August 7, 2018. By Jennifer Wolfsberg:
In our conversations with clients, colleagues, and professional acquaintances the topic often emerges of moving abroad. The exciting undertaking can also be daunting, with many obstacles getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ amidst cultural and language barriers. This guest blog is courtesy of Ashley Niemiec, a friend of the firm of whom we have asked to share her story about her move to Europe from the United States. Ashley’s husband is in the Army and has received his first duty station abroad recently bringing the young couple to Germany. We have asked Ashley to share a bit about her experience with the move along with a few helpful tips:
“Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing.”
That’s what I woke up to at 7:00 am on February 22nd of this year. This is the moment we had been waiting for since last February, and it had finally arrived. My husband and I were preparing for landing in Germany, where we are now living until further notice. Being the naive, brand new Army wife that I was (and probably still am) I imagined that we’d skip off the plane into the arms of some kind people waiting to escort us to our new fairytale home in the beautiful Bavarian countryside. The reality was that we arrived at the Frankfurt Airport, hours from our new base, with nine bags and no one to pick us up in a country where we didn’t speak the language. Fabulous.
Thankfully I’m a seasoned traveler and an intense researcher… I had prepared for the worst. We loaded our bags onto carts and headed for the train station. Six hours and many arguments later we finally made it to the hotel that we would call home-for-now. What I’m getting at here is that moving is hard and moving to a foreign country is even harder. Six months into my move from the U.S. to Germany, however, I can tell you that living here has been the most amazing experience. Despite the initial hassle and constant learning curve, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’ve learned a lot from the moving ordeal as a whole, and from my own successes and failures throughout the process. That said, I’d like to pass on a few tidbits of wisdom to those contemplating a drastic relocation. I know taking advice from a 25-year-old who is still figuring out how to “adult” seems comical, but I survived the move, so I must’ve done something right.
- Don’t lower your expectations, just throw ‘em away. It doesn’t matter how many different scenarios you play out in your head, not one of them is going to be exactly the way your move pans out. Better to not waste your time imagining up what might be and making yourself a nervous wreck. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some hiccups along the way. You’re jumping on a crazy-amazing rollercoaster, so just go with it.
- Do your research. Even though you can’t see the future, there are a few elements of your move that are certain. Start by studying the language (if necessary) and the culture. Learn the survival phrases like: “Do you speak English?” or “where is the bathroom?”. You can also investigate the cost of living outside of the obvious room and board including different cell phone plans, transportation and entertainment costs. There are plenty of things that you will not be able to plan for, so you may as well get ahead of the simple items instead of scrambling when you get to your new home base.
- Prepare for an expensive…ok very expensive…month or two. My husband and I spent one month in a hotel without a kitchenette before we were placed in our permanent residence. This is common practice for many families relocating due to work, military assignments, or those who are not comfortable committing to leases without first visiting a property. With our limited resources, we ate out a lot more frequently than usual which added up very quickly. We got creative and purchased a hot plate to help get us through, but you can only do so much with a hot plate. Anyhow, our curiosities about the new surroundings made it much more tempting to explore local eateries and pubs. In addition to our base assignment, our car also hadn’t arrived yet. Since Über doesn’t exist here, costs piled up between taxi rides and train tickets just to accomplish day-to-day errands. As long as you are prepared these added expenses won’t be detrimental, but instead may be a fun part of your acclimation process. Start setting money aside as soon as possible to help put your mind at ease.
- Use your resources and get involved. As an army spouse I am lucky to have tons of resources available to me, from language classes, to legal help, to social groups. They even provide volunteer opportunities. That said, you do not have to be affiliated with the U.S. government to find helpful resources while you’re settling in. There are a surprising number of programs available to expatriates. Start by searching for your local expat social group; trust me they are everywhere. Connecting with people who share similar experiences can help you feel more comfortable, and you can learn a lot from their experiences. Also, talk to your local embassy. They may be able to help you find groups and classes that will get you acclimated. Getting involved is probably the most important thing you can do to help transition. Jump in, become a part of the community, leave your mark. Join a team, volunteer, teach English, travel. The possibilities are endless if you’re willing to seek them out. Even though things will seem foreign for a little while, don’t forget that wherever you are going is your home now!
- Enjoy! This is an exciting time. You are branching out and seeing the world! Take advantage of all the new and exciting things that surround you. The world is a giant beautiful place and now is an opportunity to see more of it, so don’t waste it!
For more from Ashley Niemiec, follow her blog “Ashley Makes Lemonade”.