Berlin, Europe, Expat Living, Germany

Expat Living: Natalye Childress in Berlin, Germany.

October 20, 2013

Meet Natayle, the next person to be featured in my Expat Living Interview Series. Originally from California, she now lives in my other home of Berlin.

All About Natalye.

I am a California girl living in Berlin. When I’m not cooking and baking vegan food or exploring the city via road bike, I’m tutoring college students, running music website Berlin Beat, and awaiting the release of my memoir on Microcosm Publishing.

Natalye Childress in Berlin

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in the Central Valley, aka the Bible Belt of California. At 14 I moved to Santa Rosa, a city about an hour north of San Francisco, and (if you don’t count the brief stints in Sacramento for university) basically lived there until I moved to Germany.

Where are you living now and how long have you been there?

I have lived in Berlin, a city of approximately 3.3 million people, since 2011. My flat is on the edge of former West Berlin, in Kreuzberg, which is one half of a bigger area known as Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. This area is like a city unto itself, with nearly 300,000 residents, making it the most population-dense borough in all of Berlin.

Have you lived anywhere else around the world?

Before Berlin, I was a true California girl.

Natalye Childress in Berlin

Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?

I am married to a Berliner, and all of his immediate family lives in the city as well, whereas my parents and siblings are all over. So it’s quite likely that we’ll stick around here, since we both love the city (except during the six months of winter, when we regularly daydream about owning a vacation home someplace warmer…)

What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?

After finishing my MA, I wanted a fresh start that would push me out of my comfort zone and open me up to new experiences. Berlin happened to be one of those “right place at the right time” kind of things.

Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?

I don’t miss “home” in the physical sense of a place, but I do miss particular aspects of California. For example, I have a hard time being away from the ocean; although I don’t feel landlocked like I expected, the ocean was always a place I could go to collect my thoughts and reenergize, and I struggle with not being close by the coast.

Luckily, however, I define home more based on the feeling of security, comfort, and familiarity I have in a place, which means Berlin is definitely my home (something that is definitely reinforced when I return to the city after a journey elsewhere).

As for missing actual people, it has been a challenge, and I have lost touch with some people along the way. But while some friendships prove too weak to last, others only grow stronger with the distance, and the punctuations of care packages, thoughtful emails, and words of encouragement from close friends and family make it so that I don’t really get homesick.

Natalye Childress in Berlin

How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?

To be honest, it’s a constant struggle. On the social front, when I first moved here, I told myself I wouldn’t hang out with native English speakers, but that hasn’t quite worked out. Making friends with the Germans who live here is not easy when you’re in your late 20s, because everyone is already pretty comfortable in their friend group, you know? Plus, in a city like Berlin, people are constantly coming and going, which makes it more complicated to foster something long-term. And when you are settled down and not always looking to party, that also severely limits your ability to meet people.

However, on the everyday life front, I don’t really have an issue. I do all of my day-to-day tasks in German and it’s not a problem for me at all – in fact, I get a lot of people noticing my accent and asking where I’m from. But rather than setting me apart, it helps me feel more at home, since one-third of the people in Kreuzberg also come from immigrant or ex-pat backgrounds.

I also live in a wonderful Kiez (a self-contained neighborhood) that has everything I need, so the people who own the cafes, man the produce stands, and work in the stores all tend to know me by face or name and wave or smile when I’m walking down the street. In that way, the city feels quite small and personal, which I like.

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?

As part of my graduate school requirement, I had to do two years of a foreign language, and opted for German, so I moved to the country with a basic grasp on and understanding of the language.

Since then, I have taken classes, first at the public “Volkshochschule”, and then at an amazing little leftish language school in Kreuzberg called Babylonia.

To date, I have finished C1, the second-to-last level before “fluency.” But rather than take the last level, for me personally I feel it’s more a matter of learning through doing and regular, practical application. I recently got a library card (finally) and am enjoying exploring the city libraries and reading “classic” German books for kids and young adults. This is definitely helping my vocabulary grow.

Overall, I would say that within the next six months to a year I will be able to say with certainty that I am fluent in the language.

Natalye Childress in Berlin

What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?

There are definitely some interesting quirks I have learned about Germans, such as the bedding they use and their grooming/bathroom habits, but more than anything, the biggest shock was the “invasion of privacy.” It’s kind of a contradiction in that Germans are private people, but many of them have no problem sticking their noses into someone else’s business. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have either seen or experienced firsthand a German stopping and butting into someone else’s conversations or interactions to tell someone what he or she is doing “wrong.” Moreover, it’s more likely than not that the “offender” is doing something that has zero effect on the person calling him or her out on it, which is rude and entirely unproductive. Of course I am overgeneralizing here, but this abrasiveness still takes me aback regularly. Luckily, I have my own coping mechanisms/reactions, which is often to be an ass right back. Germans seem to love confrontation, so when in Rome… right?

What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?

It’s said over and over again, but that’s because it’s important: learn the language. It’s not only the respectful thing to do, but it will enrich your experiences (and your life) so much more.

Natalye Childress in Berlin 6

What do you love most about living abroad?

Of course I love the proximity to so many other parts of the world and how much cheaper it is in general to travel.

But the obvious aside, what I love the most is the challenge. I moved as a way to kickstart personal growth, and I think I not only achieved what I set out to do, but also continue to grow. I love that I am not comfortable all the time but that I still am able to continue meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning new things in spite of that.

Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?

I am most definitely the crazy cat lady, in that I moved 9,000 kilometers away from home and brought my three cats along with me. But they were champions on the flight and acclimated to a new time zone and lifestyle almost immediately. They also have their own passports so I can continue to travel with them in the EU and back to North America, although I wouldn’t want to subject them to that unless it was absolutely necessary – they are much happier staying at home and sleeping. Still, their jetsetter lifestyle (by other cat standards) is a bit of a claim to fame, and around our house we call them the “ex-catriates.”

Natalye Childress in Berlin
 
Of course, now I am married to a German, so his family is my family, which gives me a bit more security here. And admittedly, life is a lot easier when the country doesn’t treat me like an Ausländerin (as marriage to a national provides me with more rights I didn’t have before).

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?

If I’m being totally honest, my work situation is the one area of my life where I am not completely satisfied. I have been fortunate to have a job in the states that I can do from anywhere in the world – I say fortunate because finding a paying job in Berlin is not easy. While Germany’s unemployment rate is somewhere around 7%, Berlin’s is above 12% (as of January 2013). Factor in the smaller job pool for non-natives and it can be rough.

As for me, I tutor at the aforementioned job and am lucky to have freelance work as an editor and writer that is steadily building. I am definitely interested in landing a full-time job here if something is available and the right fit for me, but being a work-from-home freelancer is also appealing for other reasons. Of course, where working in a German-speaking job was not an option when I first moved here, that is another possibility I can pursue if I want.

Find Natalye.

Site: http://www.deutsch-bitte.net
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/deutschbitte

Expat Living Information

If you thought this interview with Natalye Childress in Berlin, Germany was cool, read some of our other Berlin expat interviews from Kathleen Parker and Amelia Strzepek

If you’re looking to move to Berlin, check out my Berlin Guide for tips about making friends, finding a flat, learning German etc.

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21 Comments

  • Reply Muza-chan October 21, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Interesting…

  • Reply Maria October 21, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Wow! Took all 3 cats along for the ride. Do they speak German well? 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard October 21, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      Ha ha, perhaps they have a special way of meowing. 🙂

    • Reply Natalye October 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM

      I don’t know how well their grasp of German is, to be honest, but the cats are very good at ignoring us in multiple languages if that’s any indication…

  • Reply Vera October 21, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Cool Interview! Now I really wonder: where does the “You’re doing it wrong!”-attitude come from?? I too (being German) suffer from it, as in: I often feel there is only one ‘right’ way to do it, and I have figured that way out, and it’s the best/easiest/cheapest/most efficient/etc. (but of course!), so I will then try to point it out to other people. This wonderful behaviour has come with older age – before, I didn’t care how someone else would, for example, wash their dishes, and it used to annoy the heck out of me when certain members of my family needed things not simply to be done, but to be done in a specific way, whereas now I am like that, too … I actually thought that was just me or the people I know; it never occurred to me that it can be considered a German trait. So I was doomed all along… 😉 Stay strong, Natalye:)!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard October 21, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      Vera – Your comment is hilarious! I like how you said it’s come more with older age. I recall my neighbors telling me how to sort my recycling and being told how to correctly sit in the sauna. 🙂

    • Reply Natalye October 24, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      It’s good to know that Germans can recognize this trait in themselves and have a laugh at it. And I admit it’s not all bad – my husband, for example, is quite caring in the way he points out my mistakes. His intentions are good, but it’s just hard for me to take it sometimes. I don’t think it’s an issue of thick skin, but more that many Americans (and especially Californians) are polite, which also goes hand-in-hand with being “fake” to an extent. In contrast, Germans are very straightforward and blunt, and while I appreciate it most of the time, from strangers I still get taken aback!

      • Reply Cheryl Howard October 24, 2013 at 2:26 PM

        Natalye – I agree! This is one of the things I enjoyed most about my time in Berlin. Canadians are polite (too polite) and I quite enjoyed the candid remarks from German friends. Sometimes they were hard to hear, but in the end the honesty was refreshing.

  • Reply Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries October 21, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    You mention that your fluency level is pretty much just below fluency, do you speak Hochdeutsch or the the standard that is more common? I only know of Hochdeutsch as a Berliner friend of mine tended to moan how most Germans don’t even speak it and are therefore speaking it incorrectly, which is very German of him to point out heh.

    It’s good to see more expats with the learn the language of where you live mentality. I’ve met my share of expat’s from the states who refuse to learn their respect local languages. It tends to be more out of apathy than anything else. “Why learn X-Lanuage when the little I know gets me by”. I want to shake these people.

    • Reply Natalye October 24, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      I wouldn’t say that I speak Hochdeutsch at all – especially when my teachers have come from all over Germany, although there is a “standard” sort of level, the emphasis is not on being perfect but on being “correct.” My speaking is also a far cry from the Berlinerisch dialect, which I can’t understand very well. And most Germans I have talked to understand me just fine, so that’s good enough for me. Also, in our language learning we’ve definitely had to listen to soundclips and watch videos of people speaking in all kinds of dialects, which is actually helpful because it aids in understanding multiple versions of German (or that’s the hope, anyway). Besides, only people from Hannover are true speakers of Hochdeutsch, or so I’m told…

  • Reply Mary @ Green Global Travl October 22, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    I love your expat interviews and Natalya’s story is as brilliant as her predecessors! It’s fascinating to discover people’s paths and the choices that they have made to get where they are and how they are making internationals lives work! Freelancing sounds amazing! Thank you (both) for sharing the story!

    • Reply Natalye October 24, 2013 at 10:18 AM

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply Ali October 23, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    So awesome! My husband and I are both Americans living in Germany, and even though our home base is Freiburg, we’re currently in Berlin until New Years. Definitely an interesting city to explore for a few months. By the way, I’m very impressed by your level of German. I got my B1 certificate, but struggled so much just to reach that level. I completely agree that it’s important to learn the language, but wow German is hard! I can’t get myself to take more classes, but I do try to practice when I’m running errands, at the doctor, or when hanging out with our German friends.

    • Reply Natalye October 24, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      I think that my German really started to grow by leaps and bounds toward the end of C1, although at the time I felt overwhelmed with everything to learn (as is usual with German). But it also maybe helps that my in-laws don’t speak much English, so I am regularly put in situations where I have to use the German part of my brain and talk about things that are on a different level than food and the weather, or whatever, which really pushes me. Still, B1 is no small feat! I don’t know if Berlin will be any help for you two improving your German since there is so much English here that it’s easy to skate by without really trying, but maybe it will at least give you a new perspective on the culture/country/language.

      • Reply Cheryl Howard October 24, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        Ali and Natalye – you guys should meet up while Ali’s in Berlin!

        And Ali, similiarly, I’m impressed with your level of German. I’m taking A.1.1 at the Goethe Institut in Toronto right now and it’s tough for me already.

  • Reply Jennifer October 24, 2013 at 7:02 AM

    I totally get bringing your fur babies! We’re American and living in Italy and our cat and dog moved right along with us too.

    • Reply Natalye October 24, 2013 at 10:24 AM

      The pets are especially nice to have around when I’m feeling homesick, I think. Definitely worth the hassle of getting them over here in the first place.

  • Reply Laura @Travelocafe October 26, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    Great interview. I had fun reading and learning about Natayle. I love the pics!

  • Reply Charlie Kedmenec August 25, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    Yep – learning the language is so important to really feel like you are living here. Sure, you can “get by”, but why move to this amazing city just to get by.

    Love the bit about the judgemental Germans. I hadn’t noticed it so much until we had a baby and then, along with lovely comments and smiles, we also got lots of “helpful advice” about everything from why the baby was crying, to pointed comments about our decision to go sans beanie or comments about our decision to carry her in a sling rather than a pram…

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 25, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      Charlie – Natalye gave a great interview. I agree 100% – learning the language is so important, if not the most important.

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