On a recent trip home to Australia (that was almost 5 months ago now!), I had several people ask me what it was like living, working and training in Germany. It got me thinking, and upon my return to Europe, I decided to compile a bit of a blog of 10 things I wish people had told me before I relocated. I've been absolutely remiss in keeping people updated with my daily adventures, and as 2019 begins to draw to a close, I vow to at least post a review of this year before long!
In the meantime... grab a decent cuppa (another thing I miss!) and enjoy.
Our recent photoshoot with Focussed Photography was simply amazing
1. You have to relearn to do almost everything
From getting a foreign driver’s licence, to organizing health insurance, rental agreements and buying a car… not one thing is done the same way as it is done in Australia. Add to that a different language, and you are in a whole world of pain.
When I first moved here, I had to buy a car, get an apartment, buy furniture, and most importantly, get a German driving licence. Although in principle, these things would be straight forward in Australia, they were anything but here in Germany. For one thing, apartments don’t generally come with kitchens when you rent them. You have to provide your own kitchen and remove it when you leave, and you almost certainly have to pay extra if you want a parking space for your car!
It was a real adventure that was made even more complicated by the fact that I had very little understanding of the long and complex bureaucracy process that exists in Germany.
Gaining a German Driver's licence to be able to tow a trailer was a definite adventure!
2. Your attitude makes or breaks you
This is really important. I can choose to look at life in Europe as a series of daunting, frustrating – and sometimes impossible tasks – or I can look at it as an amazing opportunity that comes with its challenges. Although it’s hard, I try to do the latter. I’ve really had to learn that things are the way they are here, and there is often not much I can do to change it.
Over the past 4 years, I've had to work on this the most. I can't tell you the amount of times I've had this breakdown, declaring with the utmost certainty that I've had enough, I'm a terrible rider and I'm moving back to Australia to live in a cardboard box. Yet, somehow, I make it through and then something amazing happens and I'm back to my usual determined self! I have met so many aspiring riders who move to Germany to try to make it, and in the end they go home. A strong attitude with a positive outlook will help more than you know!
3. You have really HIGH highs, and really LOW lows
I think this one is something all horse people understand. They can be the most amazingly talented and frustrating creatures. While your attitude will make or break you, you cannot always avoid the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with life in another country, and then add in the pressure of riding and competing at a high level!
One day, I find myself incandescently happy with life as I toddle off to work, training or dinner with friends. I soak up the Christmas markets, enjoy the German bakeries and simply LOVE training with my horse every day. Then some days, I will be wallowing in self-pity, crying endlessly into a packet of chocolate cookies whilst I sit on my floor because I’m too OCD to sit on my lounge and mess up my pillows. Training is not right; I had a terrible day at work and it took 7 hours to get somebody to answer my phone calls about the fact that my a**hole of a neighbour broke into my backyard and cut down all my trees. (True story!)
4. Your stress levels definitely increase!
I've realised now, upon looking back, that I never used to suffer much from anxiety or stress when I lived at home. I always thought I did, until I moved to Germany. When I first moved here, the smallest thing stressed me out. If I’m honest, it still does. I remember buying my first car in Germany and having to give myself a pep talk every time I got into the driver’s seat to drive to the supermarket.
YOU CAN DO IT, AMELIA!
The Autobahn with its unlimited speed was a scary place, and everyone was (and still is!) constantly surprised to realise we drive on the other side of the road in Australia. For the first few months, I had to constantly think about where I was driving, try to read road signs, understand traffic and then battle through snowstorms and endless rain on near-constant dark roads. I'm very pleased to say that it's much better now!
I was also beyond anxious at the thought of having to deal with the lady at the checkout in the grocery store and speak German when she bombarded me with questions. I walked for hours looking for items in the store that would be so easy to find at home, learnt the etiquette of the German check-out and am still constantly surprised when you can only pay with cash!
It seems so silly now, as I am very used to driving myself around and have adjusted to the sometimes crazy and maddening rules of German traffic (don’t get me started on the “give-way-to-the-right” thing!). The supermarket experience is still ongoing, though my German has drastically improved!
5. You learn to be flexible
It's no secret that I like routine, and that this has often caused me more trouble than not. Things almost never go to plan here, so I’ve really had to learn to let things go and not get too upset. Traffic or bad weather means I’m almost always caught and later than I originally planned such as the one time I totally missed my class at a competition because I was stuck for 5 hours on the autobahn. I’m often flat out between work, training and full-time study, so my day requires precise timing – that is to say, I can plan as much as I like but everything beyond my control also has to work out.
I find I have to have several plans in place for the day in case one doesn’t work out, or the timing doesn’t match up. It’s entirely normal on a Monday for me to train, jump off Genius and run straight to the car to drive to work and start 15 mins later still smelling like a sweaty horse, complete with breeches, boots and helmet hair. I’m very lucky that I have people around me to help with this, but it has also meant a certain amount of flexibility with the control I give others to look after Genius and help with my day.
I'm also that annoying owner who stops in to the stable on my way home from work (at god only knows what time!) to say hello to Genius, cuddle him and generally annoy him because heaven forbid he didn't get to see me for one day!
5th place in our very first M*
6. It’s hard on your relationships
This is the toughest reality of living in Germany. I’ve kept friendships with some amazing people, but often I find I am missing out on a lot back in Australia simply because I am not there. I’ve lost contact with people who were once close to me, and quite a few became very negative when I moved away and have continued to use any opportunity to bring me down.
Living 17,000 km away is stressful. It’s difficult for me, my family and my husband. A lot of people ask how I manage the long-distance relationship with my husband and honestly, it’s really not easy and it never gets better. We’ve both been hit with the realities of being away from each other a lot, and it’s tough for everyone when I have those days full of tears because there is really nothing they can do from the end of a phone.
I’ve also found that there are those who understand why I am in Germany to ride, and those who don’t. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that my limited availability and accessibility have highlighted who really stick around!
7. You miss home a lot (and that’s okay)
I don’t think I ever really appreciated Australia until I left it behind. Europe always had this grandiose pull, and it’s where I wanted to be. But now, I see small TV ads or pictures outside travel agencies advertising holidays to Australia when I’m trudging through the snow on my way to work, and it instantly makes me sad. The first glimpse of home of that vast landscape of red nothingness out of the small aircraft window as we fly over Western Australia is now my favourite moment of the 30-something hour flight to get home.
Australians have an incredible lifestyle, filled with amazing weather, unique landscapes and easy-going people. It’s something I never thought of until I moved somewhere without it. Although I enjoy most aspects of Germany, sometimes I find myself missing home more than words can say.
First glimpse of home after 15 months away
8. You have friends from all over the world
This is one of the coolest parts of living overseas. I’ve met, and befriended people from all walks of life. Horsey and non-horsey. I’ve got friends from almost everywhere, and even though some of them have returned home or moved on, it’s not been hard to maintain contact with them. It is still unbelievable that I can drive to the Netherlands to have dinner with a friend, visit England and stay with friends or each up every summer with friends that are in California.
Just purely in the horse world, I’ve met incredible people with various goals, horses and riding abilities. I can’t get over how many people I run into now at international competitions, local shows and even in the dreaded supermarket as I am studiously avoiding eye contact with the woman behind the check-out.
9. You miss things you never thought of
I am 100% that weird Australian that travels everywhere with a tin of milo, packet of Butter Menthols and a tub of Vegemite. It’s the little things that you begin to miss simply because you can’t buy them anywhere else. I never actually liked Tim Tams before I moved, and now when people send me a packet, I inhale them before they’ve even left the box they arrived in.
I also never thought I would miss the summer. Those stifling hot days where one minute outside and you’ve landed yourself 3rd degree sunburn on every exposed bit of skin. Wearing short-sleeved shirts and getting a rider tan or riding super early to beat the summer sun is simply not part of my world anymore – and I never thought I’d be without it! I also never appreciated being able to ride outside all year round. The idea of an indoor is amazing, until you can only ride it because it's too cold, frozen or wet for 9 months of the year.
10. Foreign language skills get better… but your English gets worse…
This is frustratingly funny. German is a hard language, and I’ve learnt it primarily over the last four years by using it every day. I’ve made stupid mistakes that had people laughing at me, (to this day, the women in my local bakery refer to me as the "toad girl") and days where my “German Brain” will not function at all. On the flip side, I’ve had days where for the life of me, I cannot speak English.
Part of my job away from riding is teaching Business English and Law, and I think there comes a point where you listen to such poor English on a daily basis, that you start to absorb it through osmosis. I sometimes catch myself making common German-English translation mistakes because, when I do speak English, it’s often to people with limited language skills and I sometimes don’t even realise I’ve done it.
As a positive, my German is now at a point where I can function daily with work, study and training almost fluently in another language. The biggest challenge came when I moved to an all-German stable, and suddenly I was training every day in German where I had learn to translate it on the go in my head as I was riding. It’s one thing to learn a language in general - it’s another to learn it for riding and training.
On a side note, I did survive my very first business meeting in German a few weeks ago...
11. Airports lose their excitement
When I was a child, the thought of heading to the airport and off on another overseas adventure filled me with such excitement that I could hardly sleep. I remember my first ever trip to Europe in 2008, my first trip to China in 2005 and even our first overseas holiday when I was just 5 years old. Since then, I've travelled to a multitude of places, and yet in the last four years, airports have lost the excitement. I now can't sleep for an entirely different reason.
From the moment I smell the aviation fuel, I'm filled with an intense sadness. I feel like I am forever saying goodbye. I've had friends and family come to visit and yet, when it comes time to hug them and tell them I'll see them soon - regardless of the fact that I usually won't see them for the next year - I watch them walk through the gate to security with a profound sense of loneliness.
I head back to the car, avoiding looking at others incase they see the tears, before driving home to my apartment. It's the same apartment that I've lived in - mostly alone - for the past four years, and yet the one thing that greets me when I walk back through the door is the overwhelming quiet. I dread my yearly visit back home because although I miss home terribly, I absolutely despair at the farewell I know will come.
Düsseldorf airport, after another goodbye
It's not all bad! I adore being able to see this everyday on my way to work...