Moving abroad is literally a step into the unknown. You can prepare as much as you want, but you can’t rule out the fact that you don’t even know what you don’t know.
Emily’s first expat experience (but not her first move) started out on a pretty rough note in that sense. After just a few months, she was forced to find a new job and had no easy way back to the US.
But through sheer determination, Emily overcame the challenges of her early days. Continue reading to find out how she did it and what happy surprises this journey had in store for her.
Please introduce yourself – who are you and where has your journey taken you so far?
My name is Emily, I’m 43 years old, and I’m a Technical Writer living in Munich, Germany. I moved here for a work opportunity in July of 2019. I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
I’ve also lived in Chicago, Illinois and Bloomington, Indiana for undergraduate studies, then Chicago again and Cincinnati, Ohio for a year each after graduation, then Columbus, Ohio for graduate school and family reasons, and finally back to Chicago until the big move to Munich.
To be honest, I’d never thought about moving to Germany, so it was a total surprise when a company from Munich contacted me about a position.
I had always wanted to live abroad, and tried for years to get a job in Brussels where a very dear friend of mine is located. But, it never worked out and I put the dream on the shelf.
I didn’t even take the interview process all that seriously. I was definitely excited by the opportunity, but the idea that someone would pick me to move to a new continent for a job just seemed so outlandish that I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
It wasn’t until I got a ticket to Munich for an in-person interview that I thought, “Oh my god, this is really happening!” Still, I was so convinced that it wouldn’t happen that I didn’t tell anyone other than a few close friends that I was going to the interview – not even my family knew.
They offered me the job and I signed the contract that day, so with a total of about 36 hours in Munich I went back to Chicago and prepared to move there, presumably permanently, a month later.
When did the question “Should I stay or go?” come up for you?
The question came up because of my struggles with staying in Munich, which started almost immediately after I arrived.
I’ve moved around a lot, so I was confident that I’d be okay once I got past the initial struggles of unpacking and finding my way around. I was so wrong!
The job that I moved here for originally forgot to send their side of the paperwork to the foreigner’s office, so I wasn’t able to work for nearly a month.
After I started the job and the company turned out to be much different from what I was presented in my interviews. I was miserable.
Luckily a friend told me that it’s not completely uncommon to switch jobs if you’re still in a probation period, so I worked like crazy to find something else. I was very fortunate because another opportunity came along that was perfect, and I’ve been there since November of 2019.
I definitely thought about returning to Chicago for those first few months. However, I had completely uprooted myself and didn’t have an easy way back.
I sold or gave away almost all of my belongings (except what I could fit in my suitcases), and used what little savings I had for my relocation (my employer was going to reimburse me but that took some time).
So, even though my move here was really rough in the beginning, the idea of starting from scratch for a second time in just a few months was overwhelming.
To be completely honest, I didn’t have the money to fly back to the US, find a new apartment, get all new furniture and housewares, so the decision to stay was partially a practical decision as well.
Also, I didn’t want to feel like I gave up when things got challenging. Moving back after only a couple of months sounded rather embarrassing, so I have to blame my pride and stubbornness for staying as well.
I decided to stick it out for a year and then see what I would do. However, finding my new job really turned things around in a positive way on multiple levels, and I haven’t thought about leaving since.
What was it like trying to get a new job in Munich after you had only just arrived in the country?
Moving and then finding out that the original job wasn’t a good fit was horrific.
I didn’t know anything about the job market in Munich, so my expectations for finding something new were super low.
Plus, I didn’t want to go from a bad situation to a worse one, so I just kept applying and hoping that something would work out.
I had a few phone interviews that honestly didn’t go very well before my current employer got in touch.
I’m not sure if it was something about me and my skills or the fact that I was already looking for a new job after just getting here that was off putting to the first few people I spoke with, but ultimately I got very lucky and the job I have now has been wonderful.
It sounds as if having things settled with your work was the key to you feeling good about life in Munich. Were there other areas that made you doubt trying to make it work there in the beginning (or even since then)?
Oh definitely! The job was just the most critical factor, but there were lots of other things. There are a few things that are particular to Bavaria that for me seemed extremely bizarre and inconvenient.
I was shocked at how early shops close, and that nothing is open on Sundays. I guess people here think that having everything closed on Sundays allows people to relax, but from my perspective it makes life much more stressful since you have to panic shop for everything on Saturdays and battle huge crowds.
Also, most places are cash only, which is just archaic. And the food is… just ok. I love spicy food and the German equivalent of extra hot seems to be ‘not bland.’
Then there are all of the issues with friendliness and courtesy. I’m certainly not expecting a US-level of friendliness or customer service (which can honestly be a bit oppressive). In Munich, it’s happened all too often that the people I’ve encountered in the service industry are either indifferent or actively hostile.
I spent most of my life waiting tables and working in retail, so I understand that it’s really hard work and go out of my way to be kind and empathetic to people who are working in those industries. If anything I’m willing to overlook a lot because I know how it can be, but sometimes I feel super unwelcome.
I’ve also had trouble making friends, which seems to be a common experience. I think that most people already have their group of friends and aren’t especially interested in meeting anyone new.
Luckily, that’s not been the case for everyone, but it’s definitely lonely sometimes (especially with Covid on top of it).
What has made life as an expat in Munich worth it for you?
Lots of things! I know I’ve been bashing Munich until now, but I’m actually really happy and grateful to be here.
I know things are hard everywhere, but comparatively speaking Germany takes very good care of its people. There’s no support or security in the US like there is in Germany, so it’s much better here in terms of not having to worry about healthcare and other basic needs.
Plus, Germany is beautiful! It’s so clean and safe, and it’s wonderful to be so close to the mountains. People here actually swim in the river! Amazing!
The biggest reason that expat life is worth it is my boyfriend. We met at work shortly after I started in November of 2019, and it’s by far the best relationship I’ve ever been in.
He’s an amazing person – funny, smart, interesting, and most importantly, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
When I think about everything that had to happen for us to meet, from moving to a new country, finding a new job, and then sitting across from each other at an after work event, it really feels meant to be.
We actually just bought a house and plan on getting married soon, so it looks like I’m staying!
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.