Who are you?
Hey! My name is Jenna, and I’m a Canadian-born expat living and working in Düsseldorf, Germany. Germany has been my home for the last three years, and while I’ve visited over 50 countries, Germany is one of the only places I’ve been able to call home. My longest expat experience, second to Germany, was a half-year school placement in Thailand back in 2012, and a four-month visit to India back in 2013.Today, I’m a full-time Content Creator and Social Media Manager working for a variety of tourism organizations. On the side, I run a popular online English language publication called Life in Düsseldorf, a site that brings in over 20,000 readers a month looking for information about life in Düsseldorf – playing, eating, living, learning and working.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I guess you could say I moved abroad in 2011 when I first started on my stint of never-ending travel. I spent two months in South Africa and from there continued on my journey through South America, South East Asia and Europe for the last seven years.
I met my boyfriend (now husband) on my very first adventure in South Africa at a hostel along the Garden Route. So, the real reason why I moved abroad was for love. After a few years of long distance and travel, I was ready to settle in and see how I liked his home country, Germany. I loved it.
What challenges did you face during the move?
What challenges didn’t I face? To be honest, I’ve been here for almost four years now and I’m still facing challenges on a daily basis. I think no matter where you decide to move, the learning experience never stops.
My initial challenges were paperwork and language related. In Germany, you’re required to fill out a lot of paperwork, and most of it cannot be translated into the English language (I still don’t understand legal German for the life of me). While it’s quite easy to get around speaking English in cities like Düsseldorf, settling down is a lot harder when you don’t know the German language. Small things like getting a cell phone, setting up a bank account and registering in the city can turn into big tasks when faced with the awkward language barrier.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Over the last few years, I’ve seen Düsseldorf grow from a couple of Facebook groups and meetups for expats to a full-blown internationally focused city. Today, there are countless events, groups and organizations supporting expats and interacting in the English language. Düsseldorf has truly become an amazing place to live as an expat. Dare I even say the ‘new Berlin’?!
What do you like about life where you are?
Life in Germany as a whole has really made me feel like I’m situated in the center of the map. I mean that quite literally. I feel like no matter where in the world I’d like to visit, I can hop on a plane and be there much faster (and cheaper) than I would if I were still living in Toronto, Canada.
In Düsseldorf particularly, my favorite part about life here is that it’s a small city (approx. 600,000) with a big city feel. You can get anywhere in the city by tram within 15-20 minutes, yet the number of events and amazing things to do in the city is much like New York or Sydney.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
That’s a tough question. I mean, on the one hand, I find myself complaining on a daily basis about ‘how much friendlier the staff are in Canada’ or ‘how no one says thank you when I hold the door open’, but on the other hand, every single thing I’ve disliked about living as an expat in Germany has changed. It’s all about adaptation. The more I open myself up to understanding the German culture, the more I grow to respect their values and norms.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The number one cultural difference between Canada and Germany is the way people interact with one another.
In Germany, people are much more formal and reserved than I was used to. In Canada, we’ll say hello to one another on the streets, thank the bus driver for the ride and open our arms open wide when meeting new people. In German cities, you keep to yourself on the streets, you don’t need to thank the bus driver, and making new friends is like peeling an onion layer by layer … it takes time. However, when you do make friends in Germany, they are friends for life. I find this extremely special.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Absolutely love it! I’m vegetarian, so of course the pork knuckle and Bratwurst sandwiches aren’t necessarily my go-to foods, but the quality of the food in Germany is phenomenal compared to in Canada. I spend about 50% less on groceries here, and while I eat a lot more (because the food is delicious in Germany), I’m actually eating a lot healthier because of the fresh food options here.
And of course, nothing compares to German beer and wine!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would suggest that anyone following in my footsteps take the time to research where they are headed before they go. Join all the Facebook groups and Meetups that you can, start interacting and asking questions to prepare yourself for arrival, and get in touch with city blogs (like mine, Life in Düsseldorf).
Adjusting to life in a new city isn’t going to be easy, so don’t expect it to be. Just know that once you get through the settling in stage, life gets a whole lot more fun!
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future? Well, I have a baby on the way (due September 2018), and I’ve purchased my first house in Düsseldorf, Germany. I’m planning on spending the next five to 10 years building up the Life in Düsseldorf brand and helping expats just like myself get settled into their new lives in the city.
If you’re reading this and have been thinking of relocating to Düsseldorf or the North Rhine-Westphalia region, give me a shout if you have any questions!