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Ilze: Let the Journey Begin

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Germany makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Germany, etc.

My name is Ilze and I come from the small Northeast European country of Latvia. I moved to Bremen, Germany in 2007 for my MA studies and had no intention to stick around longer than the two years necessary for attaining the degree. Little did I know that in my final month before moving back to Latvia I would be accepted to a PhD program and meet my future husband. It is now seven years later and I am living in the beautiful North German city of Hamburg. I am married and have a baby daughter who already holds two citizenships and is growing up with three languages.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

My blog Let the Journey Begin was born in the summer of 2012 to document my honeymoon adventures in Southeast Asia. As my husband and I had asked our families and friends for contributions to our honeymoon fund instead of more traditional wedding gifts, we decided that blogging about our trip would be a great way to say thanks. I revived the blog around a year later out of two reasons. The first was a wish to (purposefully) procrastinate from writing my PhD dissertation that was approaching its final stage. The second arose from the fact that I was expecting a baby and wished to share our multilingual and multicultural journey into parenthood.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

I don’t think I can choose a favorite as each post is special to me in its own way, otherwise it wouldn’t have been “born” in the first place. So let me answer this question in a different way:

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?

I surprised myself by how easy it was for me to adapt to my new life in a different country. Looking back, this ease had two reasons. One was that Latvia and Northern Germany share long historical and cultural ties so, although differences exist, the two environments are not different enough to cause culture shock. Besides, I was moving within the EU which considerably lowered any bureaucratic hurdles. Second was that, as I was starting studies in an international university, pretty much everyone around me came from another country. I was immediately pulled into the excitement of the orientation week, swiftly made new friends, and didn’t feel homesick for a minute. Of course, living in Germany meant that I had to deal with new circumstances but often I couldn’t compare them to Latvia, e.g., it was the first time when I had to look for a place to live or to pay my own rent.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Germany? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

For my first two years in Germany I studied at an international university and, although I lived off campus, my immediate environment was multicultural to the extreme. I truly encountered Germany only after I had left the university bubble and started making more local contacts. So, to answer the question, I sometimes wish that I had spent more time in those first years on learning German. Although I could understand it well and make myself understood, I often found my German skills severely lacking.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

Once I was telling a German friend of mine about a sauna party that I went to back home. As I was elaborating on the sauna going and jumping in cold water, the food, the music and even dancing, I could see my friend becoming more and more confused. Eventually he asked: and you had this party with a big group of friends and acquaintances?! I answered that yes, of course, what’s so strange about that? I learned only later that there’s one significant difference between public saunas in Latvia and Germany: we Latvians usually keep some clothes on…

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Germany?

  • Work on your German skills to acquire a basic understanding of the language. It doesn’t need to be a language class, watch some TV/videos in German or download a language app.
  • Read up on the basics: the bureaucracy, the healthcare, the housing market etc.
  • Explore ways to meet new people – is there a local InterNations community? An alumni branch of your university? An association of your co-nationals?

How is the expat community in Germany? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

While still living in Bremen I was surrounded with friends and acquaintances made through my university studies. As my closest friends began moving away and I moved to Hamburg the situation changed. At the moment I most often spend time with people whom I know through my husband but I hope to change that, e.g. by attending more InterNations Events.

How would you summarize your expat life in Germany in a single, catchy sentence?

Never say never: you cannot know what awaits around the next corner!

Daiki Saito

"When my company decided to send me to Essen, I took a quick look at the local community and said: Please do!"

Cristina Fernandez

"On InterNations I did not only meet interesting people but I also found a flat near Bochum and settled in quickly. A great platform."

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