USA to Germany - Expat Interview With Alex

Published: 13 Dec at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Germany
Alex graduated college and decided to push off that whole "find a cubicle to sit in for the rest of her life" plan and spend a year in German as an au pair. As luck would have it, at the end of her au pair year, she found full-time employment in an office (with a window!). Alex tells it straight: the expat experience in words, stories, photos, and hopefully there are some helpful tips in there for you. Alex blogs at Ifs ands Butts (see listing here).

Ifs ands Butts

Here's the interview with Alex...

Where are you originally from?
Houston, Texas, USA

In which country and city are you living now?
Karlsruhe, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have lived in Karlsruhe since July 2011, so about 16 months now. As of right now and much to the dismay of people at home, my stay is deadline free. For me, this is spectacular because life in Europe has been very good to me so far.

Ifs ands ButtsWhy did you move and what do you do?
Initally, I moved to Germany to au pair for a family with four children. After fulfilling my one year, nonrenewable contract, I stumbled upon further employment in the same city. This was such a blessing as I was not ready for my time in Germany or my German language learning to end. Goodbye just was not an option yet.

Did you bring family with you?
I am only 23 and a recent college grad, so left the 'rents back in the States and set sail.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It was surprisingly easy. I was on a month long graduationg backpacking trip with friends, so I did have to to adjust to the no air conditioning, array of toilets, beds without pillowtop mattresses, etc. during that time. The family made me feel so comfortable asking questions, introducing me to German cultural norms, and encouraging me to learn the language. Sure, I had Diet Dr Pepper and Tex Mex withdrawals, but these things I mentally prepared for before moving here.

Ifs ands ButtsWas it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I would never call it easy. Germans are not known for being the street-friendliest. Thanks to programs like Erasmus and Couchsurfing, I got a good kick start. My blog has even helped me meet some great people! My core group of friends is expats, but I do have several German friends I spend time with as well. It can be hard finding people who want to speak English with you all the time, so expats tend to be an easy and comfortable first solution.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Schlossgarten, Christmas Markets in December, thet Wine Road (Weinstrasse), bike tours, and day trips to the Black Forest

Ifs ands ButtsWhat do you enjoy most about living here?
My most favorite thing about living abroad is meeting new people all the time. From them, I learn things I maybe never would have and my eyes are opened to new opportunities, customs, lifestyles, etc. In that way, it's much like the blog world.

I also love feeling challenged every day. Whether it's learning German, cooking my favorite American dish with German ingredients, assembling a bicylce, or navigating a hardware store. There's always something to test me.

Lastly, the travel opportunities. Suddenly it's easier and cheaper to completely change scenery, culture, language, etc.

Ifs ands ButtsHow does the cost of living compare to home?
It depends really. Produce and dairy are cheaper, but pretty much all other foods and consumer goods, electronics, etc. are more expensive. I'd say things usually have similar prices so if a H&M shirt is 7 Euro here, it's probably $7 in the US. Which today, means I'm paying 29% more here.

My health costs are covered for "free", but I actually pay about 300 Euro in taxes per month for it. Speaking of taxes, those are way higher, too.

Travel options are often cheaper due to more affordable flights and more options like the trains and shared carpools.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
There's the obvious:
  • Being thousands of miles away from family and friends
  • Missing certain holidays.
  • Medical Problems - I still want mom. And medicines I know the names of. And unconfusing trips to the doctor. (I broke my shoulder here, no fun, but the medical care was excellent).
  • Certain foods.

Then there's the not so obvious:
  • I miss not having a car, not all the times, but particularly when I had to move, had to buy furniture, it's raining nonstop, grocery shopping, etc. On the opposite end, I LOVE the public transit here and riding my bike everywhere.
  • Beaurocracy - visas, taxes, etc.
  • Living on the fourth floor of an elevator-less apartment.
  • Not having a dryer and hanging clothes to try.
  • No central heating/cooling.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Learn the language. People will appreciate you trying and you'll be surprised how much you can learn when you give it a little time each day.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being sick and dealing with official grown up things like setting up a bank account, renewing visas, insurance, leases, etc. (some of which I have never even done in the US). It's scary enough in your home country and mother tongue but try doing it in a language you are not confident in.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?

I think it will be really difficult. Feeling challenged is important to me and Germany does that for me almost daily. I will also miss the flexibility. Even with working 40 hours a week, I am still able to choose my own hours. Additionally, something is always going on here. If not, we just hop on the train to a nearby city. I love the unexpectedness and excitment of living abroad. You never know how your day is going to end up, who you will meet, what you will learn. I just don't get this sense of excitement back home in Texas. I guess 22 years will do that to you. Don't get me wrong though, I adore Texas.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn the language.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Spend money on experiences, not things.
  4. Put yourself out of your comfort zone, go to meet ups, reach out to coworkers, talk to people on the street, etc.
  5. Try everything once.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started the bloggy in college before I ever thought about moving to Germany. As a PR student, I felt like I needed a place to display my writing and personality. However, since moving abroad it has turned into something so much more: a place for people to keep up with my whereabouts, to share my experiences and tips, to save memories, and most importantly connecting with others. I share travel tips, photos, experiences, recipes, stories, etc.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I am more than happy to speak with anyone moving to Karlsruhe, or anywhere in Germany really, as well as anyone looking to be an au pair, as I could go on for days about all of this. You can catch me on Facebook, Twitter, or via ifsandsandbutts{at}gmail{dot}com.

Alex blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Ifs ands Butts has an listing here, so add some blog love and show support at her listing! If you appreciated this interview with Alex, please let her know by leaving a comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Twyla wrote 8 years ago:

Loved reading your interview. Great insight on your thoughts about Germany .

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