I met Lisa seven (has it really been seven?!) years ago at one of my first NYC internships, at Inkwell Management. Although she didn’t begin as my manager, I jumped ship to work under her—a move that eventually blossomed into a friendship, as we bonded over our love of blogs (hers is here—and I can almost guarantee we talked about cupcakes and cashmere, so talk about full circle!). Although my internship was cut short, our friendship remained—she is one of those people who I can connect with years later and not be able to stop talking about travel, beauty, relationships, and yes, blogs. She is one of the warmest and most adventurous people I know, so I’m thrilled to have her here to share her experience moving to Germany and the motto that informs her life choices (and maybe yours now?)! - Leslie
I’m American, but I’ve been living in Munich, Germany for a little over a year and the first question I’m often asked in disbelief is, “Why did you move there?” If I’m being honest, I never had big life plans to move to Germany. But some opportunities come around and you have to take them because you know that following your North Star and choosing the bigger life, however messy it may seem at first, will ultimately bring so much joy and learning in the long run. But trust me, it’s not always easy—or clear.
I suppose I’ve always had transatlantic tendencies. I remember reading books by Jane Austen and putting on a British accent for no particular reason growing up. (I still do this, to this very day.) I was obsessed with the UK, with royalty, with etiquette, and with 17th century balls. And as a Black girl growing up in ‘burbs of Virginia Beach, it was a bit of disconnect to say the least. But, I just knew that while I couldn’t move across the pond at fourteen, I would find my way there eventually.
Then senior year of college happened and I found myself learning about a Spring Break Study Abroad trip that was a tour of the UK to visit some of the most renowned castles and cathedrals—this was my opportunity. I fell in love with London on that trip and that love carried me back across the pond years later when I completed my graduate degree at Kingston University. It was a year and half journey that changed my life and the ONLY reason I left was because my Visa expired, inspiring a move to New York—another city that had always given me life.
After building a life in New York for six mostly beautiful years, I could feel myself itching for a change. I was feeling a little trapped in the concrete city, a little stifled by the 24/7 hustle, a little run-down. I needed a break.
Around this time, I checked my LinkedIn and a recruiter had reached out to me asking if I was “interested in an exciting opportunity in the middle of Europe.” My first thought was, “Is this a scam?!” But one call led to another, which led to another, and I made the decision to travel across the Atlantic for a new adventure, yet again. Had I ever been to Germany before I moved? No. Did I speak any German? Um, no. Did I have any connections in Germany? Not a one.
So why did I do it? I couldn’t not.
My personal North Star has always been to widen my worldview so that I can connect more personally and passionately with myself and others. I may not have always known that this was my North Star but when I look back, I see my unbridled excitement to move to the UK and then New York; how it has been an integral part of so many of the life decisions I’ve made.
My life is proof that it’s so important to distill and create clarity around what you really want out of life. Otherwise, you’ll end up settling for what someone tells you or gives you, which can lead to a life of mediocrity. And you love, are not mediocre.
But, it’s not easy. I’ve had some trying times in Germany and there have been instances when I’ve felt incredibly lonely. But, let’s start with the pros first:
It’s enabled me to discover new cities and cultures: Pre COVID, you’d be hard-pressed to find me in Germany on a long weekend. I traveled to Ireland, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Austria, and Sweden in just a few short months experiencing different cultures, trying new foods, making new friends, and opening myself up to new things. One of the most surreal moments I had was in Austria where I booked a Sound of Music bike tour. (Such a classic.) Several parts of the movie were filmed in Salzburg, and we spent an afternoon on our bikes riding around the city and learning about the history of film. There was this one moment when I had a speaker in my basket playing, Do-Re-Mi with the most luscious green meadow to my right and the Austrian Alps to my left. It took my breath away and I just kept saying, “This is my life. This is my life,” as tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes.
Many large cities attract international residents: Major corporations tend to set up camps in large cities bringing with them employees from all over the world. These expats help to define the culture of the city, allowing you to quickly get to know people from all over the world. And eventually, hopefully, those people will turn into friends.
My eyes have been opened to new hobbies and ways of literally moving through life: I’ve always enjoyed riding bikes, but mostly on vacations. In Munich, cycling is an entire culture and one that I'm so glad I’ve had my eyes opened to. There are bike lanes everywhere and drivers know how to share the road and look out for cyclists. I feel so passionately about bike culture that I can’t really imagine myself living in a place where I can’t easily hop on a bike to run to the farmer’s market or out to dinner. I love the flexibility, the exercise, and the new culture I’ve learned all around cycling.
And while those are certainly the highlights on the flip side there are real struggles:
Cities vary widely in their racial diversity: Coming from London and then New York to Munich, the lack of racial diversity hit me pretty hard. As a Black professional woman, I definitely stand out. I was at a beer garden recently and took a quick look around to see that I was literally the ONLY person of color out of roughly 200 people. This just wouldn’t be the case if I were living in a big city that was more racially diverse. Things like this don’t typically bother me but it just feels like, “Damn. The only one yet again.” This also shows up when I’m trying to get my hair done and can’t find a stylist who knows how to work with my texture of hair or if they do it’s very expensive. And when it comes to dating, I’ve been told too many times than I’d like to count, how “exotic” I am. That's a hard pass for me.
Language barriers are HARD: While I’d love to take German lessons, my work schedule has been a little too intense to add three hour German lessons on top of it. Little things like grocery shopping become harder when you don’t properly speak the language of the country that you’re in. Of course, you can see the fruit and veggies but some are brand-new to me and on days where I’m feeling tired and overwhelmed, I just wish I was at Trader Joe’s.
I sometimes feel disconnected from home: I know this may seem like a, “Duh, lady you moved overseas,” moment but some days it's tough being so far away. When COVID was at its peak in Germany, I was quite literally stuck in the country. Even now, getting back to the States would be tricky. And imagine having to live through a global pandemic alone, in a forgein country, where you don’t really speak the language and you're trapped in your apartment for weeks on end. On the heels of that, the Black Lives Matter movement became the largest civil rights movement in history, and I was on another continent feeling disconnected from something that impacted me directly. I wanted to be out there, marching for and demanding change but I couldn’t. The practical side of my brain constantly asks, “Well Lisa, how long are you actually going to be here?” and I just don't know how to answer that question. As I creep towards another birthday, the desire to feel “settled,” whatever that means, becomes stronger and stronger. And if I’m being honest, life feels pretty transient at the moment. But where would I move to next?
I don’t regret the decision I made to move to Germany, just as I don’t regret my choice to move to London or New York. Traveling and culture is such a part of my DNA—it’s my North Star. And as questions on what’s next percolate in my mind, I know that moving to Germany when I did was the right choice for me. I wish I could tell you with clarity exactly what I’ll do next but I can’t—it’s just not how it works sometimes. What will guide me though, now and always, is my desire to choose the bigger life and continue to widen my worldview. As we all dream of where we'll be in 2021, or when COVID-19 is finally at a place where we can safely move around among other people, consider designating your North Star. Mine is always growing, always evolving and I’m richer for it. Let's see where I end up next.