Wow, so I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. My mind has been occupied with other things, clearly.
Big news – I am actually leaving Germany and will be landing back in Edmonton, Alberta on April 17. It’s been a full year here in Germany, and I am ready to get out.
Why, you ask? For a number of reasons – my husband and I have both agreed that financially, professionally, and socially, we prefer Canada. We see a better future there for ourselves. Alberta’s winters may be too long and cold, but in general, housing is affordable, salaries are good, and people are friendly and open. I can’t say that any of those things are true in Germany.
So, after a full year spent living in Europe, and since I seem to use this “listicle” thing on my blog a lot, here goes: Seven Things I Learned After Spending a Year Living in Germany.
1. Canada is more awesome than I thought. I was definitely a proud Canadian before coming here, but a year away has made me appreciate a lot of the things I used to take for granted. Canadians are friendlier than I realized. Most people don’t judge you if you are different in some way. Canadians also laugh and smile a lot more than they do here. I can think of several people here who I have never heard laugh, despite knowing them for several months. Not. Even. Once. As I said to my husband not long ago, “How can you live like that?!”
Canada is also more beautiful than I thought. Yes, Europe has the medieval castles, older cities, and 1000 years of culture that Canada doesn’t, but Canada also has something you won’t find anywhere in Europe: wilderness. I love visiting castles and old cities, probably more than most people in fact, but I miss the wild forest, mountains, and the ruggedness of western Canada.
Speaking of “culture”, Canada is also more multicultural and diverse than I thought. Before moving here I thought “multiculturalism” was just a meaningless buzzword, but the reality is that multiculturalism is not just something Canadians say. It’s something Canadians do. Most large Canadian cities have vibrant communities of people from countries like China, Italy, Ukraine, the Philippines, and so on who make life in Canadian cities richer and more varied in terms of cuisine, culture, and outlook on life. Germany may have a long history, but it is not culturally or racially diverse. Germany is surprisingly monocultural, even in its large cities. If you come to Germany, I hope you like schnitzel, bratwurst, and the German language, because that’s what you’ll get no matter where you travel in Germany.
2. No place is perfect. I’ll say it again. No place is perfect. As I said in an earlier post, people love to complain, and there will always be something to complain about. Canada is too cold. Edmonton is too isolated. Americans are too aggressive. Germans are too rude. England is too rainy. Europe is too expensive. Italians are too corrupt. On and on. The reality is, life is never perfect and it’s better to focus on all the good things you have instead. Find a compromise that works for you. For me, the positive aspects of living in Germany are outweighed by the negatives, which is why I’m leaving, but this is not true for everyone. I’ve known people who’ve moved to Canada/Korea/Europe/wherever and then left in disgust a year or so later because it wasn’t for them, while other people live in these regions happily for years. We’re actually pretty lucky to have a choice in the matter at all and for me, Alberta is home.
3. Work may not define you, but it is important. When we first came here, I felt super relieved to be free from my boring, 9-5 government desk job. I kept thinking there was more to life than being in a cubicle, more to life than this fairly conventional road I had chosen. I wanted to be free to pursue new interests and travel more and have a more flexible schedule. Well, I have travelled more this past year than I ever could have with a 9-5 office job, and I have had a more flexible schedule that has allowed me spend more time reading, writing, learning another language, and road tripping.
That’s been nice, but the reality is that I miss work. A full-time office job is certainly not for everyone, but steady, full-time work also offers a lot of benefits, like financial independence, participation in society, making a contribution to your community, and for some lucky ones, a sense of achievement and even fulfillment.
I realize one can achieve these same objectives without a full-time job, but working is without a doubt an important part of life. Working outside the home is something women have not had the opportunity to do for very long, and I certainly intend to continue with my career when we return to Canada. I have a part-time job lined up teaching ESL, and hope something full-time comes up soon. In the meantime, I intend to continue pursuing hobbies like writing, hiking etc. in my free time.
4. Travel is fantastic. Learning is even better. Visiting castle ruins and medieval cities in Germany, France, and Italy has been really interesting, and I’ve gotten some nice photos of it all. But (as my husband would have no hesitation in telling you, *cough*), travelling to these sights can get old. Really old. In fact, travelling in general can sometimes be wearying, especially if you are doing the usual tourist thing over and over where you show up, take the pictures, have the beer, then leave again.
I’ve discovered that what is more interesting than travelling (and is also a meaningful complement for travelling) is LEARNING. You know what I think I enjoyed even more than visiting the Forum in Rome? Reading I, Claudius and learning about the people who lived and the events that transpired during the early years of the Roman Empire. If you don’t have the time or budget to travel to Japan (or whatever country intrigues you), a great alternative is to LEARN about its culture. Read about its history. Learn about its traditions. Learn some of the basics about the language on Duolingo. That way, when you do visit Country X someday, you will enjoy it so much more because the things you see will have a lot more meaning to you, and you will appreciate their significance more fully.
I’ve realized that learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills are some of the most satisfying things you will do in life. Learn to surf, then travel to Hawaii to do more of it. Learn to ski, then travel to Japan to hit the pow. Combining travel with your interests is a great way to get the most out of what this world has to offer.
5. Relationships are a key source of happiness. It’s felt pretty isolating being here for the last year. My husband and I don’t have a lot of friends or family here (his family is small), and the community we had in Edmonton is something we really miss. Just like so many other things about my life in Canada, relationships with other people was something I took for granted. You never know the worth of water until the well is dry, right? Well, even though many people stop seeking out new people and new friendships as they get older, I am resolving to renew old friendships where I can, and make new ones too. You never know what you might learn from someone, and the memories you might make with them!
6. Everything is a trade-off. People often talk about “having it all.” Like many people, I want to make time in my life for work, for travel, for study, for having a family, and find it can be tricky deciding exactly when to do it all. I think Oprah is right on this one.
Every decision is a trade-off. Do you want a high-flying career, like Oprah? Then you might not have time for a family. Do you want to travel constantly and see the world? Then you will probably have to get used to having an unpredictable income and a lack of stability.
I guess these choices are not easy for many of us. I still wish that my “country count” was higher. There are so many blogs out there from people who are professional nomads and who travel the world full-time while generating income from a combination of monetized social media channels, endorsements, sponsored content, online businesses, freelance gigs, etc. and their “country count” is sometimes as high as 80 or 100+ countries. Mine isn’t. But the question is, do I really want to travel to that many countries? Making the choice to live this way is a big trade-off. If I were to live a more nomadic life, that means I can’t work full-time, I can’t buy a house, and I can’t raise a family (unless they are also willing to be nomadic). I’ve concluded that for me at least, travel is a great hobby, but I don’t intend to make it my full-time pursuit.
I spent my twenties religiously pursuing educational credentials and professional opportunities, rather than travelling. I guess it paid off in that I enjoyed a stable government job for several years, and hopefully will again, and that I’ve acquired a range of skills that allows me to generate income through other means as well (editing, teaching). Taking this last year “off” as it were has allowed me to see a lot more of Europe than I otherwise could have, but now I’m ready to go back to the “stable” life I had before, with all the ups and downs that come with it.
A question worth pondering for a few seconds at least…
7. Boris was right. Boris, you were right. If I see you again when I get back to Edmonton (and I hope I do), I will tell you that you were right. Boris is a man I knew from my volunteer work with a political organization back in Edmonton. He and his wife are originally from Russia and escaped to Canada when it was still the USSR. Before leaving for Germany, Boris told my husband and I that he would never consider going back to Europe and warned us about what to expect. One reason he would never go back, he said, is because Europe is too crowded and he needs his space. Also, and this advice was meant for me in particular, he said that I would never be accepted because I am not German. Well Boris, you were right. I think Europe is too damn crowded and it is clear that unless you are German, white, have a German last name, and speak German with the correct accent, you will never be accepted by German society. Remember what I said about Canadians being friendly and open? Yeah….I miss that.
Goodbye, Germany. I don’t expect to be returning anytime soon.
*Note: For more information about expats’ experience in different countries, check out this interesting report from InterNations: https://cms-internationsgmbh.netdna-ssl.com/cdn/file/2018-03/Expat_Insider_2017_The_InterNations_Survey.pdf.
For anyone who thinks I’m being too harsh about Germany, take note: Germany is ranked 56 out of 65 countries for ease of settling in. The report says: “Expats find Germany a difficult place to fit in. One British expat living in Germany commented that “Germans in general can come across as rude and obnoxious. Although that is a huge generalization.”
See you soon, Canada!