Who are you?
My name is Katie Jorgensen. I am a 30 year old, mother of two, wife, and lover of travel. I currently am a stay at home mom. I have a background in English Literature with a two year degree and hope to go back to college in the future. I enjoy the challenge of learning a new language and find this period of living abroad to be highly rewarding (the amount you are able to learn in such a short time is amazing). In my free time I like to bike around the city, take pictures, meet with friends, bake desserts, spend time with my kids, and learn new things.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
We moved to Dresden, a city in Eastern Germany as a family of four last June. In about a week we will have lived here for one year. We moved here for a Post Doctorate fellowship my husband received and have a contract for minimum of two years and have been offered a longer contract. Depending on the work available in our home state we could end up signing another contract. We had visited Dresden the previous year before we moved here and found it to our liking. We looked at a few Universities before we settled on the one here in Dresden. We had always wanted to travel and living in Germany gave us the perfect opportunity for that because to travel to other countries can be as little as a two hour drive.
What challenges did you face during the move?
We had a hard time deciding what to take with us and what to leave behind. We ended up taking very little and wished that we had brought more, especially for the children. It was challenging packing around all of our luggage and a stroller. I would definitely recommend checking bags you don’t need or if you find a place before you move, sending as much as possible by mail. Also, we had a really short layover and had a hard time making our next flight. During this time we lost one of our important bags that had most of our daughter’s belongings in it. Getting it back took about a month and lots and lots of telephone calls.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We found our current apartment through a co-worker of my husband. It was the first one we looked at and we decided to keep it because it was so close to his work. Also, when you don’t speak the language well it can be very difficult to find an apartment. We contacted the bishop of our church who said that he didn’t know of a better deal so we figured we were pretty lucky with the one we were hooked up with. We also decided on the current apartment because it was a great location next to work, local schools, and transport. I did look at some apartments online but found it difficult to get into personal contact with anyone.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are many expats in Dresden and groups set up to help with the integration process. At a local store I was also given information about how to connect with others who spoke my native language. There is also and International Women’s Group and various play groups that have been a wonderful way for me and my children to integrate, get answers to questions, and just to have fun. There is one International School in Dresden where I have also been put in touch with other expats who are going through the same circumstances and who offer great support.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
At first it was very hard to make friends here. The culture here was more closed off in the beginning that what I was used to. For half of our 1st year here I found this to be quite difficult. The relationship felt very formal and confusing. After I started integrating and speaking more German I found my relationships to be satisfying. I find that the German people like when you make the effort to speak their language even if you don’t speak perfect. I have a few close relationships with locals and find that they are incredibly trustworthy and kind.
What do you like about life where you are?
I honestly like so much about Dresden. I love that people here take care of their belongings. Things are very clean and well maintained. With this I find that people are also respectful of my property. There is a great sense of thoughtfulness about the impact you are having on the environment and many places and opportunities to recycle. I also find that I have to work a little harder to get my groceries (for example bagging them myself) and find this helps me appreciate what I have more and be more mindful about the items I buy. I love learning the German language and there are many great places to do so. My daughter attends an amazing school which has really cool after school programs. I like that the focus here isn’t so much on material possessions as in being a productive member of society.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I really don’t like that I am so far away from family. It can be difficult to find a babysitter that I know well enough to trust with my children. The formality in the German language tends to confuse me (you have a formal and informal way of speaking). With the formality it can also at times feel emotionally cold. There is a lot of paperwork involved in different aspects of German life that can get overwhelming and at times can seem pointless. It can be hard to find a school/pre-school that you trust since there are so many children in Dresden waiting for a place.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would advise people to really learn as much of the language as you can before you move. Have a concrete plan of what you plan to do once you get here. Get as much done before you move as possible. Make sure you have all documents you need (birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.) and certified copies. If you can I find it better to find a place before you actually move and if possible mail your belongings beforehand. Find a place to live that is convenient for all members of your family. A GPS is a lifesaver. Even if you don’t plan on driving I would highly recommend it. Europe is a place of foot travel and the roads can be confusing even to Germans. Also, be prepared for and understand culture shock and maybe it won’t be quite so “shocking”.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan on staying here for another year and we will see where my husband’s work takes him after that. For this next year here I plan on taking more German classes and certifying at a level that will allow me get a better degree in the future and doing more home study. My son will probably go to a Kindergarten in the near future and I plan on finding a part time job that will leave some time to catch up on hobbies. There are many English teaching jobs available but knowing adequate German seems important. After Germany when we go back to the United States I plan on attending school and hope to teach English. We would like to start saving up for a house and put down some permanent roots.