Life as an Expat: Germany + Denmark
Living abroad for now almost 3 years, I have been asked a variety of questions of the where, why, what and how we are living in Europe. Here are some common questions I receive that may resonate with fellow expats or provide helpful insight for someone who plans to embark on a new journey away from "home".
1. Why are you abroad?
My husband, JD, works for Siemens and he received a job opportunity in Hamburg, Germany. We moved in 2016 and lived there for almost 2 years! Little did we know we would receive another opportunity to move to Denmark where we have now lived for 8 months.
2. How long will you stay abroad?
Good Question! haha. We always assumed living in Germany would have been a 1.5 - 2 year deal and then move back to the States...but, as you know, we now live in Denmark. I guess the best answer is we will stay abroad as long as the opportunities keep us here or take us elsewhere. Our motto is, we might as well say 'yes' and if we end up not liking our situation, we can always figure out a way to move back.
3.Do you speak the language?
My expectations when moving to Germany was that I would be fluent (at least conversational) by the time we left. HA! That did not happen. Yea, I could read the menus, order my food, ask basic questions...but other than that learning another language from scratch is HARD. I definitely regret not being more discipline to learn German - but, as the excuses go...it was easy to get by in Hamburg with English. The company I worked for spoke English in the office and then obviously, JD and I only spoke English to each other so we were never "forced" to speak it. Now living in Denmark, it's even easier to speak English - the Danes seriously have perfect English. I KNOW. It's no excuse not to learn Danish...but it sure does make you feel more comfortable in a new country when you can communicate so easily to one another :)
My advice to anyone moving to a country where you do not know the language is to 1 ) don't be like me. sign up for the language class right when you move there (procrastinating only makes it harder to commit) 2 ) Become friends with a local to practice with 3 ) Watch TV with the local language in subtitles 4 ) Use the Duolingo app - it's an easy way to practice daily 5 ) Download the Google Translate App...It will be your new best friend.
4. What has been the most challenging while living in Germany and/or Denmark?
Hands down my most challenging experience was learning how to navigate in the metro stations in Hamburg. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you are in a new country, can't speak or read the language, and from a small(ish) city in the South where you take your car EVERYWHERE...riding the train (known as the U-Bahn in Germany) is pretty intimidating! There are different color "lines" to take and if you miss your stop, then you have to figure out which line to get back on while navigating through different platforms underground. I even had JD ride the train with me and show me what stop I needed to take for my job interview in Hamburg because I was terrified I would get off at the wrong station. And then just be lost. or kidnapped. (These are the fears that went through my head!) ha! After enough practice and understanding the city stops, I quickly learned how to read the metro map and could hop from station to station all by myself (👏🏻). This was probably the best feeling - I felt so accomplished that I could go places independently and confidently. When living abroad you find it's the little things that you take for granted - you literally have to relearn everything and be okay to ask for help more than you probably would like to :)
So far in Denmark, (other than the language) the most challenging difference has been the currency rate. Denmark uses the Danish Krone (DKK) whereas Germany uses the Euro. The Euro is much easier to calculate to the Dollar unlike the Danish Krone. For example, 100 Euro = 116 USD =745 DKK...do you see that 745!? It's a pretty large number. Our first grocery shopping experience I think we spent around 600 or so DKK and I looked at JD like, "DANG! What did we just buy??". I was so used to the Euro my brain assumed we actually spent that much. But thankfully, no. 600 DKK is like 80 Euro (93 USD). So, for me, the Danish currency was something I had to get used to ;)
5. Is it hard to find a job?
I feel it is challenging enough to find a job in your own country, so moving abroad does increase the level of difficulty (unless, of course, you moved abroad for a job ;) ) . I was blessed enough to find a job within the first few months of living in Hamburg, however, where we live now has shown to be more challenging. That said, with patience, persistence and an open mind, it is definitely doable! If you do not speak the language, I would recommend searching companies that have an international presence, utilize your connections and the job board on LinkedIn, and check the city's International Community Center for job postings. Once you start meeting people in the community then you can begin networking as a way to increase your chances of finding a job too.
6. How was your experience finding an apartment?
Back home, you can drive around the city and find 1,000+ apartments to choose from. You see it, you tour it, you like it, and boom. You have an apartment. Here, there are no "leasing centers" or "amenity spaces" to tour and definitely no apartments that have pools or dog parks. You'll be lucky if the apartment comes with one parking space 😂
Since Hamburg is a large city (currently a population of 1.8 million) , we had to apply and make appointments to see an apartment. Then, the landlord decided who lived there based on multiple factors - you basically have an interview when looking at apartments (at least in larger cities). From our experience in Germany and Denmark it was highly competitive and challenging to get an apartment. My advice is to look for your apartment as far in advance as possible because you never know how long it may take for you find and/or be chosen for the apartment.
FYI: Some apartments may not come with appliances or light fixtures (just the electrical wires hanging down) - this was how our Hamburg apartment was. There are some apartments that you even have to buy the kitchen cabinets and countertops. Either way, get ready for A LOT of IKEA trips ;)
7. Do you travel all the time?
No. But, we do travel more than when living in the States. It is so much easier to travel for numerous reasons. For starters, Europeans get way more vacation time than the standard 10 days in the US. In Germany the minimum days by law is 20, but most companies offer 25-30 starting out. Add holidays on top of this and you can basically plan a trip every month. Traveling within Europe is also easier thanks to airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir which, during the right seasons, offer super inexpensive tickets - I kid you not, JD and I flew to Milan,Italy for 48 Euro TOTAL! And, did I mention how close the countries are to each other? Germany alone boarders 9 other countries : Austria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, and Belgium. Do you know how easy it is to just pop over somewhere for the weekend? It's crazy and it's the #1 reason I LOVE living in Europe. You can take the train, a flight or drive and within a few hours be in an entirely new country to experience a new culture. *BLISS*
8. What's the hardest?
For sure, the hardest is being away from family and friends for so long. We realize we are missing out on the daily life of everyone close to us and sometimes we feel guilty for not being home.
9. What do you miss from the US?
Obviously besides our friends and family....
1. Mexican Food + Chick -fil-a
2. Happy Hour. It's just not a thing here.
3. Target. I really miss wandering around Target for anything and everything.
10. What are some of the biggest changEs?
1. Grocery shopping. There are no "baggers" - you bag everything yourself. And, instead of stocking up for the week like I did back home, I now shop every other day or so. The reason for this is: A.) the refrigerators and portion sizes are much smaller than in the States B.) I walk to the grocery store and can't carry 20 bags home ;)
2. Everything is closed on Sundays besides a few restaurants and large grocery stores. At first this was really annoying (kind of like Chick-fil-a being closed on Sundays 😉 ), but it's actually nice to have a day that is dedicated to spending time at home with family + friends.
3. No AC. This isn't too bad unless you have a heat wave come through. Then, it's miserable.
4. Walking everywhere!
11. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of living abroad?
I would definitely encourage anyone who has the opportunity to move abroad (or even to another part of their own country!). Although it may seem scary (and, at the beginning it is!), it is 110% worth it. Experiencing someone else's "normal" has been the most liberating experience for me. It is not always easy, fun or exciting. The honeymoon stage of living abroad can only last for so long. You'll probably experience frustration, home sickness and even loneliness. But, what you will learn by being exposed to a variety of cultures, meeting new people from different countries, and getting out of your comfort zone will only help you grow more into yourself and provide new perspectives which, to me, is utterly invaluable - you just gotta do it!