion, unique style and bright character. I made lots of mistakes, especially during the first year in Canada. I thought it was easy to start from scratch, forget previous life and get used to the new environment. I stopped speaking my native language, started reading Canadian newspapers and listening to local radio stations. I spoke English only. I hoped it would help me gain insight into Canadian culture, adopt Canadian customs, master the language and become “real Canadian”. But I was wrong. You cannot gain insight into the culture of Canada, because it practically does not exist. Canada is a young nation of immigrants where each newcomer integrates into his or her diaspora: Iranians stay within their culture, the same with Mexicans or the Chinese. There is no common Canadian culture. Therefore, I had to either stay in frames of the Slavic culture or adapt to all others, if I wanted to communicate with somebody outside of my diaspora. You cannot strike through the experience of 28 years of life. You cannot make a foreign language truly yours even if you have been learning it for ten years. This path is good for very young people who are 17-23 years old upon arrival. They have little life experience, they haven’t received a degree, many haven’t had the experience of relationship at this age. When you are young, it’s much easier to comprehend and master a foreign language.
It was different for me. Refusing to communicate with other fellow immigrants, I just delayed understanding of what was happening. There turned to be no people around me who could explain to me critical nuances of Canadian education or everyday small questions like which door to use to exit a bus, how to dispose of garbage and where to buy threads and needles. “Real Canadians” got puzzled with my questions. They thought I was an idiot who does not even know how to switch on the light; it wasn’t easy to explain that in my country they switch on the light differently. I arrived in Canada with so-called Advanced level of English, but it turned to be insufficient to write articles or at least posts in English without mistakes, expressing my thoughts as freely as I do it in Russian or Ukrainian. Moreover, communication is not only about language. It is also culture, slang and metaphors, references to literature and jokes. I read a lot but nobody could get my examples even from non-Ukrainian literature. It was easy for me to leave behind material things, but it was a hard strike on me to realize that in order to become local in a foreign country, I will also have to reject my intellectual wealth. How could I do that? To forget literature, poetry, history, mythology, movies… and even my European languages because here nobody needs this, because here I have nobody to talk about all this.
I could not do that.
One and a half years after arrival I had enough. I hated Canada. I almost stopped communicating with locals and went online. I resumed referencing Tolstoy and Strugatskys, quote heroes of Brother 2 (a famous Russian movie), and people understood me. I felt like at home and started living online. Meanwhile, I was receiving an MBA and it was double life – among strangers at university and at home online. But sooner or later I would have to choose, as you cannot have two lives at the same time.
What to choose?
To stay in Canada or return to Kyiv?
To look for a permanent job, focus on freelancing or build my own business?
My inner voice suggested I could find answers talking to Tamriko.
We agreed to have a call on Skype. The voice of Tamriko sounded deep and hasteless. For some reason, I had imagined it exactly like this. I was inspired because I like when my expectations meet reality. We started talking. Tamriko turned to be affable, sincere and frank. No airs and graces or cheekiness like that of many young people from front cover. I already respected Tamriko for what she wrote on Facebook, but when we talked, the young writer won me over. It felt like we were acquainted for long.
Photo: Lera Polska
Before asking my main questions about immigration, I wanted to talk about her first book “Inside a Man”.
— Tamriko, usually authors choose a topic for their first book in which they are an expert. You wrote your first book about the man’s inner world when you were 24. Did you consider yourself an expert on this topic at such a young age? Why did you choose this topic?
— Actually, I chose this topic because I wasn’t an expert on it. I was very much influenced by my first serious relationship and first disappointments. I was trying to sort it out and talked with men. At some point during the talk, they asked: “Are you interviewing me?”. I thought: “It’s a great idea!”. I interviewed more than two hundred men. I asked tricky questions as if I was throwing down a gauntlet. At that time, 8 years ago, I was in the position of an offended girl, therefore my inner motive was to expose, unmask men and disclose a secret.
I liked that already answering my first question Tamriko did not try to present herself in a good light. Talking to me, she was honest with herself first, and this is a very rare quality. I thought: “My project Those Who Dare started in the same way”. I talk to people about what interests me. Officially I call it “interviewing” but it is more a conversation which helps me to make up a lack of life experience.
— Do you plan to repeat a similar experiment now?
— Now I would not take on something like that. At the age of 24, my priorities were career and passion… I was willing to take risks carelessly. But now the gender topic is not so interesting for me anymore. I believe there is a time for everything.
“There is a time for everything” – Tamriko repeated this phrase several times during our conversation.
— What did your family think about your book “Inside a Man”?
— My mother was very tolerant. Maybe because since childhood I have been hanging around dubious companies, dressed and behaved like a boy, smoked… However, I remember my parents have never punished me or set prohibitions. When I grew up, I asked my mother why many times. She always replied that she had believed in me and my inner principles that would not let me do irreparable foolish things. She never told me this when I was a child, but I think I felt it somehow and never went too far. In a nutshell, by that time it was difficult to shock her.
My Mom became the first reader of my book. Having read the draft, she asked to remove several paragraphs where I shared too personal thoughts and attitudes on the topic. When I was 24, I thought that raising such things would benefit the book but now I’m very thankful to my Mom. Because once published, it cannot be corrected.
Photo: Lera Polska
— How have you managed to get out of bad companies and avoid what many teenagers end up with?
— I asked myself about it. My parents are to thank. We moved to Kyiv when I was 15. The environment changed a lot. And I changed with it. Society shapes you.
I asked about it because my childhood was very similar to Tamriko’s and now I often receive a similar question too. I was thinking: “What influenced me? Unlike Tamriko, we did not move and I lived in Donetsk until 24 years old…”. I realized that the environment also played an important role. Despite hanging out with bad companies, my main companions were books and their characters were my best friends. I lived in an imaginary world where I was Thais of Athens, Carmen, Becky from Vanity Fair. Heroes of detective and adventure novels gave me hope for the future and discovered unexplored worlds. In my mind, I thanked my near and dear ones for instilling in me the habit of reading since early childhood.
— How and when did you get the desire to move abroad?
— I got the desire in 2014 when the events started in the east of Ukraine. I started hearing about the deaths of my acquaintances. The world was falling apart. I resigned because of a clash of views with my chief. Soon my Dad died… My mother got the idea to move. My sister lived in Wiesbaden and my Mom always wanted us to live in the same city. She and my sister knew how to persuade me. They said: “Tamriko, it’s gonna be a very interesting experience. Later you’ll be able to write about it”.
For the first time, I visited Wiesbaden during the Easter season in April. In this small town, I felt like in paradise. Narrow cozy streets, cute small windows, all balconies decorated with flowers…
In Wiesbaden I had a culture shock: everyone in the street was dressed in pyjamas style, unlike Ukrainian girls who spend several hours only for makeup to go to the nearest shop. This trip impressed me like vacations on a resort. I thought it would be cool to live in Wiesbaden for some time, learn another language (German), get experience communicating with representatives of various ethnicities. So, I received a student visa.
— Were there challenges with immigration and when did they occur?
— Sure. However, the second year was the most difficult. During the first year, I felt like a tourist. In Ukraine I just published my second book “Inside a Woman”, but in Wiesbaden everything was new and therefore extremely interesting and carefree. Real-life started later when I was already used to everything and did not walk around with an open mouth. Everyday problems arose and I needed to solve them myself. Finding a home in Germany is the first big challenge for an immigrant. Landlords are picky choosing candidates: they pay attention to employment, earnings and social status of a potential tenant. Germans are very bureaucratic. To look into eyes, understand and believe at the level of intuition, as they do it in Ukraine… it’s not how it works in Germany. Insufficient ability in German, lack of knowledge of local laws and procedures also added problems. As a result, visiting my sister lasted longer than planned, as I could not find a separate home. From time to time I felt powerless. It took me a whole day to write a letter in German.
It seemed that it was painful for Tamriko as she is an author of articles and books and writes professionally in her native language. But in a foreign country, independent of your professionalism, you are again a child who cannot even write a letter without mistakes.
— An urgent issue emerged of misunderstandings between me and people who never left their country. I tried explaining but explaining something to people who didn’t live through your experience is rather difficult. People say: “She had a sister there”. Yes, I had and I have now. But relatives who are not close relatives (like parents, spouses, children) can render only initial support, like accommodation or useful information, but they cannot solve your visa, legal or psychological issues arising during the immigration.
When I just started reading Tamriko, I also thought: “It’s easy to move when you already have relatives abroad”. But now I imagined myself in her sister’s shoes. I’ve lived in Canada for 3.5 years, but I still don’t have citizenship. If a sister came to me, the maximum what I could help her with would be explaining how to use public transport, giving tips where to buy stuff and providing accommodation at my place for a short period. Yes, during the first month it would be easier for my sister comparing with my experience, but nothing more than that.
— Did you want to pack your suitcases and return? If yes, then what stopped you?
— Sure. I was stopped by an intuitive feeling that I haven’t used all the opportunities yet. I still did not speak German, did not visit all the places that I wanted to see. Sometimes, overwhelmed with emotions, I called my Mom and she asked: “Are you really giving up so early?”.
— Have your values changed over four years in Germany?
— I realized that people were mortal; not only myself but others too. I understood that the time to take careless risks has passed. There is no more time to rehearse life, it’s time to start living. About a year ago, a wild revision of values began. I started asking myself: “How to behave now?”, “How to live with what I have?”. As if I went to the next level and it’s time to move deep instead of straight. I realized the importance of quality time. I constantly had a thought on my mind: “What’s the meaning of what I’m doing?”. There is a time for everything. I feel now it’s a time of the continuous process of making choices.
— Did you succeed in making friends in the new country?
— I have many good acquaintances, but they are not close friends. I’m very different from locals with my background and culture code acquired in childhood. Most German female friends do not understand my family values; sometimes they even say that I think like a Muslim [laughing]. What can I do? As for family matters, it’s true that I’m a little conservative, even though I easily adopt different lifestyles.
— Are you good at combining study at university and work?
— Studying at university, especially in a foreign language, requires plenty of effort. Studying is very important, but I cannot pay enough attention to it right now. I decided to drop out. Now I have different priorities and have to understand clearly how to plan my time. If you want to reach what you aspire for, you have to learn to filter out redundant things and everything that slows you down.
Photo: Lera Polska
— Do you ever regret that you moved?
— Not even for a second. It was the best personal development training that helped me understand my inner self. Every day in Germany I received new experience and information which I wouldn’t get living in my home country. Once, literally speaking, I woke up and looked differently at everything. I got mature. Mature enough to hear and see myself as I am.
I wanted to ask Tamriko about her plan for the future, but I stopped myself. Why ask that now? I will find out when Tamriko considers it necessary to write about it on her Facebook. There is a time for everything.
We chatted for more than two hours. In the end, I was speaking even more than Tamriko. It was no longer an interview. We both enjoyed listening to and understanding each other. Sometimes I had a feeling that words were not even necessary, the situations were similar and clear without words.
Reading Tamriko’s book “Want to Go Home”, I saw the light of a star. I imagined Tamriko reckless and a little crazy. She really was like this when she started writing this book. Now Tamriko is more mature, calmer, has strong family values.
I’m very glad that Tamriko agreed to talk to me. We said goodbye to each other. I was deep in my thoughts. I received answers to my questions. My inner voice did not deceive me. The keyword here is “environment”.
I don’t like Canada. I feel alien and deceived. Here I don’t have like-minded people. Did I put enough effort to find them? What else can I do to surround myself with people with similar values?
I went online, found interesting bloggers and started actively commenting on them. Some replied and agreed to be interviewed. I went over my books. Literary heroes are also my surroundings! I added the most modern literature on my list to borrow ideas from my literary friends. I organized groups on Meetup and created pages on Instagram. To attract like-minded people, you have to tell the world about your interests. Thanks to the internet it’s so much easier now! And the last: I decided to stay in Vancouver. I was tired of looking for something outside and directed my focus inside of me. I don’t like the saying “that place is best of all where we haven’t been at all” or “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. I change it with “it’s good where I am”. Now I’m in Vancouver, so it’s good in Vancouver. It does not mean that I’m going to live here until the end of my life. Maybe soon I will move to a different place, don’t even know where. I’m open to opportunities and new impressions. But for this, there should be an external stimulus. A job offer, for instance.
When I was younger, I chased my dreams, now it’s time to plan. I sat down at my desk and made a detailed plan for three years. I already had some plans written before but for the first time all my projects, plans and hobbies, like pieces of a puzzle, merged into one harmonic and very detailed picture.
Thank you, Tamriko!