I’d like for you to meet Katie Needs, the next person to be featured in my Expat Living Interview Series. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in New York City after a 2 year stint in my other home of Berlin.
All About Katie.
Originally from Toronto, Katie now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She loves good food, good people and good ideas, and is married to a very tall Dutch man.
Where are you from?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
I live in Brooklyn, New York – Fort Greene, to be exact. I’ve been in NYC since September 2013.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
Before I lived in New York, I lived in Berlin for 2 years. It was great!
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
I’ll be in New York for the foreseeable future, but I’ll definitely be moving to another city at some point. Amsterdam is on my list.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
Before I left Toronto, I had been studying (a Bachelor of Music, then a Masters in Information) and working as a music librarian.
I’d always wanted to have a big adventure. When I got the chance to move to Berlin just over 2 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. It was one of the best experiences of my life!
Moving to New York has secretly been on my bucket list for quite some time – I mean, it’s New York! This city is incredible. What’s also great about it for me, is that it’s still close enough to home (only an hour flight, same time zone etc…) that I can leave for the weekend if I want.
All of that aside, I made the choice to leave home so I could go off and do my best work. It’s been an extra special bonus that I’ve been able to do it in two of the world’s greatest cities. I feel incredibly lucky for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had since moving away.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
I definitely do. I love my friends and family, and I love Canada. It’s hard to be away from home, but everyone has been so supportive. Weekly Skype calls with my parents, lots and lots of emails exchanged, group chats with my girlfriends using WhatsApp are just some of the ways that we all keep in touch.
A few of my girlfriends and I have a shared scrapbook that we started when I moved away (it came at a time when a bunch of us were displaced). Not unlike the traveling pants, it stays with one of us until we have put an entry together, and then it’s passed along to the next person. I love this scrapbook.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
It’s an obvious answer, but I think taking the time to learn languages and customs (as much as you can) is crucial. Eat the food (even the grosser stuff at least once). Ride public transportation. Keep up with local news. Say please and thank you. Strike up conversations with strangers, shop owners, waiters, baristas or your local späti guy (for Berliners).
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?
Yes and no. In order to get by in day to day life in Berlin, you need to at least have a grasp of German. I had taken a beginner’s German class in University, and when I first moved I took an intensive course which was very helpful – but only took me so far…
My work was all done in English and my friends all spoke English as their first languages. So, while German was very important for things outside of work, it was never a top priority for me to become fluent. I definitely regret not trying harder to improve my German.
That said, after struggling with a language for 2 years, it has been really nice being able to rely on my native tongue! I feel like I’ve gotten a big confidence boost because of it. I’m still not sure if I feel good or bad about this.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
In Berlin – the grocery store checkout experience! They move faster than the speed of light! You can save yourself a millisecond or two by using a card or a large bill, but need to have a battle plan because you’re going to have to bag your groceries like your life depends on it.
I made a list of things I wish I knew before moving to Berlin. You can read that on my blog.
In New York, I’m still figuring out the quirks. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised at how great the customer service is here, and at how relieving it is that my local grocer will bag my groceries for me Also, you can have everything delivered.
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Also, take the time to make new friends. It can be really hard, but it’s important.
Oh, and be sure double check if your apartment includes utilities – otherwise, you might be left in the cold and dark in the middle of winter!
What do you love most about living abroad?
The thrill of doing my own thing! I also love how much bigger (and smaller) the world has become since I’ve moved away from home. I’ve never met so many different people, and it’s been wonderful to build a network of friends from all over the place.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
Full disclosure – I moved to Berlin because a boy asked me to go with him. It did not work out.
But not to worry, the story has a very happy ending because I actually met my (now) husband at work in Berlin!
I made the choice to move to New York alone and got married about 2 months after I started my new job. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least! My husband will be coming from Berlin to join me in the new year.
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 Berlin, I did not have a job. I had just finished doing a fun project with SoundCloud – a Community Fellowship called Sounds of My City – which is how I got introduced to the “startup scene” in Berlin. More specifically, it’s how I was introduced to the world of Community Management, which is the type of work I’ve really connected with.
I hunted for a Community Management internship for about 4 months, and eventually landed a job at a startup called Gidsy, which has since been acquired by another Berlin company called GetYour Guide. That time with Gidsy was a huge learning experience for me – and more importantly, it’s where I met my husband!
Around the time that Gidsy was acquired, I decided to look for something new. Luckily, an amazing opportunity came up at Kickstarter in New York, so I seized it.
I now work on the Community Support Team at Kickstarter, and love it very much.
Are you living abroad and would like to be included in the Expat Living interview series? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured just like Katie!
If you like these interviews and my personal take on living abroad, check out my Expat Living section.