As of today, I have lived in Düsseldorf, Germany for one full year.
Despite my previous setbacks, I returned to Germany last February for another shot at building a new life. When I got to my AirBnB sublet in the Düsseldorf Rath neighborhood, I barely unpacked. I was already bracing myself for having to find somewhere else to lay my head, or worse yet another flight back to Cleveland. Unlike the elation and hope I was bursting with when I had landed in Hamburg – and Germany – for the very first time back in August of 2016, this time around I was worried, scarred by past disappointments and a rather murky view of the future.
But among the many twists and turns I hadn’t counted on were the people who would enter my life.
To my surprise, I discovered an English-speaking creative writing group which was really nothing short of a miracle. This would become my beloved oasis, my Land of Misfit Toys. Here I found my people, a wonderfully gifted, diverse and fun group of writers around whom I can just be my silly, weird self without fear of judgement. We bounce our quirky thoughts off of each other and are always open to any sort of crazy shit that comes flowing out of our brains. In this country full of such stern, serious people, they have been my godsend.
Then there’s Girl Gone International, a women-only expat group headed by my very good friend Mieke, a Dutch-German from the Netherlands who lives here with her sister Wiebke, another very good friend of mine. My first night meeting up with these ladies, I found myself drinking and laughing with women from all kinds of countries and backgrounds like we had known each other for years. With every GGI event I’ve attended since then – whether it’s drinks or brunch or Bollywood dancing – I’ve made more amazing friends and discovered more favorite places in this city than I could have ever imagined.
Even with these new people in my life, however, the anxiety that was knowing I still had no visa haunted me. Frustrated, I lamented that I would more than likely be forced to leave them as quickly as we met.
Life is funny that way, though. Just when I was fearing that I wouldn’t make it after everything I had been through, I was thrown yet another curve ball – one that was actually in my favor.
My boss finally handed me the work contract I needed to obtain my visa. And after long lines at the Ausländerbehörde, interviews with stone-faced German officers, waiting, nail-biting, crying, drinking, and more paper than any one person should ever deem necessary in the digital age, I finally had my three year residence permit in my hand. Soon after this came my current apartment in the middle of the city.
After a year and a half of bouncing around, living out of suitcases and feeling like I couldn’t really get comfortable anywhere, I was finally home.
I wrote the following back in November of 2015, right after I had made the bold decision to leave my hometown and everything I had ever known behind to find my blank slate:
“I’m jumping in knowing that it will be rough at first, I will be completely alone in a strange country fumbling to adapt to a culture similar-yet-different than mine. I will struggle to understand my neighbors, and I may unintentionally piss a few people off with my American-esque quirks and propensities. There will be times when I will feel achingly lonely, homesick, and wonder what the hell I have done.
But I also know this; I will not only survive, I will thrive. Because if anyone can throw themselves into a strange environment and make it the best decision I have ever made, I can.”
This excerpt has proven to be more than a little prophetic (I still get yelled at by old people for jaywalking), but more importantly I was absolutely right. I didn’t just survive. I forged new friendships with the most incredible people, slowly built back my stability, and eventually learned how to live in this odd little country.
I made it. I’ve thrived, and will continue to do so. And I have to say, I am just a little smug toward those who were so certain that I’d never do it – whether it was the move to Germany itself or sticking it out. They doubted me, underestimating my gumption or competence or determination, whatever fed their negativity. I have but a single message for those people:
As for everyone who offered me encouragement, love, shoulders to cry on, ears to talk off, brains to pick and invaluable advice throughout this entire adventure and continue to do so, you have meant more to me than I can put into words. I am boundlessly grateful to have you in my life.