Moving abroad, whether for a new adventure, a new love, to learn a new language or running away from problems at home, is a huge step and complete change. You take yourself out of the ordinary and put yourself into a strange, and not-so-comfortable, world. The first months are lonely, exhausting, and you question your every move, mannerisms and whether or not you can make it out alive. Simple tasks like going from A to B seem challenging and stressful, making new friends is daunting, and sometimes your days are spent watching Netflix and wondering if you should just give up and move back home.
Being an expat is challenging, however with challenge comes reward. I am often asked by new female expats the same questions, “How did you find a job?” “ Do you know German?” “ How do you have so many friends?” etc. Trust me, this doesn't come easy and is one of my motivations for writing this post. The goal of this series is to showcase women who have made successful lives for themselves abroad and how they managed this, so I can inspire others to consider moving abroad, or help ones who have taken the leap, and are already here. As I take pride in what I have achieved in my life in Germany, I will start with my experience :) Let's discuss some common questions that I've been asked...
Why did you move abroad?
The reason I moved abroad is long, but let's make the story simple. I met a very handsome and lovely German man while Europe travelling in 2012. After travelling Europe, I knew that I was meant to come back, and he was a good catalyst to make the move. Don't worry, I didn't drop my whole life and move here, I actually did study abroad in Cologne and finished my degree there. After 'testing' the waters I came back after graduating in Canada To hear my whole juicy love story you can go here.**
Is it hard to be an expat?
Being an expat is hard, and it was very hard for me to adjust to the new environment. When I first arrived in Germany, I thought to myself “Am I really here?” “Did I really do this?” “This is Europe?” “I live in Europe!?”I would question myself every day about what on earth did I did and if this was a mistake. I felt a million miles away from my family and friends. When my boyfriend would go out and do his hobbies or hang out with his friends, I would feel homesick and lonely. I felt like he was my only source of happiness. When I moved to Cologne to study, I found my independence as I was only able to see him on the weekends in Hamburg. I was completely alone and lived in shared flat with strangers. I remember leaving my new flat for the first time, trying to navigate the bus system and asking strangers where to get off - I was terrified, but I made it. It was rough the first weeks, but eventually, I made friends, found a rhythm in Cologne, studied hard and had a great time there enjoying a lovely German city. The second time I moved to Germany (to Hamburg) I already had a job lined up, but it took a whole year till I had an actual social life and felt comfortable, as I was focussed on my job first. My time alone in Cologne did make me more independent in Germany, as I learned to manage myself and make international friends. However, to this day I can't say being an expat is easy, I am very frustrated by the different mannerism people to have, how I never feel like I fit in, and how some things which are done here just don't make sense to me. I don't think being an expat will ever be easy, unless you conform yourself to be completely like the people born in the country you live in, but who wants to be “just like them”?
How do you find a job abroad?
There are lots of ways to find jobs abroad, the best one is to subscribe to several job posting websites like Indeed, StepStone etc and enter your chosen keywords to receive daily emails of new job postings. Don't be too specific with your keywords, and be sure to write 'English' in not only English but the destination language as well. Mother-tongue English can actually help you get some jobs, as international companies need to hire people with this skill for some positions. Make sure your LinkedIn or 'Xing' profile is up-to-date, everything is filled in and you are active on the platform. There are tons of international companies searching for candidates on LinkedIn, and there are many job postings posted exclusively there. Most international companies are happy to do a telephone or skype interview. It's also good to seek expat friends who have good jobs, as they usually have connections to international companies, and, perhaps, can recommend you.
I found my first job in Hamburg through my university in Cologne where I studied abroad. They had a job posting board and I checked it often. I saved the companies that posted there, and when I knew I was returning to Hamburg, I applied. I had a few Skype interviews and then I got the internship. After starting that position I was promoted, within a month, to a full-time management position! This happened quickly because of the skills from my degree, and the skills I gained from previous positions in Canada. My past experience helped me shine. I was purposefully assertive and said I was worth more. You have to be courageous, a bit annoying and not be afraid of hearing 'no' to make it anywhere while you live in a different country, otherwise, people will easily take advantage of you.
After staying there for almost 3 years, I knew I needed to change my game and 'level up', even though I had a great position, the benefits and company structure was not serving my career ambitions I soon found my second job abroad in Hamburg through a daily job email to my inbox and applied as soon as I saw it - within a month I had a new job. Both of my job achievements were because I saw an open opportunity and did not hesitate to pursue it.
Are you working in your field?
I have a degree in Tourism Management and, luckily, I have so far, only ever worked in my chosen discipline abroad. For the first 3 years, I was employed by one of the largest cruise bookings websites in Europe, managing their content platform for three websites. Now, I am working in Events & Marketing where I plan, organize and market events globally. My early career dream was to work in event planning, and I made that wish come true! However, in any case, you must be open when looking for positions, as it is likely that you won't be able to find a job in your field right away. Keep in mind the skills you have gained from previous positions, and be confidently open to new ideas. Be aware that certain types of jobs, like working in the government, won't be so easily attainable while in a new country. By having patience, keeping an open mind, being assertive, positive and confident so that when you see an interesting opportunity - you don't let it pass by!
How do you advance your career abroad?
You know those awesome job postings for interesting positions where you match almost all of the skills, except for the part where they ask for '10' years of experience?! These kind of job postings are not so common here in Europe, as job postings are based mostly on the skills & personality you bring and not about your years of experience. If you move to an international city, there are many big companies & startups who want English speaking people, and offer sophisticated, challenging positions with a high level of responsibility. These jobs are a mega boost to your CV, and usually, they don't require an extremely long resume/CV, but only that you are the right fit and can bring something that they want to the table.
This is exactly what happened to me, I had good experience from previous jobs in Canada, was able to convince that the skills I gained were valuable for the job, and of course, spoke and wrote English well. I was offered a great job in E-Commerce, and from there was then offered an even more awesome job in Event Marketing at a different company. It's all how you play it, and the drive that you have. The German job market seems a bit easier than at home (in my opinion) and your entry-level job abroad will be more than delivering coffee to your colleagues. The expectations are different here, I don't think I would have ever gotten these jobs without many more years experience at home.
How do you learn a language abroad?
Developing language skills is an ongoing process, and I am still not done. After being here for 4 years I still am not fluent in German and am not completely confident speaking in social group situations or in front of a crowd.
My tips to excel in learning a new language are:
If you have a partner in the destination country, speak their mother-tongue with them first (not English) this will be hard, and it was my biggest mistake! I would be fluent by now if we had started this habit at the onset of our relationship.
Take an intensive language class on arrival for at least 2 months
Find a tandem partner
Watch TV in the language you are learning (with subtitles in English at first, if needed)
Don't let people in the public speak English to you, even if they think it's doing you a favour.
If you are working, take evening language courses to keep improving
Stay active in speaking the language, as it's easy to forget and get behind
How do you make friends abroad and have a social life?
My biggest tip about how to make friends abroad is to join Facebook groups for internationals, English speakers and expats in the country you are moving or have moved to. Attend fun events hosted by the groups and be open to meeting people from all over the world. You are going to have to 'friend date' until you find the perfect match and connections. Create the time to go on 1 on 1 dates with new people, and see if you can 'click'. Yes, this sounds like finding a partner, but finding new friends in a new city is about the same - except you can have more than one! Bring your favourite friends together and see if they all click, this will be a process, but eventually, you will find the perfect 'squad'. It was very intimidating at first for me to find new friends, but once I put in the time and effort, my life abroad approved drastically and I finally felt happier. Expat friends usually have the same motives as you did to have moved abroad, and this made my connections with friends here very strong. Also, exploring what a new city has to offer, learning a new culture and getting through the small expat struggles together is much better with friends! Just get off Netflix and get out there :)
How do you afford to travel abroad?
I moved abroad because I have a passion for travel, so travel has always been a priority of mine and what I spend my money on. I don't spend a lot of money on clothes or material items, I prefer to spend money on experiences and, of course, food. Living in Europe you can fly fairly inexpensively around, and employers offer a lot more vacation days compared to North America (bonus!). I also work in an international company and travel a lot for work and can, occasionally, stay on over weekends. Try to snag a job in an international company with a global position, as this usually requires travel. Travelling often was something I never got to do in Canada, as travelling was overpriced and was hard to commute anywhere. Now travel is fun, affordable, accessible and I get to live my passion more often.
Don't you miss your family and do you get homesick abroad?
I miss my family every damn day. In four years of living abroad, I have had to miss countless birthdays, family dinners and special occasions. It's hard to not always be there if I had the time and money I would go home more often, but currently, I don't. I try to go home at least 2x a year, but this gets very expensive and I also then don't get to go on nice holidays elsewhere. Eventually, I hope to have a more flexible job and be able to work remotely, but that's the next dream! In the meantime, I make use of technology like Facetime, Insta Stories, Snapchat etc. and I try to share my life here as much as possible with them. I often Facetime while doing daily life tasks like cooking dinner, trying on clothes, walking around outside etc. to make them feel like they are still a part of my life. My family supports my decision to live abroad, but only because of how successful I have been. If I would be jobless, friendless and counted on the support of my boyfriend's wallet, this would be another story.
Are you happy here?
I am often asked this question because a lot of people don't understand how you can be happy when everything is so unfamiliar. You only grow by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and learning from them. When I look back at how terrified I was to leave my flat in Cologne and navigate the bus system, I realized how innocent and dependent I was back then. Now four years later, I can see that I have grown up a lot and got myself through many more uncomfortable situations. Now I am an 'expert' international navigator, have an awesome job and friends, a gem of a boyfriend, feel comfortable with communicating in a new language, and am much more worldly and confident to do many things on my own around the world. So yes I'm happy! - I've achieved my short-term goals, and I wouldn't change a thing.
Shoutout to my Boyfriend
It might have seemed crazy to have dropped everything and moved to Germany for a Man I only met once. But this one is special, and I've never had a more sweet, kind, supportive and loving partner. He is my little cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, excellent hugger, translator, travel buddy and best friend - I really couldn't have achieved my goals here without him - so here's to you 'Mein Schatzi'.***
If you're an expat or someone who is looking to move abroad I hope that you have enjoyed my self-interview and found the information and advice useful. If you have any questions please comment below and I will try to help.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where I will interview another wonderful expat woman who has 'made it'.
All the best,
**Edit in October 2018 my now ex boyfriend and I broke up. Leaving this story here for reference as he was still a huge part of my story.