Celebrating my 20th Anniversary as an Expat
This is my special #TBT
Twenty years ago today …
On September 17, 1995, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany – ready, excited and feeling a bit nauseous to start my new life as an expat. I never left the US before. I didn’t know German except ‘My name is’, ‘I come from’, ‘I am ?? years old’. I knew a total of 5 people.
Since I was engaged to a German, I had someone to hold my hand and I couldn’t have been more grateful. I lived with my fiancée’s grandmother (Oma) and she was great! I was left alone with her for the first 2 weeks while my fiancée went to work. She talked and talked and talked and I understood a word here or there… We laughed a lot, although I didn’t know why. She was so good to me. She not only took me in, but also my cat and my yellow collared mini macaw. She was cute. I miss her.
After those 2 weeks, we were in our own apartment and I started German lessons at the Auslandsgesellschaft (Ausländer = foreigner) in Dortmund. Get this: for 6 hours a day, 8 months straight, I learned German! In that time, I got 2 migraines in a total of 4 in my life. Yes, it was that intense. But, it was good. I learned German, you bet I did! I also learned while watching Star Trek Next Generation and Little House on the Prairie reruns after language school. I learned German while dreaming. I learned German on the tram and on the street.
I still have an accent.
In fact, some companies hire me to do their German voiceovers because they like my accent! That’s fine by me!
It took me about 4 years to ‘get used to’ the German way of life. Experts say that’s normal. I was homesick when I ate at a Mexican restaurant and they didn’t know what jalapeños were and put ketchup on my nachos. I was homesick every time I went into a store where ‘customer service’ was non-existent. I got homesick when I was told I’d have to put in another 5 years of college because my bachelor’s degree meant diddly squat. I proved them wrong! I got homesick when I was criticized about the American way and our gov’t being bad. I got homesick when I couldn’t watch David Letterman anymore. But am thankful for YouTube that lets me view some special moments. I got homesick when I had to ride the public transportation system for years before I was able to drive with a German license. I got homesick when a family member or a friend was having a celebration. I get homesick when I can’t physically give someone my shoulder to cry on or a big hug. I got homesick when my grandfather died and since then 4 other grandparents and I couldn’t attend any of the funerals.
I still get homesick, but now it’s only because I miss my family and friends.
‘Why on earth are you living here?’
People used to ask me this question all the time. My answer was and still is, ‘I love the beer’ or ‘Not because of the weather’. Both are true, but there’s more… The social system is not perfect by any means, but it is more humane. The business ethic as well… They don’t and are not allowed to just throw you out without any notice from a job. The gov’t cares for their employees and for companies large and small. They take care of immigrants, the ill, the weak, the poor, the mothers AND the fathers and the educators… Did you know there are only 2 countries in the world who doesn’t guarantee maternity leave? Guess which ones: USA & Papua New Guinea. That’s just uncool.
For the most part anyway. It’s not perfect as I wrote. Utopia does not exist.
Europeans seem to be more environmentally conscious, even though I’ll still see people flick cigarettes out their car door windows! They take care of their animals and make sure they have time for them before welcoming them into their homes. They take breaks and value their vacation time.
For the most part anyway.
There are exceptions to everything I’ve written above. There is still corporate stuff to deal with, more red tape than you have ever known in your life and enough sour apples to ruin entire batches, so it’s definitely not perfect over here, but for me, it’s better. And that’s why I’ve chosen to stay.
And oh, let’s not forget the forests here! What beautiful forests Germany has!
But strangely enough – or perhaps obviously enough – I don’t get asked that question anymore. Things have changed drastically over the past 20 years in the states and it’s not all good… But, what are ya gonna do?
Beam Me Up, Scotty
I am still waiting for someone to invent the ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ technology though. C’mon, there are gazillion incredibly brilliant engineers over here, why is this so difficult? The auto industry, that’s why. I knew it, sigh…
So, here I sit with my Skype on, wondering who I’m gonna call tonight on my 20th anniversary of living in Germany. I think I’ll call my parents who brought me to the airport the day before my landing. Or one of my dearest friends of all time who came to say bye. Back then, they were allowed to stay with me until I boarded. They remember that day well.
Tears were shed and no one had a clue it was going to be forever… And who knows, it may not be forever, but for now, I’m here and I’m sorry mom and dad. I’m sorry everyone. I love you and think of you all the time.
As I look back and reflect on this moment of stepping off the plane in Frankfurt and the past 20 years, there are so many memories that I can’t put them all in this blog post. But I would be more than thrilled to discuss anything with you in the comments. Are you an expat? What have you experienced? What was your biggest challenge? Your biggest fear? Your largest triumph?
Sending the very best,