Ex-Repatriate Interview #3
Ex-repatriate: Moving back and forth.
This time I talked to Susanne, ex-repatriate, a German who lives in California for the second time in her life.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Freiburg in Southern Germany. My husband is a German-American. He and his family lived at the East coast for a while and then spent the rest of his childhood in the suburbs of Munich. That’s where we met. We moved to Cupertino in 1995 and stayed for nine years. We had our son here and moved back to Germany in 2004 when I was pregnant with my daughter.
Why did you move back to Germany?
Our son was growing up without knowing part of his family and heritage. We had this wonderful child and no one around us was just excited as we were. Being close to family was definitely part of the decision. Additionally at that point we had lived in California for nine years and we wanted to see if we would fit in again in the life in Germany.
How did you experience the reverse culture shock in Germany?
I had an extreme reverse culture shock when we moved back to Germany. You are back in your own country, you don’t have an accent and you look like everyone else, but inside you are different. That was frustrating. I kept telling everyone how we do things in California, couldn’t stop comparing the two countries and ended up annoying my friends and family.
What are the advantages of the life in Germany?
The cost of living is generally lower you have a better social security system. The people are generally better educated, the educational system has a higher standard and people are way more environmentally conscious. On top of that, the public transportation in Germany and Europe is much better.
Why did you end up moving back to California?
One reason was so that my husband could have better job opportunities. And both, my husband and I were always a bit homesick for our ‘old’ life in California.
Did you experience a reverse culture shock back here in California?
Everything here was still familiar, so I knew what I was getting into. But I was surprised by everyone being always so busy. “I need to go to Yoga, I have a lunch, I have … to do”,… . A full schedule seems to be a status symbol and self-presentation seems to be very important. You need to be seen. Americans and Germans are similar in some ways, but there are many cultural differences, many of them are small and rather hidden.
What are the advantages of the life in California?
The weather is much better and there is more diversity. I think it is very interesting to be in touch with so many different nationalities. It’s easier to get to know people from all different kind of places. You have generally more opportunities, you can constantly create yourself in new ways. And I love that we are so close to the ocean.
How did the children adjust to their new schools?
They were 11 and 14 years old when we came back to California. My daughter started Middle School and my son started in High School. It was obvious that they were the new kids from Germany. The American teenager were interested to get to know them but the fact that our children are not necessarily “club children” made it more difficult for them to integrate. It was hard to get into the existing circles and the parents here are very cautious and protective about their children. It often felt like I had to take an interview with the parents before our kids could hang out together.
With knowing what you know now, would you move back again?
Yes, it was the right thing to do. Just to have that thought out of your head “What would be if?” And I am happier and more relaxed. Our children feel torn though. Only time can show if the move was a gift or a curse for them.
If you could do your move again, what would you do differently?
If we would do it again, we would probably move earlier than our kids being teenagers. They are not always happy about living here in California. They still miss their friends, their old life and the independence that they used to have in Germany.
What else would you like to tell about your experience?
I always tell myself: “The good old times are happening right now.”
Or: “Die guten alten Zeiten sind genau jetzt.”
Thank you so much for this interview, Susanne! I had such a great time talking to you and sharing our thoughts and feelings about ex- and repat life. Your experiences are so inspiring for me personally.