While it wasn’t an easy decision, Andrew Couch decided to make a change and move to Germany. A few weeks ago, Andrew shared about life as an ex-pat. Here is my interview with him.
Where did you grow up? What things did you enjoy as a kid?
North Carolina, Southeast US. I was a pretty quiet kid. I liked to read, watch cartoons and play video games. I was into all of the fantastic worlds that you get into with books and media.
Did you travel when you were young? What were your favorite destinations?
My favorite trip was summers I got to spend in California with my relatives there. Otherwise I really wasn’t that into travel as a kid. The quiet cabins and historical museums that my parents preferred were not always my favorite. My most memorable trip is probably when my dad took us to England when I was 12.
What made you want to travel when you got older?
I first got into travel when I started taking German in high school. The idea of what I consider “real travel” started with my first summer in Germany. Even though I spent a lot of time just sitting in the living room of my host house, I really enjoyed the freedom to get on a train and go into the city of Hamburg every morning for a few hours rain or shine and wander around. I had no purpose except to explore for 2 whole months. Then the idea that in a few hours we could be in Berlin. I got really into the variety of everything and decided to continue both German and European travel.
I did fly when I was younger and just developed a fear of flight later. Being able to still travel without airplanes became a part of my life.
It started as a simple love of trains. Or maybe better described, through my various European trips I really enjoyed the many and varied conversations that I had on trains. I still believe you meet the most interesting people on trains. When I couldn’t get myself to get on an airplane, I had to decide whether to face the fear, stop traveling or find another way. In retrospect I should have faced the fear, but there has also been fun things out of not flying too.
What did you do for a living in the US?
Same thing I do here, Pinky… try to take over the… wait, sorry wrong brain. No I wrote software for websites.
What is your favorite destination? Why?
Do I have to pick one? Actually lately I have decided that destinations are cool, but the place does not make them favorite or unfavorite. There are a lot of cities that have special places in my heart, but it is indeed the people that make places special. Without the special people, I might still visit places, but they are not nearly as fun.
If I have to list cool places then I guess I will. Vienna, Austria; New York City; Bologna, Italy; Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Where made you decide to live abroad?
I decided that I needed a change. I had a fair amount of mental strife wandering around in my head (as I learned later, most was of my own making). I had traveled a lot in Europe and had the sense that I was always happier there. So I decided to see if I could make it there. Then if I failed, at least I could say that I tried.
As someone who has traveled and enjoys slowing down and enjoying the places you visit, what advice would you give travelers when they go to visit a new place?
Meet a local! Talk to the guy in the corner cafe that is always there, especially if he turns out to be the owner. Discuss good books with a bartender. So many good things come from spending time with other people. Listen to their story and tell yours if asked. Places are neat, but the places are what the people in them make them. The heart of any city is the people. Don’t believe me? Go walking around at 5:40am just after the sunup. Yes it is magical and such, but without the people almost every city is the same.
What cultural differences have you noticed from your time in Germany?
Too many to note. Books could be written (and perhaps have been) on cultural differences. I will however quote the cliche that stereotypes often have one foot in reality. Both beer and sausage are plentiful and locals do not normally smile on the streets.
No decision is as big as it seems, because very few are permanent. Moving abroad? You can always go home. Selling stuff? It can be bought again.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering living abroad?
Do it. It sounds cliche, but if you get to the point of considering it; then you have at least the curiosity to try it. No decision is really permanent, so try it and see. Just beware that you might just be changed for the rest of your life.
As with the advice to the traveler above, make friends with the locals.
Above that, I feel it is very important to make friends with the other expats. Find a mentor that you trust and who knows the country. There will always be something you need a contact on or need advice for. Also especially if you are traveling without family, you will need something like a family for support.
Building up your social network as an expat is very important. Including both locals and other expats is key in this network. Locals will help you integrate and learn about your host country and the other expats will understand you better than you will expect.
I believe the decision to become an expat was one of the best things I could ever do for myself. It is not easy living here, but it has changed me and improved me so much.
Andrew Couch is an ex-pat now living in Germany. A self described artist, techie, traveler, expat, homebody, conversationalist, philosopher, beer drinker, friend, you can follow his adventures and story on Grounded Traveler. Follow him on Twitter at @groundedtravelr.
Check out these other guest post and interviews as well.
From humble beginnings to travel entrepreneur – Andy Hayes
Traveling Young and Free – Andy Hayes
Travel with your five sense – Keith Jenkins
Sharing your travel experiences – Melvin Boecher
Travel, technology, and social media – Anil Polat
From Scotland to Europe..a la Carte – Karen Bryan
Fiery redhead with a passion to travel – Suzy Guese