31 August 2016

Tihana Smiljanic - Expat in Germany

Tihana Smiljanic - Expat in Germany

We’ve had the chance to talk to Tihana Smiljanic, 27, a Serbian expat who has moved to Germany alone. Ms. Smiljanic who has been living there for more than a year, now works as a student, journalist, and writer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Serbia


Q: What made you move out of Serbia?

A: I got a scholarship for a really good master’s program two years ago that allowed me to study and live in Finland, the Netherlands and Germany. A student life is a bit different compared to a life of a “normal” expat who has to deal with jobs, insurances and such; but it definitely taught me that man is by no means a tree. Towards the end of my program, instead of planning to head back home, I’m actually thinking of where I’d want to live next!


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Germany


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

A: In my case it wasn’t really the choice; the program was designed in such a way that me and my classmates had to spend a semester in each of the three countries, and then we could choose where to write our theses. I was lucky to end up here, as my thesis topic fitted best to the University of Potsdam. Potsdam is also super close to Berlin, and Berlin is an awesome place to be. I just love it.


Q: How long have you been living in Germany?

A: If you count everything in, it’s been a little more than a year. However it’s not in one go, as I split two times living here with moving to Holland.


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

A: Honestly? It was the language. This is an awful thing to say as I’m a linguist! I had German back in elementary, and that was quite a while ago. In the Netherlands literally everybody speaks English and they don’t bat an eye at you when you address them in English. In Finland again a lot of people speak English and if they hear you’re learning Finnish, they’re actually pretty impressed, because they believe their language is hard to learn (true to most Europeans) and not that significant (and every time I want to tell them: don’t feel that way, your language is freaking awesome!). But Germans, oh, I sometimes feel judged for my basic German. Which might be all in my head, but the facts are that there are institutions where you need to have either a good command of the language or a German speaking friend beside you. What I found craziest was my encounter with people at student accommodation at the very beginning of my stay – that have to communicate with tons of foreign student – and yet they don’t speak English. I mean, this is just pointless.


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

A: Unfortunately, no stories here because it was quite smooth. Apart from my country citizenship, I also hold a EU passport (being born in Croatia), so I don’t need a visa, and health insurance is covered by my scholarship.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: Alone and single with the intents of remaining so in the near future :)


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

A: I think meeting people is quite limited in terms of knowing the language. If you speak German, the world is your oyster; if you don’t, you’ll mostly end up with other expats. Which is by no means bad, but chances of being friends with Germans without speaking the language are somehow slim, and I’m working on it. There are some really good Facebook groups for expats. And in the beginning, of course, I had my classmates from all over the world. That’s a nice bunch of people, as you know you’re always facing the same struggles. Over time I managed to form a group of Serbians; before moving abroad, upon hearing that somebody’s hanging out with people from their home country, I would be like: but whyyy? You didn’t have to move, you could have just stayed at home and do the same! Now I understand, though. It’s really, really nice to have someone from back home.


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

A: When I first moved here, I knew little (i.e. almost nothing) of Berlin, and I’ve found that, surprisingly, when traveling, it’s usually a good thing since having no expectations can make you like the place more easily. The same goes for moving, too. I love how vibrant Berlin is! I love going to food markets, and if you’re into going out, then Spati-hopping is the thing to do, especially when the weather is nice. Buy a beer or two at the drugstore (Spatkauf, shortened Spati) for ridiculous prices and enjoy the night and a friendly chat. I’m also all up to trying out vegan and smoothie places, as it’s really popular right now. Flea markets! Most people know about Mauerpark but somehow it’s turned into a tourist place, and while it’s not a bad thing, it means steeper prices. Google some of the other flea markets, and jump into a weekend adventure. Oh, and if you’re getting ready to move here, either learn German in advance or be sure to have a German speaker at your disposal. 


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

A: In terms of prices, my home country is not really to be compared, because it’s a developing country, so people who come there are usually thrilled with the low prices, but forget they do come with really, really low wages. The thing about Germany, though, is that food is often much cheaper than in Serbia, which is actually crazy, because the wages here are at least 3 times higher than in Serbia.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: It’s about 2 euros, which is more or less like back home.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: A pasta dish can be found for as little as 5-6 euros. Or even better, you can have a doner for less than 3! I love doners and so do many Berliners.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: As a student with a modest income, you’ll understand I don’t really have an idea :)

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

A: I found a really good wine for 2 euros, and that’s close to impossible to find back home, they’re more expensive, and the cheapest ones tend to be really bad ones too. But here, 2 euros a bottle let me to unwind from time to time. Cigarettes are at least 5 euros a pack – that’s one of the reasons I quit smoking, as it’s much more expensive than back home.


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

A: Not much different than home – after all, it’s only a move from one side of Europe to the other. No major culture shocks here! But after a while, I’ve begun to doubt the famous myth about German punctuality. Yes, you’ll most likely be frowned upon if you come to a party too late (which never happens back home, we’re much more relaxed). But when punctuality actually matters in my terms, it’s messed up! If I show up at the bus stop on time, chances are bus will be at least a minute late. But when I’m the one who’s late for a minute or two, there’s no mistake; it’ll be leaving on the exact second it should. It drives me crazy!


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

A: When you ask someone from a developing country this type of question, you can expect the positives are the social and financial stability Germany (and similar countries) provide.  And it also reflects on people. When I smile at people on a train, or in the street, they always, always smile back. People at home don’t; they have too many struggles and probably wonder why on Earth a stranger would smile at them with no reason. But while I can try and make Germany my home, or any other country for that matter, I’ll always end up just a tiny wee bit unsuccessful, because my home will always be in Serbia. That’s the negative side I guess, which is strange because Germany shouldn’t be Serbia anyway :)


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: I do! I’d always thought of myself as a highly independent individual, but it turns out I miss people back at home way too much. I don’t even want to think what would have happened had I moved when we didn’t have the Internet! It’s not that I keep looking back and thinking about them and feeling bad where I am; it’s just that I realized being relocated is not as easy as it may seem.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I have them on my phone and computer whenever I want. :) I think, however, that it’s important not to reject real people you can hang out in person with. I once almost fell into that trap but realized what I was doing. When you spent too much time on Skype, it’s easy to believe nothing’s changed; but a lot of things have, and that’s why you should just make the best of everything.


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

A: Honestly, I have no idea! I’m probably too old to not have a plan, but at the moment I’m taking it slowly, one step at a time. I’ll be done with my studies pretty soon, and it’s safe to say I have a bunch of ideas – I don’t call them plans because they all exist in my head simultaneously, but when I get my hands on them, some of them will turn into plans. What I’m sure of, though, is that I want to spend some time living in different places. So I’ll probably move from Germany at some point in near future, but I wouldn’t mind ending up here for good.


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

A: Being away from people back home for the important events. (I’m so cheesy!)


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

A: Enroll in a German language course asap if you haven’t already and be calm about German bureaucracy – you’ll never win, they will, and since there’s nothing you can do there (even when you’re the one who’s right!), you might just not stress yourself over it too much. And then get a beer.


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

A: I do! But they’re actually about Berlin. With websites and blogs like this, this, this, this and this, you’ll always know the best things to do and places to go.