Chris Olson, Wuppertal

Who are you?

My name is Chris Olson and I’m a self-employed English trainer in Wuppertal, Germany.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Germany (from Cincinnati, Ohio) in late 2013.There were several reasons that influenced my decision to move abroad. However, the main reason was to experience a different culture and lifestyle. About two years later, I decided that I wanted to stay.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Ha! Where do I start? Before I moved to Germany, I had sold my car so I had a good amount of money saved in my bank account. This financed my first five months in Germany. I started by taking an intensive language course to learn German. It wasn’t until the end of the course that I faced a few challenges. I found a language school which agreed to hire me as a freelancer, but the paperwork was difficult. I had to get private health insurance and I also needed a tax registration number. The foreigners’ office wasn’t really that helpful in the process. Luckily, the owner of the language school went with me and helped me with the process (which can be difficult for new expats in Germany). My advice to anyone moving to Germany would be to read up on the processes before you move and then find someone who can help you go through them.

Are there many other expats in your area?

I meet a lot of other expats from language schools. However, most of my friends are German. I would say there is a good number of expats in my area, but you have to take the time to network and meet them.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love my job. I find teaching English to be very rewarding. Outside of my work, I like the culture of my area. I have made good friendships and found support through my network of contacts. I also like that even four years later, I still learn new things about foreign cultures.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I miss my friends and family back home. I visit home about once a year and there are a few times on occasion, where I get homesick.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

I think the biggest cultural difference that I have experienced is the overall communication styles in Germany. Germans tend to be more direct and logical with their approach to communicating. So, whereas Americans prefer to say things like “How are you?” as a greeting, the Germans simply say “Hello”. This may seem like a small difference at first, but it can lead to a few challenges for Americans. I’ll give an example.

I remember once saying “How are you?” to a customer service representative at a local clothing store and the staff literally looked at me as if I made some type of big taboo. My friend told me later that the sales rep probably thought I was trying to flirt with her. Awkward!

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

I love the food in Germany. Germans are big meat eaters, so I feel right at home. They also have delicious bread which I love!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Learn from my mistakes. When I first moved to Germany, I didn’t hold on to all my papers (and trust me, there are a LOT) and I didn’t fully research all the processes for taxes and government registrations. Before you move, do research and keep every sheet of paper organized. There is a good chance you will need it later. Finding a German friend to accompany you to your appointments will also make your life much easier.

What are your plans for the future?

As of now, I’m pretty happy with teaching. I want to keep doing this while working on my blog to help other teachers in Germany.

You can keep up to date with Chris' adventures on his blog.

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