When I told people I was quitting my job, leaving everything I know, and moving to a city I had never visited before in another country that speaks a language I only speak poorly, I often got a surprised deer in the headlights look. It sounded crazy, or so people kept telling me. This was almost always followed up with some form of “Wow, you’re brave! I could never do that!” or “Are you excited?”
I really didn’t know how to respond to either of those. For me, this move isn’t as crazy and bold as everyone else is telling me it is. I’ve never really much cared for the concept of countries. I think they’re old world concepts and artificial distinctions. I consider myself a citizen of the planet, and the internet, more than I consider myself a citizen of the United States. As such, my world is a much smaller neighborhood. I feel moving to Germany is no more as drastic and bold of a move than moving to another state.
Now is the perfect time for me to do this. I turned 26 last month. I’m not going to be young for much longer. I have no debt, no children, no goldfish that needs feeding. I’ve been trying to cut down on my possessions because as Chuck Palahniuk said through the character of Tyler Durden in Fight Club “The things you own end up owning you.” I’m very fortunate to be in this position in my life where I have that ability and the means (barely) to move to another country and have an adventure.
I decided to move to Berlin rather suddenly. This isn’t unusual for me. Every now and then I just hit upon an idea out of the blue and decide to do it. In the past I’ve just decided to go live in the UK for a summer studying archaeology, I’ve decided to get into IT despite a degree in history, and on two separate occasions I’ve decided to just take off for a week or so and go on solo adventures to Alaska and then to California. I had things I wanted to do and I just decided I would do them. Things kind of just fell into place. I think my trick is to keep focused on the end goal and not fret over every little detail that goes into making it happen. “Don’t miss the forest for the trees” if you will. I think it also helps to plan big. I find that if you set a lofty goal and really try to achieve it, it’s easier to achieve smaller, yet still independently impressive, goals along the way that you might not have achieved had you set your sights lower.
That being said, I did plenty of fretting over individual issues while planning this move. Getting into the EU is difficult unless you’re fleeing from roving death squads wielding machetes. Sure you can go vacation there, but moving permanently is another story. The two most common ways of getting in are either A) having highly specialized skills in a technical field to the point that a European company will spend thousands of dollars to sponsor you, or B) become a student.
Since I’m not yet at a technical level where a company would be willing to sponsor me, my only option was to become a student, but even here there were some roadblocks. The most common tract for people enter the EU to be students is to attend graduate school. Many universities even have graduate programs taught in English (it being the lingua Franca). Undergraduate programs, however, are almost always taught in the native language of the country where the program is located. These are more focused on the country’s own native population and not necessarily foreigners.
My problem was that I have a degree in history, but I want to study computer science. You can’t jump diagonally from a bachelor’s in a humanities to a masters in a science. They have different foundational skills. Thus getting into a graduate program taught in English was not an option for me. If I was to become a student, I’d have to enroll in another bachelor’s program. Here there was an additional roadblock. In order to even apply for the bachelor’s program I need to be able to demonstrate a B2 level proficiency in German, a proficiency I don’t currently have. And so I have the following situation:
I need to move to Germany in order to learn German, so I can then apply to be a student and get accepted into an undergraduate degree program, so I can then get a student visa and stay in Germany. Sounds crazy, right? Perhaps, but I’m just going to do it.
I’ve planned trips to far away locations before. I love working out the logistics of it. I enjoy being able to drill down in detail what I’m going to take with me, where I’m going to go, what I’m going to do, and when. That being said, planning a move to another country is an entirely different beast than planning a week long excursion. I am planning on going there and staying. It is like I am establishing a personal colony. I need to stock my ship accordingly. I need to take all the gear I would need in order to plant roots and build a life in another location. I’m very much reminded of the game Oregon Trail that I played while in elementary school. My favorite part was always picking out my supplies and crew members. I’d fret over the pros and cons of picking one item over another and how it might impact our chances for survival. I think this tendency continues into any of video game I play now where the player has the ability to swap out gear and compare stats of various items. This way of thinking has spilled over into my real life packing attempts.
Out of everything that I own, I’ve gone through and carefully selected items that I want to keep. Of those, I’ve then gone through and selected which items I want to take to Germany and which ones I want to leave with my parents. Of the items I want to take to Germany, I’ve further decided them up into items I want to take immediately and items that I want to have shipped to me at a specific phase in establishing my new personal colony. In order to achieve this, I’ve labeled all of my boxes and have created a shipping manifest if you will that lists each item I put into what box. This enables me to know exactly what is packed where so I can tell my parents “please ship me box 1A, 2A, and 3B, but hold the others for now.” I’m doing something similar with my suitcase and my backpack, but just so I know at a glance what is already packed.
My first priorities after landing will be to set up a German bank account that I can use to transfer over money into, purchase a new SIM card for my phone, and find an apartment. Finding an apartment has proven to be very difficult. It is practically impossible for an unestablished person to rent an apartment right from the start of their move. German landlords require a banking documents attesting to your financial solvency and payment history, which is something a new person won’t have. Thus I’m looking around for shared apartments. This is actually quite common. Groups of students or anyone for that matter, might have a shared apartment where everyone has a separate sleeping area, but shared common areas. This has a further advantage for me of providing me with some immediate friends, or at least people I’ll know.
As for friends, I’ve been heavily relying on reddit.com. There is even a Berlin social club community on reddit. They have weekly meetings at a bar for drinks and fun, and I’m planning on meeting a few people there whom I’ve spoken to already via email.
Since it might take me a little bit of time before I find a more permanent living arrangement, at which point I’ll be able to have boxes shipped over, I need to pack everything I might need to function for a few weeks away from home. This takes the form of various toiletries, electronics, and a solid collection of various clothes that I can mix and match to create different outfits for different occasions.
A large portion of my week so far has been saying goodbyes to the people I know in Columbia. It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m about to leave everyone I know and that I might never see them again. This is especially difficult for family and pets. I know I’ll see my parents again, but I don’t know how long that will be. It could be years. Our family’s dogs might pass away by then. I’ve also got an elderly and sick grandmother to consider. It’s hard to deal with and I try not to think about it too much. I won’t really get another opportunity like this; I need to go for it. The only thing I can do is to be sure I let people know now how much I care about them. I think a lot of people miss those chances in life and never end up really telling the people they care about most just how much they mean to them.
Perhaps that’s why I don’t usually respond with “yes” right away when people ask me if I’m excited. It’s more complicated then that. I am excited about starting a new life, having an adventure, and achieving a goal ten years in the making, but it comes with a cost. I’ve sacrificed so much to get here. I would be well on my way to building a career in IT and planning my wedding right now if I hadn’t made the choices I’ve made in order to achieve this long time dream. Movies often tell people to follow their dreams. While that sounds all well and good, they rarely mention the cost that comes with following your dreams. In the end though, I know it will be worth it. I want to be able to look back and say “I’m glad I did” instead of “I wish I did.”