Heather, who writes over at Heather goes to Deutschland, is an American now living in my home country Germany. She recently posted this Expat/Immigrant Survey and I thought this would be a nice way to give a little overview of how I ‘got here’.
Some people have a problem with the word expat, I have a problem with the word immigrant, so well just call it even, m’kay? Fact is, I was born in Germany, but now live in the US, whatever that makes me (one thing is for sure – it made me a dual citizen), so let’s talk about all that that.
1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
I was born in Grevenbroich, Germany which is a mid-sized town in the Western part of Germany’s mid-section. We’re not considered Northern Germans and we’re not Southern Germans either. If you’d ask me more specifically, I’d say I am from the Rhineland area. The closest bigger city that you might have heard of is Köln (Cologne). I grew up in the same town, went to school and lived there until I was 25. I commuted to my university in Düsseldorf. I have lived in California for the better part of the last 15 years. We’ve been in Northern California non-stop for 10 years now.
2. WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME COUNTRY
It was towards the end of my Master studies, when I applied for an exchange semester abroad and spent 6 months at the University of California, Davis. That was during the fall and winter quarters of 2001/2002. I met my now-husband J there and I haven’t really left since (if you don’t count the temporary periods back home to finish my degree and get visa things figured out).
I really didn’t plan to move here permanently. I just wanted to have that “time abroad” under my belt before I finished my degree, but life sometimes has other plans.
3. WHAT TYPE OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE AND TELL THEM WHERE YOU ARE FROM?
People are usually enthusiastic to meet someone from Germany (although I refuse to believe that this is anything ‘special’ – there are so. many. Germans. in California). Most people tell me that they have been to Germany, or have German heritage, or want to go to Germany. Usually the response is very positive.
4. WHAT WAS THE EASIEST/HARDEST PART IN ADJUSTING TO YOUR NEW COUNTRY?
Gosh, I’ve been here for so long now, I can’t even remember. I think the easiest part was getting used to the lifestyle here in California. The hardest part was not having my friends and family close by (that part is still hard) and building a new community.
5. IMAGES, WORDS OR SOUNDS THAT SUM UP THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD SO FAR.
Oh, only 15 years ago. WHAT?
6. YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD OR DRINK ITEM IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY
Food-wise, I’d have to say that I can’t really name one particular dish, but I love Trader Joe’s (see one of my previous posts, haha!).
Drink: Arnold Palmer and coffee. (I didn’t drink coffee until I moved here, though I believe that I probably would have started to drink it at some point even if I had stayed in Germany. I love the coffee shop culture here.)
7. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU SAID “YES” TO IN YOUR NEW CITY THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY “YES” TO, BACK HOME?
Everything? Doing the unexpected? Moving to California was a huge deal for me. I had never lived away from home, hadn’t even had my own apartment before my exchange semester, and most people would have never even entertained the idea that I’d one day move 6000 miles away from home. It was a pretty drastic move for me. Nobody would probably have bat an eye if my sister had done that, but funnily enough, she’s the one who ended up settling in our home town after college.
Also, I really learned to stand up for myself. I am not saying that I was a total pushover beforehand or that I wouldn’t have learned this anywhere else, but being in a foreign country basically all on your own, tests – and pushes – your limits like hardly anything else.
8. ARE THERE ANY CULTURAL NORMS/PHRASES IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY WHICH YOU CANNOT STAND?
The non-committal behavior and vagueness. I still haven’t gotten used to that after all these years in the States (although I now generally just expect ‘less’ from people). It’s been hard to adjust to that. I don’t know how many times I was left confused (and disappointed) when I met new people and they enthusiastically exclaimed that we ‘had to get together’ and they’d ‘call me’ only to be followed up with silence.
Also, the “I am busy”-excuse. I know, you might call Germans nosy, but if I invite you to an event and you just tell me you’re ‘busy’ without giving a more detailed explanation why you won’t be able to come (e.g. I am hoping for something better to pop up! Honesty, I embrace it!), it really irritates me.
9. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST DOING IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY?
I LOVE having so many amazing places at my proverbial door step. San Francisco is a 2-hour drive to the west, Lake Tahoe is 2-hours to the east, Yosemite is 2 hours to the southeast. I can hop on a plane and be in LA, Las Vegas or Utah in 1-2 hours. The outdoor activity opportunities are endless.
10. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE HOME FOR GOOD?
It’s definitely ALWAYS in the back of my mind, especially with the most recent political developments in this country.
I lived most of my adult life here, so I am a bit afraid of reverse culture shock and also how I would reintegrate into life in Germany, but it’s definitely an option on the table (which we have discussed many times and my husband J is on board with).