American Expat Living in Germany - Interview with Ava

Published: 23 Mar at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Germany
Ava is an American housewife living in Germany. A former chemist, she decided to set aside her career for a while so that her husband could train in Germany for his job. She stays busy by exploring her small German town, making futile attempts to learn the German language, and writing about it all on My Meena Life. Her posts are most often centered around travel and trying to find happiness in the ‘Schland, but she also writes about how to cope with depression, anxiety, and a life filled with chronic pain. Ava and her husband love to travel around Europe looking for small towns, roller coasters, and great experiences. Ava's expat blog is called My Meena Life (see listing here)

Me with my husband, Mr. Meena.
Me with my husband, Mr. Meena.

Here's the interview with Ava...


Where are you originally from?
I was born in Charlotte, NC. I moved to SC with my family when I was ten years old and stayed there through college. After graduation, I was able to make it full circle by moving back to Charlotte.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in Schweinfurt, Germany. It's a small city located in northern Bavaria.

How long have you lived in Germany and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve lived in Germany with my husband for nearly eight months and there are just under six months left in his work contract here. It’s possible that we could get an extension for an additional year, and my feelings about the extension waver between “Yes, please!” and “Send me home now!” every day.

One of the many pigs from my small German town.
One of the many pigs from my small German town.
Why did you move to Germany and what do you do?
I moved here along with my husband, so that he could get some specialized training for his job and then take that knowledge back to the US. I was working as a laboratory analyst before we moved here but I’m unable to work here for a couple different reasons. Right now I’m a wannabe writer and reluctant housewife.

Did you bring family with you?
Just our parakeet, Koopa.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It’s been very rough. I didn't take to Germany as well as some people do, although my husband loves it. The hardest parts of our transition are pretty specific to our unique situation, but we have encountered more generic problems as well. Of course our biggest problem is that we didn’t speak a word of German (other than 'achterbahn') before we moved here and we’re just terrible at learning it. Everyone told us that we didn’t really need to learn German, but that’s just not true. Not all Germans speak English nor are they always happy to speak it if they can – at least not in small town Germany.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It was very difficult. Germans approach friendship differently than Americans and generally take a longer time to establish deeper friendships. Aside from a handful of experiences with my husband’s German coworkers, we were alone for five months before we found the local expat group and started making friends. All of my current friends are expats. If we lived in a larger city we’d have tons of resources available to us, but there are very few groups for internationals in our city and they weren’t easy to find.

Me trying to be brave on top of a tower in Stuttgart, Germany.
Me trying to be brave on top of a tower in Stuttgart, Germany.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
My favorite thing about Schweinfurt is their pigs – they have somewhere around 100 large, customized fiberglass pigs decorating the city. The bike trails along the Main River are wonderful and you can hardly go wrong when you’re touring Franconia. My biggest recommendation would be to avoid anything really touristy (it’s just not that fun) so that you can have a genuine German experience.

What do you enjoy most about living in Germany?
I love the charming German architecture and the traditions that are steeped in history. I also really love the cheap, fresh bread that can be found on every corner.

How does the cost of living in Germany compare to home?
That’s a tough question because of our situation. We live in company housing and don’t have a car, so our expenses are mainly food and travel. The food can sometimes be cheaper if you stick to things that are popular in Germany, but overall it’s more expensive for us because we can no longer buy in bulk. Our cell phone bill has been reduced by nearly $100 per month, though.

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Germany?
There are negatives to living in Germany, just like there would be in any location. My biggest challenge with German culture is the impatience. Germans will attempt to cut in front of you in line and kind of have a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality about it. I really struggle with shopping and taking the train alone, without my husband to fight for our place in line, because the behavior comes across as rude to me and I get upset. I’m not naturally aggressive enough to cope with the culture of impatience.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Germany, what would it be?
Research! Visit at least once before you move and ask lots of questions about what it will be like to live here. Google "things I wish I'd known before moving to Germany" and read about all the positives and negatives. There were many things we just didn’t realize would happen when we moved here and we could have been better prepared.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Cooking and eating healthy. Ninety percent of my recipes were obsolete the moment that we landed in Frankfurt. There’s no Worcestershire sauce, ranch dressing, or enchilada sauce to be found. Learning to cook with the available German ingredients and food items has been difficult.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
It will be a mixture of shock and relief, I’m sure. I think that at first Americans will be way too loud, the food will be too sweet and salty, and we’ll long for the German separation of work and home life. But at the same time we’ll be so happy to be able to communicate with everyone, see our families, and eat lots of peanut butter cups.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Don’t try to follow anyone else’s example too closely. There are so many people that will tell you exactly how to cope and live in your new country, but sometimes you just need to figure out your path in your own way.
  2. It’s okay to (occasionally) order foods from home and pay too much for them. You might want do it a lot at first, but that desire will lessen over time.
  3. Try to find people in your new city before you move. We didn’t know anyone for the first five months and there were so many times that we just needed a simple answer about how to do something.
  4. Keep trying. You’re going to have days where you don’t want to set foot outside or you have a meltdown. Take some time to recover and miss your home, but then try again.
  5. Focus on the positives. Sometimes I feel like I hate everything about my expat life and that doesn’t help me – so I’ll pick one or two really great things and just hold on to them until my feelings pass.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Being able to write about my expat life keeps me sane. I just write about our real experiences – the good and the bad ones. I try to keep a sense of humor and tell stories about what it’s really like to live in small town Germany. I’ve also started dealing with a lot of chronic pain since we moved here, so I write about that aspect of my life as well.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me by leaving a comment on my blog or sending me a message on Twitter or Facebook.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAva is an American expat living in Germany. Blog description: Real life & adventure.
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