In the summer of 2016, Expat Katie Rössler took a leap of faith and moved with her young family to Munich. In her interview, she shares with us her tips on assimilation, as well as, how she was able to start her own business – Positive Connections.
Interview with Katie Rössler @ Positive Connections
As Expats, we can completely acknowledge how brave it is to pick up and leave the “world as you know it” behind and move to an entirely new country. Katie’s story is particularly inspirational because she decided to make this life-altering move while she was pregnant with her second child! She shares with us not only her tips and advice on assimilation but also how she was able to start her own business here in Munich.
There were always going to be challenges, whether it was with one or two kids, so we decided to jump in and see what Munich had to offer us.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself.
I moved to Munich from the US over a year ago. I lived in Virginia for ten years and prior to that grew up in a military family moving every two to three years. Being new to a place isn’t unusual for me at all!
How long have you lived in Munich? And why Munich?
We moved to Munich after a few years of trying to decide when was the “right” time to move our family. My husband is German and spent part of his life in Munich. We knew we wanted to be near family and in an area that I would have an easier time transitioning since it is so international here. We moved while I was pregnant with our second which was quite the adventure, but we knew that there wasn’t going to be a “good” time to move for our young family. There were always going to be challenges, whether it was with one or two kids, so we decided to jump in and see what Munich had to offer us.
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I think that my childhood of moving prepared me for living here and meeting new people. I love getting to know people and learning about their experiences, so finding friends wasn’t so much of a struggle. The issue was finding friends who would challenge me to practice my German! It’s too easy to only find expat friends.
However, the struggle with living in a foreign country hit soon after my second daughter. It wasn’t the foreign country as much as living so far away from family. My grandfather passed away suddenly and I was unable to go to the funeral as I was just days out of the hospital. The next wave of challenges hit last spring when I found myself trying to replicate groups and events that I would have had in the States. It took some soul searching to realize I was homesick and trying to bring the US here. Once I figured that out, I realized it was time to see what the city offered and what I could gain from my new friends versus try to recreate my old reality.
Do you speak German? Describe your process for learning the language. How long did it take and what worked for you? Do you think it is important to know the local language?
I can speak some German but don’t practice enough. I took one year of German classes at a community college back in the States before we moved here that helped me have a strong foundation of vocabulary and grammar. Everyone said, “Once you live in Germany, it will be so easy to become fluent.”, but I don’t agree with this statement. It really depends on your life situation. Are you in a workplace where they only speak German? Well, then, yes you will probably pick it up faster.
Staying at home with my children and spending time mainly with expats makes it a struggle to practice my German. Currently, I am using Duolingo and my old class books to work on my vocabulary. I am making an effort to talk more German at my daughter’s Kindergarten and in the community.
I think it is important to know German to feel integrated. If you don’t, you’ll continue to feel like an outsider as people talk around you without you understanding or being able to contribute. Can you get away without knowing German here in Munich? Totally! But what a shame to live in another country and not learn its language!
What would you have liked to know about Munich before moving here?
How complicated it can be. However, this isn’t just about Munich. It’s about Germany. The amount of paperwork this country goes through amazes me! I am used to so much being online, but I realize now even more that also can cause security issues. I always joke that Germany is like the planet in the movie “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where you have to fill out the forms perfectly in order to get permits to do anything. If you mess up one section of the paperwork, it’s sent back to you and you have to start from the beginning. Or after filling out a complete form you are told later that you completed the wrong one and sent back to find the “right” one. It’s a never-ending process sometimes!
I also didn’t realize how complex systems would be here. Even applying for a Kindergarten spot takes months and a stressful process that many native Germans can’t stand! I wish I would have known these things, so I could have already been learning about them before we moved here and were in the thick of it all.
What do you miss most about your home country that you can not find here in Munich?
Target and drive-thru Starbucks! Well, that and always understanding what is being said around me or to me. I can work on that last one though!
What is your favorite spot in Munich?
Schloß Nymphenburg has had a special place in my husband’s and my relationship. We have a framed photo of the castle, and it’s our go-to place for walks and feeling like we are getting out of the city. I love the café connected to the gardens there too! As for the rest, I arrived here pregnant and then had my daughter so my ability to get out and explore with two (now) toddlers is limited. I am hoping to explore the city more soon!
What are your tips for newly arrived expats?
- Meet a mix of expats who can guide you AND local Germans who can immerse you. If you stick with only speaking your language, you will feel very challenged later on.
- Take German classes and really put forth an effort. It can be easy to pass a test with memorization, but to apply what you have learned takes real knowledge.
- Expect to get lonely and realize that would happen anywhere new that you would have moved.
- Remember when you get homesick or frustrated, there were things you probably didn’t enjoy about your home country too. So, give Germany and Munich some time to show you all of its sides. It’s a city that is hard not to fall in love with, even if its people are a bit rough around the edges at first.
What are your current passions or organizations that you are currently involved in?
I love to run and do yoga! These two areas are big passions of mine and keep me sane. I am a part of an online community called Über Moms which promotes healthy and active lifestyles for moms and their families. It is an amazing group of women who motivate and encourage me! I co-started a Moms of Preschoolers group here in Munich – www.mops.org, which gives moms a village of fellow moms. We meet once a month and discuss topics about improving ours and our families lives. It’s a great group, and I always leave with some good food for thought.
Tell us about your latest business and how you got started. What products/services do you offer?
I am a licensed professional counselor as well as national certified counselor in the US. I have worked for 10 years helping individuals, couples and families improve their lives. My Masters is in Marriage and Family Counseling and this field continues to be a passion of mine.
Before becoming a mom, I had a successful group private practice called Growth Counseling that I loved deeply. I was grateful that it was able to live on through another counselor when I decided to stay at home with my first.
Now, two kids later, I created Positive Connections to bring education and support to individuals, couples, and families in Munich who are looking for a native English speaker.
Positive Connections runs workshops twice a month on topics like The Art of Arguing, How Your Personality Affects Your Relationships, Love Actually: Understanding the Ins and Outs of Love, and How to Kid-Proof Your Marriage. I also see clients privately to work on more detailed areas of their relationship and improve their skills.
I truly love helping others and feel honored when someone will share the struggles they are going through with me. Change begins when we ask for help, and I would love to be a support for you through that change!
Katie Rössler is a licensed professional counselor from the US. She is a mom to two wonderful toddlers and wife to a German who may be more American than she is! Katie is a self-proclaimed beach baby but is learning to enjoy the mountains and being landlocked for now. She is the owner of Positive Connections where she offers workshops and counseling on relationship building skills.