Let’s see. We’re going back quite a ways here to remember my first months in Munich. I guess I’ll just summarize a bit of my experience from when I arrived until present. Of course the first thing to mention was how exciting it was to arrive in Munich with Alex waiting for me and knowing that this would be (hopefully) a more permanent stay than when I arrived in Basel. This time I was arriving to a city that was new for the both of us and a much larger apartment that we would be settling into together.
As anyone would be, I was very excited to explore Munich when I first arrived. Unfortunately I was greeted with four weeks of cold rain and it quickly drowned out any hopes I had of getting to know the city. By the time the weather turned nice my initial high had faded a bit and it was more of an effort to get out and see everything. I think ultimately this hindered my settling into life in Munich. I would advise that anyone moving to a new city should move during nice weather so they can take advantage of their excitement and use the energy to explore everything. I don’t really have any photos from the rainy time for obvious reasons so here’s a few from the first few sunny days at our apartment and exploring the city.
The positive part of the bad weather was that it allowed us plenty of time to get the apartment setup, shop at IKEA, and do some home projects without feeling like we were missing out on sunshine and the outdoors. This has been the first time I’ve really put effort into settling into an apartment and it was quite fun working on some projects for the house. Fun and a total frustration at the same time! But lessons were learned and next time hopefully I can work more efficiently. Ultimately I think I ended up with some pieces that I’m proud of and were worth the effort and the sawdust. The three main projects were refinishing the used dining table, building a wine crate coffee table inspired by something seen on Pinterest, and making a couple photo walls to display some of our travel photos. We also pieced together a little kitchen island/storage from some different IKEA products. It fits the beer crates perfectly!
Once the weather warmed up I bought a bicycle to get myself around and explore a bit more. The public transit system is great but a bike is just a much better way to explore in the nice weather. Alex and I spent a day riding all over Munich through the English Garden and along the Isar River. This is my favorite part of Munich!
Our apartment has a fairly big terrace and so we set up a nice BBQ and eating area, a hammock, and a garden area and evenings and weekends were spent enjoying nice meals out there. Alex has quite the green thumb and we enjoyed fresh lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, etc. all summer long.
As beautiful as Munich is it hasn’t all been easy. Moving to a new place is always hard and when it’s a new country with a language you don’t speak it’s even more difficult. Working from home doesn’t give much opportunity to meet people either so it was easy to get homesick. I joined CrossFit Munich in hopes of meeting some people and on the first day met another American, Rachael. Her and her husband have become good friends here and it was nice to meet someone who has gone through a similar experience and could give me some tips. CrossFit itself has been great because it’s something that feels familiar and gives me a place to belong to. My summer was amazing in terms of travel, exploring, and staying active. There’s so much to do in this city from the historical buildings, beautiful gardens, swimming pools, great restaurants and beer gardens, summer festivals… and in just an hour or so you can be in the Alps or at one of the many lakes surrounding Munich.
Ok, so I’m not painting a very good picture of all the hardships I suffered by posting those photos! :p Seriously though this has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Looking back I think if I had started taking a German course right away it would have made a big difference. The hardest part of settling in has been not knowing the language. People have often remarked that I should be fine because most people speak English. But what most don’t realize, and what I didn’t realize at first either, is how much of an outsider you feel when you don’t share the language of the place you’re living. The smallest things become a challenge and take mental effort. Going grocery shopping, to the post office, to the bank, etc. Asking someone for directions even. Just asking the question “do you speak English?” takes a bit of courage for me because I honestly feel like an asshole that I don’t speak German and am making someone switch languages to accommodate me. Now maybe most people don’t mind at all and I’m making a big deal of it in my head but I just can’t help feeling like I’m an inconvenience to others. It just wears on you after awhile because it’s constantly on your mind. All of this “culture shock” (which I recently found out is a real mental condition that people can suffer from), really wore down my spirit and left me feeling like a person I didn’t recognize. I went from feeling like an independent, confident and self-sufficient person to someone who is constantly second-guessing herself and needing help. When it comes to socializing with other German-speaking people I get very quiet and can’t participate in the conversation as I usually would. This is especially frustrating when it comes to Alex’s family because I really want to know them and for them to know me. I’m realizing how much we communicate who we are through language. I worry about how other people view me then and I think about times when I’ve seen American men with quiet, foreign wives. While I’m ashamed to admit it I viewed them as submissive women that don’t have their own identity. Now that I’ve been in that situation I realize how wrong it is to assume that. When I first meet someone and they ask why I’m in Germany I struggle with telling them it’s because of my boyfriend. I feel like I can almost see the judgment in some people’s faces and I imagine that they’re assuming I’m the type of girl that has no life of her own and just followed some guy she met to his country where I sit at home and do nothing. I always feel the need to follow up my answer with an explanation that I work as a freelancer and have a business. Needless to say I’m learning a lot about my personal insecurities and realizing that I care a lot more about what others think of me than I ever thought I did.
Part of the reason I held off on learning German was because my first goal was to get a visa so that I could stay long term. It was hard to allow myself to truly settle in until that happened because it would have been such a letdown if I didn’t get the visa. I did a lot of research on the self-employment visa in Germany and over-prepared myself for the meeting at the Auslanderbehörde. I had read mixed stories online about how difficult it is to obtain the self-employment visa. I brought Alex with me in case I needed a translator. The process couldn’t have been easier for me. I went in with all of my paperwork; work contracts, references, bank statements, proof of health insurance, and my portfolio. The woman spoke English and she just went through all my forms, made a comment that I was very organized, and then told me to go pay the cashier and come back with the receipt to get my 2-year visa. I’m serious when I say that the instant I got that visa I feel like I could breathe and finally start to view Munich as my home.
A lot has happened since those first few months. The roller coaster of emotions has started to have less dips and as I’ve adjusted to working from home and getting my schedule in order I’ve been able to make more time for networking events in Munich both for social and business connections. We’ve met some awesome people and now have a nice group of friends which really helps to make Munich feel more like home. I finally started taking German classes and as frustrating as it is I think it’s really helping. More on all of that in a later post though.
While this has most definitely been one of the biggest challenges of my life I wouldn’t trade a single second of it. I’ve learned so much about myself in such a short time. More importantly I’ve been able to have this adventure with Alex and every second I’ve spent with him proves to me that I made the right decision in coming here.