Not too long ago, sometime around mid-March, I found myself in a slump. The kind of slump a German onlooker might’ve mistakenly diagnosed as Frühjahrsmüdigkeit – that general lack of energy and motivation attributed to the time of year when winter turns to spring (yes, Germans really have a word for that). I would wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. And then I’d do it again. And again and again.
The fact that I traveled to Slovenia at the end of March couldn’t shake me from whatever sort of funk I was in. Sure, the country was breathtakingly beautiful (and if you haven’t read about my trip to Piran yet, you really should). But it was a quick fix. I was going through the motions, and the motions were getting blurry.
I felt lethargic, lazy, and sluggish. Even the trips I planned and the places I visited were starting to feel like nothing out of the ordinary. A medieval city here, a castle there, some half-timbered houses, and repeat.
And I was growing more critical of Germany, too. I was becoming irritated by things that had never really bugged me in the past – the lack of small talk while waiting in line at the grocery store, the fact that it was verboten to throw out my glass bottles on a Sunday, the seriousness and utter absence of any sort of emotion on buses, trains, and street cars.
Seasonal affective disorder? Perhaps. I’ve never been a winter person.
But deep down, I knew it wasn’t that. Germany may be gray and cold at the beginning of every year, but its Christmas markets and Karneval festivities provide a well-needed refuge from the dreary winter weather. A spark of life when all else is lifeless.
So if it wasn’t seasonal affective disorder or Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, what was it then?
The answer, I suppose, is this: Living abroad had lost its wow factor. There were no more nuances or thrills. No cultural faux pas or big language flops. No major life developments or change in scenery. I’d been in Frankfurt for three years – the longest amount of time I’d spent in any place since high school, and my life was beginning to feel, well, just too ordinary.
Perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing. Perhaps it was a sign that I had become fully acclimated to life here in Germany. That nothing really phased me anymore. That I was ready for anything this country threw at me.
Besides, even the most interesting places are bound to get dull at some time or another, and it would be foolish to think that the excitement of a new place would last forever. After all, a honeymoon phase is just that – it’s a phase.
But what do you do when living abroad – something you’ve always dreamed of, something that once seemed so unattainable – loses its magic?
It took me a while to find some answers. And I won’t pretend like I’ve found a cure-all remedy just yet (although I did make a list of tips at the bottom of this post which you might want to check out).
Over the past few months, though, I’ve noticed a change in my attitude toward life in Germany. I’ve developed a newfound sense of curiosity. I’ve rekindled old passions and feelings of excitement for my adopted country and its inhabitants.
And if I had to pinpoint one event, one defining moment that set a series of events spiraling into motion, it would probably be Der Erste Mai, or May Day, when I went on a traditional wine hike with five friends in southern Hesse.
There was something about roaming through the German countryside with its wine booths and annual hiking groups, something about taking part in the cultural festivities and regional traditions, that reignited my interest in Germany. Maybe it’s because I realized that there are still some aspects of German culture that I have yet to discover, certain customs that I’m not yet familiar with.
And then I realized that there’s also still so much I’ve yet to see in Germany.
For example, one week after the wine hike in southern Hesse, a friend suggested that we take a day trip to Cochem – a fairytale village in the Moselle River Valley. I had been all over Germany, to fifteen of its sixteen federal states, but I had never been to this small, medieval town nestled in the vineyards between Koblenz and Trier.
For some reason (and I’m beating myself up over this now), I thought that I had already seen it all – the Bavarian Alps, the Rhine River Valley, the Baltic Sea, the Black Forest. Sure, there were still a few places on my list. But I had already crossed off the major sites and destinations. My map of Germany, which hangs on my apartment wall and has blue dot stickers marking everywhere I’ve been, was a testimony to that.
But Cochem? Well, it proved me wrong. It showed me how naive I was to think that I’d seen nearly everything in Germany. And it left me asking myself one big question: How many stones have I still left unturned?
As if Cochem weren’t enough to revive my interest in seeing more of Germany (and trust me, it was), I gained a glimpse of another region that was new to me in mid-June – the Harz Mountains. Much like the Moselle River Valley, the Harz Mountains were a place that I hadn’t really explored yet. A region that, in retrospect, I had highly underestimated.
And what did all this do? It whet my appetite for more. So much so, in fact, that I began to develop a thirst to discover my own home, Frankfurt, even more. To be a tourist in my own city. To try a new restaurant, a new way to work, a new jogging route, or a new type of food.
Because travel isn’t about the distance; it’s about the mindset.
So in the past few months, when the sun has been shining and the lighting is just right, I’ve gone for a walk, and I’ve taken my camera with me. And as I look at the city of Frankfurt through my camera lens, as I zoom in on its skyline and riverfront, its cafes and apartment buildings, it’s as if I’m seeing them all for the very first time.
And then I think about when I first arrived in Frankfurt, about what it was like to be in a completely new place, and I feel a sense of adventure swelling within me again and can’t wait to discover this city more.
It’s a feeling I also get when friends or family come to visit.
Just two weeks ago, for instance, an old friend from the US paid me a visit. And while I was showing her around, it was like I was getting an outsider’s perspective on life here in Germany. Things that I had forgotten about, things that I had started to take for granted, were suddenly the subject of discussion. Like how wonderful the mass transit is here. Or how delicious the bread is. Or how much history there is everywhere. Or how cool it is to work in a foreign language.
And it’s discussions like these that make me remember why I chose to move to Germany again. Why I fell in love with this country in the first place. Why, the more I think about it, I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else right now.
So yes, there will be days when living abroad is dull and unspectacular. That’s just a part of life.
But the more I think about it, the more determined I am to make this the exception rather than the norm. To make sure, instead, that being an expat retains its magic.
So here’s to living abroad. And here’s to making the most of it. The most of every day and of every minute, because it truly is a magical experience.
Some tips for when living abroad no longer feels exciting:
1. Think about all the reasons you made the move. Make a list, talk to relatives, read about other expats’ trials and errors while living abroad. Anything you can do to remind yourself of why you took that step to move overseas and what it was like those first few months can help keep the passion alive.
2. Mix up your routine. Whether that means trying a new type of food, taking up a new hobby, or visiting a new part of town on the weekend or after work, a change in routine can make the mundane feel new again.
3. Collect and organize your memories from living abroad. For me, that means taking pictures – either of Frankfurt or nearby places – and blogging about my travels. It’s a way for me to sort through my thoughts and reflect on what I enjoy about living in another country.
4. Take a day trip (or a longer trip) to someplace new in your host country. Often, a short trip to a nearby town gives me enough of a traveler’s high to coast for the next few days. My interest in traveling to nearby places is piqued, and I become curious about discovering more of the region I live in.
5. Take part in local customs and festivities. After all, that’s one reason you moved abroad, isn’t it? For me in Germany, that means going to the Christmas markets, dressing up for Karneval, rooting for the German soccer team during the World Cup, and going to wine festivals. All of these things allow me to appreciate the beauty of living abroad and rediscover the cultural aspects that come with it.
6. Make time to host visitors and show them around. Seriously, there’s no better way to feel like a tourist in your own city again than having guests and revisiting some of your favorite sights with them. Plus, you get a fresh look at your life abroad and an outsider’s commentary on the country you live in.
Have you ever lived abroad? If so, did it ever lose its magic?