Expat living: Katrin – from Germany to the USA

For many the main reason to learn English is their dream of moving to an English-speaking country. But what is it like to make the jump abroad? How hard is it really to suddenly speak English only every day?

We’ve caught up with Katrin, who writes the blog Land Of Candy Canes. A German native, she moved to the US two years ago. Here she tells us about the challenges she faced, the cultural differences between both countries, and she shares her thoughts on speaking English as her main language.

Tell us a little about yourself
Katrin: My name is Katrin, I am a German native but I have been living in Ohio since 2011. I will complete my degree in psychology soon and in my free time I love to read, travel, go to flea markets, be creative, spend time with animals, and cook.

What was your motivation for moving to the US?
Katrin: My now-husband David and I had a long distance relationship before we got married. We traveled back and forth but after a while we decided to get married. I packed my stuff and moved to Ohio. I had never even thought about moving to the United States before I met David. That’s how life goes, I guess!

What was it like to suddenly live in an English-speaking country? And did you speak English before you moved?
Katrin: I learned English at school and always loved the language. I had English speaking pen-pals and watched shows and movies in English. But it is completely different when you suddenly move to an English-speaking country with no people around who speak your mother-tongue.

I am still learning new things. There are phrases you just don’t learn at school. But I have never had any major problems. I think most people can understand me and when I don’t know a specific word, then I try to explain what I mean. Americans are very friendly and patient, that’s for sure.

Are there any aspects of speaking English every day you still struggle with?
Katrin: Well, there are some words that just sound stupid when I say them. At least in my opinion. Like “groceries”. I don’t know why, but it always sounds wrong. I try to avoid words like that as much as I can. I also have a dictionary app on my phone which helps me when I hear or read an unknown word.

Is there anything that strikes you as really strange about life in the US – strange habits, foods, traditions?
Katrin: There are definitely some differences between Germany and the US, but I love to discover them. One thing I struggle with is that Americans love their air conditioning. You can go to a movie theater on a hot summer’s day and you can be sure that you’ll freeze. I always take a cardigan, a scarf and warm socks with me when I go to see a movie!

There are also some eating habits that I find strange. Chips for lunch for example. For me, chips are a snack which I eat in the evening while I sit on the couch and watch a movie. Americans love to eat chips for lunch. With their burgers for example, that was really weird for me to see.

Also going to a restaurant is a completely different experience in America. First of all you need to wait to be seated. That is not the case in Germany. I was used to just walking in and choosing the table I wanted. In America you wait until a waitress brings you to your table.

Waiting is another thing I am not used to in Germany. When I went to a restaurant for the first time in America I had to wait 1.5 hours for a table. I wanted to just go somewhere else but David told me that’s normal. Sometimes I also feel a little rushed in American restaurants. In Germany you take your time to eat and have a coffee afterwards. In America you sometimes get your check without even asking for it.

Is there anything typically German you miss?
Katrin: Other than Rhabarberkuchen (rhubarb cake) I miss German bread. The American “bread” is just not my thing. It is white and soft and tasteless compared to German bread. I might have to start baking my own bread! Also German beer is way better than the American beer, but thankfully I can find my favorite German beer (Bitburger) in some American stores. Lots of stores have a section where they sell stuff from foreign countries, so you are able to find some German groceries.

Do you think being bi-lingual has and will be an advantage in your life or for your career?
Katrin: It definitely is an advantage. It never hurts to know more than one language.

Would you have any top tips for people dreaming about moving to the US?
Katrin: Getting a greencard can be a long and tiring process.It can be very frustrating because there are so many forms you have to fill out, you have to go to a medical exam and an interview. This can take a while so you will spend a lot of time filling out forms and waiting for letters. You can find a lot of advice in expat forums. That helped me a lot. They not only offer you help with the forms, you can also find people to talk to about your problems because they have all been through the same process.

images: Retailmania, JasonParis