I have traveled a fair amount, or I should say, we have traveled a fair amount, especially since one of the main reasons I came to Germany was to be reunited with my traveling partner.
We went to a wedding in Paris, a day trip to Munich to meet an old professor, a few days back in Munich with Mom and Larry, and a long weekend in London. On business trips, I saw Innsbruck in Austria and Geneva in Switzerland. With Apo and the Mexicans we took a road trip to Venice for the architecture biennale, which was one of the events I've always wanted to attend. Saori and I day tripped through a handful of increasingly adorable southern German towns, and also a spin through Alsace, back and forth across the border to Strausburg in France. After the winter holdiays, I came back to the US for a quick road trip to check in on family in the Midwest (with apologies to mom and others in AZ), Indianapolis, Oklahoma, and Texas.
All in all, its a hell of a lot of travel. Which is good, because I do love to travel.
My German has improved dramatically since I arrived a year ago. When I arrived, I could say "the chicken." I can now say things like "He told me that he thinks the baked chicken is too salty." I have spent approximately $500 on German classes and books, which has taken me now through A2.1. (Standard courses run from A1.1, A1.2, A2.1, A2.2, B1.1 etc with mid B level considered a proficiency for university enrollment.)
Saori and I ran a 5K earlier last year, and Saori goes through cycles of three times a week yoga when she isn't taking German classes. I went on a total of three runs, including the 5k, which is not so good. However, I have been hiking on average once a month through the trails and hills around the city. Plus, we don't have a car so we are walking everywhere.
I proposed to Saori, which is a big deal and I still haven't written about it here yet or publically posted anything about it because that's a longread on its own.
My feelings on German beer changed a lot. I came over incredibly excited to drink the famous German beer, and was frustrated to quickly discover that the only beer I could find was weisen, pils, and lager. Sometimes, you want a beer with a little character. I gave up on German beer and picked up liter bottles of better beer whenever our travels crossed the border, or hit special stores where I could pick up expensive imports now and then. It's really only within the last few months that I have been picking up the quiet trail of good German beers. Ferreting out interesting beers from small towns, secret little microbreweries in the city, and rumors of bars which serve craft beers. It's not that German craft beers don't exist (actually that scene is exploding right now in Berlin), they are just really really hard to find.
There is a lot to drink about here. I write about trips to London and Paris, bitch about access to good beer and Mexican food, and generally come across as a entitled, self-absorbed hipster, but it hasn't all been butterbrezeln und gummibären.
I have been filled with anxieties really since graduation, and they have waxed and waned. In Mexico, I worried about what the hell I was doing with my life, but I wanted to be with Saori so I joined her in Germany. It had been over a year since we last saw each other and we both wondered what was in the other's minds, and how we would fit into each other's lives post-university.
Finding an apartment was a huge cause of anxiety and stress. We worried if we were doing everything we could to find a place, we worried about the costs, and the bureaucratic paperwork. Additionally, it's stressful to spend every day interacting in a foreign language. Thankfully, most Germans do speak some English, but it's always something you have to ask for specially, a handicap. You will always be a tourist in a city unless you can speak its language.
We have been worrying overall about the effect of Stuttgart on our future. Here, we are both earning less money than we would be earning in the US in a major city like Boston. Our cost of living is probably the same for the lifestyle: we pay less for housing and insurance than we probably would be in Boston, but we pay more for everything else. Our employers are not matching contributions or offering a 401(k) and neither of us are currently putting money into retirement accounts. We should be saving money NOW since its going to have a major impact on the future finances, but we are also paying a lot on our student debts.
The accessibility of fantastic European cities is also a huge temptation. Probably, my grandmothers would accuse of living too 'high on the hog' but from my perspective if you are living three hours from Paris, at least one trip a year is too big a temptation to resist. Apart from our travel, we live very cheaply. We go out to eat less than once a month, we never order take out, and most of my lunches I either make at home or buy $2 package salads at the discount grocery store down the street from my office. We don't have a cable TV package (nor cable nor TV) and apart from housing and insurance my biggest monthly expenses are the $70 monthly transit pass and the fees for my German classes. And airfare to Japan and the US is not cheap either.
I worry about my career trajectory. I am 30 years old with a lot of wide experience but not so much specialist experience. Without a firm fluency in German it is difficult to run real projects here. I can't even sit down and converse with an engineer about a competition project. It is an understandable position for the office to take- what the hell do you do with a non-german speaker? I am basically a professional intern, a competition manager when required, and a graphics expert. After one year at the office, I see myself taking on some of the duties one of the two associates has. In another year or two, I would probably be working side by side, depending on how my German progresses.
How long do I want to stay here? That's the big question. Money is a big problem. Less immediate term and more long-term. We need to be making more money. This means to me that either I need to get some raises or find a job that pays me more.