This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat Series was written by Katrina one of my very best friends, who truly knows what being an expat is all about!
In 2012, my husband got a job offer that would take us from Melbourne, Australia to a small town called Göttingen in Germany.
Had we ever been to Germany? No.
Did we speak any German? No.
Did we say yes? Hell yes!
You see I’ve been a lifelong expat.
My parents are British. I was born in Japan. I have lived in 6 different countries, in 9 different cities and 10 different houses. It was a no-brainer.
This was a first for me though, as I was moving to a new country as an adult. I’ve always moved with my family and of course it was a breeze! But this time, there was a lot to learn.
First off there was a new language to understand – if you’re going to move to another country it only makes sense to be able to communicate with the locals! We did a German course before we left home to prepare us. Luckily, the town we moved to is full of international students so English is widely spoken. Even still, we’ve continued the language course while we’ve been here and it’s come in handy on a number of occasions.
Housing & Logistics…Who Knew It Was So Complicated?
Second was the housing. We were really lucky that a fantastic apartment near my husband’s new boss was up for rent – but if this wasn’t the case things are done very differently here!
When you rent a place, there is no kitchen! That’s right just two pipes in the wall. Also, no light fixtures, just wires dangling from the ceiling. Again, we lucked out, the old tenants sold us the kitchen as well as a few other bits and pieces. You can do whatever you want to the place as long as you leave it as you received it. So that means you can paint! But you have to paint it back when you leave (or ‘renovate’ as the Germans call it!). It always pays to read up on how this stuff works locally so there’s no surprises when you arrive!
Third (and my least favourite thing), bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is hard enough in your home country in your own language. Bureaucracy in a foreign country in a foreign language = nightmare! It’s super helpful to have a local, or another expat help you with this part, or if you’re lucky enough sometimes your employer can help you out. Things we had to organise included visas, residency, drivers licence, police check, bank account, mobile phone, utilities and insurance (and lots more!). Understanding what you need to live in a country as well as the contracts you are signing is really important.
Here in Germany, when you have a contract for a certain period of time, at the end of the contract period it doesn’t just run out, it auto renews! So you can get caught for another 12, 24 or 36 month contract if you don’t cancel in time! I found online forums were super helpful with what to expect and things to look out for.
Finding A Family In Germany
After settling in and sorting out all the paperwork it was time to make some friends! Luckily with our town being quite international and a mostly student population, making friends was relatively easy – it helped that we met people at work, during German class as well as my husband being a diehard cricketer (yes, they actually have a cricket team here!). Soon, every time we left the house to walk into town we would see someone we knew! This really made it feel like home. We’ve met some great people and now have friends from all corners of the world!
It also helped that we had so many visitors from home. While we’ve lived here we’ve managed to have all of our immediate family come over as well as many friends. It’s been great to travel with them and show them around this city we love so much. It helped keep the homesickness away and kept us connected with what was going on back in Australia. We have also managed a few trips back for special occasions.
Of course living in the center of Europe has its advantages: travel! We both have family and friends scattered through Europe and managed trips to see them, as well as to other countries we’ve always wanted to visit. We’ve seen places like Spain, France, Denmark, Italy and many parts of Germany just to name a few.
Expanding The Expat Family
After living in Germany for 2 years we discovered we were having a baby! A soon to be 3rd generation expat as my father was also born overseas. This was a whole new experience and a very positive one for us here. The benefits like paid parental leave of up to one year, as well as the fact that the health insurance covers everything before, during and after baby were ideal. Our son was born in June 2015.
His birth has changed a lot for us, the main thing being that we’ve decided not to be expats anymore and head home! Although we’ve loved every minute and lots of things while living in Germany (Currywurst, Christmas markets and Schnitzel to name a few!), having our son grow up around family and friends is our main priority.
And though we’re heading back to Australia for now, I won’t be ruling out becoming an expat in the future should the opportunity come up again!
You can follow Katrina’s adventures back home in Australia on Instagram.