The latest addition to my Expat Living Interview Series is Charmaine Kedmenec. Originally from the Australia, Charmaine now lives in Berlin (my summer l0ve!) with her family and runs her own business.
All About Charmaine Kedmenec
I’m a tea lover, writer, tired mummy, an out of work actress, dreamer, lover and the funny one in my relationship, although my husband will beg to differ.
Where are you from?
I was born and grew up in Melbourne, Australia.
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
Berlin is our home now. We’ve been here for about a year and a half and we love it!
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
After Melbourne, my husband and I moved to Sydney to work for a few years before he got a job in Cologne, Germany.
We moved to Germany and that was that.
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
No plans to move. We’ve got a business here now and two little kids so we’re staying for a while.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
Work started it all. Charlie (my husband) was an Opera singer, hence the move to Sydney to work for Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House.
When he got a position at the Cologne Opera it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So we packed up and moved.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
I don’t find Berlin too different in feel or scope to Melbourne so it has never felt foreign. Apart from having to speak a totally different language of course!
But I do miss my family a lot. Skype is a very important tool in our household, especially with the kids being able to talk to the grandparents, or more the other way around at the moment. And for me, I need to see my dad’s face at least once a week.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
Learning the language is a huge barrier dropper. Plus, dragging around two kids and an armful of grocery shopping can make anyone look local.
Our area where we live is very multicultural so fitting in per se is not really an issue.
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?
When I arrived in Cologne, I started a German language course and it was the best thing I could have done. I spent four months at an intensive language school and one exploding brain later (I found German really hard to learn), I finished three levels.
I’ve since learned even more on the street and also from our German friends and colleagues. It has been five years now since I “graduated” and I’m pretty fluent now.
Although, I randomly found myself in a conversation about German Viking history the other day with the old guy next door and I just smiled and nodded a lot.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
Shocking? The Germans get very naked in the sauna and no one really cares!
I’ve had a couple of trips to the sauna here and I’m always very impressed by the way they go about it all, all the nakedness and so much nakedness!
Apart from people getting their kit off in the baths or beaches, the attitude or demeanour of people in the service industry here is something you have to get used to.
Also, you don’t get any free water when you go out for a meal, so I suppose that’s pretty shocking! Maybe I just need to eat out more?
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Learn the language. I don’t see much point of moving to a foreign country and not speaking the language there, or at least trying to. There are wonderful expat communities in most cities and they are great when you need advice or a taste of home. But there are so many interesting places, stories and people that you will miss out on experiencing without an understanding of the local language.
For me, it’s a bit like travelling and only staying in backpackers and getting drunk in backpacker bars. Sure, you can still have an awesome time, but at the same time there are so many things you will miss out on.
What do you love most about living abroad?
Oh lots of things, especially that its not too far to get to another European country!
Coming from Australia we couldn’t exactly just pop over to Paris, Spain or Amsterdam for a few days.
Although we are yet to do a heap of travelling from Berlin (2 kids and a fledgling business puts a spanner in the traveling plans), but it’s on the list.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
Charlie moved first, then I followed four months later, as I had to finish a contract first.
We had spent quite a bit of time apart before due to our jobs and going on tour around Australia but these 4 months were the longest stint we’ve had, and the furthest.
Happy to say that when we finally saw each other at Cologne airport he looked at me and said “Well we wont be doing THAT again.”
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?
I had worked as an actor in Australia for the past twenty years so moving to Germany was pretty daunting work wise for me.
After I had finished the language course, my first job was when I was offered a small acting role in a children’s opera that my husband was singing in. There were some hold ups with my work visa and the director had to do the first 3 shows. It was also the first and last time I have performed in German. Lets just say I got copious amounts of notes about my pronunciation.
I found some work with an English theatre company, touring Germany performing English plays for German schools. It was great! And I got to see heaps of the country too. I did that for about 2 years before I became pregnant with our first child, then I had number two pretty soon after so there’s been no time for acting lately.
Now, we own our own business, which is exciting and scary and amazing! We run My Destination Berlin, which is an online travel guide for English speakers.
We’re really enjoying it, it helps us get to know our city better and share it with the world. I get to be in front of the camera whenever we film a video, so I guess I am still acting after all.