Moving abroad is a big thing. I don`t mean short-term moves as in student exchanges for a year, job contracts for 2 years on the other side of the world and similar. Those can be quite awesome actually. You have just enough time to emerge yourself into new cultures, embrace the unknown, soak up everything and return home with unforgettable experiences. No, no, here I´m talking about moving abroad – forever. I´ve written these lines based on my own experiences while living in Germany for over 9 years now. Therefore it is very personal and we cannot generalize it, but I´m sure many of others living abroad feel similar sometimes.
Why even move abroad? Well, we all have our reasons. Some are looking for a better life, others seek new experiences and challenges. Some cope better with the new environment, some worse. I know people here who love it and would never move back to their homeland, but I also know many who are desperately homesick. I guess it also depends a lot on what you leave behind, who you are with and where you are moving to. I had a pretty good life back home in Slovenia. But then in those years after the 2009 crisis lots of things happened. I finally got my University diploma and with that an era ended, my apartment contract was to be either cancelled or renewed for another year, I was working on projects with short term contacts. So, I thought it was time to give my then long distance relationship a go and move to Germany for a while. I had some savings and gave myself about half a year to go and see how it is. Learn the language, get to know the country and see where this is all going, knowing I can always go back home. I had nothing to lose. But then it all turned upside down when two lines appeared on the test just a week or so before my flight. Suddenly, it was not anymore about a couple of months, it was more of an “all or nothing” situation. So I stayed. And I´m still here. Not so much because I want to, but some things take time to solve. Lots has changed in the meantime though. That relationship didn´t last of course. But this is life. In this post, I´m focusing on the negative & positive feelings and emotions related to living abroad. I´m sure this can be useful for anyone who is thinking of moving too.
There is just one family and sometimes you realise this only when they are far away. And especially once you have kids of your own and you could really need a grandma or an auntie around – not just for physical help, but also for emotional support. You miss everybody´s birthdays, family picnics, celebrations, holidays, births and more. And they miss a lot too. Their grandchildren´s first steps, birthdays and a whole bunch of other little things. Luckily, today´s technology helps at least a little bit.
Besides family, I really miss my friends. Not that I don´t have any here, after all I´m quite a social human being, but those true ones are really just a couple. On the other hand I have a happy bunch back home in Slovenia, even still after almost 10 years being away. I´m even a bit proud of that, because it does take some effort for such relationships to withstand the distance. Unfortunately there is never enough time for everyone. I usually visited only 1-2 times a year and after some years I realised, I simply cannot fit everyone and everything into my schedule. Because visiting home when you live abroad sometimes really feels like a scheduled business trip with meetings all day long. So I had to filter and dedicate my time and energy to the true ones. Which is okay.
Surely the culture shock is much greater if you move to another continent or into a complete different culture, but even just the move from Slovenia to Germany was quite a thing. The first months or years everything is new and exciting and you might not even think about it. I´m also always saying that it is us who moved here, so it is us who have to adapt. Having said that, I also know that this is sometimes very hard. You often don´t understand things, you don´t agree with them and you don´t want to accept them just like that. That can be frustrating, but I guess it is normal. You can´t really complain about it too, after all it is you who came here. Foreigners and ex-pats are nothing new in Germany. If you learn the language and are nice to everybody, you will mostly get treated with respect and even admiration. But, you will always be a foreigner and this can be difficult on many occasions.
Landscape and location
From Ljubljana, my home town, it takes an hour of driving and you can jump into the Mediterranean, hike in the Alps or enjoy a glass of wine between the vineyards. In just one hour you reach Italy, Austria and Croatia. Add another hour and you are in Hungary. In the winter you can ski, in the summer you can swim. You can also visit caves, go climbing, meet a bear and many other cool things. When I tell this to somebody here, they all go “Wow, that sounds like paradise!”. Yes. I couldn´t agree more. In this part of Germany, the landscape is pretty boring. Endlessly flat and somehow always the same for hundreds of kilometres. The flatness wouldn´t even bother me so much, if I was at the sea, but unfortunately this is not the case here. Now, I´m not an extreme hiker, but I so so so miss my mountains.
Distances and accessibility
Germany is a huge country, but the places are well connected with highways, which mostly don´t have speed limits. It is really not a big thing if you drive 500km on a day trip. We´ve done day trips to Hamburg, Berlin or even Frankfurt and those are 2-3hrs of driving in each direction. I was making a 100km every day to go to work and back and that was just a normal thing here. Back home in Slovenia, the distances are much smaller, so I always find it funny now if I hear someone complaining how far it is to get to work or somewhere else.
Weather & climate
Even just short term changes in weather and climate can affect your well-being, but the long-term ones can seriously affect your health. I find the weather here in Germany to be utterly horrible most of the time. Wearing flip-flops in April but then a winter jacket in May is just weird. The temperatures can be the same in December as in June, winters are green and summer are mild. After a few seasons I stopped believing this was just a bad season and bought myself rain jackets and rubber boots. Forget about umbrellas though, because the wind here will just break them in a second. Being used to extremely hot summers and extremely cold winters with lots of snow, this is something I´m really missing here.
Work and life quality
Germany might have been a mecca for earning money 30-40 years ago, but if you ask me, those days are over. It is true, that I made a bit more here as I would back home, but you also need to see the whole picture. For me, it is simply not worth it. But this is something everyone has to figure out for themselves. People live differently and have different priorities. And that´s alright. How and where you live, what you do for a living also play a big role of course. From my experiences, that plus from the pay check can easily be spent for different necessary insurances, expensive services, better quality food, speeding tickets and other things. Also, you have to consider the amount of holiday days you get – especially if you like to travel to new places, but you also want to visit your home country. Sometimes both is just not possible. Otherwise I personally have very good working experiences.
Stay at home mom or working mom?
Women (and mothers) around the world are living in very different positions. Not saying we are suffering here in Germany, it is just different to what I grew up with. Here, lots of mothers do not work (or only work 10-20hrs a week) and are at home with their kids. Maternity leave is paid for a year, but you can extend it for up to 3 years. Then you have one to two more kids and whoops suddenly it´s been 10 years since you´ve worked. You of course do not bring the kids to the kindergarten until they are at least 3 years old and even then it is just for a few hours. In the mean time you cook, sew, clean, take care of your home, offer your taxi services to any family member at all times and are an overall super mom. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that if this is something that you want. The problem is, if you actually do want to work and then even full time. Be prepared for the strange looks.
Free time and social life
Grab a beer Tuesday night? Dinner on Thursday and movies on Monday? Well, forget it. It happens very rarely here. The city center is practically deserted in the evenings after the shops close. The Germans work during the week. And the people you work with are your co-workers and not your friends. With some exceptions of course. The ones who have kids have usually a strict schedule – dinner at 6pm, bedtime at 7pm. I was coming home at 5pm from work so play dates with kids were usually not possible during the week. I´m not used to this from back home and although I have adjusted to this, I still deeply miss the social life I once had.
Loneliness and anxiety
Isn´t it incredible how you can feel lonely, even if you are surrounded by people? I´m sure there will come a time when you feel misunderstood, not accepted, different, you start to doubt your decisions, you want to just drop everything and run away to some place better. Because this might happen, I think it is very important to surround yourself also with the people who are in a similar situation as you. To comfort each other. To cry on each other´s shoulders. And to support each other. Because they are the only ones who will understand fully what you are going through. Someone who has never live abroad simply cannot know how it is and might not get your feelings and frustrations.
Where is home?
I´ve been asking myself this question from day one when I moved here. And fter a couple of years I asked myself “Is this really it?”. I couldn´t come to terms with it. I was more and more homesick. At the same time I didn´t even know where is home. 10 years is a long time. I feel like a stranger in Germany but I also feel more tourist than a local in Ljubljana. If you believe it or not, as much as I love travelling (the obsessive world hopping in the last years just might be a result of this lack of feeling at home here) I also cannot wait to live in a place where I step through the door and think to myself “home sweet home”.
Freedom and a new start
Moving abroad also has lots of positive sides too. For starters, it is a great opportunity for a new beginning. Somewhere where nobody knows you, nobody knows what you´ve done, where you´ve been, who your parents are and where you come from. You can really turn the page and start over. Because you often spend a lot of time on your own, especially in the beginning, you also get to know yourself better. You get to be okay with being just you. And this is something one can get used to very easily, it is a sort of freedom. You get to taste the ultimate independence and self-sufficiency.
Experience for life
In all these years of emotional roller coasters, when you find yourself in different situations that would have never occurred back home, you learn a lot. These are experiences you cannot buy and cannot be taught by reading about it in a book. You simply have to live it and feel it on your own. And it makes you strong. It gives you courage. It makes you rich. It also brings you down here and there, but you know how to get back up. You´re not afraid of the future, because you know you can handle anything that comes. Because you have already handled it. All on your own.
It´s worth a try
To wrap it up, I have to add that even if I´m not satisfied with my current situation and I really feel my time here in Germany is running out, I have no regrets. I´m happy and proud of myself that I have tried. So what if it didn`t work out. All of the hard moments, heavy decisions, all those feelings, emotions and acknowledgements have made me who I am today. So, if you are thinking about moving abroad yourself, I´d say go for it. Go for it and bring a full bag of optimism, but also be careful and know it might not be an easy ride.