“Moving Abroad”

Have you ever thought about living in a foreign country? In a way, when as a child I imagined living somewhere far away from home, I had.

For some, the thought of living abroad crosses the mind while watching a movie set in another part of the globe: one glimpse of that exotic landscape and it immediately stirs something up in the soul. For others, moving to another country becomes a full-on reality when faced with the possibility of an international job transfer, a study abroad opportunity, or an overseas assignment in the military. For most, however, the notion of living a life of foreign adventure is only a fleeting thought, one that takes away from the daily grind.

Well, in January of 2007, I got the chance to live that thought. I moved from the Massachusetts suburbs to Frankfurt, Germany, for love.

I met my girlfriend (now-wife), a German woman of simple beauty and lofty ideals, at a restaurant in Boston in the summer of 2004. Back then, I thought I knew everything about life and the world. That is, until Kathleen came along. At twenty-two years old she was working as an intern at a major financial services company in the city. She’d come over from Germany by herself, on the cusp of a recent break-up and looking to broaden her horizons and gain valuable working experience in the States. Single, I was five years her senior, working at a family-owned company that handled insurance claims.

I fondly remember the night we met. She took the seat right next to me after scurrying in late to the restaurant where a small group of us had gathered to celebrate the birthday of someone my childhood pal knew. I couldn’t help but notice the friendliness in her smile, and I could tell she wasn’t from the area, though her accent was nearly undetectable and her clothing resembled that of all the young women in Boston at the time. When I offered to share some pizza with her, she courteously declined, but with an air of grace. Later on in the evening she would go on to tell me that I was different, nice, “a good guy.” We felt comfortable sitting next to each other, two strangers from separate backgrounds, entirely different countries.

Coincidentally, we both had contemplated staying in on that auspicious night. But, her cooperative attitude won out and she would eventually succumb to her co-worker’s wishes; and I reluctantly agreed to tag along and be the proposed wingman for my friend. Still, we came to that nostalgic Italian restaurant for good food and good company, and got what we were looking for, only that much more. Soon we would wind up alone on a rooftop overlooking the city, our lips pasted together under an evening sky, and later, in my silver Nissan Altima, driving around and laughing until the wee hours of the morning, searching for a fool who had lost his way. It was one of those chance meetings you never want to forget.

By the late spring of 2006, Kathleen and I were officially a couple and in our second year of courtship. She was living in Germany again, so we would fly back and forth every few months across the Atlantic to see one another. At first, it was exciting to jet off to Europe to visit her. I had never even so much as crossed the border into Canada before. Now I was traveling to places like Germany, Finland, and Sweden. I felt like some mysterious character out of a romance novel. But after a while, the distance between us began to put a strain on our relationship. There were frequent misunderstandings, petty arguments over the phone, and a general sense of frustration due to spending too much time apart. Something had to give in order for the relationship to work. One of us needed to make a move.

I think the day I said it to her was a Saturday (we often stayed on the phone for hours on the weekends). She was far along in the process of trying to secure a job in America, so it was all we talked about; and having missed a visa application deadline earlier in the year, the chances of her getting an employer-sponsored visa were looking grim. We had tried just about everything to find her a job. Frustrated, we couldn’t stand the thought of being apart for much longer.

“What if I move instead?” I’d said to her on a whim. “How about I move there?” I think she was surprised when I said it. I think I even surprised myself when I said it, too. Neither of us had considered that as an option. Why would I, an American, move to a foreign country? The answer: I was in love. It seemed like the only way for us to be together. I needed to do it.

Once certain I’d be moving to Germany, the necessary preparation went underway. I was going there without a job so I immediately enrolled myself in an ESL certification course in oder to gain the skills necessary to teach English to foreigners. It was my best hope for employment, considering I didn’t speak a lick of German. Aside from that, I’d have to sell my car and take care of all the other practical things one needs to take care of before a big move. And then there were the emotional aspects to attend to as well. I received a lot of questions from family and friends when I told them of the news. Most were surprised that I was moving but many understood the reason for my decision.

Ultimately, I got the support of everyone who mattered to me. It was the first real victory regarding my international quest. All the rest of my planning would be a piece of cake. And above all, Kathleen was ready for me. I was scheduled to leave in the middle of winter.

On January 19, 2007, I arrived at Frankfurt International Airport on the business class flight I had received as a complimentary upgrade from the Lufthansa representative my father knew in Boston. Kathleen was waiting for me when I got there. She wore a big smile and was overwhelmed with excitement; we wasted no time embracing. Although exhausted from the long flight, I was happy to see her too. We must’ve kissed each other a thousand times. However, reality would eventually set in when we were on our way to the bus stop. This was it. I had moved to Frankfurt.

It took us a while to get back to her place on that indelible Friday, when we traveled by bus, by train, and then by taxi to a tiny temporary studio apartment provided by her work. Located in the Rödelheim neighborhood of Frankfurt, it was right in front of a structure uniquely fit for a serial killer, complete with a garbage laden lawn and a large woodpile that seemed to serve no purpose other than to complete the look of being an unsightly, German Miami Vice-like crack house.

Our apartment was number 007, slightly creepy on the outside but clean and modern on the inside, and yet, a symbol, perhaps, to remind me of my childhood aspirations of becoming a secret agent. This new place, like it or not, would be my new home for a short time, where I would go on to spend many sleepless nights in its cramped kitchen, sitting in a hard plastic chair and reading some old magazines I’d brought over from America with the rest of my belongings.

Eventually, I would find a way to get to sleep in that apartment. And each morning when I awoke, the sight of a low toilet and freestanding shower stall, and the taste of a cold Brötchen breakfast (bread roll typically served with cold cuts), would serve as a simple reminder of one thing and one thing only: I was living in Germany. In fact, I spent three years there. Some days were good, some were bad, but all were memorable. I’ll never forget the frustrations, the inner conflict, the joys and excitement, the challenges I faced, and the critical thoughts that all too often invaded my mind as I struggled to come to terms with being a stranger in a strange land.

Comments

Hi @Cloudyskies.....I've told this before, (sorry folks!), but I met Rod when I was only 18, in a small town in PA. (home for a summer vacation), and we were immediately "just right" for each other. My mother (who was British and from London) was exceptional in welcoming people from all over, but her home country especially.

Rod returned to England to finish university, I on to Cleveland to finish nursing school, but we wrote....oh, did we ever write. Since long distance calls were prohibitively expensive there was no alternative.

What can I say? Writing cements a relationship and you truly get to know everything about the person. He had a very sad time that year...almost everyone in his entire family died (including his sister and father and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer). So do I go or do I stay became the refrain.

Since my mother was British, I knew the country well. Rod even had a job lined up in Canada (the U.S. wasn't accepting immigrants at the time) and, in the end, his mother ended up marrying her doctor who didn't have nor want children, so the decision for him to come to Canada was an easy one.

I moved to Canada when I finished training, and we lived in the very different city of Toronto (compared to what it has become). We also lived in Saskatchewan for a year, another place in Ontario and then back to Toronto, where we thought we'd live forever.

We visited my family every 2 wks. or so, as my father had died and our help was needed (there were 9 children). We've been married 56 years, the letters have long been lost and in the interim a great promotion was offered in Dallas. So here we've been for probably 44 years. I do believe we were among the second wave of pioneers...anyway, it has been a real learning experience.

So all three countries are "home" in many ways for me. Our children really do consider TX home, although one lives in CA and it will become her home...it just takes time. Both were born in Canada so have three citizenships. We always took our children with us when we traveled, but traveling days are long over. Rick Steves' Travels fills the gap nicely. Any travel show, really.

Travel wasn't cheap in our day and we barely limped by on what we had, but yes....there's a huge world out there. Share a meal with someone and you can be at "home" within any culture. We're all alike in so many ways, even though our clothing may look different.

We don't go to our homes of birth any longer. Everyone in them has long departed, including all of my brothers and sisters. It would bring back to much sadness, sometimes memories are best.

I often think back to WWII and how my father (American) met my mother (a -radio operator who landed the pilots) and how she wily= nily moved to America. Travel was generally by ship then....airfare far too expensive. He died at age 40, so her life was one of great travail. Illnesses, difficulties in raising my brothers and sisters, mental illness, no money. Life was hard.

How many of our relatives fall into that category....the New Country not giving what their imaginations told them it would? And yet they persevered and pushed their children to accomplishments. In other words, they sacrificed.

Perhaps that's why I never "give up".....whatever, it's a good quality to have. Yes, Rod and I are still happy, still very much in love and during the many years of my illness he has always been right beside me. I've done the same for him....it's love. Of course we bicker, who doesn't? And our girls are Daddy's....let me tell you. They know it of course, but I'll always be first in line & I know that, too! So live your life, the ups, downs and all the in-betweens. Enjoy what you can. I'm glad that your story had a nice ending. Kathleen sounds just perfect. Yours, Lenora.
 
Lenora, what a wonderful story about your relationship with Rod. And such tragedy with him losing his family members like that, and you with your dad at such a young age. It really is about sacrifice. So many marriages crumble when one spouse is chronically ill. I’m happy to hear that you and him are still very much connected despite the challenges. He sounds like a good man, your husband. Thanks for sharing your story.
 
Thanks @Cloudyskies....Yes, Rod is a "good man." Many a head has been turned by good looking men, but in the end most women end up marrying men who are nice...good, kind people and hopefully, we are the same to them. Our daughters married men very much like their father. It may not seem it at first glance, but there is no doubt that it's true. I'm glad. No, we're not perfect and I try to be kinder to Rod (he can't hear very well, but....!) Just have someone or something important in your life, many of my friends have wonderful pets.

As I used to tell the girls: Handsome can become ugly very fast if a person doesn't have the above qualities. He's very hyper, so that means a lot is done around here and in the community.

For those who have breast cancer.....his mother died at the ripe old age of 85 yrs. and we enjoyed her lovely companionship during that time. We saw her frequently and talked to her daily. In the end she developed Alzheimer's, but we did make sure that all was well. So from even across the water these things can be done. My mother also died at the age of 85 and my brothers and sisters were far too young when they died. We never know the hand that life will give us, but we persevere. Always. Wishing everyone well. Yours, Lenora
 
My daughter went on an exotic trip, met somebody in the parking garage and decided to relocate her whole life to the new location.

We have visited twice. We said we would be back in two months, that was August 2019..........
 
"We felt comfortable sitting next to each other, two strangers from separate backgrounds, entirely different countries."

hah. Strangers. Maybe not. this sure happens alot.

that song: some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger, across a crowded room...........
 
OK, @Rufous McKinney....let's clarify this situation. It's easy to think of your daughter still living in the same parking garage (or is just me?). :)

True, I didn't know it, they met in a parking garage, BUT they don't live there now. Never did. No, they're in an apartment within a hacienda with beautiful gardens. Actually, it sound like paradise, and now have a darling little girl and lots of other animals, including birds in the garden. It's so much better today when you can see your grandchildren on something like Zoom.

I should clarify that we talked to Rod's mother daily after his stepfather died. This was when she really needed her family and we even surprised her and threw her first b'day party at age 80! She flew here that Xmas.

She managed to squeeze in two more boyfriends before heading toward illness at age 85 and died shortly thereafter. We moved her into a lovely nursing home and were there frequently.

Her second husband loved visiting us, so there was a relationship. Of course we were there often, but stayed elsewhere. He actually had PTSD, so loud noises were very upsetting...and when you have children! He couldn't even tolerate soft music.

My mother was the same. It was a hard time, no doubt of that....I missed both funerals but I feel we were always there for what really mattered. Life itself. It is harder with illness and I've had to get off planes, cancel my ticket twice, but I'm sure these things happen in life. We do what we can. Yours, Lenora
 
Great story about you and Kathleen; your meeting, adventures and all the wonders and challenges therein. I've always found it amazing how two people from completely different walks of life, and very different parts of the world eventually meet one another, and realize they are just meant to be.

And though I've never lived abroad, I've done a lot of traveling and always toyed with the idea of living in various countries. Even today as I sit here in the mountains on a dead end dirt road surrounded by wilderness, I entertain ideas of living in the place of my ancestors.
 

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