-Where were you born?
In San Antonio, Texas, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live alone.
-How long have you been living in Germany?
About 16 years now
-What is your age?
I am 44.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Germany?
I had grown disenchanted with Texas and its conservative, xenophobic nature after my undergraduate experience at Texas Tech, located in the heart of the bible belt, in Lubbock, Texas. My junior and senior year, I had met a lot of Europeans through activities that were a part of my German minor - met lots of Germans in particular that were exchange students at Tech. I had been abroad when I was in the 8th grade through an exchange program that took me to Japan. I absolutely loved it and got the idea to go to Europe the first time through an 8-week intensive German course that took place in Vienna. After I had returned from Vienna later that summer, I was hooked and knew that I absolutely had to go for a longer stay. The following year, I went to the University of Giessen (near Frankfurt) through the ISEP exchange program for an entire year, became a regular student there after the exchange year, and got my Masters in Financial Economics some years later from the Univesity of Giessen.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
No, but that was only because I am an American. About a couple of months after I had graduated from U. Giessen, I took a job offer from a Bank in Hannover. Before I could begin work there, I had to get the paperwork done to leave Giessen and move to Hannover, just like anyone else. I had already moved to Hannover physically, but had not taken care of the paperwork at the government offices. So on the first day at work, I received notice from the employment office in Hannover that I first had to go down to Giessen and let them know that I was moving to Hannover, and carry out the necessary paperwork. So I did just that - caught an early train down to Giessen, went to the immigration office, and started the paperwork. When I walked into the woman's office, I gave her the letter of employment from my employer in Hannover, and explained to her that I "just" needed to have my visa changed from a student visa to a work visa. She looked at me like I was crazy and said,
Herr Tanner, jetzt ist Schluss mit lustig fuer Sie- Sie kehren schoen zurueck in Ihre Heimat!
To translate, that meant something to the effect of "work permit my ass! you're done with your studies, now you're going back to Africa where you belong!" Yes, she thought I was an African, didn't even look at my passport, or anything. She saw a black person standing before her, and that was all. There was no way I was going to let that job opportunity slip through my hands, so I kept badgering her, trying to explain not so much that I wasn't an African, but, instead, that I had a note from my employer that stated that I was an official employee there, and that I had important things to do. So after about 5 minutes of arguing with her, she hastily took my passport and asked me to wait while she went to talk to her supervisor about the matter. Not 2 minutes later, she came back a COMPLETELY different person, smiled at me, and said,
HERR TANNER- wie koennte ich so dumm sein??? Ich bitte um Verzeihung, habe nicht gesehen dass Sie Amerikaner sind- NATUERLICH ist das fuer Sie ueberhaupt kein Problem, Sie bekommen Ihre Arbeitserlaubnis sofort!
Tranlslated, that meant something to the effect of, "Mr. Tanner- I am so sorry, I didn't realize you're an American- OF COURSE you can have the work permit- no problem at all for you!"
So it was no problem after all, once she realized I was an American. I got the work permit, spent the rest of the day visiting some old friends from the Uni in Giessen, and got back on a late train to Hannover that evening so that I'd be there bright and early for work the next day. I thought the way it was handled was awfully racist towards Africans (and probably towards others who come from certain countries), but I was glad to have received the proper working papers. After working for the bank for 5 straight years, I received a permanent green card that doesn't expire. Next step is citizenship, which I've held off on for now because my parents still live in Texas.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, the medical insurance is included in the taxes I pay, so it's no big deal, though I am now privately insured.
-How do you make your living in Germany?
I work in risk control in a federal bank. The interviews in Germany in the financial sector are pretty tough - this job I found listed in the Handelsblatt, which is the German version of the Wall Street Journal (or the rough equivalent thereof). I went through an initial interview process, then was invited to a 3 day assessment center, and was hired immediately after the assessment center, originally as a trainee in the investment banking program.
-Do you speak German and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.
YES. I attained native speaker fluency after just a couple of months in Germany, but it was easy for me because I like languages, and for some reason they totally fascinate me. As a result, I made a tremendous effort to learn it extremely well, written, spoken, accents, everything. I can't stress enough to you how important this is in your host country, wherever it may be in Europe - ESPECIALLY if you are a person of color or an obvious member of a minority group.
Whenever I've had interviews, the people interviewing me are in a state of shock because of my German language skills, and the first thing they say is something about the language skills - they always, always want to know if I grew up in Germany and went to school there, or if one or both of my parents are German. when I tell them that I came to Germany at the age of 24, they nearly faint. When the interview starts off in this manner, that's already more than half the battle won! This also takes the edge off considerally when people are sceptical or hesitant to talk with me at work, or elsewhere - as soon as they hear my German, there is no more doubt, and they feel very relaxed and comfortable, and speak with me as they would anyone else. Then also will NEVER try to give you the run around if they know that you have complete mastery of the language.
So LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF YOUR HOST COUNTRY - it will truly sweeten your experience, and you'll find that people (particularly northern Europeans who are a bit standoffish and reserved) will really warm up to you very quickly!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Yes, I miss my family - my mother refuses to fly because of some bad experiences she had years ago on a couple of flights, so it's up to me to fly to Texas to see them. They are the only thing keeping me from giving up my American passport and taking the German citizenship (Germany does not allow dual German-American citizenship in my case).
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I would like to live and work in Norway and see what that's like - I am also itching to learn another language, preferably Norwegian or Swedish, as they're probably fairly similar to Germany and won't give me so much trouble in my old age! Ultimately though, Germany is home, and going there back in '92 was the absolute best thing I ever could've done in my life.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I'm still renting, will now start looking at buying a home.
-What is the cost of living in Germany?
Not too bad, though a bit more expensive than in the U.S. Wages are good here though, and that helps tremendously. It is a very good, high quality life.
-What do you think about the Germans?
A very good mixture, just like anywhere else. Very nice when you get to know them, and friends for life. As an American, I've been treated extremely well, and the racism here is virtually non-existent for me, compared to what I've experienced growing up in Texas and going to college in west Texas. U.S. military personnel may have a different opinion on that, but you have to mix with the people, learn about them, learn their ways and their language - if you do this, it will be an incredible experience. Again, I think that has a lot to do with my language skills, but most people are very kind to foreigners, even if you're standing there thinking you're being yelled at.
Germans tend to be very serious to an onlooker from the outside, and if you don't know the language, you may get the impression that they're angry with you or are yelling at you for this or that, when in fact that is simply a characteristic of their language - German sounds quite harsh to the untrained ear! Again, you MUST learn the language of your host country if you want to reap full benefit from the experience - the language contains all kinds of signals, cultural, and behavioral traits you'll never come to understand if you don't master it. It's very important, no matter how poor your language skills are, no matter how well the natives in your host country speak English - YOU NEED TO LEARN THEIR LANGUAGE AND LEARN IT WELL.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Germany?
Positive: It's very safe for the most part, they take very good care of their people, and public transportation is absolutely phenomenal. Education is also free (that's why I decided to finish my masters there), and because the cleft between rich and poor isn't as nearly pronounced as it is in the U.S., there is a lot less crime.
Negative: They are often too well organized!
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Germany?
I don't know of anything online, really - you're welcome to send me an email, I'd be glad to help or answer any questions you may have. Feel free to write me at aleksander.rosdniw(at)yahoo.com