Just Landed’s August expat interview takes us to a new continent. We spoke to Johannes, a German expat living in sunny San Diego, California. He offers some great advice for potential expats, and is proof the US visa process is survivable, just don’t mention Tijuana!
Easy question to start! Tell us about yourself.
I’m Johannes. I was born and raised in Germany and have been living in my home-away-from-home, San Diego, on and off since 2006. I grew up in a small Bavarian town, then went on to study Sports Management in Munich and eventually got my master’s degree in Long Beach (California). I now work for a large sports tech company in San Diego and hope to inspire as many people as possible to take the plunge and move abroad.
Why did you move abroad?
I have always had the desire to move abroad, somewhere warm where I can spend most of my time outside and I found the perfect spot in Southern California. Life is Better Outdoors! I started with a year abroad at San Diego State University and fell in love with the city, the laid-back atmosphere and simply the way of life. It is pretty amazing how your life changes when you have 300+ days of sunshine and the beach in your backyard.
What is the best thing about where you live now?
The lifestyle. I love being outside, being active or going on road trips. When I lived in Germany, I felt like I was stuck inside for 4-5 months every year – in San Diego I can do the things that are important to me no matter what the time of year and it has made a big difference to how happy I am with my life.
What (if anything) do you miss about home?
Family, friends and food – in that order. The biggest downside of living abroad is leaving behind who I was close to my entire life. The internet, Whatsapp and a trip home every 6 months or so do help tremendously but the friends I grew up with can’t be replaced with people I have met abroad. I miss having conversations that go beyond the usual chit-chat, which unfortunately you do get a lot of in California, one stereotype that is actually fairly accurate! Lastly, I really miss German food. The abundance of Mexican food helps to make up for it but I am always looking forward to coming home and eating traditional Bavarian/German food again.
If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be?
The work-life balance in the US. With 15 vacation days a year, few national holidays and the general “always on” attitude with answering emails 24/7, I sometimes get jealous of how much my friends in Germany are able to travel but it definitely helps to live somewhere where other people visit on vacation. My goal is to eventually have my own business that offers me the best of both worlds.
Do you plan on moving again in the future? If so, where and why.
I don’t but I wouldn’t want to rule it out. With all the amazing things San Diego has to offer, it also comes with its fair share of downsides so I can never shake the feeling of living in other parts of the world that offers a similar lifestyle, like the Gold Coast in Australia, or Brazil. Ideally I would like to use San Diego as my hub and then travel and explore from here, I always have a smile on my face when I get on a plane headed back to San Diego which I think is a great sign.
Share your most embarrassing expat moment with us!
Oh there have been many haha! Most I always blamed on cultural differences or the language barrier – but here is one I particularly remember. In 2007 we traveled down to Rosarito (Mexico) for spring break. I had left my credit cards and phone at home which my friends recommended I do, on the way back to the border in Tijuana we all crammed into a tiny cab and then walked through the border checkpoint.
All my friends went through, however I was rejected by border patrol because my visa papers weren’t updated for my second semester! I was told to go wait in line with what seemed like all Mexican immigrants trying to get into the US while my friends were waiting on the other side with no clue where I was. Long story short: After over two hours of waiting in line, sneaking my way in and luckily getting a friendly officer, I was asked to pay $6 for a new visa stamp.
I remember to this day that I still had a $5 bill and $1.26 in change with me (no credit cards…). After that ordeal I was very glad to see my friends had waited for me all this time on the American side or else I would have had to find my way back to central San Diego from the border with no money left.
What was the most difficult aspect of moving abroad?
Visas. Visa issues and the hoops you have to jump through as a foreigner to be legally allowed to live, study or work in the US are immense, and expensive! I am currently on my very last hurdle, going through the Green Card application process with my company and things have gotten progressively tougher the closer I inch towards getting my Green Card. Most other things were personal challenges like being away from family and friends or dealing with cultural differences but if I had to name one, it would definitely be the visa situation.
My advice: Moving abroad was the best thing I ever did BUT if you plan to do the same thing, make sure you want it badly enough so that you can put up with everything thrown your way from a visa standpoint.
Share your top three pieces of advice for people thinking about moving to the USA.
1) Plan. If you have ever dreamed about living in the US, the one thing you need to do above else is to take action. I must have done hundreds of hours worth of research over time, searching for answers in many different corners of the internet. I realize that most people don’t have that time so my goal is to collect all necessary information one needs to move to the US in one place which is a website called LiveAbroad. Unfortunately only in German so far, but I hope this will eventually help others to live their dream too.
2) Don’t judge. I fell in this trap many times, when you live in the US for a while you start noticing things that upset you – be it politics, specific character traits or something entirely different. All I can say from experience is to not assume that the things you grew up with are better than what you find in the US. Both sides can learn and the great thing about being an expat is that you can pick what you like best from both cultures and then help educate your friends and family back home on whatever values, traits etc. you picked up while living abroad.
3) Social networking. If you plan to live and work in the US, networking is the one thing you will hear everyone talking about. It is seemingly the most important thing to get a job or advance in a career. Many do this by attending networking conferences, adding countless people on LinkedIn etc. but I found that if you don’t have a deeper connection with someone, he/she is much less likely to help you out. So what I can recommend is to be very social in and outside of work, make lasting connections and never burn bridges. Somewhere down the line, that person might be able to help you with that next job or even the Green Card (own personal experience).
Johannes’s website for helping others to ‘live abroad’ is www.liveabroad.de. Though currently only available in German, it’s packed with useful information for people looking to make the USA their home.
“I remember when I was doing research in Germany, I was hungry to soak up every piece of information around America and loved reading stories from others who have done the same so hope this can be of help.“
We are pleased to announce Just Landed has been awarded a silver medal at the 2014 Expat Star Awards, AKA “the Oscars of the online expat community”. The awards, sponsored by MyCurrencyTransfer.com, feature the best and brightest from the online expat world across 10 categories. Just Landed won the silver medal in the Top 10 Websites for Expats in the USA category.
The judging panel works to a “strict scoring system”, assessing websites based on the quality of their content, social media use, user experience, user engagement, and community management.
MyCurrencyTransfer.com says, “We want to show our true appreciation and admiration for the people or teams who put everything into ensuring expats have the information and insights they need for a smooth and enjoyable transition to another country or a peak at life in their perspective home.”
Just Landed’s USA guide offers expats just that. Available in English, German, Korean, Dutch, Spanish and Italian, the guide offers information on everything from the visa process to finding a house and choosing a school. Our expat community can help you make new friends once you arrive, and our classifieds offer all manner of things for sale.
We work hard at Just Landed to bring our users unique, high-quality expat content and it’s great to receive recognition such as this. So, congratualtions to the other winners, and thanks to MyCurrencyTransfer.com and to everyone who works to make Just Landed such a great expat resource.
I’m from Austria. - Australia? – No, Austria. – But, where is that?
Until very recently, this little country in the centre of Europe didn’t attract a lot of publicity, which may be why it is little known to Europe and the rest of the world. Before Conchita Wurst’s (the bearded lady’s) performance at the Eurovision Song Contest, the first association people made with Austrians was, “Aren’t they like Germans?”. The number one piece of advice for people going to Austria would be: Don’t say that to Austrians. They don’t like it – at all.
Austrians vs. Germans
Although Austrians and Germans share history, a common language, a similar way of living, and a passion for beer, they are not alike. Actually, the stereotypes about Germans most people know are also present in Austria. Austrians think they are very different and they distinguish themselves from the Germans in that they are more “southern”. They consider themselves a more relaxed, more easygoing and friendlier people. Of course, this is the Austrian point of view. But once you get to know Austrians, it will be hard to deny they are different from their German neighbours.
Austrian, German, or Austrian German?
Another assumption, often causing a degree of confusion, is because German is spoken in both Germany and Austria, they are equally understandable. Again and again, unsuspecting expats arrive in Austria and, proud of their German and eager to use it, are disillusioned in an instant – they don’t understand the Austrians. This is nothing to be surprised about. Germans and Austrians do share a common language, but two parts of one whole can still be very different - certainly in this case they are.
It may be the Austrians’ “southerness” that makes their German a little less intelligible: some vowels are dragged out, consonants soften or disappear, and on top of that, grammatical standards are dropped. This is because Austria is a nation of dialect speakers. There is an Austrian standard of German that is not to be confused with an Austrian accent (Germans do that), but Austrians just don’t like to speak German, they have their dialects. And they speak them. If you go to Austria and already speak German, the dialect spoken in your region is still something you will have to get used to.
Austria – “Land of the mountains”
That’s the beginning of the Austrian national anthem and it may reflect the image of Austria most foreigners have in their mind. Austria is known for its beautiful landscape and mostly, it is the mountainous regions people think of first.
Cities such as Salzburg and Innsbruck come to mind. However, one third of Austria is pretty flat, and its two largest cities are located in the lowland. Vienna, the capital of Austria, as well as the cultural, economic and political centre, is well known in Europe and the world. But did you know the second largest city and former capital of Austria was Graz? It is definitely worth a visit and the second most important destination for international visitors, especially students and expats.
Austria’s national sport
Immediately after thinking of Austria’s mountains comes the association with skiing, the – supposed – national sport of Austria. Well, Austrians are good at skiing and, admittedly, there are few Austrian people who do not know how to ski. But it’s not the national sport. Believe it or not, the national sport is football, and many Austrians like to play it in their free time and they love to watch it. The national football team, however, performs miserably.
To spare themselves the embarrassment they have to put up with during qualifications for international tournaments, which usually result in humiliation, Austrians tend to watch German, Spanish or English football. Speaking about (international) football is something that will definitely allow you to become closer to your new Austrian friends and colleagues.
One last comment on Austrian culture, and back to the bearded lady (Conchita Wurst if you’re not a Eurovision fan). When talking about famous Austrians, a lot of musicians seem to come up, such as Conchita Wurst. Classical musicians are also mentioned, with Mozart leading the list. Some generations may even remember Falco, the popular Austrian pop singer from the 90s. The most famous Austrian in the world today is not a musician, though, it is probably Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, the Terminator is Austrian.