Johannes: California dreaming
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.