Expat Living – An Interview Series
Imagine my delight when I stumbled across a travel blog last year, written by a Canadian expat who was adjusting to life in Germany. Considering an eventual move to Europe and knowing Germany was my most likely destination, her blog was and continues to be a source of great inspiration to me.
Meet Laurel, the second person to be interviewed in my Expat Living series.
“I am a Canadian expat living in Germany who moved to be with my now German fiance. I used to work in a managerial position at a university in Canada, but decided with the move it was the perfect opportunity to embark upon a new career”.
Where are you from?
I’m from Calgary, Canada.
Where are you living now? How long have you been there?
I’ve been living in Stuttgart, Germany for the past year.
Have you lived anywhere else? Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
I have also lived in South Korea, Thailand and the United States. My plan is to stay in Germany for the foreseeable future.
What’s your story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
I moved for love. I met my now German fiancé, on a shark diving trip in Costa Rica. What started off as a vacation romance blossomed into the real thing, something neither of us was expecting – especially with 8000 km of distance between us. When it became time that someone had to move, I jumped at the chance as I had always wanted to live in Europe.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
I definitely miss home sometimes, especially friends and family. I try and stay in touch on a regular basis, but not so in touch that it’s taking away from me making friends in Germany. I also put a lot of effort into meeting new people in Germany and experiencing all that Germany has to offer. Most weekends I go sightseeing. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re hiking in the Black Forest or touring a castle built in the middle ages.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
I’m fortunate in that I have some German friends through my German fiancé, but the locals where I live (called Swabians) can be a tough crowd. While friendly to foreigners, they can be difficult to get to know on a more personal level. This is compounded by the fact that I’m not fluent in German yet. I’m planning to join a couple of German clubs based on my interests (hiking and squash) and I think this will really help me connect with locals better as it’s easier to connect with someone when you know you have something in common right from the start.
How do you stay in contact with loved ones?
Primarily through Skype. I also have a cheap plan through Skype where I can make unlimited calls to landlines. Conversation flows much better when you’re not watching your clock worried about how much a call is costing you. I also stay in touch with friends through Facebook.
Did you have to learn a new language? If yes, what? How did you go about learning the language and how long did it take you to become fluent?
I am learning German. It has been such a process! I took 8 months of intensive German classes, 25 hours a week, plus homework and while I’ve got the basics down, I’m nowhere near fluent. I’m continuing to take a conversation class, cook using German cookbooks, and try and read in German. I used to read children’s books, but now I’m into German celebrity magazines since they have lots of pictures and a lot of the language is repetitive – someone broke up, someone gained weight, someone’s exercise plan, someone’s new boyfriend, etc. Not the most intellectual stuff I could ever read, but heh, got to start somewhere a it’s least it’s mildly entertaining and I’m caught up on what the Royal Couple is doing.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
Germans do not try and suss out your financial situation as obviously as Canadians do – at least not when they first meet you. In Calgary, when meeting someone for the first time it’s not uncommon for the question “What part of the city do you live in?” to come up in the first few minutes of conversation and based on your response, the inquirer will have some idea of your financial status since normally each area falls into a particular housing type such as new sprawling mansions or 40 year old non descript bungalows. After meeting some Germans through an international club, one asked me where I lived. When I told her, she chuckled and replied “Well you should be able to afford a place there, real estate is cheap.” I was offended and told her that we did just fine thank you and walked away huffily leaving her with a surprised look on her face. Later that night when I got home and in an indignant tone told my German fiancé about the rude German woman I had encountered, he burst out laughing. It turns out we live in an area famous for a jail that housed some terrorists in the 1970s (hence the cheap real estate joke). It also turns out that for the most part Germans can’t tell your financial status from where you live since there is so much mixed housing in each area. My apologies to this poor unsuspecting German woman who I never did see again.
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Make an effort to make friends as soon as you arrive, or even before. Making friends can take time, but the sooner you have a couple of friends, the sooner you will feel settled. It’s also nice to have someone to explore your new country with and also a shoulder to cry on when you’re having an off day.
What do you love most about living abroad?
I love the challenge. In the beginning something as mundane as going to the grocery store can be challenging since I didn’t have the vocabulary to ask if I couldn’t find something. It took me two weeks of practice on my fiancé to work up the courage to order sliced meat and cheese from the deli counter instead of just buying the packaged stuff. Now I’m working on trying to understand simple TV shows. I also love the challenge of changing my perspective. Just because someone doesn’t say “How are you?” (not a very German thing to say) does not mean they are being rude or unfriendly.
What has been your best experience to date in your new home?
Before moving to Germany I had only ever seen my fiancé on vacation. Many of my friends and family were worried that once we were living together in the same place that our relationship would go bust and I would have left a good job for nothing and be returning to Canada jobless. Fortunately that didn’t happen and the best experience has been seeing my fiancé everyday and instead of just once every few months and getting to know him on a deeper level. I also love exploring castles in Germany and with 25,000 of them, I’ll never run out of castles.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
I made the move with my 2 cats. We came as a package deal.
What do you do work wise? Did you have a job before you arrived or did you look for work when you got there? If you didn’t have a job, how did (or do) you land work?
When I moved to Germany I thought it would be a perfect time to try something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t have the time to with a very busy full time job and that was to try free lance travel blogging and writing. I’m a pretty good boss to myself so it’s working out really well even though it can feel like I’m working full time hours for part time pay. I also teach online courses at two universities in Canada to keep my foot in the education industry in which I had worked in for over 10 years prior to moving to Germany.
Visit Laurel’s blog to read about her travels through Germany, Europe and elsewhere. She also offers up plenty of information about how to live life as an expat.