As any expat will express, our emotions yo-yo between happy to be here and can't wait to get out of here. But the recent global pandemic has drastically changed my views on living in Germany.
Under normal circumstances, we would be moisturizing our freshly sun-kissed skin from Greece and prepping for our annual trip home to the States next week.
However, Germany began to close its borders and the US halted all unnecessary travel from Europe a few weeks ago. Even though we can easily prove our citizenship, catching a flight home suddenly isn't so fluid anymore. Our local airport is currently shut down to passengers. Only freight is allowed through.
Cancelling our plans to celebrate the long weekend in Greece for my birthday was a downer, but facing the reality of not hugging loved ones back in the US that I hadn't seen in over a year was heart-wrenching.
I've wallowed in ALL the what-ifs while simultaneously trying to figure out how to entertain (yet keep quiet) my 4&5 year old boys, so hubby can work. Nowadays, my glazed over facial expressions might often read traumatized more so than at peace.
My love/hate relationship with living in Germany has stared me in the face in recent weeks, and it's developed into more of a thankfulness than anything. While mulling over the multitude of what-ifs, I've come to realize how truly fortunate we are to be where we are in this moment.
Five Reasons Why Living in Germany is a Gift RIGHT NOW:
1.) Sick Leave
If I were to become ill and unable to care for our kids, hubs has six weeks of paid leave + 10 extra days allotted per child that he could use to care for our family. The best part...if he becomes sick beyond his paid leave, he would still receive some level of paid sick leave for up to two years if need be. Very generous from all aspects.
A benefit to paying higher taxes is having faith in the government that they will take care of you. Not only in times of crisis, but in the general everyday times. Kindergeld is one way the German government looks after the welfare of it's citizens and even immigrants. Think of it as Social Security for kids. Every month, we receive a few hundred bucks from the government to assist in costs of raising children. This is huge in times of uncertainty. Knowing you will have money to help feed your children if ish hits the fan is priceless. Those funds do not discriminate either. Everyone is equal. Every household receives the same amount for each child every month. You do receive a tad more for each additional child after the first two, though.
We are not German citizens nor permanent residents- only common tax payers and fulfilling our legal obligation of living in Deutschland.
Want the full scoop on Kindergeld? Child Benefits in Germany
3.) German Works Council
This organization was founded to protect workers in Germany. If your role is diminished, then you immediately become a priority for any available position. They will work with you to get you re-hired as soon as possible. In the US- most companies will walk you out that same day, or graciously give you a two weeks heads up. I've experienced both back home, and neither are fun. Here in Germany- you have several months notice, and the employer will still help you as much as possible.
"The GWC is also the organization responsible for making it illegal to work more than 40 hours in a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Hello, quality of life!"
My heart aches for those losing work back in the States though. The lucky ones receiving a week or so notice. Others, being told that same day their job no longer exists and they have to go elsewhere for work. Our situation would undoubtedly look vastly different work wise if we were currently in the US.
4.) Our Personal Situation- let me paint a picture for you...two pictures in fact:
- In the States, I would be teaching, our eldest would be in kindergarten, our youngest would be in Pre-K, and hubby would more than likely have a long commute and even longer (expected) work days. The reality over that situation in quarantine looks like this...I would be stressing over the kindergartner’s e-Learning, formatting digital lesson plans for my (130) 7th graders, while simultaneously figuring out how to entertain my four year old quietly, because hubby would be working from home all day. Madness. Pure madness. I have teacher friends back home who are living this, and it is utter chaos. Stressssss!
- In Germany, I am a SAHM. The boys are in public preschool every day. The youngest goes half day, and the eldest goes full day to prep him for real school in September. And the boys' school is essentially free through various government programs. Much the opposite back home! In Germany, it's incredibly common to be a SAHM with kids attending the preschool. It's amazing, really. I can take care of all housing tasks, run errands, manage doctor appointments, etc and still have free time to intentionally be with my kids in the afternoon and spend quality time with my husband in the evening instead of doing laundry. The quality of family life in this culture is sacred.
- Mandatory schooling starts much later here than back home, so no distance learning lessons for our eldest right now. I do a few educational activities here and there. But for the most part, we play all day!
5.) House Doctor- this is ridiculously huge at the moment, but it wasn't invented due to our current global crisis. This unique service is provided and built into our healthcare system for everyday use. It's brilliant, really, and I actually used it last year. In fact when I used this service, grateful couldn't possibly touch how thankful I was for her. The call was made at 11pm, and she was at our house examining me at midnight. She wrote me a prescription to be filled for the next day and gave me a shot in the bum for instant pain relief so I could get some rest.
Right now, if one of us is feeling sick, it is recommended to call the house doctor instead of making an appointment with your regular doctor. If indeed anyone is confirmed with Covid-19, it limits exposure and increasing spread of the virus by the doctor making house calls. Thankfully, we haven't had to call the House Doctor while we've been home, but I bet they've been busy! What a blessing that service is - not only during this time but year-round as well.
We have our ups and downs with German living much like we did while living in Singapore. However, our current life and times have given me a fresh perspective on my unique reality.
I have safety. Job security. Incredible health care. A government force which cares for her people. Precious family time without unnecessary additional stress. Access to the outdoors and nature. Simplistic freedoms which I will never take for granted again.
"Thinking about moving abroad? Be sure to check out this life-changing post below!"
And even after our curve is beginning to flatten, the government is extending lockdown restrictions a while longer. Honestly, I don't mind the additional measures and extra precaution. Germans are known for their efficiency, and this pandemic has solidified their cultural norms even more.
Unfortunately, it took something as heavy as a pandemic to straighten up my thankfulness... but it did. And I'm grateful for my kick to the face attitude adjustment. It rubs off on my kids, my marriage, and breathes new life into my every day.
How has this situation changed your perspective on where you live?
Want more inspiration for life abroad?
Sign up for our newsletter below!
This is wild to step back in time. It was our second international trip after moving to Singapore. The first was exploring Bali in Indonesia, but with only one babe in tow- plus an 8 month pregnant me.
I vividly remember looking at Josh like he was crazy. Flights to Thailand were cheap in the spring, and it was only a 1.5 hr flight. It all sounded good in theory. But we had a one year old, and I had just brought a new human into this world. My husband had officially lost his gourd, y'all. He thought we could do it. Had full faith in the two of us traipsing a toddler and barely there two month old around Thailand. But we did, and looking back...I'm so very glad we did.
If anyone ever says in passing, "wow, you take so many vacations! So nice to be able to relax in paradise." Can I tell you this could not be further from the truth if you have kids. Traveling with babies (and especially toddlers) is the exact opposite of a vacation. It is a trip, and I mother just the same there as I would at home. If I'm being 100% honest, it's loads more difficult than staying home. There are things to plan and buy and organize. And heaven forbid, you have a hawk-eye on your children the whole time for things they will put in their mouth. Foreign nasty things. Ughhh. Relaxing and enjoyable are the last words that come to mind. Hah!
But like each country cemented into my memory, the stressful times become a laughing matter, and the good times stick with you. Really stick with you. During the mass chaos, you will find yourself saying "no way I'm ever doing this again!" But then, you return home. Flipping through photos. Reminiscing about tiny details. You can't wait to do it all over again. I mean, how cute is it our eldest said "boat" for the first time while gazing at an authentic, long-tail bobbing up and down anchored to shore. Is it cute to have him dash through the airport throwing caution to the wind? NO. Absolutely not. But there is nothing like seeing your one year old burst through at full-speed fully exclaiming "ah pane! ah pane!" when he realizes he's getting on that airplane. It's a priceless memory.
We've been to Thailand a few times, but this one was extra special. It was Evan's first flight and our first trip as a family of four. SO many things we had to figure out for that "first" adventure, and we thought staying at a resort-type place would make things easier. While that is somewhat true, you can't experience the true cultural of a country without getting off the resort grounds.
BOOKING TIP while in DEVELOPING COUNTRIES:
We've traveled around many third world countries, and checking the cleanliness of the water supply is gravely important, especially when little ones are in tow. Always double check if the tap water is safe to consume where you are staying. Unfortunately, the water at this resort was not and I'm so very glad we asked again upon checking in. You can stay at nice places all you want, but that doesn't negate the fact you are in a developing or third world country where clean water is a luxury. At places like this, you need to take extra precaution when showering/bathing little ones to prevent them from splashing water into their mouths. They can get very very sick if not properly watched. As adults, we know to use bottled water to brush teeth and not sing in the shower. Children don't know any different, and it's an extra step we need to take in keeping them safe. Looks can be deceiving...always ask! This gorgeously updated, modern hotel did NOT have clean drinking water from the tap.
You will forever have individuals give you the speech, "The kids are too young for this. Why does it matter now? Stay at the resort and relax." And to that I laugh, because one does not simply relax at the beach or lounge around the pool with a baby and toddler. So why not get out and share the experiences? If we had decided to hole up and stay at the resort for five days, we would have missed out on these SIX fun things!
(We never booked a tour guide or driver. The following explorations were made completely on our own behalf)
1.) THE BOYS' FIRST RIDE IN A TRADITIONAL TUK-TUK:
Experiencing our first, family ride in a tuk-tuk (a motorized bike with benches attached) to a place recommended by a co-worker of Josh’s, way off the beaten path. Sure, we could’ve taken a taxi, but why not do as the Thai people?
Keeping with the spirit of living like a local...we hitched a ride back to our place in a neon tuk tuk. With the music and obnoxious lights, this thing made me think I should’ve been at Myrtle Beach during senior week. Hah! Jack was telling us to "shhh" since Evan was sleeping. Good thing the baby can sleep anywhere. You could hear this thing from a mile away!
...when in Rome, as they always say!
2.) EVAN'S EXPRESSION WHEN I ORDERED AN ENTIRE FRIED FISH:
Don't mind the shiny face. It really is that hot all.the.time.
3.) FEEDING AN ELEPHANT OUTSIDE OF A ZOO:
Elephants are such gentle loving creatures. I never knew their true noises, but it sounds a lot like a deep- voiced donkey- EEEEE AHHH. It was super cool to pet and feed them outside of a zoo.
And to see the conditions where the caretakers lived was a humbling experience to say the least: no real walls, floors, running water, or sanitation. Most of them had chickens living with them. Not outside, because remember... no walls - but WITH them.
4.) UNIQUE EXPERIENCES ON A PUBLIC BEACH:
We had a beautifully gated and guarded beach at our resort. But can I tell you about the intriguing people we met on a nearby public beach? Humorous and fascinating. Stray dogs we saw playing? Jack loved that. And sat on the stairs watching the local fishermen come in from their day's work? Incredible. We meandered along Ao Nang beach to watch the sunset and peruse the local shops of Krabi before heading back to tuck in for the night.
5.) DEVOURING TRULY AUTHENTIC LOCAL CUISINE:
Sure I could have ordered pad Thai at the restaurant in the lobby, but to have it served out of a food cart is generally more delicious and always cheaper than the resort. Yes, this was from a street-side stand!
And hello? Three words. Mango sticky rice. I still have dreams about it. If you've never had a fresh thai mango, ohhh you are missing out. It's heaven on Earth. It literally melts in your mouth and tastes like honey. Oh my my.
6.) SAVING MONEY ON SPA TREATMENTS:
If you ever stay at a beach resort in a foreign country, don’t go to the resort spa. I’ll say it again, DON’T go to the resort spa. You might as well throw money straight into the ocean. An hour massage at the hotel was $80. Not bad, but the hut on the beach next door was $10 for an HOUR AND A HALF! Plus, it’s outside...in the shade...with a breeze. And while the ocean soundtracks in the spa are a nice feature, nothing beats hearing the real thing. Sigh. You can usually find these places right beside resorts, too, so you don’t have to walk far. We did the same thing in Mexico, and it was ah-mazing! Take turns with the kiddos, and head out for a cheap and uber-relaxing moment.
Southeast Asia is known for their massages, especially Thailand. Oh man, a genuine Thai massage is heavenly if you have tight muscles. Once the massage is complete, they will bend, pull and stretch your body. You will definitely leave feeling all loosey goose. I have an absolutely terrible back, and it's THE best. Not a bad view in exchange for a massage and a 10 dollar bill!
After my session, I had this guy whack open a coconut for me to enjoy on the stroll back 🙂
It's taking in what Thai culture is like. How the people of Krabi live their lives. Strike up a conversation with a local in their village- the bartender at the hotel doesn't count. Ask them questions. See things from their perspective. Enjoying the random thoughts foreigners have about America and seeing our country through their eyes is fascinating.
After we dug into the world around us, we did spend a few moments poolside and walking the beach where we were staying. We took it all in. Goofing off, taking pictures, swimming with the boys, and slurping up all the tropical goodness in the Land of Smiles.
While vacationing (especially flying internationally) with a toddler and a baby can be challenging, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It takes patience and a tremendous amount of teamwork, but I would highly encourage any couple to do it. The kids won’t remember it, but we will. And these memories... oh so unforgettable.
It's never easy, but always worth it!
Want More Reasons to Travel?