Samantha Ley is an American who moved to Germany with her husband when he received a post at the university in Bielefeld, a small cosy town in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Region. She teaches English and is working as a freelance writer and editor.
Read more about the country in the Expat Arrivals guide to Germany or read more expat experiences in Germany.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Connecticut, the USA
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Bielefeld, Germany
Q: How long have you lived here?
A: We've been here since September 2011.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, with my husband.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband is working as a post-doc at the university here. I am teaching English at the university and I also work as a freelance writer and editor.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Bielefeld, how’s the quality of life?
A: Bielefeld is small and cozy, and it’s nice to have a university culture here.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss the convenience of having stores open on the weekends, and having a car to make it easier to travel. However, the city does have buses and a tram system, and we use the tram to get into the city centre and go shopping.
Q: Is Bielefeld safe?
About living in Germany
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Bielefeld as an expat?
A: We’ve only lived near the university and not in any of the suburbs.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Germany compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Food is much cheaper, though transportation and rent is more expensive.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I don’t know very many of the locals. Though I have heard it said that the locals don't come off as the most friendly towards foreigners, they are generally willing to help. I've never had a problem - everyone I've met has been very patient with me. I’ve joined a group of expat women here and I’m also friends with other international students. I think that there is a relatively large expat community here just because of the university. There are also many communities here from Russia and Turkey, among other countries.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Germany?
A: Not really. I still feel like I have a long way to go! It can be initially difficult as people are not very outgoing and you have to figure things out for yourself. In my case, I think it's more that I'm not working at a full-time job here and so I don't have the immediate connections that come with that kind of community.
About working in Germany
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Germany?
A: I don’t have a work permit because I don’t have a set contract. For foreigners to be able get permits and work, they usually need to have a special position made just for them, with an associated contract that is presented in order to get a work permit.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Germany, is there plenty of work?
A: It’s relatively easy to find work teaching English. There are more than a few companies that hire freelance English teachers and experience is not always necessary.
Q: How does the work culture in Germany differ from home?
A: If you have a day off, you *really* take the day off. It’s not normal to write or respond to emails on national holidays or on days when you are specifically out of the office.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: It’s been difficult that we don’t speak much German, but there are departments at the university to help us figure things out. He also has his research cohort.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Germany?
A: It’s of course more expensive than what we are used to paying, but it is relatively easy to see a doctor. Most tests and procedures are covered by your compulsory monthly payment, and most medicines cost just 5 euros at the Apotheke. I believe that our insurance will reimburse us for things like yoga and fitness classes. Germany is also very open to natural remedies and holistic care, so it’s nice to know that that is an option. Because this is a smaller town, it’s not guaranteed that all nurses and doctors will speak English, so it’s good to do some research or ask when scheduling an appointment.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: The most difficult thing about moving here has been getting oriented and knowing what information we need to have. You won’t generally have people coming to your door and telling you what you need to know when you arrive. It’s important to research what you want to know and identify who can answer your questions. People are very nice and helpful when you make it clear that you need help; it’s just that you have to reach out first and get yourself involved.
~ Interview April 2012
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