As of February 16th 2016, we have hit our 1 year German-iversary! As you can see, we've come a long way from our initial impressions of living in Germany. So with this big milestone, I am hoping to write a few blog posts reviewing some of our favorite moments. (favorite travel destinations, favorite restaurants, etc).
But for today, I'm going to start with some of our learning experiences.
I'll admit, there were times that we weren't sure we would make it this far. There have been some very stressful points along the road... (mainly due to the language barrier). But we did it! And because of this, we feel stronger than ever. Not only as a couple, but personally... there is a sense of accomplishment when you conquer things that you never have before.
OUR TOP 10 LEARNING EXPERIENCES LIVING ABROAD:
1. It will test your patience:
BY FAR this was the biggest learning experience. It will be frustrating at times, from little things to big things. Simple tasks like grocery shopping, calling a taxi, ordering food, reading any piece of mail.. it all takes patience. For example, in the US if your internet is broken, you just call up Comcast and they either fix it over the phone or have someone come within the week. Here in Germany, we are now going on 5 months of our internet not working properly. So those easy steps I just described? Not so easy. Calling up Vodafone? The automated message is in German, so you press random numbers until you get customer service, then you say "sprechen sie english?"... "nein". They hang up, you start all over again hoping to get a different person. Anyway, after countless emails, messages and 4 appointments with technicians (where you have to be home for an 8 hour block because they don't give you a more defined time)... it is still not 100% fixed. (appreciate the customer service in the US).
Another example of needing patience. Just this weekend we have found a leak coming from our bedroom window, we noticed that we just needed to buy some window caulking to fill it in. We thought 'we can figure this out!'. We drive to Obi (the german Home Depot) and end up spending a total of 2 hours trying to find it. We find the section you see in the pictures below, and start google translating every version to figure out which one of the 10 we needed. After finding two that could work, we try to find someone who works there to ask which we should buy. After getting turned down by several people who didn't speak English, we finally found one guy who told us "no, you're looking in the wrong section, you need to look here...". Come to find there is a completely different window selection triple the size of the first area! Open the google translate back up. We still don't know if we actually bought the correct one...
2. The first few months will be difficult... just get through it and it will be worth it:
Residency papers, visas, getting a drivers license, opening a bank account, finding an apartment, buying a car, spending every weekend at IKEA (where everything is in German). Nothing is simple, easy or familiar. And the first few months can feel endless, especially if you're living in temporary housing. But I promise it gets better!! The first weekend after our shipment arrived and everything was unpacked in our new apartment... we finally felt home. And that's really important if you're living abroad.
3. Celebrate the mini victories:
Due to #1 and #2 of our "learning experiences" its easy to get frustrated constantly, but that's why #3 is so important. From the small things like understanding your grocery store, finding a great restaurant nearby, correctly sorting all of your garbage (all 4 separate trash bags). To the big things like: buying a car, learning to drive a manual car, feeling settled in your apartment (and not having to put together anymore IKEA furniture!). Its important to take a step back and be proud of everything you've done.
4. It helps if you both want to move:
Thankfully when Andrew and I started to bring up this whole "living abroad" topic... we were both equally excited. There was never a moment when one of us thought "you know what, I'm not 100% I want to do this". We both understood that we'd leave our already amazing jobs to try something new. And that was crucial, because when things got stressful (which they will) we never resented each other for this. Because its easy to just snap to "this is all your fault that we are here", and that is just not fair.
5. When in doubt, smile:
We've heard several times before travelling that Europeans "don't like Americans". And after living here for a year, travelling to 6 different countries and 10 different cities, I can say we never ONCE experienced that. But that could also be because, no matter what country we are in.. we are polite, and understand that we are the outsiders. (aka, if the waitress doesn't speak English in Spain, that's not her fault). When in doubt, we smile... and try to figure it out. (which usually ends in us pointing at things, ordering what we think is a burger, but its actually pork). AND, most important - we always try to learn how to say thank you in the native language. Even if we butcher it, they appreciate that we're trying.
6. You will get homesick:
It will be really hard to see life move on at home without you. I never missed material things from home (except for Target & kale of course), but I missed being part of family/friend gatherings at home. Especially with social media these days, seeing pictures of all of your friends together and you're the only one missing... ugh it sucks. And it seems like there is never a 'perfect time' to move away. My sister got engaged this year and is getting married in June, and I hate that I am not home for all of the planning. Its moments like that, or seeing your niece & nephews grow up in a blink of an eye, that make you wish you could pause time at home. BUT... this is why we have truly appreciated Facetime/Skype. It makes us feel like there isn't an ocean between us and our families.
7. Don't expect things to be the same as home:
The processes are different (very different, Germans love their specific process even if its not the most logical), the stores are different, the food is different (but they try to make "american food"), the people are different... and we are learning not to get frustrated by this. (the sooner you accept this, the less frustrated you will be) And we need to enjoy this, because this is why we moved here. To experience something... different.
7 1/2. Use visitors to transport favorite things from home:
So I know I just said... enjoy the "different", but sometimes there are just some things that you cannot find in your new home city and you don't want to live without. Make a list of what that is (our big one is Trader Joes Crunchy Almond Butter... hint hint) and whenever someone visits ask them to bring it. (believe me, they'll want to fill that spot in the suitcase on the way back with souvenirs anyway).
8. Make new traditions:
It will feel strange to live in a new city/country and its easy to get homesick. But its important to start making new traditions... to make this new city feel like home. Like for us, one of our favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon (because all of the stores are closed) is to go for a bike ride. Whether its to the Furth Stadtpark, or into the Nuremberg market in the city center this was something we'd look forward to all week.
9. Book the flights!:
So obviously we have done a good amount of traveling while we've been here. And since we've lived here I like to think that my part-time job is travel agent. I have a strange love of spending hours on expedia/kayak researching the best time to travel/ where to go/ what areas to stay/ etc. And then naturally, we keep tabs of everything on an excel sheet. But there is nothing worse than waiting a few months to finally make a decision and then to find that the flights went up by $400, and there is nothing you can do about it!
10. It will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life:
I know I said that "it will test your patience" was the most important learning experience, but this one is the most important by far. This is the reason why we moved here! We are making memories that we will remember forever. And its not only memories from Paris, Barcelona or Mallorca (but those ARE amazing), its also the memories like our first grocery store experience, when a bird flew into our apartment (because Germany doesn't have screens on their windows!), or when we fired our German teacher (that will get a separate blog post).
We have challenged ourselves more this past year than we ever have in our lives. We have learned more about ourselves, and each other and we are so grateful that we have the opportunity to experience all of this!
1 year down... plenty more memories to come...