Leap of Faith Life

Leaps of Faith in Life, Travel, Yoga, and Happiness

Tag: Expat

How I Decided to Move to Costa Rica

If you asked me on New Years Day 2014 where I would be in 2015, I would have told you Europe.  Germany more specifically. After all, I was on my way to move in with my German boyfriend. To take a leap of faith for love.
 
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How to Successfully Attend Graduate School Abroad

My Korean Leap of Faith

If you are deciding to take your own leap of faith to study abroad in another country (graduate school abroad in this case), these tips will help you to get the most out of your time there.  Learn from my mistakes, and see what to look forward to (hint I’ve never regretted a leap of faith abroad).
 
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Pieces of Home When Adjusting to Life Abroad

I created a bucket list of things to do in my new Dutch city of Groningen (with a German boyfriend), but after I created it, I felt a bit like I’ve wasted my time thus far – two months into my journey.

 So I decided to do the opposite both, and write out all the things I originally wanted to find abroad before I left the States and have since found in my daily living and wanderings. Things that make me feel a bit closer to home and make my new surroundings that much more friendly.

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Top 15 Reasons Why I love Germany and Germans

I made a list of my ‘favorite things’ a la Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music as I’ve lived with my German almost one year now (half a year in the US, a few weeks in Latin America, and two months here in Europe so far). In that time period, I’ve picked up a few of my favorite qualities of Germans.  Add that to my observation of life in Europe and his amazing family and friends – this list was born:
 
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Over the river and through the woods – to Germany we go!

 The first things I did in Deutschland –

1) My first real German meal… and it was delicious.

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Then I ate this cuteness for breakfast.  What a proper breakfast!

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2) I had a lovely bike ride through the North German countryside (26 k in total) with H’s parents while he studied for finals.

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3) I went to a farm house cafe, where they sell hand made soaps, organic meat and eggs, and other fun stuff.

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They sold the handmade items in this new building – well new for European standards (since everything is amazing and more than 400 years old it seems like…)

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4) I went to a tropical beach – believe it or not this is part of the North Sea!  They import the white sand and put planter stands of palm trees and tiki huts everywhere, and it totally looks hot and tropical.  In the summer, it is the place to be with a shoreline bar, floating restaurant, wakeboard jumps, and beach volleyball courts. Crazy.

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5) I got excited for summer with the blond Germans…

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More adventures to come!

Lost Abroad

Lost

I’ve been lost many times abroad –
Tips and Tricks to Make the Inevitable More Enjoyable

Getting lost while abroad just happens.  Accept it now, and try to appreciate it for what it is, an adventure and a sightseeing tour.  Just keep your head up – you were meant to see something along the way! Soak in the opportunity to view the local fauna and structures around you.

My ultimate ‘got lost’ adventure was in Spain, and was the first time I was ever lost abroad (and a four hour ordeal!). Luckily, avoided a major incident while in South Korea, which is funny, since Seoul has 10 million people, and Sevilla has under a million.

My adventure in Groningen
Here in the Netherlands, three weeks in, I tried to attend a meditation group I found from Couchsurfing.com, directly after my first yoga class in Dutch, I had 45 minutes to walk a 20 minute distance at the most, plenty of buffer.   I even planned ahead and snacked on a peanut butter sandwich and a tangerine during the easy part of the walk.

Groningen, Netherlands

Groningen, The Netherlands

Trying to find the meditation class: Fail 
After my first yoga class in Dutch, I felt like I could take on the world.  Upbeat and energized, I held my head high as I walked back in my familiar neighborhood along the canal.   I ate my food on the way, birds chirping, blue sky and breeze flowing. Ten minutes later my familiar surroundings faded into an unfamiliar neighborhood; unfazed, I pulled out my crumpled direction street names and my iPhone to look at the picture I took of the map. Despite having 30% battery, I had a black screen with the sad looking empty battery picture staring back at me.  Only slightly exasperated at this point, I trooped on, to rely only on the street name  scrap of paper.

Europe Navigation Secret, Quirk #1
Now, let me tell you a little secret about European streets (gained from my first escapade in Spain – learned 2 hours into that adventure).  The street names are not displayed on posts (like in the US), they are displayed on the sides of the buildings at the intersections.  Sometimes they are placed further in on the building than one can appropriately see from the street, in my opinion, but I digress.  A bit of hunting is necessary.  I gave up trying to not look like a tourist and was full on gawking once in the unfamiliar neighborhood.

Lost in Europe

Lost – street signs in Europe

Quirk #2: Harry Potter Staircase Moving Streets
The odds were in my favor though, because while I looked for the next street name, I realized I ended up on the exact streets I looked for, before needing to turn.  I attribute this on the streets changing name at every intersection (this is a bit dramatic of me, but often true, so watch out for it).  Pleased with myself, I was right on schedule 15 minutes in as I stumbled on every street name I needed, right up until the until the second to last one.  In my excitement of the street names appearing, I missed looking at ONE street corner.  This caused me a 45 minute escapade down the road to another canal, another neighborhood, and more frustration.

I finally was forced to admit my conceit, after hearing a bell tower somewhere in the distance (there is always a bell tower close by in Europe) I realized the meeting had started, and I would have to come next week.  At least I figured out the location, even if it was in the 9th hour.  I walked home defeated, tired and cold, only to realize I was locked out when I got home (which is a story for another time), but boyfriend to the rescue 40 minutes later. He thoroughly enjoyed my detailed recount!

But, what did I see and learn you ask? Well, I learned the meditation class was much closer than I thought, I found an extra close grocery store, and learned the area behind our apartment neighborhood and how it all connected together.

The Things to Carry on an Adventure
It’s always advisable to make sure you are well prepared your first few times out:

  • Backpack or large purse to keep a snack
  • A layer you can add if it gets cold (or dark!)
  • Tissue (my nose tends to run when I walk around a lot, especially if there is a breeze!)
  • Camera or camera-phone
  • Book to rage-quit at a local café somewhere
  • Of course a bit of money and ID.
    *I usually try to wear my most comfortable shoes when venturing out, but I don’t always remember.

It’s always advisable to write down your address, phone number (if you have one), a local large street or landmark near you, and a few key phrases in the local language if you are still learning it – all  on a piece of paper you carry with you the first few weeks as well.  It makes asking directions much easier and less scary.  More reliable than an iPhone dying mid-adventure!

Language!
Getting lost creates a wonderful opportunity to practice the local language. It forces you into the scary place of needing to walk up to a stranger and look a bit ridiculous using just a few key phrases and large hand signals, but most people are extremely willing to help out.  I usually go into a shop that looks cheerful and friendly with a couple customers inside, or to a family on the street.  I also often follow the kid stranger-danger rule if all else fails, and walk up to a woman rather than a man to ask for directions.

Stranger Danger
Always pay attention to your next steps – if you are lost at night, notice how lit up the area is that you are headed into.  Ideally, you would like to be able to see at least two different sets of people around you.  If you notice the area you are entering into is really dark or really isolated, just turn around and retrace your steps to another area to head back in the direction you want.  There is no need to get into a weird situation.

Colombia at Night

Colombia at Night

I did this with my boyfriend in Colombia, we were coming back from a street concert, fighting a little,  a bit lost and not paying attention as we headed to the bus stop. It was only 6 pm or 7 pm, but the sun goes down really quickly in that part of the hemisphere, so it was pitch black out.  We suddenly stopped talking and noticed it was a way darker street, with some questionable looking characters coming up ahead of us – quite a bit of them.  We both whispered at the same time without looking at each other, “we should turn around,” so we did, and headed back to the main street with lots of light and way more people.  We just found a different route to the bus stop we needed. We decided the longer route was way better than risking it, and it quickly quashed whatever we were squabbling about.

So enjoy, going out to explore your new neighborhood, especially if you will be there for more than a few days is ideal for gathering your essential kit, and trying out your navigation skills!

Do you have any similar adventures?

My First Weekend in Germany, and Moving Into a Too Tiny Studio

After my arrival went like this…

Airport Arrival

…I felt myself relax after months of questioning how my arrival to Germany would be received, after a 6 month long distance relationship with H (with two one week Latin American vacations to visit him in between).  My nerves seemed to calm even further after a good night of sleep and a long walk around the North Sea.

There is something about the sea air, holding hands, gluhwein, a painting of a whale squirting a large rainbow in the air to make you feel normal again.

North Sea Graffiti

And to ponder the question how this happened…

North Sea, Germany

And of course proper German pastries:

German Sweets

H’s parents were so warm and contentious as well – before dinner the second night H gave me my belated birthday and Christmas presents, and H’s mom presented me with pink slippers for their home and a new pink towel for my home in Groningen.

Later that evening, we sat in front of their fireplace, and I watched the BBC while H worked on school work next to me. I felt at home, at peace, and more relaxed than I had allowed myself to be in months.  All the preparation and listening to my gut on this leap of faith had left me more drained than I realized.  I saw how I built a shield around my feelings to make sure if H acted differently when I arrived in Germany, or his energy was weird, I would be ok and figure things out and move on.  Thankfully nothing had changed, and H was still the attentive and caring guy I fell in love with in the states (mushy I know, but such a relief I cannot tell you).

Before I knew it we had the car packed up on Sunday after my Friday arrival, and we were off to drive the 90 minutes to Groningen.  Let me tell you, the countryside between Germany and the Netherlands is beautiful, and filled with windmills.

We had some time while waiting for our apartment keys (the super was late because, well you know, last night was Saturday night after all!), which we filled with picture taking of our new neighborhood.

The Three Sisters, Groningen, The Netherlands

Once we got the keys I had the shock of my life when I walked in and finally saw how small the studio actually was.  I remember the panic on my face mirrored on H’s face, and his mother trying to make us both feel better with her limited English.  With three hearty Germans in the room, and one bewildered American, we set to work cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

H and his dad went to his old place to pick up the rest of his furniture from the one room he rented in a student flat, and thankfully the fuller we made our room the larger it seemed.  Quite the little trick our place played on us.

Stuido

 

Studio

I actually enjoyed putting away our new plates (donated by H’s lovely parents, along with many other items around our apartment), I felt like a dork – I was so excited about using the guest plates for guests in OUR place.  This place we get to share and call our own.

After a day of setting up and cleaning, we ate the soup H’s mother brought along with us and said our goodbyes.

Left alone in our new studio, H and I both laughed and toasted with home-made liquor from his mother, promising to not kill each other in the new place.  So far, that promise has worked out well :)

So this leap of faith paid off in full. If we both continue to communicate, stay open and honest with one another, we stand a chance of  this whole adventure working out.  So far, so good.

What was your last big leap of faith?

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