Andrew is an American expat who, having traveled to Germany multiple times over the years, decided to make Freiburg his new home. Let's hear his thoughts on culture shock, the little daily peculiarities of being an expat, and the role of creativity in life. His blog can be accessed at www.groundedtraveler.com.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Germany, etc.
I am Andrew. I am a technical and yet still goofy person. I have worked in the tech end of the web for over 10 years now. I got married last summer to another American and am helping her into the expat world. I moved from the southern US to Germany in October 2007. I had studied German since high school and traveled in Europe a lot during high school and two university degrees. So it made sense to start in Germany and I found a job quick so stuck around.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
The blog name actually predates even my expat move to 2003 or so. I started doing blog entries and pictures, but it was not a unified whole. I didn't really do much with it until 2010. The winter of 2010 was very hard on me. It was cold and dark and I felt trapped.
On an Easter trip to Vienna with a friend, I was looking at the intense creativity of the Hundertwasserhaus. At that point I realized that I had pushed creativity out of my life and the idea of rebuilding the blog came to me. I started getting into the world online more and it grew from there.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
These two I wrote about indecision: Indecision and Searching Greener Grass. They were written about the same time that I met my now wife. They were some of the first things that we talked about, so they will always have a special memory attached. Other than that I really like the phototours with all the pictures.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Germany differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My life is similar but calmer. The biggest change has been to live without a car. I really didn't like driving in the US, so having public transport, a bike and a city small enough to walk around is great.
Culture shock? Yup, daily. Even now to an extent, but about different things now than at the beginning. I had traveled in Germany a lot before coming here, so the basics of the culture (and knowing how to deal with culture shock) I already knew.
The biggest problem doesn't seem to be dealing with new situations, as in situations I had never seen. The bigger problem was dealing with situations I was used to at home and which are completely different here. Essentially the daily things of life became all consuming for a bit. Doing laundry, grocery shopping and renting an apartment all take on an extra challenge.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Germany? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Who is “fully” prepared for anything? I think I knew mostly what I was getting into. Some of the stuff I am glad I wasn't prepared for, as I think it would have frightened me more.
If I had to do it again, I might have picked a different area to settle in. Although I really like Freiburg, it is a bit small and - from a German perspective - out of the way.
The other thing I think about is whether it was a good idea coming with the idea to live instead of just wander through here. I wish I had traveled more and packed lighter. Although without the determination to “make a life” in Germany, I may have just wandered and headed home at some point.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Most of my funny moments have happened linguistically. Even with all my studies I still pick the wrong word often. Asking to attack a computer instead of access it. Talking about feeling forms instead of filling them out.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Germany?
If you have the opportunity and time to study the language before you go, that will give you a big leg up.
Have a plan. German culture runs on plans and expectations, so a plan that you are going to pursue for work, housing, social stuff will give you a drive to get over the shocks.
Know that the plan will change and remain flexible. This is more of a general expat thought, but the German society runs in a way that, if you cannot adapt to it, it will drive you mad.
How is the expat community in Germany? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There do seem to be a fair number of expats in Germany. Industry and universities draw people from around the world. I lucked into an English speakers club in Freiburg within 2 weeks of landing here and they have been a great help. I really enjoy the expat and the traveler communities. I have more in common with them than with either my friends at home or those that have not traveled much here.
How would you summarize your expat life in Germany in a single, catchy sentence?
Sure I'm putting down roots, but that gives me the stability to see more of the world.