I’m Aimee Gonzales, and I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. I left my entire life behind me and moved to Halle-Saale in February 2012. Since then, I’ve made a life in Germany, I’ve moved 6 times, got a second degree, worked, got married and started an online business with my husband selling care packages filled with American food to all of Germany. I completed my MA in July 2015 in Chemnitz. I studied Communications and German during my Bachelor’s, and Literature and Sociology during my Master’s. I was a waitress, a tutor, a translator and for the last 3 years, I worked part time as a blogger and Community Manager in startups. I’ve been working full time at the startup accelerator program called Techstars since summer 2015. I am very passionate about entrepreneurship, travel, culture, writing, and FOOD!
I first came to Germany in 2009 for a study abroad year. My first 6 weeks in Germany were spent in Horb am Neckar, a village in Baden-Wuertemburg. I lived with a German family there and learned Swaebisch. 🙂 Afterwards, I studied Germanistik at Uni Tuebingen for two semesters. During my time abroad, I fell in love with Germany and Europe and developed a strong passion for travel. I tried to see as many places as I could during my time off/vacations. While in Tuebingen, I also fell in love with my German neighbor in the student dorms, Tom. We started dating during my second semester. 🙂
Nothing in particular brought me to Germany the first time. I decided to study abroad for my third year of college. I had never been outside the U.S. and I knew wanted to study somewhere where English wasn’t the first language. After a natural process of elimination, Germany just worked out! And I am so grateful it did because it changed my life forever. I moved back to Germany after I finished my undergrad studies at Sonoma State in California for love. Tom and I decided we both wanted to continue studying and we realized Europe was the best place for us to be able to do this together. After 8 months in Halle (Tom’s hometown) we had gotten accepted to a few universities in Germany. Chemnitz just seemed like the best choice at the time. In the end, Chemnitz was quite the experience, but not the right place for us. After 3 semesters of studying, we chose to relocate to Berlin to finish up our degrees from here. We’ve been here for two years and we love it.
We both call Berlin home.
My 2009-2010 year abroad was an incredible adventure. For a long time, I called it the best year of my life. 2015 may have just topped it though. I also did an internship and language course in Berlin during the summer of 2011. That was also a unique learning experience. When I permanently moved to Germany in Feb 2012 I didn’t know what to expect. I loved Germany and Europe, but I was scared and lonely. I had Tom, his family and his friends when I was in Halle figuring where we would study, they were always there for me when I needed them, but I needed to make my own life here too. Halle was fun, but I was often homesick. And Chemnitz…well Chemnitz was a default decision, we waited too long to apply schools outside of Germany, and then Germany was strict about accepting me to MA programs that weren’t Communications (the subject I studied during my undergrad), so we ended up taking what we got- and that was the opportunity to live and study in the old Eastern city- still gray and lacking charm- Chemnitz. It was a difficult year and a half. It was cold, that includes the weather, the university and the people. I have to say that I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t wait to leave, and I often thought about how great it would be to move back to the US. We got through it though…. together! It was hard, but we made the most of it. On the positive side, I’ve always appreciated the security I have in Germany. I have health insurance here. I didn’t have that back home. I can rely on affordable food, housing, and transportation here. I couldn’t do that at home. My life has changed so much since I moved here. I feel safer. I feel taken care of. I have also changed so much. When we moved to Berlin, I was skeptical of how it would change my feelings about staying here. I loved the city already, but 2 year struggling to make friends and feel like I was home was just so hard to deal with. But Berlin changed everything. After getting settled here, I felt like a whole new person. I fell in love with my life! The energy, the atmosphere of the big city- it reminded me of San Francisco, it fed me the vibe I needed to feel like myself. I love the multi-culturalness of Berlin and how something is happening all the time, everywhere. And my quality of life is outstanding. I have to say that I currently love my life in Germany.
Has your lifestyle changed when you moved to Germany?
My lifestyle has changed in so many ways! I walk and take public transportation everywhere. I am so confused when American friends ask if I have a car. It makes no sense to me. And when I am in Cali. and I drive- I HATE IT. I literally cry sitting in traffic. The US’s lack of public transportation is mind boggling!! I care more about what goes into my body here. I became an avid cooker and someone who really tries to understand the harm in processed food and food that contains chemicals and additives. I feel lighter here even though I probably eat a ton more bread than I used to. I am more open to the way Europeans do things. Like how they approach health care, gun violence, politics, immigration, the environment, etc. I am more open in general. I see things as the way people just do things because it’s THEIR WAY and not as if they’re doing something wrong because it’s different the way I know or prefer. I call my friends more on their birthdays instead of just writing them because that’s what German’s have shown me is a great and better way to show a friend you care and love them. My English has also gotten worse, I need to work on that. 🙂
What is the first thing you do when you go back to the USA?
When I go to the US, the first thing I try to do is rest. I love travel, but I hate flying. Odd right? But yeah, I never sleep well on planes and I am super sensitive to jet lag. In Germany, we’re 9 hours ahead of Calif. Then I try to see friends and family as soon and as much as possible while also doing things I missed like eat In-N-Out burger and visit the store Target. I lay in the sun as much as I can because I miss the sun! I order tap water because I CAN FOR FREE at restaurants and everywhere. I drink from all the water fountains and use restrooms for free! I order an iced coffee from Starbucks. I say please, excuse me and thank you a million times because in the US, it’s important to be very polite all the time to everyone.
And then I smile about it. I compliment stranger’s cute clothes and nice hair cut because that’s also something we just do.
Does Germany seem multicultural if you compare it to the USA?
Germany does seem multicultural to me. And it’s definitely becoming more and more multi-kulti. One example is when I studied abroad for 1 year in Tuebingen. Because of the attractiveness to study in Germany (low-cost, great education, and English options), people from all over the world are drawn to university towns to either do exchange years or their entire degrees. Tuebingen was extremely diverse and I know that not all German unis are that way, but cities with large universities do draw a multicultural crowd. One of the first things I noticed too about Germany was the Turkish population here. I remember thinking it was super interesting and compared this to how California has many immigrants from Mexico and Mexican-Americans who’s parents are from Mexico, but they grew up in America. It helped me understand that yes many people from Turkey are here, but they are German, they have a layered identity and should be celebrated for both their cultures.
I feel integrated in Germany. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I speak German though. I also had my exchange year to learn how to be more open and interested in new cultures. I remember thinking so often that Germany did things “weird” or “wrong”. Like how they use celcius and military time instead of fahrenheit and am/pm. Or how they eat cold cuts for breakfast. Once I realized that my way wasn’t the right way and just ONE WAY to tell time, the weather and eat breakfast- I could appreciate Germany’s culture and make up my own mind about how I wanted to live my life. Over time, I have learned now only about Germany culture, but why German culture is the way it is. So things make more sense now. Since things make sense I appreciate the way of life here so much and have adopted many cultural ticks and ways. While I often hear about how surprising it is to them that I am this way or can speak German, Germans appreciate this and are quicker to make me feel like I am a part of society here.
Now that I don’t struggle at the doctors, Finanzamt and post office- I feel integrated.
There will always be degrees of segregation, discrimination and racism in society, but this does not mean a multicultural society cannot exist. People feel pride when they can relate to others and unite/bond with people are similar to them. It makes them feel less alone in this big, crazy world. This will drive separation. But the world is naturally getting smaller with globalization and the spread of westernization and Americanization. This means where people study, work, make friends and marry will often happen more and more outside people’s birthplaces. The digital world and cheaper travel costs have allowed this to happen. And with this, places will remain and continue to be more diverse. This is a good thing! I love how multicultural Berlin is. In fact, since I am leaving this city in two weeks, this is what I will miss the absolute most! The energy of different cultures functioning at the same time in one place is incredible. It’s a great atmosphere to live in.
Have you experienced any cases of discrimination here?
I’ve been made fun of for being American, often times by people who didn’t know me well though. I am often asked about guns, our politicians and crime. I am just as bewildered as the people here about what goes on in my country. I knows so much about it is backwards. But I also come from a liberal state of FIFTY STATES. The US is huge and it’s unintelligent to stereotype the entire country. I also find it hypocritical of Germans or Europeans to judge a country based on a certain group of people or ideas, especially because what Americans are so often criticized for is being egoistic and judgmental which is exactly what that type of thinking is. I hear jokes about how we’re all fat, fake and stupid, but I don’t care much. I know what sucks about living in my home country and I know what’s amazing about it. Same goes for life in Germany. In terms of experiencing other forms of racism, I’ve personally not seen it much. I see what people on the news say and do, I hear about protests and behavior, but I haven’t encountered it much myself.
Advice to a new comer?
Learn the language, even if it’s just casual conversational language. Meet people outside of your home country. Don’t judge too quickly. Try new things as much as you can. Give an effort to understand a behavior that you don’t like or confuses you. Get involved in something like a craft, sport, or group. Take it slow and have fun!