Meet Rachel, the next person to be featured in my Expat Living Interview Series. After previously living in Germany, she fell in love with the country (as many of us do), did all she could do to return and now calls Munich home.
All About Rachel.
Rachel, writer and editor working in Munich. I write about sustainability and energy efficiency. I moved to Munich after I completed my modern languages degree in 2008 and now live with my boyfriend Flo in the city.
Where are you from?
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
I’ve lived in Munich for just over five years.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
I lived in Paris as a student, and then moved to Tübingen in the southwest of Germany – I found Tübingen so beautiful I decided to move back to Germany as soon as I could!
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
I’m terrible at staying put. I moved in with my boyfriend earlier this year and for the first time in my life I’ve been buying the kind of furniture you buy when you want to stay put – not just Ikea/charity shop stuff. It’s scary, but at the same time it’s a good…adult…feeling. I love Munich, and I feel comfortable about staying here – but I don’t think it will be forever. I’d love to live somewhere that’s not quite as slow-paced for a bit…Tanzania, somewhere in the Middle East…I’m not sure yet.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
There were two main reasons. I’d finished studying and was desperate to move back to Germany. I was in a relationship that was going nowhere and I wanted out. I needed an adventure. And so I applied for a hundred different jobs all over Germany and took the first one I was offered – and moved three weeks later. In retrospect, it was all thanks to the folly of youth. I moved to a city in another country without knowing a soul, simply because I’d had such a good time in another city in that same country. Foolish, but boy, did it work out.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
I miss my friends and family, but I don’t miss England all that much. Every now and then I have pangs and want to watch British TV, or buy the weekend newspapers, but that comes and goes. I speak to my friends and family often on Skype or via email, and we see one another around once or twice a year, when we then make the most of the time together.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
Learn the language. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to integrate yourself into the country you move to. Expat friends are all well and good, but to appreciate the culture fully, you need to learn the language and make friends with the natives.
In the early days it was hard. Munich has a reputation for being quite cold to newcomers, and I certainly felt that it was difficult to make friends. It took around a year before I started developing really good friendships with people who were interested in the same things I was, and that was through a non-profit magazine I wrote for. Patience is also key. Friendships don’t grow overnight, and it can take quite a bit of work, especially when there are cultural barriers involved.
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 was already pretty fluent in German when I moved here, having studied it, but there were so many things I didn’t know. Like when you leave work, it’s commonplace to say “schönen Feierabend” – which unknown to me, means “have a nice evening“. “Feier” literally means “party“, and in the beginning I thought everyone was wishing each other a good night of clubbing. I once stood up in front of my entire office and said, “I think it’s great that you guys party so hard, and so often, but I’m new here, and I’d love to be invited every now and then“. They haven’t let me live that one down..
My jobs here have required me to speak German daily, and it helped me improve so quickly. Plus, a relationship with a German has further helped, we only speak German to one another.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
The German honesty will never fail to shock me. The first time I cooked for my boyfriend I made him (a pretty gruesome, I admit) lemon chicken. I asked how it was, expecting a “oh, lovely, thanks“, and got back: “Bloody awful. Why is there gravy on it? I’ve never tasted anything so disgusting“. We’re working on diplomacy!
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Don’t think about yourself as an expat, as such. Semantically, the word “expatriate” always binds you to your home country rather than lets you integrate yourself into the new one. Once you stop thinking of yourself as an outsider, someone temporarily in one place, you can fully integrate yourself into a new country. Forget the friends you rarely speak to, the important ones will stay in touch. Live in the country, don’t just scratch the surface.
What do you love most about living abroad?
One of the reasons I love Munich is because of its location. I’m an hour from Austria, two hours from the Czech Republic. It’s so easy to head to Italy or Switzerland for a long weekend. I also love the proximity to the Alps and being able to spend the weekend hiking, or swimming in lakes.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
I moved by myself. It was tough, but I learnt a great deal about myself that way.
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’m an editor in a communications agency. I was ready to take any job at all when I moved to Munich, and spent my first six months working in customer service. Which was soul destroying, but simultaneously fantastic – I was at a start-up, with fantastic colleagues who are still close friends, and between answering customer queries, we got to play table tennis all day long.