Continuing the Her Relocation series, with some of the lessons I learned working in Germany and now in the US. As I reflect, I realize that the countries I have lived and worked in have influenced my career in significant ways. My portfolio and skill set are very diverse. Which I'm now learning is one of my unique selling propositions.
Looking back, I appreciate the opportunity to have started my career in Germany and continued my journey in the US. The combination of all my experiences has helped me achieve great career success. In this blog post, I'll share some of the professional lessons I learned so far.
Lesson #1: Be culturally aware
My experience as an immigrant and working with people from diverse cultures prepared me to manage global projects. Learning from some of my negative experiences, I appreciate and respect diversity. Building inclusive teams where everyone feels valued is a priority for me.
Lesson #2: Gather knowledge and learn new skills
In Germany, I learned the value of setting a solid foundation with theoretical knowledge. Early in my career, I got a project management certification, and since then I have continued to keep my skills fresh. This has helped set me apart and prepare me for the big tasks I have worked on.
Lesson #3: Promote yourself
A valuable lesson I learned working in the US is that it is not enough to do great work - You need to talk about it. Initially, I struggled with talking about the great work I was doing. After observing my peers do an amazing job talking about their experiences, I started working on finding a way that worked for me. Honestly, I'm still learning and practicing self-promotion.
Lesson #4: Your relationship with your co-workers matters
We spend a significant amount of time with our co-workers. I learned the value of taking a proactive approach to building a relationship with my team when I moved to the US. Partly because I was a new member of the team. Spending time getting to know my team members on a more personal level helped me integrate into the team well.
Lesson #5: Move and re-invent yourself
Typically, in Germany people stay at a company for a very long time. Working in the US changed my perspective, it's ok to move around and re-invent yourself. I now see starting new jobs or changing roles as a normal part of my professional journey.
Lesson #6: Be organized and structured
Especially as a program manager, being very organized has many benefits. With everything that I juggle and manage concurrently, it is essential for me to be structured. I like to say I enjoy to bring structure to chaotic situations.
Lesson #7: Plan for flexibility
One of the most significant changes for me, when I moved to the US, was the need to adapt to changes very often. I was used to having some changes on the projects I led. However, I was not prepared for the level of flexibility I would need to accept and plan for in the US. Adaptability and agility were skills I needed to learn very quickly.
Lesson #8: Know your worth and ask for what you want
At the time when I moved to the US, I didn't feel empowered to voice my needs and ask for what I was worth. I learned valuable skills from observing others, reading books and learning how to think about myself more. The first lesson I learned was that if I don't know what I'm worth, I'll never ask for it or get what I deserve.
Lesson #9: Build your professional network/community
Since my move to the US in 2015, I have attended so many events and joined some great professional groups. Thinking back, I started questioning how I went through my career in Germany without building my network.
Lesson #10: Do good work and let your work speak for you
Doing great work is a lesson that I learned as a child. My skills were honed and refined in Germany. The quality of the work you do speaks on your behalf. I learned many valuable techniques for ensuring I did great work when I worked in Germany.
Lesson #11: Think big in your career
The concept of setting aspirational career goals was amplified in the US. Striving to do things and take steps that don't feel entirely logical was a valuable lesson I learned. Not limiting myself or being extremely logical about all of my career moves, is the only reason that I'm where I am today.
Lesson #12: Share your knowledge and expertise
Both Germany and the US have contributed to my passion for sharing my experience. I enjoy the different opportunities I have to share my knowledge and learn from others.
Call to Action
What countries have you worked in and what valuable career lessons have you learned? Please share with your community and me.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel back home to Nigeria. When I left Nigeria in 2001, I never expected that I would only be back twice in seventeen years. As I write this post, I still can't believe it took me so long to go back to my original home country. I spent three beautiful weeks in the country that gave me a great childhood where I lived for fifteen years.
On this trip, I spent time in Abuja and Calabar, two cities that were new to me. The primary purpose of my trip was to celebrate my friend's marriage. I experienced many firsts on this visit.
In this blog post, I'll take you on a reflective journey of my trip to Nigeria after twelve long years.
How did I prepare?
In the months coming up to the trip, we spent time thinking of small things we could do to make the trip special. We created a list of food and snacks that we wanted to enjoy. It was essential for us to reserve something fun for ourselves. I can report that we were successful with the food goals we set.
What was my first impression?
Going back, it almost felt like I was in a new country. After a very long journey with the best travel companion ever, I was very excited to be in Abuja. The airport ordeals were very familiar. The additional luggage and immigration checks we had to endure, reminded me of past experiences. Also, hearing people speak Hausa made me feel at home immediately.
What were my highlights?
Spending time with my mum as an adult was very special. Until then, I had not spent longer than a few days with my mum over the last twelve years. We learned a lot about one another. Another highlight was experiencing my friend's wedding. This was the first Nigerian wedding I was very involved with. There were many valuable lessons learned to say the least.
What surprised me the most?
Nigeria is a very different place from the country I left seventeen years ago. Globalization is very evident. It feels like almost everything is available now. Staying connected was much easier than I remembered.
What was the same?
I still felt at home with family and friends. Being able to enjoy meals with family and close friends whom I hadn't seen in many years was special. Not that I had any doubts, but the food was as amazing as I remembered. I enjoyed sugar cane, furah, waina, and some fantastic suya.
What was very different?
The last time I visited Nigeria, I was twenty years old trying to find my place in the world. On this trip, I became more aware of how my perspective of what is important to me has changed. I was able to navigate uncomfortable situations better and enjoy the small good things even more.
What did I enjoy the most?
The simplicity of life in Nigeria was a welcome break from my life now. Partly because I was on vacation and not working, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I was constantly reminded of the importance of enjoying life and being present in the moment.
What didn't go so well?
The story won’t be complete if I don’t mention the not so good things I witnessed during my visit. The main thing I didn't enjoy was the pressure to be married. Especially from extended family members, I met. There was detailed questioning about when I was going to get married. I attempted to redirect questions to share the fact that I was happy with where I was in life and very successful. I'm hopeful that we can change the view of what the vision of success is for a Nigerian woman.
What do I wish I did?
The two and a half weeks I spent went by too quickly. I would have loved to visit Kaduna, the city I grew up in. That's definitely on my list for my next visit with my sister. Hopefully, my next trip would be in less than twelve years :)
What was the most embarrassing experience?
There was a common theme of these moments. Meeting people who knew me but I could not recognize them or remember their names. Am I the only one who doesn’t recall everyone they met more than seventeen years ago?
What was my most significant learning?
On this trip, I was reminded of the importance of the people in our lives. I enjoyed reconnecting with people I haven't seen in many years and building new memories with my special companion.
In my recent blog post How growing up in Nigeria prepared me for life, I summarized the top 10 principles Nigeria taught me that prepared me for life. Let's wrap this post with the principles that were confirmed on my trip
Read more of my journey as part of the "Her Relocation" series.
Recently at an event, I shared my story and how I celebrate my two cultures - Nigerian and German. From when I was eighteen months old to the age of fifteen, I lived in Kaduna, a lovely city in northern Nigeria.
I am continuing my journey with this appreciation of a country that taught me a lot and contributed to who I am today. In this blog post, I will share the top 10 principles Nigeria taught me that prepared me well for life.
#1: Appreciate your community
I grew up in a mid-sized extended family and a large community. I have so many lovely memories with people I'm related to and others that were very close to my family. Often, I wasn’t sure who was a blood relative versus a very close family friend. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child was very evident in the way I grew up.
#2: Work with what you have
From observing the people around me growing up, I learned to be very resourceful. The concept of making the best with the resources that were available is one that I fully embody today. I know that I have something that can be used to make bigger things.
#3: Enjoy good food
My fondest childhood memories are associated to meals with my close and extended family. The times we spent together bonding over meals are engraved in my mind. Till today, I still love to cook and eat with my loved ones and friends. Nigerian food is definitely my go-to food.
#4: Be kind to everyone
In Kaduna where I grew up, almost everyone was connected in some way. We knew that if we met someone, we had to be nice to them because we never knew when our paths might cross again. On my journey so far, being kind and respectful has opened many doors and connected me to great people.
#5: Share what you have
The ability to share with people around me is one that I learned from the great examples I observed. Growing up, many people were open to sharing food, space, knowledge, and experiences. Seeing the sacrifices others made for me, I’m happy to share with people around me today.
#6: Laugh a lot
My smile and laughter are deeply rooted in my Nigerian upbringing. When I think back to my favorite moments growing up, there was a lot of laughter. One thing I carefully guard today is my happiness.
#7: Celebrate life events
It seemed like there was always a party or celebration around us. Whether it was births, weddings, graduations, birthdays, there were many occasions and reasons to celebrate. In my life today, I have translated this principle into celebrating achievements as much as I can.
#8: Appreciate diversity
Growing up in Kaduna, I had the unique opportunity to be surrounded by people from different regions of Nigeria. I learned how to respect different languages, food, religions and cultural norms. Going on to live in different countries, I have been able to build upon the solid foundation I had.
#9: Be positive and hopeful
As I make progress in life, I appreciate the lesson I learned about being hopeful. My faith continuously fuels my aspiration for a better future and hope that everything will work out for good.
#10: Be a strong woman
In my family and community, many strong women worked hard to cater to their families. They were a core inspiration for the woman I am today. I'm very fortunate to have had some great role models in my life.
Continuing my relocation story, with year 2 and 3 in the US. The theme of this phase was learning and developing especially professionally and financially. Looking back on this time in my life, I can see the immense growth and learning that I experienced. While my focus in year one was getting settled and situated in my new home, in year two and three, I was able to focus on other parts of my life such as my career. There were many firsts and doing things I never thought I ever would.
In this post, I will share my experiences, learnings, and insights from my second and third year of living in the US. If you missed the first year, read my previous post My Life in the US - Year 1.
Settling into my new life
By my second year in the US, I started feeling more at home. Compared to my experience in Germany, I felt more settled in a very short time. The fact that there was no language barrier was a huge win. Also, not being alone here was great for my transition. Looking back, I'm very grateful that it didn't take seven years to feel at home like in Germany.
Learning and professional development
At this stage in my career, it was crucial for me to expand my knowledge and improve my skills. I was ready to grow my career and take on new responsibilities. Taking classes at UC Berkeley extension provided me not only new knowledge but also budding professional network. I learned what was necessary for professional success in the US.
Growing my finances
Moving to the US helped me increase my income. This new phase created the need for me to educate myself of ways to grow my finances. It's been an exciting journey learning more about managing my wealth. I was already proficient in the basics of financial management, so I needed to concentrate on the next level which was investing and making wise money choices. I'm still exploring and learning more about financial planning.
Making new connections
Attending events and courses helped me grow my professional network a lot. As I was new in the US, being able to learn from other people's experiences was important to me. I'm still in regular contact with some of the great people I met during this time. Building a new community has been a continuous task on my relocation journey.
Staying connected to my family and friends
Especially when you live so far away from your family, it is crucial to stay connected to the people that matter the most to you. I have been extremely fortunate to keep in contact with my niece who is growing up very quickly.
The communication tools that are now available are amazing. Staying in touch with my family and friends was a very crucial part of me feeling at home in the US.
After being in the US for two and a half years, I finally visited Germany for my Niece's first day of school. The first thing I did when I landed in Frankfurt was to buy a pretzel. Speaking German and knowing where everything was, made me feel at home again. I missed being in Germany where I had lived for fourteen years. Interestingly, on this trip, I discovered that you could feel at home in multiple places at once.
Preparing for new roles
My career grew exponentially in my third year. I made it a priority to say yes to new projects and roles. Often, I stoped to assess how far I had come and how incredibly grateful I was for the opportunities I had been given and accepted. Looking back, I'm delighted to have worked on some amazing projects and learned so much.
Exploring new cities and countries
Travel used to be a very stressful experience for me. So, when the opportunity to travel for work came, I wasn't too pleased. However, I decided to take this opportunity to learn how to make travel work for me. Traveling provided me with the excellent opportunity to explore more places in the US and new countries. Looking back, I have great memories of my adventures.
Making time for things that matter
The greatest lesson I learned was the importance of finding time for the things that matter the most in my life. With everything I was doing, I neglected some key relationships and self-care. Thankfully, I was able to rebuild relationships and take care of myself more before it was too late. Now, I set boundaries around the things that matter the most.
Rekindling my passion
Living in the US provided a safe space for exploring ways to make my dreams a reality. Seeing people live out their dreams and passions motivated me to go back to the things I always wanted to do but didn't think I could. For the longest time I thought about starting my coaching business and launch my blog. In 2017, I finally believed that I could and took the first step.
Top 10 Tips and Lessons
Over the three first years of my relocation journey to the US, I have learned so many valuable lessons, that I would like to share with you.
In early 2015, my relocation journey continued with a move to the United States. Specifically, to the Bay area in northern California. I expected that my experience would be similar to my life in Germany. Looking back, I can confirm that no relocation experience is the same. However, we get to apply our learnings from previous journeys.
I have been living in the US for three and a half years now. As with all relocation journeys, there are good, bad and ugly. In this post, I will continue my relocation story. Starting with my first year in the US.
Over the next months as part of the "My Life in the US" series, I will tell my story in the following phases:
What made this relocation different?
The significant differences with my relocation to the US were that I had a Job, a partner and I was older and more mature. Often, I ask myself how I handled the transition to Germany at age fifteen.
Why did I decide to relocate to the US?
My honest answer is that I moved for “Love.” Germany had treated me very well, and I wasn't planning to leave any time soon. Some external factors and my career influenced the exact timing of the move.
Preparing for the move
In November 2014, I began making plans to move. By February I had a project and was relocating to the US. Thinking back, I now know that two months of planning is not enough time. As everything happened so quickly, I didn't have the time to plan out my relocation and settling into my new home.
So many forms to fill
Living in Germany where I had filled a form for every single official transaction, I thought I was prepared for filling my immigration forms for the US. Nothing could have prepared me for the mass forms I would have to fill out. Having to submit the same information repeatedly has become the norm. I feel like I'm an expert now.
Building a new community
My friends and family play a very significant role in my life. I have come to learn the value of also having a small local community. Luckily, I inherited my partner's social network in the beginning. Not having to start from scratch was very helpful. It made my experience in the US great from a social perspective.
Say my full name
I learned very quickly that my name was difficult to remember. People would always ask - what other name do you go by? At the beginning my response was - I only go by Marie-Christin. Often, I got called "Marie-Christian", "Marie-Claire" and many other names. I adapted to the new culture by allowing people to call me "MC" and it works well.
Lack of guidance, structure or efficiencies
Very soon after my relocation, I faced some difficulty understanding how basic needs like health Insurance and banking worked in the US. Every task seemed complex and inefficient. Things took much longer than I expected which caused a lot of disappointment and stress. Here, I definitely know that Germany spoiled me. My solution is to plan a lot of lead time for any tasks and practice patience.
Land of dreams
When I moved to California, I was impressed by how open people were to taking a step into the unknown boldly. Coming from Germany where you only did work you were qualified for, it was liberating to see people try new things. It inspired me to revisit some of my dreams and believe they can become a reality.
I'm very far away
I thought the distance between Germany and Nigeria was a lot until I moved to California. Now every country where I have family and friends is geographically far away. Technology has helped me keep in close contact with my family and friends. I'm now an expert in online communication and staying connected to people that matter.
Professional cultural differences
My assumption that project management is almost the same globally was very wrong. Of course, the fundamental principles are the same. However, I quickly discovered that I would need to adapt my style to the new culture in the US. The way I approached planning and communicating was met with some resistance. I didn't want to change who I was, but I had to learn to find a middle point to make my team and clients happy.
Top 10 Learnings
On August 9, 2001, I embarked on a journey that will change the course of my life forever. This week, I’m celebrating 17 years on my relocation journey. About four months ago, I started writing about My life in Germany. Reflecting on my story has empowered me and given me a great appreciation for how I got to where I am today. It has been a great learning experience for me. I am very proud of all my achievements, failures, learnings and experiences.
In this post, I will summarize my highlights, learnings and share tips for everyone on a similar journey. When I started telling my story, I had three objectives - to remind myself of some of the challenges I overcame, to support other women who are on a similar journey and share tips, learn from one another to succeed on our relocation journey. I am delighted that I have been able to achieve these objectives and much more.
What did I learn about myself?
We keep hearing about how reflection provides you with power for the future. I must say, I am now a believer. Three things that I learned about myself during my reflection include:
Highlights from my Journey
To summarize my story, here are some personal highlights.
Year 1 and 2
10 things I wish someone told me before I moved to Germany
Top 10 tips
Summarizing the greatest lessons I learned on my journey that could help you too.
Thanks for coming with me on this reflection journey of my life in Germany.
In 2015, my relocation journey took me to the US. Watch out for "My life in the US: Year 1" story. Follow my developing relocation story as part of the Her Relocation series.
Your support & kind words
When I started telling my story, I had no idea what types of doors it'll open to me. The feedback I received was above my expectation. As a symbol of my appreciation and I want to share some quotes with you.
“The change you experience on your journey helps you grow. ” – MC
I’m excited to continue my relocation story with chapter 4 of the “My life in Germany” series. My theme for this phase was "Ok, it's not that bad. I can live and thrive here." At this point in my journey, I started feeling at home in Germany and discovered some ways to expand my perspective. There were a lot of firsts and growth moments for me.
In this post, I'll continue sharing some of my experiences in year 11 to 14. If you missed my previous posts in the "My Life in Germany" series, you could read about Year 1 - 3, Year 3 -5 and Year 6 -10.
Studying and working
The discipline and time management skills I learned while working full time and studying for my master’s has brought me very far. For the two and a half years until I completed my course in 2013, I had to prioritize my education over my social life and find balance with work. I enjoyed my study time at home or the University library in Cologne. There was something about being around so many learners that encouraged me to study more. Though it was tough to study and work full-time, my motivation was clear - I was working towards a degree that will support my professional journey.
Expanding my community
After being in Cologne for a little over a year, my community started growing and diversifying. I had a great group of ladies at work and in my private life who were my companions in this phase. The real friends I had supported me through the growth phases of my life. Although I wasn't always able to be an active part of my community, they understood and worked with me. Having a support system that grows and changes with you is essential.
Achieving financial stability
At this phase in my journey, I was earning a stable income. Becoming more financially savvy was an essential task for me. Firstly, I worked on growing my savings. Then I learned how to budget better and plan some flexibility for fun. Building a great foundation and learning through the process helped me achieve financial goals like pay for the master’s program I wanted.
Traveling and exploring new places
Over time, I had the opportunity to explore more countries and cities. Going on vacation became a part of my life. I went for my first cruise to the Bahamas and saw the most beautiful blue water I had seen in my life. Multiple, visits to California to see a special someone was also part of my travel experiences. I was also able to discover some beautiful countries in Europe - Greece will remain my favorite. Also, being able to explore Germany a little more, helped me appreciate the great country I was living in. I wish I traveled a little more and enjoyed time off.
Enjoying my life
A valuable lesson I learned in this phase of my life was to start enjoying life a little more. I know the definition of enjoying life differs for everyone. My interpretation was making time for myself, splurging on things I enjoyed from time to time, making time for myself and spending time with my family and friends. I had gotten so used to working multiple jobs, working full-time, studying and working, being so busy that I forgot how to put up my feet up and enjoy my life. As I write this, I can hear the voices of my friends who never gave up on me and kept encouraging me to have more fun.
Developing my Career
As part of my growth journey, growing in my career was a big part of this phase. I invested a lot in learning new project management skills, getting certified and learning from other project managers in my community. The size and complexity of the projects I led, increased with time. I was able to grow through mastering new challenges in my professional life. Managing more people and multiple teams helped me improve my people skills as well. I recently looked at my old Career orientation plan and saw how I achieved my goals and learned to accept change. Thinking back, these years were formative years for my career.
Celebrating another World cup
Especially as the current world cup is in full force, I have been reflecting on where I was during the previous world cups. In 2014, I spent time watching the games in Germany and the US as I was on vacation for part of the world cup. Something was new this time; I was supporting both Nigeria and Germany in the world cup. I was the passionate supporter of Nigeria's team in the office until they exited in the round of 16. Being able to cheer for Germany until the end was amazing. I will never forget the German Team's win and how electrified our office was during the games.
Moving to the US
It was winter in 2014; I started feeling the urge to take advantage of an opportunity and start making plans to relocate to the US. Moving to the US had not been in my plans until now. There is no perfect time to do anything. In fact, the timing of my move to the US was the worst time for different personal reasons. I had gotten very comfortable in Germany, I was loving life, and now I was rocking my secure boat. Between the decision the move and the actual move I had only three months. When the time comes, you will know, and you must listen. This is not the end of my relocation story- Watch this space.
10 Tips and Lessons
“Although my journey was not always smooth, so much good came out it” – MC
On my trip to Germany last month, i had the opportunity to retrace some of my steps. I’m excited to continue telling my story with the third chapter of my relocation journey to Germany. Year six to ten were very eventful to say the least. The theme of this phase was "I have to make this work for me." After so many ups and downs it was time for me to start having more success. In these years, there were significant milestones, achievements, and experiences. Everything seemed to happen so quickly compared to the previous five years.
In this post, I'll continue sharing my experiences on my relocation journey as well as ten tips to help you be successful on your journey. If you missed my previous posts in the My Life in Germany series, you could read about Year 1 - 2 and Year 3 -5.
A scary new start
It's early 2007, I'm now in a new city and studying at a new university. My move to Trier was a logical but tough decision. I felt very far from everything I had built over the past five years. In the first months, I had to overcome my feeling of loss and start building my new life. In no time, I made progress in school, found great jobs and made new friends. Thinking back on my time in Trier, I'm reminded of the great results that come from taking a bold step and making a change.
I'm going back home to Nigeria
After six years of trying to make it work, I convinced myself that Germany was not for me and that it was time to go back to Nigeria. Financial difficulties and not making progress with school triggered my decision to move back to Nigeria. In summer 2007, I started making plans to leave Germany. I felt like it would be easier to start a new life in Nigeria and that I would make more progress there. Within two months I went from deciding to leave, sharing my thoughts with my close friends to choosing to stay and make Germany work for me. I appreciate all the support I got during this time that helped me stay. My journey would have been very different if I went back.
Determined to continue and make it
Following my decision to stay in Germany, I found new energy to chase my dreams. It felt like I had made a decision that would help me start seeing the results I wanted in life. The bumps in the road made me more determined to succeed. I had an idea of where I wanted to be, I made plans and started working towards them. I was extremely focused and knew what motivated me. It felt like a rebirth - I knew I had what it took to overcome future challenges.
Discovering my passion for Project Management
During my Internships in university, I found my love for project management. Internships at IT project management offices in a bank and an airline set an excellent foundation for my career choice. I chose project management and would never look back. The flexibility to work in different teams across different industries was a plus. I'll share my experiences as a project manager in another post.
Completing my first degree
In 2010, after many years of tears, going to two universities and changing my course three times, I finally graduated with a Bachelor's degree. I enjoyed academic success because I was studying something I could apply, and I had learned my way of learning. My journey to my degree was long and tumultuous but, in the end, I made it. Interestingly, I knew this was not the end of my academic journey.
Starting my first full-time Job
It’s autumn 2010; I'm in Cologne, working at a digital agency and enjoying life. My first job was amazing. I was earning money, working with a great team on exciting projects. There were many learning experiences in my first year. Being a project manager was absolutely right for me. Thankfully, the discipline I learned from working part-time while I studied helped me adapt to my new Job easily.
Continuing my education
After six months of working full-time, I started studying for my Masters in Business Information Systems. It was important for me to continue my education to improve my career opportunities. Working full time and studying, taught me how to manage my time. My evenings and weekends were fully dedicated to working towards my Master's degree. The foundation for my mindset of continuously learning was laid.
I'm happy, working, enjoying life and then I have a health challenge. All of my life I had enjoyed excellent health, so this was a very new experience for me. My first surgery and stay in the hospital became part of my journey. Spending six weeks on bed rest, I learned to respect and take care of my body. In this time, I learned the importance of allowing your body to heal. My fantastic community rallied around me, took care of me and gave me space. I got better, went back to work, school and life. This became another unexpected challenge that I overcame.
Our family grew
I can't tell my story without mentioning a significant milestone in my life. I became an aunt to my beautiful niece in summer 2011. I will never forget the first time I saw her. For the first time, I started thinking about what life skills I wanted to teach my little niece. She was the beginning of the next generation of strong women in my family. My family in Germany grew, and another anchor in my new country was set.
Feeling at home in Germany
Being born in Germany, growing up in Nigeria and now being back in Germany, I have always had an interesting view of my cultural identity and where my home is. It took me around seven years to start feeling like I could have a great life in Germany. It was a slow process that continued as I graduated and moved to Cologne. I'm sure that becoming a German citizen in 2011 also helped me feel more at home. Ten years after I arrived, I was now German, and Germany was my home.
10 Tips and Lessons
“My journey does not define me, it refines me” – MC
In my previous post titled My Life in Germany: Year 1 and 2, I kicked off the series on my relocation journey in Germany. Bringing you another chapter of my relocation journey, let's move to my year 3 to 5 in Germany. The theme of this phase was - "Feeling stuck and not seeing progress."
When I left Nigeria, I expected life to be very different in 5 years of being in Germany. The first five years were very different from my dreams. In this blog post, I will share my experience from my third, fourth and fifth year in Germany.
Living in different cities
I lived in four cities in my first five years in Germany. As if moving to a new country was not challenging enough, I decided to move to different cities. Looking back, I am shocked and now understand why I felt very unsettled.
My twin is here
In 2003, my twin sister moved to Germany. I had my life companion with me again. The journey was still very hard, but I had someone on this journey with me. The comfort of having my twin close by lasted three years until my journey led me to move to a different city.
Building my community
I was now able to "somehow" communicate in German, and I moved to a Saarbrucken a slightly bigger city. I started meeting people from different cultures at my University and in town. I made great friends that supported me in many ways on my journey.
I worked multiple jobs to support my sister and myself. It always felt like we had just enough. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from working in cafés, restaurants, libraries, and babysitting. I became an expert in managing our finances and stretching our Euros.
Before I left Nigeria If you asked me where I saw myself in 5 years, one thing I was sure of was that I would have my university degree. My primary purpose for moving to Germany was to study and get my degree. Year after year, I did not see the success I expected to have. I was not making any progress with the course I was studying. Some reasons were that I was working a lot and the course was not right for me. I was so spoiled by being successful that now failure was new to me. My instinct and everything I had learned taught me to work harder when something does not work out. Hard work still didn’t get me the success I wanted. A huge lesson I learned here was that sometimes you need a make a significant change to make progress. It was time for me to change my course, leave my university and move to a different city.
Time to reassess
I was stuck; something needed to change. I needed to step away for a little while and plan my next move. I spent six weeks of summer 2006 in northern England and London. I was working as a babysitter, exploring England and visiting family friends. This was one of the major milestones on my journey. Stepping away gave me clarity on what my next step needed to be - I applied to universities in Trier and was accepted.
Making a big decision
The scariest decision I made was to move to Trier and start a new course. I was leaving my twin, my friends, the life I had built behind. I had a sliver of hope that this change will be good for me. At many points of my journey, my will to keep trying kept me going.
"I choose me."
Sometimes in life, you have to decide to "pick you." Forget everyone around you and choose what is right for you. Be prepared to live with the consequences. In 2006, I had to choose me and stick to doing something "selfish." Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made. It was hard for someone who cared about family and friends’ feelings and opinions. I had to put my needs first and hope for everything around me to fall into place - and they did.
2006 FIFA World Cup
A highlight for me was seeing Germany host the world for the world cup. I experienced Germany differently- open to guest. The motto “ Eine Zeit, um Freunde Zu finden” (A time to make friends) was a reality for four weeks. There was something in the air; everyone was celebrating football talent from different countries. We had open-air football game viewings in town, on campus, and at restaurants. Interestingly I cheered both the Nigerian and German football team. Supporting both countries will become the norm for me over the years.
10 Tips and Lessons
I want to share my story so women on their relocation journey know they are not alone with their challenges.
In August 2001, my relocation journey continued with a move to Germany from Nigeria. I was excited to start the next phase of my life - Studying. Looking back, I can see how unprepared I was for my move. I had no idea what opportunities and challenges awaited me and how the journey will change my life. A phrase to summarize my first two years in Germany is "It is all fresh, new and very scary."
This post continues the "Her relocation" series with a very personal story of my life in Germany. This post is the beginning of a series of posts of how I lived, struggled and thrived in Germany. My 14-year journey cannot be compressed into a single blog post. I will break my story into the following phases:
Why am I sharing my story?
You might be wondering what value I see in taking a trip down memory lane and sharing my story. I have three reasons for writing these posts:
Let me tell my story with the help of key challenges I faced.
Missing my family
For the first time in my life, I was alone without my twin sister and mother whom I spent every day with until I moved to Germany. In 2001, staying in contact and communicating with my family was very difficult. There was no WhatsApp back then and phone calls to Nigeria we extremely expensive. I went for long stretches of time without being able to talk to my family. I did not get to see my family for the first two years - Wow. I am so happy that technology now offers us multiple ways to stay in contact with our loved ones no matter where they are.
Before I moved to Germany, I had visited for summer vacation. A vacation does not prepare you for living in a country. Living in Germany was very different from my life in Nigeria. Unlike many people who relocate, I did not have the "honeymoon phase" when I moved to Germany, I went straight to feeling disappointment, confusing feelings, and frustration. My biggest challenge was getting used to how much longer it took people to interact with you. I later learned how to approach people differently and build bridges.
Grown-up Life is hard
I was only 15 when I moved to Germany, so the first years were fast-tracked growth years for me. I had to deal with aspects of life that my mum or other adults in my life took care of in Nigeria. Growing up we went through some difficult times; however, my mum was a rock and shielded us from a lot. Now being in Germany, I had to grow up, face everything that came my way and makes difficult decisions for myself. It started with choosing the course I would study in University. I learned the most valuable lessons from getting it wrong.
Finances and Jobs
Who knew babysitting would one day provide means for me to support myself financially? My first babysitting job was for a Doctor from England/Barbados, married to a German and new to Germany. I met her on a train when she was pregnant; we became friends when she finally had the baby I was happy to help and earn some money too. Babysitting served me well for my first years. There were many valuable lessons I learned about increasing, managing and stretching my income.
Not feeling at home
When I just moved to Germany, the questions people asked me the most were "where are you from?" and "when are you going back home?". I would quickly learn that to succeed in Germany; I had to start building a home and a community. I lived in a tiny village with nonexistent diversity which made having a community impossible. After a few months, I moved to a slightly bigger town where it was somewhat easier to build a community. I started the long journey of making Germany my home.
Living in a tiny village in Germany, no one spoke English, and I could not have a conversation in German. The communication barrier had a significant impact on me as someone who likes to talk to people. I took my language course seriously and practiced on anyone willing to listen - especially on the train. Being able to communicate helped me study, get a job, build a community and settle down in Germany.
I arrived in Germany in the middle of summer. Excellent time to move there. Autumn was a little cold but ok. Then winter came. I was not prepared for what winter will do to me. My first winter was real winter with a lot a lot of snow and temperatures of -20 degrees centigrade. I had never felt so cold in my life and wasn't prepared at all. Also, why was it getting dark at 4 pm? I am not sure I started liking winter later, but I got used to it and got very warm jackets.
Holidays and Key Events
Celebrating birthdays and major holidays like Christmas alone was very hard. Being a twin, I have always had a birthday companion. My first birthday alone, when I turned 16 was very lonely. If you are Nigerian or know any Nigerian, you know Christmas is a very big deal. I can tell you that my first Christmas was very cold and unhappy. Strangely, celebrating alone taught me to be comfortable with being alone and valuing the times I get to celebrate with my family more.
10 Tips to win in the first years
Are you in Year 1 or 2 of your relocation journey? You might feel like you will never settle into your new home. I can assure you that things will get better slowly but surely. These are some lessons learned from my experience and the experience of other women.
Please share any additional tips you have in the comment section below.