Who are you?
My name is Annegret Bertsch and I just recently repatriated back to my home country, Germany, after spending the last few years in China and America. During my time abroad I realized how challenging the expat experience can be and I decided to become an ICF accredited expat coach. I am now supporting expats, accompanying spouses and third culture kids during and also after their time abroad, so that they don´t have any regrets and can make the most of their time abroad.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Our expat adventure started 11 years ago when my husband got the opportunity to work abroad for his company.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Moving to the USA was not really a problem especially since I have family who were living there, and I was already familiar with most traditions and customs, but moving to China was a different story. I experienced culture shock and I had to learn to adjust and to find my place in this new country. I really struggled with the bad air and people always said: You knew about that before you left. But knowing about something and experiencing it are two different things, right?
How did you find somewhere to live?
We were very fortunate because my husband’s company supported us by finding a place to live which made everything so much easier.
Are there many other expats in your area?
We used to live in Beijing and yes, there are many expats especially in the area where we lived. It was really fascinating to meet people from all over the world and to get to know them and their traditions. A truly rewarding experience.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
In America we could fit right in because we are able to speak the language and we found a great community, many local friends that we are still in close contact with. In China, due to the language barrier, it was almost impossible to connect with the local people.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
In America you get the feeling that everything is possible. Everyone is very optimistic, and they tend to focus on what goes well and not so much on what could go wrong. The downside is that people are not as open to improve the status quo. I often heard the phrase “We have always done it like that” and usually that was the end of the conversation. I have to add that we used to live in the South and the mentality is different than let´s say in San Francisco.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
As hard as it is, you need to figure out how you want to use this time in the best possible way. What do you want to look back on once you are on a plane leaving this place for good? What do you want to focus on? What is important to you? But in general, I would say, be open, curious, enjoy the adventure while it lasts and don´t take anything for granted.
What are your plans for the future?
I guess this is an area where I changed. Before my expat adventure I would have had a plan, but now I am just open to what is next. But one thing is for sure, I started to work with expats as an expat coach while living abroad because I saw the need and I would love to continue to support expats in their own endeavor of living internationally.