Cheryl: Cheryl Howard
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Berlin, etc.
I’m Cheryl Howard, a Canadian from Toronto, now living in Berlin, Germany.
I first moved to Berlin in June 2011, where I stayed for 18 months before moving back home to Canada. After two years, I happily made my way back to Berlin in November 2014.
I now balance being a scrum master for a local tech start-up, AVARI, and a travel blogger at cherylhoward.com, where I write about my travels and expat life in Berlin.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My blog is just about to turn 5 years old! It was during a two-year sabbatical that I started writing about my travels and, later on, my experiences of life abroad.
I’m not really sure what compelled me to start writing, but I guess my reasons are the same as anyone else’s; to keep friends and family updated. At some point, I gained an audience beyond them, and it just took off from there.
By far, the best part of the blogging gig has been the people who actually stop by and take time to read through my posts. I still find it hard to believe that people find my stories interesting! My Berlin content has especially struck a chord with a lot of people who are similarly motivated to move here. Many readers have reached out through comments and emails thanking me for sharing my experiences. I’ve even been fortunate to meet some of these readers in real life!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favorite articles is a monster post that I wrote early this year, which details all the reasons you should visit Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Berlin differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I love Toronto and do miss it sometimes, but for me Berlin is home now, and I don’t see myself ever leaving.
Some things I like best about Berlin over Toronto?
Being able to travel to new places in Europe, cheaply and frequently. My new favorite pastime is escaping the city for a weekend getaway. Since returning to Berlin four months ago, I’ve spent weekends in Amsterdam, Sofia and Budapest.
There’s something to do each and every day! This is also the case in Toronto, but for example, doing something like going to the opera or ballet in Toronto is simply not affordable for the average person. Nor are the pretentious food events that cost a whopping $40+ a ticket and only include the cost of admission, not food or drink. In Berlin, you can visit a plethora of museums and art galleries, watch films in the park, attend concerts, go to the theatre, visit food or flea markets, and it’s nowhere close to the cost of what it would be at home.
The cost of living is much lower in Berlin than Toronto when it comes to rent and other “important” things like beer and wine.
Initially, I did experience some culture shock. Coming to Berlin without knowing German wasn’t really a good idea. The printer would jam at work and I wouldn’t know how to troubleshoot the problem. I’d be given a form to fill out that would take me hours to make sense of it using Google Translate.
I’ve come to embrace the ups and downs of expat life and have fondly come to see any difficulty that arises as an “adventure,” no matter how arduous and painstaking it might be.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Berlin? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
The first time I moved to Berlin, I’d say that I was somewhat prepared as I had secured both a visa and found a flat before I arrived.
On the other hand, I was clueless about some things. For example, I blindly signed up for a contract with Vodafone as I wanted the latest iPhone and didn’t really make myself familiar with the conditions, which were written only in German. I regretted this down the road, as it cost me several hundred euros to exit that contract when I returned home to Toronto!
If I could change anything, I would have spent much more time learning German before arriving here the first time. I worked on that during my two years at home in Toronto and can say that it definitely made moving back here a second time much easier.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Some of the most hilarious moments have happened during conversations with German friends in English.
One friend used to say things like “Send me a signal when you’re back from your trip!” or when inquiring about what time to meet him at his place, he’d respond with “You may approach anytime after 6:00 p.m.”
I know it’s a two-way street and imagine my German friends laugh at my pathetic attempts to speak with them in their native language.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Berlin?
- My number one tip (and one I’m working on improving myself, obviously) is to learn German! While you can get by with only English in Berlin, your life here will be infinitely better if you can communicate with locals, be it a friend, colleague or government official.
- Many people have big dreams about moving to Berlin, yet many arrive completely unprepared about what they actually need to do in order to make this a reality. My second tip is to do your research before moving here — like figure out which visa works best for your situation, find a flat, get the right health insurance, learn how to handle taxes, etc. Get as much work done as you can so you can hit the ground running upon your arrival.
- My last tip would be to just enjoy Berlin life as much as possible for the time that you’re here. It’s really the best city in the world (and I know I might be a tiny bit biased), and you won’t find any other place like it.
How is the expat community in Berlin? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Berlin is fantastic, likely due to the fact that there are so many of us. You can easily meet other expats when buying your morning coffee, taking your dog for a walk or bringing your children to the park.
There are also plenty of online resources like Facebook and Meetup groups that give people the opportunity to attend events and meet other expats from their home country or with similar interests.
While I enjoy hanging out with other expats, I prefer (and recommend) having a balance of both expat and German friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Berlin in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s basically like the Lego song “Everything is awesome”!