Tuesday 7th February 2012

Expat Interviews: An Education in German

Today we meet Dana Foltice, an American expatriate who moved from her home in Jacksonville, Florida to Borken, Germany so that her husband could pursue a PhD in Finance at the University of Münster. With a husband that studies hard and also plays semi-professional basketball for a local German basketball club, how has Dana assimilated into life in Germany and what does she really think of the people she has met there?

Where are you currently living?
Borken, Germany but we plan to move to Münster, Germany this spring to be closer to my husband's job.

Where in the world were you born?
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Why did you move overseas and why did you choose your host country?
Right after college my husband and I lived in Germany for 8 months so he could play basketball and ever since we've wanted to move back. When he decided to pursue a PhD in Finance we researched a lot of international programs in Germany and he was accepted to the University of Münster in the fall of 2010.

How long have you been living in your host country?
We have been here for 1.5 years

Who did you relocate with?
Myself, my husband, our 2.5-year-old son, and our 8-year-old Golden-Doodle dog.

Was it hard to get a visa for your host country that was appropriate to your circumstances?
Getting the appropriate visa to our circumstances was definitely challenging. There was a tremendous amount of paperwork all in German - a language we're still striving to learn - and we got stuck in what Germans call "The Devil's Circle", meaning the government offices kept telling us we needed to go to a different office for a signature or a different form, then when we went to that office they'd send us right back to the first office. We went around and around like that for a while until we finally got it right.

What is the medical care like in your host country?
The medical care in Germany is really good. My son's pediatrician is excellent and our family doctor's are good too. Co-pays are either non-existant or less than 10 Euros, prescriptions for children are free, and prescriptions for adults are reasonable. Even our vet bill for our dog is relatively inexpensive compared to in America.

Do you need medical insurance and, if so, how much is it?
Yes, medical insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Germany. We get coverage through my husband's school/work, although I don't know how much it is.

How do you make your living in your host country?
One of the best things about the international PhD programs here in Germany is that the PhD students are also employees of the school and are paid enough to live on. When researching PhD programs (at home and abroad) we were really attracted to the international programs here in Germany for that very reason. Had my husband chosen a school in America, I would have had to go back to work to support us while he went to school, but here I can continue to do some freelance writing while being a stay-at-home-mom.

Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
We are learning German, although the language is very difficult. I've taken a few classes at our local adult education center and my husband has learned a tremendous amount at work, but we still have a long way to go. If you plan to stay in Germany for more than a vacation, I do think it is essential to know some basic German. Being able to read signs, ask simple questions and have basic conversations with people not only makes life easier, but it's essential to making friends and feeling more at home in a foreign country.

Are there any local customs, laws or traditions that it is important for potential expatriates to be aware of and adhere to?
One thing that took us a while to get used to was everything being closed on Sundays. It doesn't seem like this would be a big deal, but it's easy to take for granted the 24/7 accessibility of retail in America and forget that it's not like that in other countries, especially Germany.

Do you ever get homesick?
Yes, we get homesick sometimes but not as much as we used to. We've been here for long enough that when we were in America over Christmas I found myself actually homesick for Germany.

How long do you plan to remain in your host country?
We should be here for about 5 years total.

Have you purchased a property in your host country or do you rent?
We plan to be renters for the entire duration of time that we live here. Knowing that our time living in Germany is finite, it didn't make sense to purchase a home knowing we'd only live here for around 5 years.

What is the cost of housing like in your host country?
The housing market is different here than in America and is less prone to bubbles and speculation, so the prices remain more stable. When German's purchase a home, they plan to live there for a long, long time and the concept of being a "move-up buyer" is foreign to them. It's very expensive to move, especially for renters, so people try to stay put as long as they can. Like in every country, the closer you want to live to the center of town -whether it's a big city or a small village - the more expensive the home will be.

What is the cost of living like in your host country?
The cost of food and consumer goods (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) is really inexpensive. Friends and family who've come to visit us have been blown away by the low prices of produce and other goods compared to America.

What do you think about the locals?
The local German people are very nice and we've made a lot of friends here. It is true, however, that as a culture they are very reserved and disciplined, much more so than Americans. It is rare to see a group of Germans being loud, obnoxious or boisterous in a crowd. They are very respectful of the people around them.

What are the three things you like the most about your host country?
The thing I love the most about living here is the close proximity to everything. There are grocery stores, schools, parks, and shops all within walking distance or a short bike ride to our home. We don't have a car and because of the close proximity and public transportation we don't need one. There is a lot for family things to do here. There are dozens of nearby bike trails to other villages, castles, and parks which we really enjoy using. Larger cities are just a short bus or train ride away and are so much fun to enjoy and explore. It really feels like a "family-centric" country with lots of things to do for people of all ages. German's really like their festivals and we've had so much fun participating in them too. From the famous Christmas Markets to Karneval to Oktoberfest, it seems like every month there is a holiday that calls for massive celebration and gatherings in the town square. The community always really comes together and it's tons of fun.

What are the three things you like the least?
Not speaking the language fluently makes it really difficult to make new friends. We've been lucky to have people show us around and get us signed up for activities with other stay-at-home-moms so I could get out and meet people, and if we didn't have them I don't know how I ever would have learned about different groups to join.There are a few favorite food items here that we can't find - cheddar cheese, bagels and Cheerios - and we miss those dearly. It's quite costly to travel back to America to see our friends and family. We wish we could get back and visit more often, but three cross-Atlantic plane tickets can get pretty steep.

Do you have any tips for our readers about living in your host country?
Learn the language and embrace the culture and you'll love living in Germany!

If you would like to learn more about the trials and tribulations of life in Germany, please do check out the Foltice family blog: www.foltice.blogspot.com. It contains a great insight into life in Germany and covers a wide range of topics from how to deal with a barfing dog through to tips for eating at a restaurant in German. It's a great read, check it out.

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