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?
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As expats, we are no stranger to the digital age. Normalizing technology into our everyday way of life is typical.
FaceTime dates. Skype calls. Utilizing video chats through WhatsApp. It's the common way of communication for those of us who live abroad.
I might call someone on the fly to ask a simple question, but taking the time to sit down and have a proper face-to-face chat through the phone is normal when your loved ones live in Timbuktu.
It's entertaining to watch the rest of the world set up Zoom calls for family game night, Sunday school class, or a catch-up with little friends. Everyone else seems fascinated by the virtual world of communication. Even predators and scammers are catching on to the digital ways.
I realize it's depressing to not see your Aunt Susie in person when you are used to making potato salad with her every other Sunday for family get-togethers. I get that; I truly do. That was my childhood.
But this. This way of communicating through virtual video conferencing is a way of life for our family and many others.
Nowadays, you may call up Aunt Susie to "see" her over video chat. This is how our kids maintain and grow a relationship with their grandparents. If not, they wouldn't know them the next time we visited. Family members would be complete strangers to them.
The other day, my mother-in-law read a book to the kids before bed over a WhatsApp video call. They will call their cousins to showcase their latest drawing or newly discovered way to make a fart noise. They will discuss cartoons and superheroes, and run around the house with the phone in hand like they were side by side in person.
"It's heartbreaking but incredibly cute at the same time. Bittersweet indeed."
I've had wine night catch ups with high school girlfriends and "in person" prayer dates with college friends. We also set up a family hello to dear friends from college the other day to banter about the current madness we are all experiencing. They said they didn't realize how easy it was for us to connect like that. Mind-blown, you guys. Only because that is our normal.
If we don't live like this, then we would literally never "see" anyone for an entire year...maybe longer. It shatters my soul to think only decades ago families left grandparents and best friends behind not knowing the next time they would see them.
"The virtual world makes living away from loved ones much easier to deal with."
Because of time zones, we have to be strategic about it though. Dinner time for us is the lunch hour for folks back home. When we were living in Asia, it was a 12 hour swing making it much more challenging. 9am at grandma's house in the States was 9pm in Singapore. Syncing up time frames for the kids to have interaction was incredibly hard.
Weekends are generally the golden timeframe to catch up. Work, school, hobbies, evening activities and commitments make it challenging to line up schedules during the week. But this current crisis has made it easier than ever to call whenever. Calendars are wiped clean. Commitments have been cancelled. Most people have nothing but time at the moment.
"And for us, on this side of the world, it's glorious!"
Can I encourage you to keep using video calls? Introduce your children to it if you haven't already. Even if you don't believe in much screen time, this is the way of the future. Your son or daughter might be expected to have face-to-face chats with a co-worker in Peru one day.
-What To Focus On-
Teach them manners
Why body language is important
Where to look into the camera
Be aware of their background
Not run or spin while talking
Turn off the TV or any other distraction while on the call
How to focus and ask interesting questions
Are they talking too loud or not loud enough
It's a fabulous learning tool for the next generation, and will hopefully steer them away from this out-of-touch texting way of life!
Losing steam? 8 Creative Ways to Survive Quarantine
In a previous life, I used to teach public speaking to 8th graders. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for kids to learn the art of communication. Involve them in planning and prepping a virtual play date. What time is best? What should they wear? Talk about? Things to do and not do on the call? And how to know when it's time to say goodbye.
And while you are at it, schedule that virtual dinner date with your bff. If you've been jonesing for your weekly catch ups, then make it fun over FaceTime. Whip up some fettuccine alfredo, swirl together your favorite cocktail, and prop up that phone for some visible laughs.
"It's a beautiful way to stay connected and fully present during these challenging times."
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