1 August 2016

Cheryl Howard - Expat in Berlin, Germany

Cheryl Howard - Expat in Berlin, Germany

Cheryl Howard is a 30 something Canadian, who works as an Agile coach and writer in Berlin. She left Canada behind to chase her dream of living abroad in Europe.

She has adapted very well in Berlin and has had no major difficulties there. The only main challenge she’s had is the language barrier “I’ve minor issues from time-to-time when trying to communicate in German with bank employees or government officials who don’t know English very well. To help avoid such situations in the future, I’m heading back to class to remedy the situation.” said Ms. Howard.

A minor problem such as language and communication is very common among expats and can easily be resolved. Like what Ms. Howard said, she’s taking classes to learn German, and minimize the hassle of trying to communicate with locals. Read more about Ms. Howard’s experience as an expat in Berlin below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Toronto, Canada.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I left Canada to pursue my dream of living abroad in Europe.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Berlin, Germany.

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: It’s a long story actually.

About five years ago, I spent around three weeks in Italy and like so many others, fell in love. The wine, the food, the ancient architecture, all of the sexy men! It made me start thinking about relocating to Italy. But to be honest, I doubted myself at being able to make, what for me, would have been a very bold move at the time. I felt my thoughts cliched and soon put them out of my mind.

A few months later, I spent two weeks on a Christmas market tour through Eastern Europe. I felt so happy throughout the entire trip, and while walking along the Charles Bridge in Prague one night, I realized just how much more of Europe I wanted to explore.

I felt a burst of confidence that had never been there before. I suddenly thought why not move to Europe? I vowed that if I could find a way to make it really happen, that I’d do all I could to follow through.

A few months later, I quit my job, sold everything I owned, and moved to Berlin, alone, unemployed, and unable to speak the language. Within the first six months, I took German classes, made friends, found a job, and managed to stay for 18 months before moving back to Canada.

The experience made such an impression on me that I spent my two years at home in Toronto, dreaming up ways to make it back to Berlin.

It finally happened when I received a job offer last summer. Afterwards, things happened really fast, and I found myself living back in Berlin as of November 2014.

Q: How long have you been living in Berlin?

A: I’ve been back in Berlin for one year now.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Berlin?

A: To be honest, I haven’t really had any difficult experiences here.

I’ve minor issues from time-to-time when trying to communicate in German with bank employees or government officials who either don’t know English or refuse to speak it. To help avoid such situations in the future, I’m heading back to class to remedy the situation.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A: No, it was not very difficult as my employer helped me to secure my visa. Health insurance is also covered by them.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I moved to Berlin alone.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Berlin? How did you manage to find a social circle in Berlin?

A: I didn’t have any difficulties making friends in Berlin. I now have a lot of friends who are both expats and Germans.

I met a lot of people by attending meet-ups, interacting with others on social media, and even going to bars alone. Read about how to make friends in Berlin.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: There’s all the obvious tourist attractions like the Berliner Dom, Brandenburger Tor, etc., which everyone should do at least once.

The best part of Berlin for me is the nature. There are tons of parks and lakes where you can spend the day with friends under chilling out under the sun, grilling, drinking beer, and playing sports.

My favourite parks are Volkspark Friedrichshain and Tempelhofer Feld. I haven’t visited that many lakes yet but I had fun visiting Strandbad Grunau recently.

Q: How does the cost of living in Berlin compared to your home?

A: Berlin is much cheaper than Toronto when it comes to almost everything be the price of a coffee, rent, public transit, etc.

a/ how much is a cup of coffee?
A good flat white will run you around €3.

b/ how much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?
Between €5-10.

c/ how much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?
Between €30-50 if you’re not going for a Michelin star experience.

d/ how much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?
Bad wine from a local späti will run you €5, and a good bottle from a specialty shop will run you from upwards of €15.

A pack of cigarettes is €5.60.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Berlin?

A: I love German culture and have really enjoyed getting to know it better through my travels around the country, working in a German workplace, and having German friends.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Berlin?

A: The economy is strong, and there’s a high demand for talent from abroad, especially if you work in IT. They’ve been doing a lot of things to make it easier for certain foreigners to come and work in Germany like offering a job seeker’s visa which allows you to stay in Germany for 6 months to look for work.
If you’re thinking about a move to Berlin, check out my guide about how to find a job in Berlin.

I can’t really say anything negative about living in Germany. But if I had to pick a couple of items? I wish gay marriage was legal like it is in Canada and it would be great if PEGIDA were not a thing.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course! But Berlin is home and my happy place.

When I moved back to Canada, I missed Berlin each and every day. Yet, since moving back to Berlin, I have not missed Toronto very much at all, other than the occasional longing for certain types of food, like a peameal bacon sandwich from St Lawrence Market.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime.

Failing that, I hang out with fellow Canadian friends in Berlin, and we talk about things like ice hockey.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: My plans are to stay in Berlin, but you never know! I’m always open to fresh opportunities and new adventures.

And home is always an option because, well, it’s home and lots of people I love are there.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I suppose it’s been learning to fend for myself in a strange land. Things that I took for granted back home were suddenly hard when I moved abroad be it signing up for a cell phone contract or going to the foreigners office to apply for a visa. It takes more effort to do things in Germany and sometimes, you need to steel yourself to have the patience to endure those unfamiliar bureaucratic processes. You just have to see them as adventures and get through them.

It’s all worthwhile, though, and the perks of living in Germany (like being able to travel to other parts of Europe quickly and easily) far outweigh any of the tougher aspects of the expat experience.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Germany?

A: My biggest tip is to learn German! It will truly enrich your experience in Germany and help you really understand the new country where you live. Read my thoughts about learning German in Berlin.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Berlin?

A: Travels of Adam http://travelsofadam.com/

überlin: http://www.uberlin.co.uk/

Uncornered Market http://uncorneredmarket.com/