Auf Wiedersehen Amerika, hallo Berlin!

25 Jan

This morning I put in my two weeks at what has so far been the most fun and best paying job of my life. I’m quitting to pursue a decade long dream of becoming an ex-pat and exploring the world. I’m moving to Berlin, Germany in the end of February.

I’ve never been there and I know nobody. To be honest with you, I sway between stressed and terrified. I always thought I would be thrilled. I always imagined I would experience this incredible sensation of freedom and relief as the plane took of and I escaped the US. Who knows, maybe I will feel something like that, but lately I’ve been too busy to think about it.

I’ve been planning this move for months. One night I just got the idea in my head “I should go to Berlin” and I started planning. I’ve been wanting to move out of the country for ten years now. I remember deciding to do this when I was just sixteen. Over the course of that decade I’ve swung back and forth on what country to move to. At one point I had a wall in my first apartment covered in paper, forming a giant spreadsheet of sorts, weighing the pros and cons of each possible country. The top few were always Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were appealing because of the lack of a language barrier, but they were either extremely far away and remote feeling, or America lite.

The language barrier has always scared me. I’m terrible at languages. I was always a C student in German and I took it for several years in school. It’s the biggest obstacle for my move. I hired one of the local university German professors as a personal tutor and I’ve been seeing him twice a week. Outside of that I’ve been listening to podcasts auf Deutsch, and working on duolingo.com.

I want to study Computer Science or some other technical field. Since my BA is in history, I can’t jump from the humanities to the sciences, so a master’s program is out of the question. I’ve got to start on a second degree. The thing is, all the undergrad degree programs are taught in German. I’m aiming to start in the winter semester at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, but I need to get my Germany up to B2 to apply. To that end, I’m moving in February to find a place to live and start language school classes in March. I’m hoping I can get to B2 level by May.

This whole thing is a mad race. There are so many things I need to do in specific order, with limited time, or else this whole thing falls apart and I’ll be forced to come back to the states penniless and unemployed. I’d rather die.

The level of planning and research that I’ve put into this trip is absurd, and yet I still feel unprepared.

I want to move to Berlin. Ok, what are the visa requirements? Well what visa do you want to try and get? There are several with different requirements. What are the requirements? How do I fufill them? What forums do I need? Do I have enough time to get these forums? Do I have enough money? How do I open a German bank account? How do I get health care? How do I get a phone number? What do I need to rent a room? How do I rent a room? Where can I find a room? How am I going to get around? How much is food going to cost? When do I need to apply to the language school? What do I need to apply? When do classes start and end? What are the deadlines to apply? The list goes on and on and on.

I’ve spent hours researching all of these questions. Different rules apply to different nationalities and it makes the whole thing confusing. The confusion is exacerbated by my unconventional track: I’m not applying to a master’s program and I don’t have a job lined up paying more than 35,000 euros a year. I explained all of this to my mother and she wondered why it seems easier for refugees from third world countries to move to Germany than for me, someone who has a college degree and work experience in a technical field.

Anyways, I’m terrified. A lot of my fear comes from internal confidence issues revolving around manhood. I’ve never really felt “like a man.” Whatever that means. I guess it comes from being 5’6, overweight, and a bit of a nice guy push over my whole life. The whole experience with my ex fiance going out and sleeping with all those guys was also extremely emasculating. I’ve never had much physical presence and I’ve never been much of a magnet for women. I’m hoping to find my confidence by forcing myself out of my comfort zone and throwing myself into an entirely new and scary situation. Perhaps then, once I survive, I will feel more self-confident, more like a man.

I’ve been telling people that I’m trying not to focus on the fact that I’m quitting my job, leaving my family, and moving to a city on another continent that I’ve never been to before. It’s…actually kind of badass when I think about it, but it’s also really scary. It’s a huge move and a huge life decision.

A lot of this decision has to do with existential issues for me.

It is so easy to be trapped in the daily routine of just living. Get up, go to work, work out, cook dinner, mess around on the computer, see friends for a drink, go to bed, repeat daily with slight variations.

If while standing in front of the copier machine at work, you stop and contemplate the temporary nature of your existence while the machine hums along copying pages, society as we know it just seems absurd! Here I am, the clock is ticking, and I’m standing in an office doing something I’m not passionate about. What the hell am I doing?!

But it’s comfortable! It’s sooooo comfortable and safe. But it’s death. Ever since I decided that I was just going to do it and move, I’ve become acutely aware of all the little things that in American society that, when combined, act to keep us in our mental cages. Trying to escape is like tying to walk underwater. It might not be very forceful, but there is just so much little resistance that it slows you and most people just don’t try to fight it and they drown. They live safe, comfortable, nonthreatening lives and die. Given how much of human history was spent living dangerous and precarious lives where physical harm and starvation was just a misstep away, perhaps there is something to be said for those safe lives the majority of middle class Americans live, but nonetheless I see it as inherently dehumanizing and fatal.

What I’ve come to understand about freedom is that freedom, real freedom, is to have nothing. The moment you have something, you have something to lose, and thus your choices are not entirely free. It’s an ugly paradox: live free with little to nothing, a step away from death, or exist with physical comforts and the illusion of security, but be mentally and spiritually dead. It’s in that small space between having nothing and death that freedom exists.

Another thing that I’ve come to experience during this whole period is just how difficult and scary it actually is to follow your dreams. I hate that phrase, “follow your dreams.” It just sounds so cheesy, so Disney. It’s like a nice, polite, comfortable little platitude everyone swallows; like the message you’re hit over the head with in a children’s movie, or some tacky piece of wall art middle aged moms buy at craft stores to hang in their homes. It’s so cliche, the real consequences are abstracted and made not real. It’s scary to seriously “follow your dreams” if there’s a real risk of falling.

And so I try to remind myself that I don’t have a choice. If I stay, I die. Maybe not physically, but mentally and spiritually. If I go and I fail, I’ll die anyways. Either way, ultimately we are all already dead, dying in slow motion. The end result is the same, I just want to try to live a little, even if it means risking speeding things up.

At least I will have lived.

4 Responses to “Auf Wiedersehen Amerika, hallo Berlin!”

  1. James Smith January 25, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Good on ya! Go for it. I’ve done similar things several times in the pas and have never regretted it. I moved from Ohio to AZ not knowing a soul there and only having been there once for about 36 hours. At least I had a job when I arrived. I was working for IBM and arranged a job transfer. I moved several more times with Big Blue, to NC, Fl, back to AZ, but Tucson this time.

    Then I quit that career to be a full-time martial arts and fitness instructor. Since then, I have worked many jobs, computer repair, sailing instructor, lived in The Netherlands, Canada, and now Brazil. That’s in addition to the eight US states I’ve lived in.

    Yes, it’s a huge jump but you’ll be fine. Berlin is a nice place and you’ll have many great adventures there, especially your first year.

    Keep it up, you’re doing great.

  2. Mister_Higgins January 27, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Good for you man! It’ll work out for you I know it.

    As for the existential problems, there are many solutions and it sounds like you have found one that works for you, which frankly beats pushing a bolder up a hill for all eternity. There are other solutions to the freedom paradox you speak of though, like realizing the dilemma and refusing to play the game, realizing the dilemma and modifying the game, and realizing the dilemma and playing by the rules established in the game. All three have the same ultimate outcome, but only two of them lead to any glory or remembrance, but all three are satisfying in their own way.

  3. teo January 30, 2014 at 3:09 am #

    That’s really brave from you, I wish you all the luck and lot’s of adventures :) Berlin is really great, young and exciting, you’ll definitly have lot’s of fun there. If you ever want to visit Hamburg, just write to me ;)

  4. Da March 1, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I lived in Germany for several years. Luckily my American high school German teacher was fantastic, and I was able to quickly assimilate with the citizens.

    One thing I learned is that Germans have a much larger personal space than Americans. The “Amis” generally consider you in their personal space if you are within 3 to 4 feet of them. Germans generally consider you in their personal space when you are in the same room with them. They will strike up conversations with complete strangers in a bar, at a supermarket, or on a train.

    There are many fantastic places to visit, and with the open borders there, it is easy to go almost anywhere in Europe either by driving or on the train.

    I hope you enjoy it!

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