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Dear everyone who asks me when I am coming home,
You ask me time and time again when I am coming home. Haven’t I spent enough years gallivanting around the world and living in a foreign country? Don’t I miss home, the land of the free? Don’t I get homesick? Don’t the weird German cultural quirks drive me crazy? Isn’t learning the language hard?
Your questions seem harmless enough, but it assumes that when I left the United States, I didn’t do so in search of a better life for myself, and I did it as a temporary fix. When our ancestors immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American dream, when they left their home country to find a better life, I often wonder if they were harassed by people asking when they would return home – to a fate condemning them to unequal rights and squalor? Or do you think their friends and family sent them off with the hope and prayer that wherever they would land, they would find a better life for themselves and their future family?
Maybe it is time to admit to ourselves that the American dream is dead, at least for Americans. Left in its place, are a group of Millennials who are told to work harder like their parents, and they too can succeed. So, we pick up several jobs and work ourselves to the bone, and for what? Instead of saving money to buy a house, we were left with crippling debt, lacking health care, asking our parents for money, and profound anxiety and depression due to rising costs and a minimum wage that can’t keep up. As our parent’s generation ages, they find their social security and retirement money being taken right out from under them.
I left Alaska for my dream job, working as a creative for a hip lifestyle magazine. I was faced with reality when I realized that my dream job didn’t pay the bills or provide insurance. So, I sold my soul to management in a corporate company. I showed up 50 hours every single week and gave it my all. My thanks? Being told I wasn’t wearing enough make up that day, or my outfit wasn’t sexy enough, living paycheck to paycheck, coming in even when I was the sickest I had ever been in my life, fighting to take a vacation, watching my creative spark die as happiness and my zest for life faded. I hated everything about my life, but I was working too hard to care. And you know what? All this was happening to me, a middle-class white person, imagine how bad it was for those not as privileged as me. I was managing people who were exhausted from working four jobs just to put food on the table, people who had every justifiable right to be angry their skin color was the reason they had to work so hard for so little.
Every month I saw my tax deduction, but I never saw where those taxes went. The parks and schools around me were drug-infested places I avoided at night. Homeless people slept on the streets and judged for doing so. My taxes weren’t helping anyone, not even me; instead, they were being sent overseas to fight wars, create bombs, and meddle in the politics of other countries.
I was watching friends, and people I knew deteriorate as they fell victim to America’s opioid crisis. At the ripe age of 26, I had lost more people drugs, alcohol, suicide, and guns than I can count on two hands. I was struggling with relationships, friendships, and the type of adult I wanted to be.
I left the United States on the cusp of its downfall. So, even looking back, I realize that it wasn’t at its worst, but I moved to pursue a better life for myself and to find happiness. I immigrated to Germany to pursue the German dream.
Did I find the German dream in Germany? My current happiness means the answer to that question is a resounding yes. As a registered freelancer, I can make money doing what I love. The German system supports me as a freelancer with amazing tax breaks and the ability to write off my home office, the tools I need to succeed, and all expenses. I buy a new computer, and the next month I immediately get a 200 Euro refund. Meanwhile back in the U.S., freelancers, and creatives are scraping by with no insurance and dwindling tax breaks. This year was the worst it seems.
I don’t have to make the decisions if I can afford to go to the doctor or not. My doctor once refused to give me a 50 Euro vaccine because it was “so expensive” and I could get it for free at the right clinic, even after I asked him for the sake of convenience to take my money and give it to me. Doctors here prescribe with care and caution. I can get over the counter and prescription medicine for cheap. I once told a pharmacist she must have forgotten some of my medication after handing her a measly 10 euro note for four medications. Here in Munich, people stay at home when they are sick.
My heart no longer beats faster when I walk down a cobblestone alley at night and see two men walking toward me. We pass each other without a word in the night and carry on with our lives. I don’t get unwanted attention, I don’t get catcalled, harassed, and people don’t try to talk to me when I have my headphones on. Being a woman in Munich is so much better than anywhere in the U.S., read more about my experiences. Meanwhile, the U.S. is time traveling back to an era of limited rights for women, our president has been accused of sexual harassment, our supreme court has a sex offender residing on it, indigenous women in Alaska go missing, and no one cares. Women’s rights are something to be voted on and yo-yoed back and forth with the coming and going of presidents and policies.
When I pay taxes I see the benefit. The parks and schools around me are clean, safe, and thriving. The bike trains and infrastructure are sturdy and vast. I don’t need a car as I can safely and comfortably take one of the many public transportation options. When it snows, it is immediately plowed. I once left my bike outside for an entire month while I traveled. No one stole it. Let that sink in.
Munich streets aren’t full of homeless people and homeless camps. There is a system in place to get people back on their feet and participating in the economy. I don’t have to worry about which friend I am going to lose next to gun violence, drugs, alcohol, or domestic violence.
I’ve made amazing friends in Munich. Everyone says being an expat or immigrant in Munich is hard; it’s tough to find meaningful connections. I have a group of friends that are solid through thick and thin. We enjoy everything from drinking wine and discussing gender-equality, traveling, to outdoor adventures, and they’re the type of people that I can rely on to be there for me when I need them the most. When I return home, I find I have fewer and fewer friends. Coming from a small town, people don’t understand how the world works, and I often feel disconnected.
Germany isn’t as far along in their journey to be as sustainable as I would like, but they are making efforts to reduce coal plants, reduce plastic, and fight for the environment. Living a sustainable life is much easier here than it was back home. There are environment protests every Friday, fights to save the bees, I have a zero-waste shopping store, it is easy to buy the things I need locally. I can ride my bike to do my shopping. We get energy rebates for using less energy every year.
I am able to travel and experience new cultures and languages. I am learning about history by living it. Living in Europe and traveling the world has given me empathy towards different cultures and people from all walks of life.
My partner enjoys six weeks of paid vacation. At a high performing management position, he is encouraged to take weekends off, to travel, to spend time with his family, and to prioritize life, because Germany knows people that find value in life are successful employes. Our relationship is strong because he is paid a fair working wage, works a reasonable amount of hours, and we can take time for ourselves to put our happiness and relationship first. His company is expanding and prioritizing its Munich and European offices. Would moving home mean he has fewer options for growth?
So, when am I coming home, you ask? My partner and I talk about this often. We miss our families more than anything. Being far away from my mom, dad, and sister leaves an aching hole in my heart. I moved into a new apartment in Munich, and I wanted nothing more than to invite my family over to help me decorate and get settled. As my parents get old, I worry about them and want to enjoy the last remaining years with them. For that, I am homesick.
I miss the wilderness in the National Parks and nature. National Parks here in Germany are crowded and full of livestock. I miss being able to head out of the city and be lost with no one except wildlife for miles. I miss the fire and the spunk of Americans, their personalities shining through, and the vocal people standing up for injustice. For that, I am homesick.
My husband’s family lives in Australia. He also has urges to be closer to his family. Is it fair to move back to the U.S. and further away from his family? We often think that maybe Germany is the happy middle ground between Alaska and Australia.
However, I am married to a foreign brown person, a smart one that is taking your job after he worked his ass for six years to get a masters in biomedical engineering. I am married to a person that has to shave before he comes into my home country because if he doesn’t, he looks like he could be from the middle east. We wonder if he will be welcome in our country. He is unsure if he wants to live in a country full of hate and inequality.
As a freelancer, if I return home will I get the same benefits I do here in Munich? Or will I have to fall back on working another menial job?
If we decided to have kids, would we put them through America’s broken education system that sets kids up for failure with nothing to fall back on? Would they end up with thousands of dollars worth of debt to get an education at a school supporting black face and neo-nazi kids with racism or one that covers up sexual assault? Would my daughter be denied fundamental human rights? Would toxic masculinity pressure my son? But, on the flip side if we ever did have kids would we want them to be so far away from family?
Would I have to buy a car due to the lack of public transportation? Would I even be able to take that car to a National Park, or will that land be taken away so some company can profit off it?
Will my tax dollars go toward the separation of families, the destruction of Palestine, aiding the destabilization of Central America, and bombs?
Don’t worry, though, just because I left the United States and moved abroad it doesn’t mean I am hiding with my head in the sand. I am still voting, and I am still protesting. I am fighting to make my home a better country if I ever do come home and for those that still live there.
Sure I am homesick, but that doesn’t mean I want to come home. I am happy. I am thriving. I am loved. I am supported. I am safe. I am respected. I am taken care of. Should I leave all that behind to come home? You tell me, as we apply for permanent residency
There might be a day I return home, it might be sooner rather than later in order to be with family, or it might be never. The decision won’t be made lightly, nor will it be easy. I know I will have a serious reverse culture shock. Part of me thinks I was always meant to be a European.
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for environmental sustainability and bridges sustainable travel with environmental science. When she's not outside playing, you'll find her drinking whiskey with her cat and partner while trying to get to level 99 in life.