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.