I returned from Australia a few days ago, and I was dreading the wall of disappointment that would hit me as I came back to this rainy, cold place. Contrary to my fears, nothing floored me. Everything was just as I had remembered it to be and not one bit worse. When I stepped up to the line at Border Control, I knew just what the officer would ask me and I knew just what to respond. I knew where to go to catch a train and that it would come exactly on time so there was no sense in running to catch one on the off chance that it hadn’t left yet. I knew that it would be raining once I got to Heidelberg and that the bus that goes to my somewhat rural suburb would take ages to come, so I would have to catch a taxi. I had the 10 Euro waiting in my wallet. It was 9.90. There was something comforting and yet extremely boring about it all…hence my love-hate relationship with Germany. When I went into the lab the next day, though, I was hit with something unexpected. The Ph.D. student who has mentored me since late September said, “How was Australia? The experiments are all done, and I’ll start writing next week. What will you be doing now?” And since then I’ve been in a state of panic over expectations and what I should do with the rest of my time here (8 months). The problem is that no one really cares what I’m doing here, as long as I’m confident about its merit. That means that there is some sort of expectation from these higher-ups that I do something great, but the guidelines about what exactly I should be producing aren’t clear. I went into science to do something of significance, to have clear expectations and very little oversight, not the other way around! What is the point of having all of this supervision, as I flop about on my own gasping for some clear route of action? And of course there’s a deeper, darker question that lies at the core of all of this: What am I even doing here anyway? Oh, I’d better pick myself up and run quickly away from that question, because in that question lies the potential of not just anxiety but of frustration and great disappointment. So I’m diverting my attention for now. There are many things in Germany, after all, that are comfortingly certain. Right now is the time of Christmas markets, where lots of hearty and sugary things will be for sale. I know the restaurants and cafes where I can duck in and eat a decent meal, pretending that I’m just here on vacation and my actual role doesn’t matter. I know that for at least the next month no one will ask me (I’m crossing my fingers) what I’m actually doing here because there are too many distractions with Christmas and shopping and family and mirth. It’s just when all of that blows over and I’ll swipe my card, take my lab coat from the hook and wear it around the empty lab with the machines humming, half of all the Ph.D. students having finished and left, that someone will spot me and ask, “What are you actually doing?” But for now I’ll let Christmas distract me and others from all of my struggles to find purpose. I suppose that is kind of the Christmas spirit: let’s set aside the expectations of reality for these brief moments and celebrate humanity.