In the first of our interview series, Apryl chats to Anne about life in Munich, kids, and how to survive both.
With the warm charm of a southern belle, Anne is also tough as nails. When I first met her, she introduced herself with the grace of Princess Kate before turning around to lecture her daughter, at which point I knew we just had to become the best of friends. I love a woman who can have the poise of a duchess and also be unapologetically themselves within a single sentence. Originally from Georgia, USA, she’s lived in Munich for 9 years and has a young daughter. In our in-depth interview, she talks about the challenges and joys of moving abroad, offering some great tips for how to get by and thrive.
LMBB: Welcome Anne! Let’s dive right in:
what brought you to Bavaria and where are you originally from?
Anne: I grew up in Georgia in the United States, but spent most of my adult life in Dallas. I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for four years for work before moving back to Texas. While I was back home I bought a car, bought a house, and lasted about two years before I caught the itch to go abroad again. I called my old boss and found out they were doing some business in Europe. They were willing to move me to Europe. I was excited to go and the assignment was in Munich. I thought I’d only come out here for a couple years but Germany surprised me, as I think it does many Americans, because it’s an absolutely cool place to live and visit. So, I didn’t have any qualms about permanently moving here, even alone.
LMBB: How was your transition from America to here?
Anne: Not that hard because I had already lived abroad in Bangkok. Thailand’s cultural differences are much more extreme than the differences between Germany and the United States.
LMBB: How do Germany and the US compare?
Anne: It has a much better work-life balance than the United States. When I moved here I did have a job which required working overtime or some weekends and extra hours, but it was always acceptable to take a long vacation. And it was encouraged! When you tell people you’re going away for weeks at a time they say “life is short”, and you just go. This was totally different from all of my American experiences.
LMBB: What are some things you wish you could get in Munich but can’t find here?
Anne: Chocolate chips. I always bring back Tollhouse chocolate chips from the United States. And baking powder, because I swear the baking powder here is not the same.
LMBB: How has being in Munich affected you as a parent?
Anne: It’s hard to say because I haven’t been a parent anywhere else. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take a year off from work if I had our baby in the United States. Parental leave was a critical time for me to focus on motherhood and what I wanted to do with my life; and I never would have had that important time for growth and reflection had I been in the US when my daughter was born. That’s something I really appreciate about Munich and the German parenting experience.
My daughter has Down Syndrome and a heart defect, so we’ve had a lot of unexpected medical issues. Living in Germany has made that really affordable for us; paying for speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other therapies; it’s been so easy compared to what I hear of other Americans’ experiences. We pay virtually nothing out of pocket under this insurance system. Because of my daughter’s particular medical challenges, we’ve racked up bills well over six figures and everything has been fully covered here. When we go to the doctor or the hospital and something urgent needs to be done we never have to worry who’s going to pay for it, because insurance will always help us and that is such a huge load off my mind.
I know it’s something a lot of American parents struggle with—but a huge advantage of Germany over the United States is that if you have children they will always be provided for.
LMBB: How is parenting in Germany different from parenting in the US?
Anne: Being a parent and having a child in Germany is something totally unique; the freedom that children have in this culture is more like when we were children. Children can play at the playground by themselves, and walk to school by themselves. I think if you did that today in the United States someone would call Child Protection Services. I feel like here it is better respected that parents are responsible for their children, and that it’s up to you as a parent to trust when your child is responsible enough to do certain things or be self-sufficient. Children are allowed to make decisions here and that’s something I love about the parent-child culture in Germany.
But again… I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take a year off from work if I had our baby in the United States. Parental leave was a critical time for me to focus on motherhood and what I wanted to do with my life; and I never would have had that important time for growth and reflection had I been in the U.S.
I don’t understand how my friends are immediately going to work twelve weeks after their child is born; I could never do that.
LMBB: So is Munich somewhere you can see yourself staying in the future?
Anne: Definitely! We have no concrete plans to leave. I expect we will go home to the United States at some point, mainly because we are both American citizens, but we definitely want to stay long enough that our child learns to speak German and has the incredible advantage of being bilingual.
LMBB: Do you ever get homesick?
Anne: Of course! Although I found that I get homesick more for people than for things. What I miss and can’t replace are the friends I’ve had for a long time, and family. That’s hard. Every now and again there are little things, like getting in a car at the middle of the night and going to the grocery store when everyone’s asleep and the world is quiet, that I miss sometimes.
LMBB: What have been some specific challenges for you here in Munich?
Anne: Learning how things work; like Kita (day care) applications, how the school process works. If we were back home we would still have some things to figure out, but doing it in a foreign language in a system you don’t understand can be pretty overwhelming.
LMBB: What would make Munich a better place for you to live and be?
The childcare and school situation is really tough in Munich, in my opinion. We were lucky to find a Krippe (day care) place, but it wasn’t until my daughter turned two that she even got a spot. We were looking for over a year and it was exhausting. Finding a babysitter is also hard – every time we find one they are fantastic, and then they move away. My understanding is that it gets harder as a child starts school.
LMBB: What is a favorite Munich tourist experience of yours?
Anne: I’ve had a lot of great experiences at Oktoberfest, but the Dachauer Volksfest has been one of my favorite Munich experiences. This was pre-children, of course, but we would dress up and learn a lot of the songs for Oktoberfest.
The Volksfest is a lot smaller than Oktoberfest – the beer is
half price and there’s also not as many tourists. They capture a snap-shot of German culture. I love the sense of tradition here; the Dirndls, the Lederhosen… it’s really cool that Munich has traditions. But at the same time, it’s a vibrant, fantastic city. It feels small, but it has everything a huge city provides… museums, restaurants, nature, festivals… it kind of has the perfect mix of everything.
Editor’s note: This family-friendly country fair typically runs for 2 weeks in August. Find out more on the Dachauer Volksfest website.
LMBB: What advice would you give to someone moving here for the first time?
I would say put yourself out there: the Internet is your friend! And find groups; there are several parents groups online like Little Munich Black Book. Do your research and find every group you can, and give other people a chance. Also, don’t quit when you’ve made a couple friends. In the international community that we live in, people move around and sometimes it’s unexpected. Everything can change really quickly – so you have to keep it up and stay out there and not settle when you make a couple friends. Keep going!
LMBB: Is there anything you miss from the US?
Anne: Shopping! I really miss the adventure of shopping and hunting for things and finding a cool deal. I also don’t find the clothes which are affordably priced to be very stylish here. There are excellent brands here and very nice things, but they’re very high quality and that’s typically reflected in the price you’re paying.
I love sewing and crafting. I bring home cases full of fabric (those American sales I was talking about make it possible) because if I tried to buy the things in Munich that I do in the United States for my hobbies I’d never be able to afford it.
LMBB: Thank you for talking to us Anne. Any last wise words for our community?
Anne: Find something that you love to do and do that. Whether it’s a hobby, reading or whatever, I think it’s important to find something that you like to do that will carry you through the hard moments of being away from home and your family. Creativity helps to create balance in your life, and it helps you to do something that’s a little bit different which can inspire you to grow. And lastly, don’t neglect your hobby. It will recharge you and carry you through your expat experience.
Apryl Rayne, founder of Little Munich Black Book, has been living in Bavaria since 2013. She enjoys mom-dating, writing, networking, and exploring little-known corners of Munich side streets. When she’s not at home with her two kids or hanging around in LMBB, you can find her perusing the city looking for great coffee, english-speaking people, and new trending topics.
Photo credit: Oli Beer is portrait photographer and a stylist. She trained her artistic eye and composition while studying commercial art and graphic design at the University and later working in the field. A former dancer and a model she knows both the vulnerability of being in front of a camera, as well as the power of lines and angles to create optical illusions. She uses her talents to help women discover their inner beauty and transform it into gorgeous portraits at You are Stunning Photography.