In 2016, Kathy Bryan and her husband moved their three school-age kids to Munich. The family has been dealing with a whole new country, new language and new lifestyle. We’ve asked Kathy to write about her experience, answering questions like: How do you make friends at the school gate when you can’t chit-chat? Can you still go on mom-dates without your kids? How many first days of school can one kid have? Look for the #kathy tag to check out her posts.
Before leaving the UK to come to Munich, I spent hours wondering what the future would bring… We were approaching something that I was struggling to imagine. Some things in life seem, to me, like hurdles I have to negotiate, but at least I can see what the day to day will be like. With other things, like moving and my first pregnancy, although I sort of knew the theory, I had no true idea of what life would be like on the other side. This made leaving harder and quite a challenge.
It’s not the house that makes a home…
In England, we had found our dream home, the valued casket for our precious things, the place that we could hide in, to feel secure and protected. We had fallen in love with it at first sight… It was small, to some it might have seemed even quaint: it had a step between every room on the ground floor, it had beams and a working fire place. My dad would curse if his ‘tall person’s radar’ cut out as he banged his head on the door frame, and I couldn’t put my heels on upstairs for the same reason. But it was our dream house. We moved in when I was three months pregnant with our first child and over the next five years we filled it with our young family. Our second child was even born at home, in the dining room. Some wondered how we all managed to fit in, and on occasions – Christmas, birthday parties or family gatherings, monumental Mummy strops– so did we; but we did, and it felt right.
As we first started looking into moving to Munich, we had to consider how much of a tie we would keep with the UK: would there be an escape route or would this really be forever? Would we keep a house there? We contemplated renting our home out. We went as far as to invite 3 estate agents in to assess whether it could be an appropriate rental property. I remember thinking “it’s not a property, it’s my home!”. They sounded positive and made all the right noises to suggest that we would be able to rent it out. Howeve, following much late night soul searching, long chats over coffee and quite frankly bending the ear of anyone willing to hear, we finally decided that selling might make more sense.
As with many of our decisions, it was a mixture of sense and emotion. We asked ourselves: would we really want people living in our house? Would we want to go back to the same house, no matter how much we loved it now, after living away from it for a number of years? The house and the village would have changed and moved on… Could we really just slot back in when/if we came back? How much stress would it be to own a house and have to make sure it was rented out whilst we were away? When we would still have to cover the mortgage and our rent in Germany? The list was long and still today, it makes my head hurt. We eventually decided that as the move was as permanent as permanent is these days, we had to let it go. So on 11th January the house went on the market and we started to sever our ties.
Good friends are hard to find & harder to leave.
It wasn’t just the house we were preparing to leave… It was our friends, our life, our last 11 years! We had spent the last portion of our life becoming involved with the communty and making village life work for us. By moving we would be starting from scratch, but this time with the added challenge of a new language. Looking forward to the move in some ways felt disloyal to those we were leaving, but they were excited for us and the prospect of visits to Bavaria (not just empty promises as it turned out!). Everyone was on board and agreed that this was an opportunity that we had to make the most of. We were really fortunate to have made such good and supportive friends who were able to view this leap with such positivity.
Looking back to that group of friends I feared to leave, I have come to appreciate that, whilst I can’t just call them or pop in for coffee, we can still have coffee together… but through Skype. Emails are quick to send and there is still the telephone – with a good package, calls aren’t necessarily prohibitively expensive. Social media also means that we are mutually able to keep in touch and up to date with how everything has been going. So much easier than for those people who became expats before the internet and had to wait for letters or rare phone calls for news from “back home”!
You are braver than you think & stronger than you feel.
I can see now that, as hard as it was to imagine, life hasn’t really changed much at all. Some things are, of course, completely different. While shopping, cooking and cleaning are still part of my daily life; the shops are different, the ingredients have different names; and the cleaning brands, well… don’t get me started. However, we do manage to eat and the house is looking slightly more like a home than a pigsty. My husband still travels with work and delights in telling us about where he’s been and what he had for tea. The children still go to school and come home to play sweetly one moment, only to then fight like cat and dog the next. Life truly goes on. I was scared (we were scared!) but we chose this path and now we have to face the challenge together.
For all that we felt we were leaving behind, and are still missing, the move has also given us so much. We are all learning a second language. We have met new people who are becoming our friends and have already enriched our lives welcoming us, including and supporting us in ways we could not have predicted or hoped for (thank you LMBB!). We are all experiencing a new culture and learning so much about ourselves… And, not least, we are exploring a new country. It is these positives that keep me going on the days when I just want to pack up and go back. But in all truth, going back wouldn’t be possible at all. Physically yes but, emotionally? No. I am different. I have left once already. I have been a foreigner and a stranger. I am not the same and I’m happy for it.
Kathy Bryan is a stay at home mum with 11 ½ years experience. She and her family moved to Bavaria from the middle of England in March 2016. Her current challenge is learning enough German to help with homework as well as keeping up with her 3 children! She previously worked and lived in London; rugby was her sport of choice. In her free time she tries to run regularly and continues to try to settle and make friends in Germany.