We all dream of living abroad at least once in our life, but what does ex-pat life actually mean? Bébé Voyage’s very own Maika Schneider shares her German family’s experience about living in the United States.
Q. Can you tell us a little about you and your family?
A. We are a family of four, Victoria (almost 4), Constantin (almost 2), Maika & Michael. We are German, from a small town, 20 minutes from Stuttgart and we love to travel. When Michael and I first met, we knew we wanted to live abroad further down the road. We got married in 2014 and ventured out to travel around the world as soon as we started dating in 2007.
Michael works as a financial analyst, and I have been staying home with the kids ever since we moved to the US (I was a teacher before that). I am now in the process of going back to work, which is something I have been longing to do for a while, but I also feel very privileged to have had the chance to be with my kids.
Q. When and why did you move to Virginia Beach?
A. We moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in July 2017. Victoria was nine months when we moved and was the one adapting the fastest. Michael got a job offer from the same company that he had been working for in Germany, to help bridge the gap that had developed over the years and to bring both departments closer together. In February 2017, the company sent us on a “Look & Feel Trip” to see if we wanted to move to Virginia Beach at all. As soon as we got there, we loved the atmosphere, the proximity to the beach, the relaxed people, and opportunities within the community.
Q. What is your favorite thing about living abroad in the US?
A. We love the endless opportunities to travel around the US and its neighboring countries. Wherever we go, people are so friendly and never mind our kids being loud or crazy.
Q. How do you find the lifestyle in the US? Did you adapt to daily life easily?
A. We were fortunate enough to have had intercultural training before moving to the US, which made us aware of things that were different from Germany. Looking back, it was such an essential training because we were more prepared for some things, e.g. you invite people to a party and even though they say they are coming, they don’t show up. This is considered to be really rude in Germany and if you say you are coming, you at least show up for an hour.
The same applies to the work environment: the way you write emails is different and, whereas Germans like to plan things several years and months in advance, Americans are way more spontaneous and typically don’t commit to things that far in advance. This is something I really struggle with some days because I like to plan out my weeks, get an idea of what the kids and I will be doing, but none of my American friends do that. So I get funny looks when I ask them what they are doing at the end of the week.
We love the lifestyle in Virginia Beach: the proximity to the ocean and bay just gives us the feeling that everybody is way more relaxed and friendly. Having a child when moving here first, made things so much easier. When we went to the playgrounds, people would just walk up to us and talk to us and it made us feel welcome. I joined a group called Fit4Mom where I was able to work out with my daughter in the stroller, and these women have become something like my extended family and backup system.
It was a little harder for my husband to feel at home here at first. He spent many hours in the office and didn’t really have the time to get to know people. VB and the area have large numbers of military families, so every time he finally had a guy to talk to, they were scheduled to move to another location. Luckily, now we have made friends with a lot of local families too, so he has guys to talk to.
Q. How is family life? How did the kids find living abroad in a new place and culture?
A. Since our daughter was so little when we first moved here, she really didn’t have any issues living in a new place. We made sure that we packed some of her favorite toys in the suitcases and not the moving container, so she would feel at home faster. Both kids are being raised bilingual and we are now entering the new fun stage where she mixes German and English words or uses either grammar for the other language. Our little boy is getting a little more vocal now and has started using both languages too.
As a couple, we have enjoyed being away from family, as mean as this may sound. We have learned to work better as a team and talk more often about the things that are on our minds. We sure do miss our families, but have enjoyed the freedom that comes with such a move. No one expects us to be there for lunch or for a certain holiday and when they come to see us, they have to adjust to our routine.
As parents, we love the variety of childcare options here. More places, varying in what they offer and how much they cost, but there is definitely something for everybody.
Q. What do you miss most about your home country?
A. We have arguments at home when it comes to this question. Some days it is the food, some days it is the fact that Germans love rules, follow them and are mostly on time, some days we don’t miss anything. We are fortunate enough to have found Lidl and Aldi here which have a ton of German groceries and then we receive care packages from our families once in a while.
We definitely love the mobility here and that people don’t hesitate to move to a different part of the country if there’s a better job opportunity etc.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face while living in the US?
A. One of the biggest challenges is that we don’t have any family around that could just swing by to help with the kids. If one of us is sick, the other has to take a day off to help around the house.
Another challenge is definitely that we are very honest people and not everybody can handle it. It is especially challenging in a work environment and takes some getting used to (especially when you are desperately looking for the right words to make it sound nicer). Germans are known for always being on time, so it is sometimes really hard for us to be patient and not get angry if people don’t show up when they are supposed to.
Q. If you could move to the US again, what would you do differently?
A. We would do some more research upfront to find groups or people on social media who live there and ask them a ton of questions especially about things to do and neighborhoods to live in.
Q. Can you give some useful tips to families who are looking to move to the US?
A. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles (to get your driver’s license) and the Social Security office, get a safety deposit box to store all your important documents (believe us, it’s a hustle to replace them if they get stolen), join local groups if you have kids, mentally prepare for not all things going right and don’t stress out over delays or setbacks as things are not always in your hand, and be flexible about when and how to complete or get things done. It is very helpful if you know someone or have a point of contact in the area you can go to that can help you out with the everyday things that are different in your new environment and won’t laugh at your apparently silly questions.
Q. What would you miss about living abroad?
A. Speaking a different language, experiencing different cultures and lifestyles, the exchange with locals, having more freedom and independence as a family, although it also means having to do more ourselves / having less help.
Q. Anything else you would like to add?
A. If people have the time and chance to do intercultural training, do it! It is so worth it and helpful and prevents you from being super disappointed at times.
Embrace the difference and avoid comparing your new home with your old home – it is a change that will give you a lot of value in the long run.
In case your move abroad is work-related, take care that the whole family gets opportunities to settle in and adopt. Going to work all day is the easier part (e.g. make sure that if your spouse stays at home with the kids, he/she is encouraged to venture out to find parent support groups, etc).
Don’t be afraid of language barriers. A lot of times, stumbling over words will lead to the best conversations and a true understanding of your situation. We have never come across anybody who wasn’t willing to help us out or wait for us to find the right words.
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