‘Terrifying and exhilarating’: What it’s really like to move to Germany alone

'Terrifying and exhilarating': What it's really like to move to Germany alone
It can be nerve-wracking making the move to Germany by yourself. Photo: Depositphotos/shutter2u
Moving to a new country is stressful, and it's especially hard when you do it alone. We asked our readers to share how they did it and for their advice on anyone in a similar position.

Learning a new language, finding a place to stay and trying to get a job: these are just a few of the things many people have to do when moving abroad.

All this can be stressful regardless of your situation – but if you are doing it by yourself, without a partner or family members to lean on, it’s even more difficult. 

So we wanted to pay tribute to our readers who made that move to Germany all by themselves to find out how they felt doing it, what their experiences were and if they have any advice for those thinking of doing it themselves.

Patricia’s story

If Patricia Riberio Spina could travel back in time and give herself some advice for moving to Germany alone, she'd talk about future technology – and tell herself to be prepared for ups and downs.

READ ALSO: 'I never thought I'd settle in Germany': The expats who stayed years longer than planned

“One day, you'll be able to message and video call your family for free,” Patricia, 37, would tell her younger self. She adds: “Get ready for the roller coaster, because this is going to be quite the ride.”

Patricia, who was born and raised in Chicago, US, and has also lived in Dallas, first moved to Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, to study in 2004 and fell in love with Berlin during a visit.

“I then finished my studies in the US and got a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Berlin in 2007,” she says. “I've been here ever since.”

For Patricia, moving alone was both “terrifying and exhilarating” at the same time.

“My first year I lived in a WG (flat share) with one particular girl, who is one of my greatest friends until this day,” she says. “After my scholarship, I didn't have a job right away, so the bureaucracy was a major challenge.”

Patricia Riberio Spina has a “wonderful” life in Berlin after moving there by herself. Photo courtesy of Patricia Riberio Spina

Patricia, who now works as a teacher in a bilingual primary school, says she still finds some aspects of life in Germany difficult.

“I've also struggled with some attitudes I've come across in Berlin,” she says. “Usually, it's a lack of awareness or respect shown towards others, or people who feel the need to comment on your business. I've grown some tough skin and practiced responses enough to be able to defend myself in a positive way that I can feel good about.”

For Patricia, though, the achievements have been huge, although she believes they're connected to growing up – not only moving to Germany.

“I've studied and found a career I love,” she says. “I have made friends that are like family. Most of all, I've grown to be proud of the woman I have become.”

Patricia describes her life now as “wonderful”.

“I have a great family that is supportive of my move here and proud of my accomplishments,” she says. “I have amazing friends here and in the US.

“I have a great job and wonderful colleagues. I am really grateful for it all. I feel great about my move. I don't know how I would manage being in the USA in the current political climate.”

Best advice:

“Learn German as soon as possible. As an English speaker, lots of people will speak English to you if they detect an accent.

“Ignore it and keep practicing that German. Laugh at every mistake you make, it'll help you remember the correct word. I once asked for a vagina of cheese instead of a slice of cheese. I have never forgotten the word for slice.” (Note: Sheide is a polite word for vagina, and Scheibe means a slice)

“Kindness and openness will get you very far,” adds Patricia.

Rahul’s story

When Rahul Kumar decided to take the plunge and move from Bhagalpur, a small district in a northern state of India named Bihar, to study in Germany, he had no idea what to expect.

It was the first time he had ever left India, and understandably, he felt nervous as well as excited.

“The moment I landed in Germany, I was really very nervous,” says Rahul. “I had lots of thoughts going on in my mind like what would my life here be? How would people be, the culture and weather?

But just five years later, Rahul feels settled and at home in Germany.

READ ALSO: Readers' voices: These are the best things about living in Germany

He moved in 2014 to do his Masters in in usability engineering at the Hochschule Rhein-Waal, Kamp-Lintfort in the western German state of North Rhine Westphalia.

He credits his school for helping out with the move.

“Luckily, my university helped me in moving and finding accommodation – and even provided a pick up from the airport on the day of my arrival,” says Rahul.

Rahul Kumar has had an awesome experience moving to Germany alone even though he was nervous beforehand. Photo courtesy of Rahul Kumar

Like many internationals, not knowing German was one of the hardest parts of the process. “Language was the biggest obstacle for me when I moved here,” he says.

But Rahul has gone from strength to strength.

“I personally feel very confident in going anywhere, talking to anyone. So my overall experience is really awesome here,” he says.

“I finished my masters and I'm now working in at a company in Forchheim. I feel totally content now.”

As well as a good job, Rahul also has “really good friends” and says he's “enjoying my life to the fullest”.

Another upshot? Rahul says he's become “more organized and punctual”.

“I'm happy that I took this decision of moving to Germany,” he says.

Best advice:

“Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. 

“I would highly recommend everyone to learn basic Deutsch before moving here. It will help in a swift move, easy interaction and things get much easier because here everything is in German and do some research about the city/town where you plan to move, and the last thing: get oriented to the new culture and country.”

Grant's story

Grant Goodwin, 34, moved to Germany from the other side of the world. And for the 34-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, preparation was key.

“Before I moved here I had been researching and preparing for more than a year and was very excited about the move,” he says.

“Along the way I generally found everyone to be very helpful and friendly, and I was positively surprised by government services like the Hamburg Welcome Center who made the transition and visa applications far easier – and in English!”

Grant, who works in marketing management, moved to Germany in 2014 because he wanted to try “living abroad and having exposure to a new culture and a new language”.

“Additionally it allowed me to accelerate my career growth by giving me international experience, and from a practical perspective Germany had, in my opinion, the most attractive visa options for professionals without an EU passport.”

After resigning from his job in Australia, Grant felt confident and determined to find work in Germany and found a role in Hamburg fairly quickly.

READ ALSO: High costs, long queues and discrimination: What it's like to rent in Germany

He stayed in the city for four years and and relocated to Munich earlier this year for a new role.

It wasn't all plain sailing though.

Photo: Depositphotos/Gustavofrazao

He says: “Two things that were confusing in the beginning – and I still see discussed a lot in online forums – are the topics of: what is defined adequate health insurance for a foreigner when applying for visas, and: how to equate foreign university degrees with German ones. 

“For both issues it seems that the advice/decision from authorities is largely dependent on the person processing your application rather than a clearly defined policy.”

Grant says he is glad he moved to this part of the world.

“I have learnt so much here not only about Germany as a country but also in reflecting on my life back in Australia – it has made me appreciate the positives (and some negatives) in both countries. 

“I think living abroad forces you to step out of your comfort zone, and often. Living here feels very 'normal' now, although I do make an effort to continue to explore new places and experiences as much as possible.”

Best advice: 

“Apart from doing your research beforehand,I think the main advice I would give is to get connected to other people, expats, foreigners groups etc as soon as possible.  

“For almost every situation someone has been there before you and can provide advice.  Be realistic with your expectations and planning – allow extra time to get things done when you first arrive, such as finding a job, finding an apartment etc, as it can take longer than you're used to back home.”

Logan’s story

Just a few days after Logan Ouellette, 30, from Ottawa, Canada, had moved to Berlin, he wondered if he had made a massive mistake.

“Admittedly, I was quite naïve when I first got here, and within the first week I was already contemplating whether I had made a big mistake doing this on my own without any kind of safety net,” he says.

“There was one moment when I was so discouraged, sitting alone in my hostel room, realizing I had just enough money in my account to book a flight home.

Logan Ouelette says moving to Berlin was one of the best experiences of his life, even though it's been up and down. Photo courtesy of Logan Ouelette

“But my best friend encouraged me to keep going, and I’m glad I did. A little over a week after arriving I got my first short-term sublet, and shortly after that my first job. Thank goodness for startups where the operating language is English!”

Logan had moved to Berlin back in April 2014, “kind of on a whim”. He had recently finished university and had nothing tying him down.

“The reason why I chose Berlin, despite having never previously set foot in the city, was because I had this romantic notion that it was a culturally rich and liberal city full of history and opportunities. In the end, my assumptions were fortunately correct.”

But of course it took time for Logan to settle in. He wishes he had done more preparation; Logan moved to Germany about a month after making the life-changing decision.

READ ALSO: 'They don't do small talk': Why foreigners in Germany find it hard to make friends

“Moving here alone was a huge challenge, one that I definitely admit to underestimating before I took the plunge,” he says. “There are many things I would have done different if I could go back, like having more savings, making sure I learned a basic level of German before arriving, or having some concrete leads on a job and a short-term flat.”

It took time for Logan to settle in. Dealing with bureaucracy in another language, buying food in supermarkets and ordering at a restaurant were all daunting tasks.

Logan says his big achievement was making it through the first year and securing his next visa after his working holiday visa expired.

“By that time I had settled in somewhat, started building a local personal and professional network, and generally got my bearings around the city,” he says.

Now, after five years, Logan feels like he's established himself in Berlin and he's clocked up experiences he would have never had if he stayed in Canada.

“Looking back, taking that leap and moving abroad to Berlin was one of the best decisions of my life,” he says. “I feel like I’ve truly enriched myself and expanded my horizons both personally and professionally, with the obstacles I had to overcome helping to build my character.”

Best advice:

“If it’s something you really want to do, then do it. Don’t give up even if it might be hard at first. Push through your insecurities and go outside of your comfort zone, that’s the only way to grow and be successful at whatever it is you decide to pursue.”

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