Life recently took a very interesting turn and I decided to blog about it as it ties nicely into the life in science component of this blog. I’ve not written for a while because things have been mental, but I suddenly find myself with more time on my hands, so here I go again.
Just like every postdoctoral scientist, I found myself reaching the end of my contract and frantically applying for jobs. After about 8 months of constant disappointment, I got a major break and will be starting a postdoc at BioMedX Institute in Heidelberg. As I had loads of vacation leave to use up in Singapore, I decided to take some much-needed time off and travel to Germany for a myriad of reasons. This was easier said than done, as Singapore has one of the strictest border controls due to COVID-19. For those of you unfamiliar with the system, any long-term visa holder needs to get permission from the government to return to Singapore. Most people choose to travel only after acquiring that entry permit. Like a good resident, I got my HR to apply for entry and was lucky enough to be granted it almost immediately. Hence, I donned my N95 mask, armed myself with several bottles of hand sanitizer and got on a plane after more than a year.
The journey was equal parts exciting, terrifying and saddening. Changi airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, was nearly deserted. I was excited to be travelling again and felt safe as I’ve been vaccinated, but it was still nerve wracking to interact with so many strangers at the airport and on the plane. The flight was fortunately empty. The section I was in had only three people and the flight crew kept addressing everyone by name. It was a thrill to be addressed as Dr. Lingam, but I also worried about being put on the spot in case of a medical emergency! 12 hours of travel and 6 hours of glorious sleep later, I found myself in Deutschland.
The first sensation that hit me was the cold. I lived in the UK for 7 years and never got used to the heat in Singapore, so I was absolutely ecstatic. Finally, a holiday and during springtime in Europe too! I was finally able to go on three hour long walks outdoors without feeling like I was drowning in my own sweat; it was a pleasure to be in the sun and I could cycle on the roads again. I tried to enjoy myself to the fullest as I knew I would be heading back to Singapore soon for a painful 2-week hotel quarantine.
While I was living the cold weather European dream, Singapore was experiencing a worrying spike in community COVID-19 cases. They started tightening their border, initially by increasing the quarantine duration to 3 weeks in a hotel. Annoying for me, but hardly worrying. Two days after that, came the big bombshell. I woke up to an email from my HR informing me that Singapore decided to cancel all existing entry permits, essentially stranding me in Germany. Now I do not belong to the gilded group of countries that can travel to the European Union without a tourist visa. I was in Germany on a Schengen visa, that was going to expire 1 week after I got the news that I couldn’t go back home.
Cue instant panic! I had visions of living in the airport like Tom Hanks, neither unable to stay in Germany, nor travel onto Singapore or my home country of India. Once logic caught up with me, I rushed to the Foreigner’s authority or Ausländerbehörde and explained my situation. The German authorities were amazing. After making sure I had the necessary health insurance to cover my stay, they extended my Schengen visa until the time my work permit starts (I had the sense to get my work permit sorted before leaving Singapore.). Thanks to COVID-19, I have now unintentionally moved to Germany and am currently dependent on the kindness of friends to stay here.
I’m quite excited about starting a new journey, but I wish it had not been so chaotic. I have to believe that there is a good reason for all this and in the meantime I’m going to bask in the limited European sunshine and cold air.