Soon I’ll be coming up on my 3 year anniversary of living in Germany and this crazy new life that is mine. 3 years ago I would never, ever have thought I would be living in Germany again, let alone this long with no intentions of returning home again.
Time goes by so fast, especially when you’re living abroad. There is just so much to see and do, everything is new and exciting and before you know it one year, two years + has passed and you don’t even know where the time went. But in between all the pictures posted on Facebook and all the blogs written, there are a lot of down sides to being an Expat so far away from home. Down sides no one warns you about, but you deal with as they spring up on you.
After all, why would I want to write a bunch of depressing posts telling you how my day was so un-amazing? I did make this life-changing decision to uproot my entire life for an entirely new life into the unknown. There were bound to be some ups and downs to doing this completely alone with no one to hold my hand when things got rough. But instead, I
trekked through it, am still trekking through it so that I can live the life that I wanted! However, since joining the blogging community, I now know I am not the only one who struggles with the bad days of being an expat abroad in between the pictures. Look at any travel blog and you might read something about homesickness, loneliness and some major adjustments, especially in the beginning as this new transition stabilizes itself.
But, ask any hard core traveler whether these down sides are worth living the life of an expat, and we will ALL say,, “hell yes!” Nothing could ever be bad enough to send me packing back home!
1. I’m Not Funny Auf Deutsch
By far one of the hardest things to possibly deal with. I have a sense of humor that I think is rather funny. But auf Deutsch? I just can’t explain myself or get any kind of joke across in the right way. In English, I like to think I’m hilarious and full of sarcasm, but in German, I probably come off more insane or rude than I do funny. I just get this deer in the headlights look with a “WTF is she trying to say?” and then I just sulk off to my corner cursing myself for not getting it right.
Half the time, when I have something incredibly funny to say, I don’t say it at all for fear of making a complete idiot of myself or by the time I have figured out how I want to say it auf Deutsch, the time has come and gone and it’s no longer relevant. So instead, I just drink my beer and listen. I’ve gotten really good at listening.
2. I Get Tongue-Tied
Granted the fact that I “majored” in German, studied abroad and have lived here for 3 years now, I still get tongue-tied! It’s incredibly frustrating and once my tongue is tied in a big fat knot, I choke on it and I can’t undo it. Unless you hand me a beer. I plan it all out in my head exactly how I want to say it and know that it’s as close to grammatically correct as I can manage, but when the time comes, I choke. Hard. And it splutters out of my mouth like some drunk girl trying to say she wants one more beer. My nerves get the better part of me more times than not and I’m left reddened in the face with embarrassment and a flashing sign over my head that says, “Ya, she just butchered that up”. Then everyone looks at me because in an instant, my cover is blown and all of a sudden I’m the foreigner who doesn’t belong.
Not only that, but I can’t express myself properly. Now that I’ve had a German boyfriend for the last 2 years, my German has significantly improved. But I still can’t say what it is I want to say or join in on certain conversations that I lack vocabulary in. It frustrates me that I can’t for the life of me have deep, meaningful conversations auf Deutsch, especially with family.
I want to express how grateful I am for such a wonderful Christmas dinner or a thoughtful birthday present and I can only say “Thank you” or “What a wonderful gift” in the most basic form of German. That and a lot of hugs to express my gratitude. Then I worry if they think I am just a touchy-feely kind of person. Which, I’m not. At All.
3. A Never-Ending Game of Charades
My phone is my constant life saver because I run to it when I don’t know a word and need to translate something. I speak chopped up Denglisch and my boyfriend’s family almost only speaks German. Speaking to me is probably more like speaking to a 3 year old learning how to speak. I conjugate my verbs wrong or constantly second guess myself when I was right the first time. All along, everyone is nodding their heads trying to guess at what it is I’m trying to say.
When words fail, an attempted form of sign language, which is more commonly known as charades, takes place. When I try to create this image of a having seen a dolphin swimming in a beautiful ocean with a perfect pink orange sunset, I feel more like I donkey flapping wings than I do a sane person. Yaaa, it’s not pretty. Yes, you can laugh. The only way to get through the embarrassment is to laugh at yourself and try again next time! Teaching English auf Deutsch can also be quite entertaining to watch, too, I’m sure!
4. Out of Sight, Out of Mind Sucks
This goes both ways. It’s hard when you feel like people don’t try as hard to stay in contact with you as you do with them. You try so hard and promise yourself that you’ll write letters and stay in contact as best as possible. But over time, the emails and Skype calls become less and less sporadic. Life happens and it gets in the way.
It’s especially hurtful when you ask friends to download Skype so that you can stay in contact better and chat when you both have the time and see one another online, yet they never get around to doing it. Those are the times that make you feel small and unworthy. Yaaa, that hurts. Eventually, those are the friends you end up talking to once in a blue moon and stalk their Facebook so you can feel like you’re keeping up with them, but wonder if they do the same for you.
5. I Miss My Friends More Than I Could Have Imagined
Yes, the time difference does make it much harder to keep in contact and it’s extremely tiring to write out big long letters over Facebook explaining that time you got your feelings hurt. Those are the times you need your best friends the most, only they’re not there. They’re at work and they don’t have time for you right then. They have time for you when it’s 3am your time. So you just sit and wait and wait for a right time to Skype and by then, the pain has worn off and what you needed to talk about is no longer relevant.
Eventually, it becomes easier to just make new friends in your new home, someone who is closer and can “fill” that void because its too difficult to write it out in a letter to your best friend. Even those friends, might make you feel bad and make you worry if you are replacing your old best friends or just simply adding to your awesome collection of friends.
6. It’s Heartbreaking to Watch Family From Afar
One of the hardest parts of being gone is missing everything that happens back home. Engagements. Weddings. Marriages. Divorces. Whatever. It’s incredibly hard to watch or hear about everything from a distance and know that you won’t be a part of that happiness. Yes, you can go home for a wedding every now and then, but when you have loads of friends either getting married or having kids, you can’t be there for every single event. It’s expensive and is impossible.
And in times of sadness, it’s even more heartbreaking to not be there in person to give a hug to someone who needs a hug. You feel helpless and so far away and all you can manage is a Skype call. That was a lesson to be learned: Life goes on, with or without you and there’s nothing you can do to control it.
Those are the moments that make me question whether I want to inflict the same pain upon my family when the time comes for me to have a wedding and a child of my own. Do I really want to raise my children so far away from grandma and grandpa, who would spoil them like crazy with love and affection? Or will they just be some distant relative for my child?
7. I’m Always the Crazy Chick
If my bright colored clothes and my unique fashion sense doesn’t automatically flash bright red lights in my direction that points out to the
Germans Bavarians that I am obviously not a Bavarian, everything else about me will cement their thoughts forever.
The most commonly asked question I get, even after nearly 3 years of living here is, “Why!?” As soon as they discover that I am not German, that I am from America, let alone when they discover that I am from sunny San Diego, California they look at me like I’ve lost my marbles. They always want to know “But, whyyyy did you move HERE! – It’s so cold and rainy here“. Sometimes I laugh it off, like “ya, I made this awesome decision to leave sunny, hot, overcrowded, brown and dry California to come here to the land of beer, castles and Lederhosen”. Other times it can really set me on edge. I would rather them ask me what brought me here, what is it that I want to do, how long will I stay? Sometimes it baffles me that they live here with all this beauty and they don’t care and don’t want to see any of it! And they say I’m the crazy one!?!
8. Eventually, All Expats Return Home
Have you ever noticed the difference between “Expat” and “Immigrant”? One is temporary and exotic, while the other is more permanent and sometimes has a negative connotation connected with it. Those are usually the ones who stay permanently for a better life, better job, better home, better health care. Expats? Na, they’re usually short term and after some time they ALL eventually return home.
Such is my current situation. For the last 2 years, I have steadily lost Expat friends who have gradually returned home. Now, I am left with no native English speaking friends and am truly and utterly surrounded by Germans. While, this is what I wanted and has helped to improv my German, I just don’t feeeel that instant connection with my German friends. We just don’t click and conversation dwindles and laughter is rare as there is a huge language barrier as well as a difference in personalities and sense of humor. While I might think I am funny, Germans might actually think I am being rude. A German friend once told me, “You don’t have to be so sarcastic allll the time”. Ya, I knew then she would never get my sense of humor.
9. My Blog Has Become My Life Line
Since January 2015, I have really taken this blog further than I thought I originally wanted. I started it out as just a fun way to share my experiences on my day trips with family and friends. But as my last Expat friend moved back home, I was left with a loooot of free time and no one to hang out with. So I took to the keys. Before I knew it, I’d remodeled, edited, expanded and started trying to make a name for my blog known in the blogging community. I have been able to share stories and meet other fantastic blogger ladies who have become friends at a distance.
While it fills a small void in my currently semi-empty life, I have come to realize that lately, I need it more than I did in the beginning. It’s my creative outlet and my voice. While I feel that over time, a lot of friends and family have become burned out by my blogs, at least I know there are other people out there who might be interested in my story and my experiences and knowledge about traveling around Europe.
10. I Miss GOOD Customer Service
Maybe this is an Anglo-Saxon thing, but here in Germany, I find it incredibly hard to find good customer service that will make me want to shop at their institution again. It reallllly frustrates me and I could complain about this forever. They.Just.Don’t.Care. It doesn’t matter to them whether or not your time in their institution was satisfying. And when its not? Suck it up buttercup! The times I have complained to management about poor service, it got thrown back in my face or I was still required to pay. Another lesson learned: Not everything is done the Anglo-Saxon way!
A while back, we went to a restaurant for dinner. We wanted American-style hamburgers. So I ordered a BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. And when it came?? I got the hamburger all right, just without the meat. And the waitress was dumb enough to say, “Let me look in the menu to make sure it comes with meat”… Uh…. **Insert dumbfounded expression here**. I couldn’t believe it! And when the manager came, all he did was offer us some French fries for free. There was more to that terrible evening, but nonetheless, we were required to still pay and expressing our frustration did absolutely nothing but cement the fact that we will never eat there again!
Even after allllllllll of that….
While all of this might sound pretty terrible, there are a thousand plus reasons why you should move abroad at least once in your life! It has been the greatest experience of my life and I would never trade it for anything! I couldn’t possibly imagine myself living anywhere else. Ok…well maybe Croatia. Or Spain. Or Italy.
I have never been more proud of myself in the reassurance that I can do anything, should I ever want it! I don’t need someone’s approval to do it, I just have to have faith in myself. I am proud of how far my German has come in the last 3 years and that I know, given time, I won’t have these problems of communicating.
I’m incredibly happy of the life I have made for myself here with my loving boyfriend who helps me every day to cope with the frustrations of speaking German and the side effects of homesickness. Without him, it would have been a million times harder to cope with half of these bumps in my road to happiness. I look forward to our life together for many years to come!
Replies to 10 Struggles of Being an Expat
I love this post, I can relate to so much!
I’m glad you can relate but sad at the same time. I was hesitant to write this post because its such a downer, but I think expats who can relate will all appreciate this post! Thanks for reading! 🙂
hahaha funny, I just realized that I am not an expat, but rather an immigrant, how weird!! I never thought about that!!
And I actually like costumer service in Germany, never had a problem with it… here the costumer is right, on contrary to Brazil 😀
Speaking German will get easier – trust me, I’ve been there! At this point I just speak and most of the time people can work out what I mean, even if I do get 90% of the articles wrong and hopelessly mangle case endings! I’m now faced with the task of understanding Swiss German, which is even more “fun”.
The idea of bringing up a child so far from my family makes me sad as well, but when I was a child we lived at the opposite end of England to my grandparents (a six-hour drive) and only saw them in school holidays, usually once or twice a year – I didn’t move closer to them until I was 13 – and I still managed to be close to them, so maybe it won’t be so bad. Especially since there are things like Skype these days. We only had the phone when I was little, and calls were too expensive to be made often.
My German has definitely improved but mostly for easy conversation but no way am I able to talk about politics, environment and other stuff! I get by and people understand what I’m trying to say unless they’re downright A-holes
Sorry for the totally random comment, but just wanted to say thanks for sharing! Each of those sum up almost entirely how I feel right now, and after a pretty rough past few days, its nice to know I’m not the only one.
Sorry to hear you’re having a rough time! I’ve been pretty homesick too in the last few months but traveling helps to curb it! That’s why we live the life of expat, right!
Oh my gosh, I stumbled across this list and it had me cracking up. I lived in San Diego for about nine years before I moved outside the U.S. (first to Bogotá, now Madrid) and relate to everything you said. Whew, number 10 especially!
Love telling the story from #10 because it was honestly the dumbest moment I’ve ever encountered in my life!
Should I stay or go back. It’s such a difficult decision to make. I have lived in Spain for 18 months with my husband and youngest daughter. We came back to the U.K. because we didn’t feel the schooling was great for our daughter and our family and grandchildren were missing us. Within five months of being back I wanted to return to Spain for all the reasons we went there in the first place, the weather, laid back lifestyle. I’m here in London the weather is gross but I have family around the corner??? What to do. BE AWARE once you have traveled and lived in a forgein land I think it’s almost impossible to settle back again because you leave part of you behind.
This is the thing no one tells you about living abroad! I wrote another post called Torn Between Two Countries which might interest you!