Travel

From Volunteer to Expat in a Year

Sometimes I forget about how big a step I did just a year ago. But now, as my voluntary service is ending and I will finally become a real expat, it definitely is on my mind.

While realising that I’ve never been that 100% happy in my home country, Germany, and after falling in love with Portugal head over heels in June, I took some really rapid decisions and started a voluntary service in November 2014 – already with the perspectives of maybe NOT coming back. So I gave up my flat, gave away 90% of my belongings, gave 5% to friends and family and took another 5% with me.

Back then this gave me the most delibering feeling I’ve ever had and I don’t look back on a single day I regretted it.

My life changed immensely with this. I discovered a new passion (caring for youngsters), I found love, I found some small jobs, and eventually I found an employment, starting directly after my volunteering ends, in less than 2 weeks. It will be my first real job, in an area I never worked in. And, above all, it means moving in with my boyfriend and also moving TO Lisbon and finally becoming the expat that I’ve been in my heart for months.

A year of mastering the language, adapting to the Portuguese culture (which is definitely quite different from the German one…), fitting in, trying to find a way, being happy.

I’m afraid of the future, I really really am. But I believe that I will make it as good as I want it to be. Although going tons of different pathways, right now it seems as if they all led to this, and now it’s the breaking point to see, if it was the right choice.

I’m excited to, in 10 days, officially register myself in Portugal and cut all (official) cords to Germany. While all those refugee try everything to set a foot into Germany (and above of all Berlin), I leave voluntarily. Do I look back sadly? No. After all, Germany is not that far away 🙂 And the parts of German culture I treasure, I will always carry in my heart.

 

*self-motivational speech out*

(see facebook link at about / life for more photos!)

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14 (German) habits that changed when I moved to Portugal

Being both within Europe, I expected not THAT many cultural differences when I moved from Berlin, Germany, to Portugal end of last year. Except for some things that I already knew, but considered prejudices, I discovered, that there is way more. The following 14 things are just an excerpt of my experiences here …

All pictures (c) NSFoto (me)

1. Regard “5 minutes” as actual 5 minutes on the clock

Although the Latin countries being not on time is a cliché – it is just as true for 90% of the inhabitants. On the contrary, Germans are known for their punctuality, and although personally not being the best example for that, I still was surprised here. If someone tells me “just a minute”, I expect them to take 10, maybe 15min, and if it takes them even longer to ask them what happened. Portuguese just regard time as something way more flexible than Germans. This does not mean that doctor’s appointments or working hours are flexible (a big mistake I made in the beginning), but nobody expects their friends to be at a bar for a drink before an hour after the supposed meeting time.

2. Drinking (American) coffees during the day at work or at home for waking up

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The Portuguese espresso is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Like Italian? Go to Portugal and you will be even more amazed. Moreover, drinking an espresso in a café, bar, or whatever is cheap. 60c is the basic price, and going for at least one espresso daily is a common social thing and nearly expected of you. Arriving at 11pm in a bar and ordering an espresso? Completely normal.

3. Bothering about my last name. Or, even my first name. Or, real names at all

And for a few reasons:
First, nobody cares much about last names, unless to identify a person (1000s of Joões and Anas, anyone?). Going there with unique looks and a unique first name, nobody cares about my last name. Unless they wanna try how to pronounce it to make fun of the German pronounciation.
Second, because of a way lower variety of both first and last names than in Germany, nicknames here are a given. Especially amongst men, I hardly know anyone usually called by his proper first name. Ranges go from last name, simple short versions, names considering appearances, to ridiculous names know one really remembers where they came from.
And third, as 99% are even pronouncing my (not even German) name wrong when they first try it, and some even keep failing after months, I got used to so many variations, that I basically listen to everything that KINDA sounds like my name. Not kidding. I turn my head thousands of times someone is shouting Gabi (short for Gabriel) instead of Nadin.

4. My view on meals

DSC_0009 (2)Back in Germany, I usually ate a big breakfast early in the morning (7am), a normal lunch, and an early light dinner at 6 or 7, maybe 7.30. The meals consisted of a lot of vegetables, a lot of spices, rarely meat, hardly ever fish, and the food was hardly ever typical German.

Portuguese love their whole culinary – they love their food, meals (at least lunch and especially dinner) are a social event. Their whole way of eating is very different: they don’t use many spices (and even those sparcely), they have this really strange habit of eating rice and fries together, cooked vegetables on the side is a special (although a salad with the meal is normal), and they eat their food cold a lot of times because they get caught up in conversations. Oh, and a meal without meat or fish is not a meal!

5. Being focused on one language

By now I can proudly say I am fluent on a “normal conversation” level in 3 languages, German, English and Portuguese. While in the beginning, I sometimes got confused with only 2 languages, now I can now switch between all 3 within seconds, and even understand a word of Turkish from my flatmate in between. This ability gets lost as soon as I get really tired, but gets doubled with a few drinks 😉

6. Cooking daily

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Eating out is really cheap, especially compared to Germany. And I’m not talking about Fast Food, but whole meals. Plus, drinks are ridiculously cheap from my POV, so why not be a bit more lazy and enjoy a dinner out instead of cooking every day?

7. Actually answering when someone asks how I am

While Germans expect an answer when asking you how you are, and look at you waiting for an answer, the Portuguese “tudo bem?” and its variations is part of the greeting and nobody expects you to give a long answer, or even to answer at all. Seeing someone walking by on the other side of the street? “Olá, tudo bem?” and keep on walking. In Germany, you probably don’t even notice each other because you’re not really looking at who walks by.

8. Seeing my (local) friends once a week max

DSC_0223If I haven’t seen my friends here for 3 days, I’m wondering where they are. People here are socialising a lot, and going for a café or a beer daily or at least every 2nd day is part of the routine. In Germany, even living 15 minutes from one of my best friends, I saw her once a week on the weekend, if even. Completely normal.


9. Being able to go unnoticed

Forget it. Just, forget it. Apart from Portuguese people usually being pretty curious, as a blond blue-eyed girl speaking with an accent, you have all eyes on you within seconds. Especially in Berlin, it’s nearly normal that half of your friends have an immigration background at the least, here people looking like me usually are tourists. Like, 97%. That means that whenever I’m on the streets, I have eyes on me, naturally. Germany is full of tourists and foreign looking people, so nobody cares much about other people on the streets.

10. Vorglühen at home, club later

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In Germany, you meet your friends for Vorglühen at home, a bunch of drinks before usually hitting a club later in the night. But in Portugal, a jantar (pt. for dinner) is the common thing to do here with friends, family, or, even more often, both. You invite them to dinner, have some beer and wine and go to a café / bar later. And if you happen to be really into it, you hit a club in the night. Getting drunk? Not something very usual to do here in general. This is for big celebrations only, not a weekend habit.

11. Thinking of people older than me as people with a lot of dignity and trying to uphold an image

A sorry here to all Germans, but it’s a fact: The major part of Germans is a pretty uptight bunch, at least from age 40 up. Having a woman (not talking about family) that could be your grandma making jokes with AND about you all day is not something I ever saw in Germany. Yes, you see them smile and everything, but gestulating a lot, telling funny stories, even making fun of you? A very rare image and no way anyone would even think of describing a German old lady. Germans seem to reach an age where they think they have to change and go through life with more dignity, they are “too old” for that “young stuff”. But does that really mean having fun in life?

12. Not traveling

DSC_0290 (2)Traveling here is cheap. And you can basically pick a random location on the map, and you’ll find something worth seeing. I hardly ever traveled in Germany – mostly because it was expensive and I thought most beautiful things are outside of the country. This view changed, and if one day I’ll have the time and money to travel around a bit, I certainly will.

13. Not knowing the real differences between German and other European cultures

It is interesting that you actually have to leave your own country to learn more about it, but it is true. Being confronted with a culture, that seems to be so similar on the surface, but is pretty different on the inside, every single day makes you aware of what being German actually means. You learn about prejudices, you understand the small quirks of your native language, the unique things of your culture, etc.

14. Sunny days are special days

DSC_0088 (2)When at the beginning of last December in Portugal there was a day without any clouds and a shining blue sky, I was baffled. In Germany, everyone would have left their house to basically “celebrate” that day. Here, hardly anyone noticed. And I soon saw why, it is just normal.
If the temperature in summer drops below 25, it’s frio. Having clouds on the sky? A bad day.

Trouble Sleeping*

So, after nearly 3 weeks away, I’m back home in Lousa. And right now definitely very happy about it. Apart from the obvious problem I’m far away from my friends again, there is another big one: we don’t have wifi until the end of the month because the office moved. We can use the wifi from the bar we live above off, but 1) the connection is bad, and, above all, 2) they shut it down when the bar closes. And of course, weekdays the bar closes at 2. Which right now (2.30am, typing this in word …), is a huge problem for me.

My sleeping rhythm is very night-orientated, I’m a typical insomniac. I also love the sun, which usually results in little sleep. But that’s ok – according to my parents, even as a baby I never wanted to sleep (I must have been awful), so apparently that’s just my nature.

Even before leaving, I was used to going to sleep around 3am usually, getting up at 9 or 10, which suited me very well. I had to get up early for a long time in Germany – I can get totally used to getting up early, but it simply means I have to go to bed early to get enough sleep, and that just doesn’t suit my rhythm at all. Usually I ended up getting way too little sleep overall. So, the past 3 weeks I had been left without any working hours, meeting friends in the evenings / nights (having no trains back to Parede, a small part of Cascais about half an hour from Lisbon itself, between 1.30 and 5.30), living at a friend’s place with a very night-orientated rhythm as well (usually going to sleep at 4 at the earliest, but other than me still sleeping 8-9h), and other friends with even “worse” schedules than me (more about that in the story below). With all of this combined, I got into the schedule that suited myself the best. Which means I usually went to sleep between 5 and 7am, sometimes later, waking up around 12. It just suited me, it was convenient (my friend always slept when I was sleeping, I only remember two exceptions :D), I was fully awake when out with friends, never tired when I had to wait for my train etc. The 4 nights in London did not disturb this. I only managed to arrive at my friend’s place 4.30am (London will probably be the next post) and my friend also never goes to sleep before 2. I actually tried to get back into a more “normal” rhythm again… Well, I managed two nights to go to bed around 3.30, but the other ones I failed miserably.

And I had a good feeling my last night in Lisbon would make all those attempts in vain anyway. I was proven right… I arrived from London back to Lisbon in the afternoon and had already planned to spend another night in Lisbon and only return to Lousa at midday on Wednesday, because I’m working at home on Wednesdays and had to get some stuff I left in Parede anyway. In the evening I had scheduled to go to the rehearsal of a friend’s band again – I had been the week before, taking pictures (don’t have them yet, or I would show some) and loved it, so asked if I could return again. By the way, check them out (Bandcamp), They are amazing! A whole handful of very creative and talented guys.

Anyway. So I went to the rehearsal in Belém at 8.30 (yes, of course I stopped by and got some Pasteis, for the whole band, me, and some for my flatmate to bring home on Wednesday :D). Long story short, I took a train home at 8am. After a night with too little sleep before leaving and having arrived by plane just a few hours before, needless to say I was completely exhausted. I hardly could keep my eyes open, ended up taking a train that didn’t go all the way but went back halfway (and of course only realised 2 stations back in direction of Lisbon again …). I think I only managed to not miss my station completely because of some friends that kept texting with me (they were obviously getting up :D), so I repeatedly fell asleep between stations and woke up again through my mobile. Close call, because battery was nearly dying. I finally was in bed at 9.30 and – surprise, surprise, suddenly awake again of course! Eventually fell asleep around 10.

So. Getting to the point here (I’m obviously bored n wasn’t able to write anything in a long time). Now I have a wonderful night rhythm, that I absolutely love. AND NO INTERNET FROM 2AM! I’M DYING! Especially because I have to finish my work…. And that’s impossible without internet -.- until the end of the month?! How is this supposed to work?? I have my mobile connection with my phone, but my data volume does not even closely suffice to connect my laptop to that.

I would love to hear from all those insomniacs out there – how do you guys deal with normal working hours? Do you sleep when your friends are awake or do you adapt to them? And in general, for everyone – do you think you’re following your natural sleeping rhythm?!

Fun fact: There are a lot of insomniacs in Portugal (or I just happen to know so many!?), but only very few in Germany. I know at least 5 people closely here who usually don’t go to sleep before 2, rather (a lot) later – and a lot of Portuguese friends on Facebook seem to be online in the night as well. Germany? I can only think of one single friend … Just checked my mobile out of fun, yup, 2 Portuguese friends online 😉

Oh well. I will try to sleep now, have my last Portuguese class in 6h. I’m still completely exhausted, but simply not tired – well, I more or less slept until 4pm before finally starting to go home, arrived here at midnight. That’s less than 12h ago…

*The Perishers. Lyrics totally unrelated 😉

London Calling

No, this is not the next one on my list, but just a short update from me.

In 24h i’ll already have left Lisbon n be with one of my best friends in London. =) Right now I’m totally missing the time to write, a proper post, but I have LOTS of things to share – my mind is full. Well, back in Lousa I’ll probably have way more time than I’d like to have. But i’m actually only coming back for 5 days, then again on to Braga – maybe actually seeing the city during the training this time! And after that, while I’m in the north, I’ll most likely not miss out on a long weekend in Porto. Still trying to sort that all out. Well first, I’m off to London with very mixed feelings. As happy as I am to go back there after 5 years and see my great friend again, this also means the end of my Lisbon stay and the 2 weeks of working, accompanied by so much music. And I definitely can’t pretend to be happy about that …

Well, I’m already getting into future posts. I’ll keep you guys updated, expect to hear from me soon! (With tons of pictures hopefully.) Did I mention I was at a rehearsal of a friend’s band, got my hands on a good camera n made some really nice photos? =) Waiting for my friend to send me the photos, it was his camera!