2 September 2016

Sarah Fancy Fürstenberger - Expat in Heidelberg, Germany

Sarah Fancy Fürstenberger - Expat in Heidelberg, Germany

We’ve had the chance to talk to Sarah Fancy Fürstenberger, 43, an American expat who has moved to Heidelberg with her family. Mrs. Fürstenberger who has been living there for 20 years, now works as a senior technical editor & young living essential oil distributor. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Michigan, USA.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: I left to study German abroad when I was in my senior year at U of M in 1992. I was about to finish my degree and didn’t feel like my German was excellent.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: In Heidelberg, Germany.


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

A: I came here initially to do a year of University. I stayed the first time for seven years and married an Australian. I moved back to the States, and five years later, I was divorcing, and a met a German guy. Back I went.


Q: How long have you been living in Heidelberg?

A: All told just about 20 years.


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

A: Initially, I hated not being perfect in German. I was afraid to even ask for an apple at the farmer’s market. But I was part of an expat community, so I felt comfortable. I think the most difficult is, even after this long, not getting the friendliness I am used to having grown up in the US.


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

A: They can be a real pain. If you have a good job lined up, it is easier. If you are going to college, it is also easier. However, if you just show up and are expecting one, it is difficult. Health insurance is easy if you are a student. If you are starting a “proper” job, it is no issue. But it is a circle of frustration when you have neither a visa nor a job.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I am living with my family.


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Two of my kids moved here when they were three and five years old. The other two were born here. The oldest has been back in the US for a year and a half to go to high school. We lived in Ireland as well, and they liked that better. But Germany is what they know.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people?

A: NO. It is easy to make expat friends, but it is not easy to make German friends. You need to build up trust and put effort into the friendships. People maintain distance for a long time.

Do you mainly socialize with other expats in your host country? Not anymore. The first time round I did. This time, it is evenly mixed. But I know very few Americans here. I have a handful of American friends. How did you manage to find a social circle in your host country? Through hard work. When you have kids, it gets easier, but people are busy. I joined a few groups and made lots of friends at work.


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

A: Heidelberg is full of things to do. Visit the usual tourist spots like the Heidelberger Schloss, but also go to the Rheinland-Palatinate and explore the wineries. Go to Ladenburg to look at the Roman wall. Visit the castle gardens in Schwetzingen. Walk the Philosophen Weg up the mountain above Heidelberg.


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

A: Rents are very high in Heidelberg. Buying is much more than I am used to in the US.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Around €2.50

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Around €10

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: €30 and up.

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine is not bad. You can get a decent bottle for 4. Cigarettes I have no idea! I think €6


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Generally, they can be complicated. You need to work at it. Don’t be put off by initial grumpiness. They tend to just be wary of each other and not as friendly as Americans in public.


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

A: The quality of life is excellent. I feel safe here. My kids get to walk to school or take the tram everywhere, even at a young age. Childcare is inexpensive. Food quality is great. Bad? General grumpiness. Lots of rules and lots of people quick to tell you when you aren’t following them. A very structured society. Women in the workplace who have children get labeled as Rabenmutter (raven mothers), especially if they work full time.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I Skype as much as I can and try to go home every year.


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

A: We already moved to Ireland for a couple of years. I don’t think we will move back home, but we might move back to Ireland.


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

A: I think being away from my family.


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

A: Learn the language. It is worth it. Involve yourself in sports and clubs to get to know people. Learn the rules and ask for help. Reach out to people in the workplace. Give it time and be patient!


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

A: My own: German Way Expat Blog