Repatriate Interview #2
Repatriation = moving back to your home country
Today I’m posting an interview I conducted in December.I talked to Simone, a German who lived in Aptos, California for about 5 years, together with her husband and three kids. They had their third child in the US. Simone’s husband is British so their kids grow up bilingual anyway. In summer 2015 they moved back to Rosenheim, Germany, an area they always wanted to live. Repatriation has become a very interesting topic for me and it is significant for expats all over the world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
We moved to California in 2010 and planned to stay at least 2-3 years. It took us about two years to get acclimated, to build a social network and to develop a sense of home. Then after these two years we started thinking about the question “Where do we belong?”.
Where did you move to and why?
After a little bit more than two years, we started feeling more and more guilty about being far away from our families. The constant feeling of going back and forth, the obligation of going back to Germany and England every summer to visit the family started being a burden. Another decisive reason to move back was the health of my mother-in-law. When someone from your family gets sick, you realize how far away you actually are. You can’t just get in the car and drive over there.
It was truly a decision of reason. The time was good because the kids were still young and only in preschool and Elementary school and my husband was able to keep his job and is now working from the company’s office in Holzkirchen, which is about 30 minutes away from Rosenheim. It is a beautiful area in Bavaria which we’ve already known from living in Germany before. It really is a perfect location with the alps, beautiful lakes in close proximity and only one hour away from Munich.
The move itself was really stressful, way harder than the move to California in 2010. That’s maybe because I’m five years older, but probably also because we came here with only two little kids, one was 4 and the other one 1 year old. Moving back with two school-aged children and another preschooler was way more challenging. You have to worry about three kids and how they will adjust to the new life in Germany.
How do you experience the reverse culture shock?
For me personally, it has not been easy to get to used to the German lifestyle again. I miss the positive attitude of the Americans. They are able to make you feel welcome and comfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s at school, the supermarket or just walking along the beach: Americans always say hello and easily start a conversation with you. Back in Germany, I remember being quite shocked when I did my first grocery shopping with three kids. People started pushing my goods on the belt from behind, no one helped me bagging and no smiles. But I guess you get used to that again after a while.
It also feels harder here in Germany to make friends. You get to know new people through your kids, you arrange playdates and meet other moms on the playground, but an invitation to a glass of wine or something like that only happened a few times even though we’ve been here for one and a half years. People here have life-long friends and don’t seem to be too interested in making new connections.
What are biggest advantages of living in Germany/ Europe?
The social security system in Germany makes you feel well cared for, especially as a family with three children. (In Germany you receive financial support, about Euro 150/month for each child. When you are sick with a doctors note, you might get up to 6 weeks paid time off.) The cost of living is much lower than in California, where everything is great as long as you have a well-paid job, but if you’re unlucky and get sick or laid-off, things can change pretty quickly and drastically. Living in the US, I was a H4-visa holder and wasn’t allowed to work. Now here in Germany I can work in my old career field of HR again. It took me about a year to find a job, but now I have a part-time position and work 20 hrs/week.
I think it’s very positive that our children are now experiencing the every day life in Germany in comparison with rather short visits in the summer. Now they are able to discover their German roots again. I really like that children in Germany, especially the ones that are the same age as our kids, are way more independent than in the US. They walk or ride their bikes to school, walk into town or to their after school activities. Our kids do way more things by themselves now than back in California. It is just more socially accepted to let your child roam free. Childhood in Europe is much more set up to prepare the kids for their future adult life. In the US children need to be supervised all the time. They also get driven around everywhere until they are 16 and then, one day to the other, they are allowed to drive themselves. I personally think the freedom to roam that our children experience here in Germany equips them better for being responsible, young adults.
What are the negative sides of being in Germany?
Definitely the lifestyle. I have to say that we were very fortunate to live in a very laid-back beach and surfers community with people generally being more at ease. Californians are much more friendly and the tone people talk to each other is by far not as harsh as in Germany.
My husband feels the social differences at his job and the kids at school or the soccer club. In the US kids are not yelled at during soccer practice, while the tone here is much more rough and my middle one has been noticing this and he doesn’t appreciate it. The prevailing tone among children is definitely rougher than in California. Our 10- and 7-year old boys are saying that they would definitely want to move back to California. Our oldest son is still in touch with his American friends. They communicate via Skype and play Minecraft together.
Our oldest went to a Montessori School in Aptos and he wanted to continue at a Montessori school here in Germany, too. Luckily we have a Montessori school nearby and that way the he change to the German school system was much easier for him.
How are you and your husband doing in your new life?
I feel more stressed here and more under social pressure. I also haven’t gotten used to the temperatures in Germany and we definitely miss the Californian sunshine. If you don’t see any sunshine all day, it kind of makes you depressed. In the first year it was pretty challenging to build social connections, especially without having a job. Overall I don’t think that Rosenheim will be our final destination. I don’t think I want to settle here forever. Living in California again would be an option but I can’t see us moving back to California just yet.
My husband feels the same way. He misses his old work environment and he keeps saying that the fun factor is missing in Germany. Life in California was more fun and exciting. He’s also very torn between the two places.
We both wished we could just stop thinking about the whole topic of moving for a while and get a bit more peace of mind. We both feel we need to take a break and not constantly talk and think about “where is home”.
With knowing what you know now, would you move back again?
No, I think I’d rather have stayed a bit longer and enjoyed the life we had in California. I’m not generally in love with the USA, but the area we lived, Aptos and Santa Cruz, is a very special one. We definitely miss it and the Pacific ocean a lot. We only moved back to Germany out of rationality and now I wish that I had turned off my brain for a moment and just followed my gut feeling. We miss the lifestyle and our community. My husband’s company made the change of location possible, but even after the decision was made, no one actually wanted to move back. And now after living in Germany again, friends and family tell us that they don’t really understand why we came back because they know how much we loved living in California. I wonder why no one had said that earlier? Knowing what we know now, I would not have moved back, I’d have stayed in California longer.
The feeling of being torn in between places is always there. You never really know where you belong anymore after living abroad for a few years.
What else would you like to tell about your experience?
I often remember how friendly people had welcomed us in California. People invited us into their homes and to their parties and that way we made new friends quickly. I actually had planned to apply this to our new situation in Germany and to be more pro-active myself. But somehow I haven’t done that, sadly you kind of adjust to the prevailing habits.
I think it would be definitely easier to move back to an area where you already know some people, rather than starting again from zero. Our old friends in Germany are living in a different area, so we don’t really see them more than a few times a year either. If we’d ever move again, I would go back to California where I still have friends and a community. At the moment I would not want to move again to an area where I don’t know anyone. It is too exhausting to start all over again.
Unfortunately you spend too much time thinking about this topic. But apart from all our thoughts and feelings, I have to say that I know what a privilege it is, to have the opportunity to live in different places in the world.
It was great to talk to Simone. I realized once more, that we all have the same thoughts, feelings and worries. I’m so happy that I started this series of interviews and I’m looking forward to the next one.
Thank you for your story and your time, Simone!