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An interview with John - an American expat living in Germany

Updated 26 May 2015

John is an American expat living in GermanyJohn Roman is an American expat living in Germany. He moved to the town of Bielefeld to join his German partner and is now working in the marketing and communications industry.

About John 

Q: Where are you originally from? 

A: Cleveland, Ohio in the USA

Q: Where are you living now? 

A: Bielefeld, Germany

Q: When did you move here? 

A: February 2013

Q: Did you move with family? 

A: With my partner

Q: Why did you move; what do you do? 

A: I moved to Germany to be with my partner, who I met in the US during his job placement in Cleveland. Before his American visa expired he asked if I would come with him to Germany, and I agreed. Before moving I landed a communications/marketing job for a German organisation.

About Bielefeld

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? 

A: Bielefeld is a mid-size city, much like Cleveland. Located in the heart of the Teutoburg Forest, it is a mixture of city life and nature. I am definitely a city person, but enjoy being able to escape into nature and enjoy the countryside, and both options are easily possible here. With major cities like Berlin, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Hamburg all being within three hours away, I think Bielefeld is perfectly located.

Q: Any negatives? 

A:  In the beginning it was very difficult to meet people and make friends. The Germans in this region are typically considered to be less friendly or outgoing as in other regions, but once you manage to establish a friendship, they are usually very strong bonds. 

Q: Is the city safe? 

A: Bielefeld is a very safe city. I have never experienced any bad situations living here and rarely ever hear about bad things happening. Because Bielefeld is a mid-size city surrounded by forests and smaller villages/towns, the people have more of a small town mentality when it comes to keeping an eye out for one another.

Q: How would you rate the public transport? 

A: Public transport is very convenient here. The city has a well-built bus and street-train system connecting all the key neighbourhoods and suburbs to the city centre. I don’t own a car and don’t have a need for one. My partner does have a car, but he only uses it for work, or when we have to make a large grocery trip and don’t want to carry crates or beverages home.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?

A: I have yet to really need to use it, but I feel at ease knowing it is available for everyone and myself. Most prescriptions only cost 5 EUR to fill and, as a person with asthma and allergies, that is a life-saver on my bank account. Most doctors speak English, or at least some English, and are always willing to help.

About living in Germany

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Bielefeld as an expat?

A:  I love living in the city centre. As a city person, I like to be close to everything. Living in the city centre can be pricey and parking can be difficult to find, but you won’t need a car living there. Everything from restaurants, theaters, clubs, concerts, museums to grocery stores, etc. are reachable within a five to 10 minute walk – or simply hop on a street train. Two other great neighbourhoods I always hear people talking about are Siggie on the west side and the university neighbourhood. 

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?

A: The cost of housing is fair. It is much less expensive to live here, as opposed to Cologne or Hamburg. With all the money you save living here, you can better use that money to travel. 

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? 

A: The cost of living balances out. Groceries are less expensive, and so is cable and Internet, but clothes are more expensive, and you have to pay a television/radio fee, due to radio and television being a public service. The main noticeable difference is the taxes. Taxes in general are higher in Germany and your insurance costs are grouped together in this large sum. So, before you look at your first pay cheque you might want to sit down, as it can be rather alarming! 

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: At first, the locals are very reserved and do not usually talk with strangers. I broke into circles by meeting other expats/transplants and joining a volleyball group. The rule of thumb is, you make friends by being introduced to people through your friends, but this is hard to do if you’re new and have no friends, so joining a group or sport/activity helps break the ice. I now have a healthy mix of local friends and other expat friends. It’s nice to have a balance.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: No, not at first. As I mentioned before, the locals in this region are a bit more reserved, but once you do get them out of their shells, they are wonderful. It is also difficult making friends in general when you’re not in an environment that forces you to interact with your peers, i.e. school, military, field-work, etc. As a college graduate, working in a small office, it was hard to make friends, but I eventually found some great people. 

About working in Germany

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: I managed to find a job before moving and secured a visa before I arrived. The only difficulty with visiting the immigration office (Ausländerbehorde) is that no one spoke English there, and at the time, I spoke very limited German. I brought someone with me to translate, which was very helpful. Be prepared to make several trips if you haven’t done your homework, as German public offices are very bureaucratic and you need to have the right papers, for the right office, with the right signatures/stamps before they give you anything.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

A: I think the economy is very strong in Germany. There are many opportunities for employment and Germany is currently an economic leader in the European Union (EU), even offering many employment and training programs for expats looking to come to Germany.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: The work culture is very different from in the US. There is usually a separation of work and private life, which when you’re new and looking to make friends, can be a bit frustrating, as Americans are more accustomed to making work colleagues and having outings (happy hour, etc.). The nice thing however is that the hourly work week is less than in the US, with full-time being 38.5 hours a week. Also, when you are off from work, or on vacation, then you are really off from work or on vacation. The other great thing is all the benefits available for employees, like unlimited sick days (with a doctor’s note) and paid maternal AND paternal leave!

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move? 

A: No, we coordinated our move on our own.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: My biggest piece of advice is to immerse yourself into the culture. Learn the language, learn the culture and traditions. Don’t be afraid to try new things; make mistakes. Germans are always willing to help you, especially if you are trying and making an effort to learn their language and culture. There are a ton of free language programs/groups, so don’t be afraid. 

~ Interviewed in May 2015

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