Category Archives: Expat Life

When your future relies on a language test

I recently had to Google “How to cope with expat depression” because it finally hit a week ago. I wouldn’t say I am legitimately depressed, but I am experiencing more waves of worry and self-doubt far more frequently than a couple months ago.

I moved from Houston, Texas to Cologne, Germany to start a master’s program in English this summer, but this did not happen. I didn’t score high enough on the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (the most difficult German language proficiency exam) to qualify for my completely-in-English master’s program. This means I couldn’t enroll and need to take another qualifying test, this time the Goethe Institut B2 Zertifikat exam.

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Blah blah blah, right. It’s a language exam, just study, shut up. I get that. But I am more bothered by the simple fact that all of my accomplishments so far mean nothing unless I pass a mid-level language exam.

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This, coupled with taking a 75% pay cut and dealing with difficult neighbors when trying to take blog photos, one of the few things that gives me creative joy, leaves me feeling dejected. On top of this I have three loan companies demanding payments of more than I make a month. But I have to remind myself that I am the one who made things this way. I decided to attend a college that cost $30,000 per year, I decided to leave my comfortable job, I decided to move to Germany.

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My master’s program, a job in writing and editing and my own personal happiness is currently dependent on this language exam. Maybe it doesn’t have to be, but it is the path I am currently committed to.

Top: Zara
Cardigan: Primark
Pants: J.Crew
Shoes: Zara
Earring: H&M

I check my Google Adsense account, SocialBlade and site stats religiously to try and figure out a way to make a little extra money and create content I enjoy. If any of you have tips, I would love to hear them. I have a few ideas for how to change my aesthetic and content, I just need to see it through.

Suspicious neighbors update

For the past few months I have been documenting the negative encounters I have had with my new neighbors in Germany. I live in a relatively small town outside of Cologne, so I understand that the sudden appearance of a brown girl with a large camera and tripod may be an unusual sight. However, I don’t think it is an excuse to be rude and presumptuous.

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I filmed a new video as an update to the last one I posted, which was made after I had been accosted by a neighbor threatening to call the police if I did not leave. You can read that blog post here and watch the video here.

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I am trying to venture away from my neighborhood whenever I want to take photos because I just don’t want to have to explain myself anymore, especially when they are not polite about it. I’ve been told that the problem may go away if they see me around the area long enough, but I don’t want to wait and find out.

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In the meantime, I have a bike and the weather is nice so I will be scoping out places nearby to shoot photos. I am hoping to take this crap blog in a new direction soon and the last thing I need are nosy grumpy Germans.

Top: Primark
Jeans: American Eagle
Flats: Steve Madden (super similar)
Necklace: Forever 21
Bracelet: H&M

I love Texas, but there are very few days when it is comfortable to wear jeans and a button-up without drenching it in your own sweat and oils from the humidity. I bought this top a few sizes larger to have a bit of a loose painter’s smock feel. When I bought this bracelet, my German said, “Oh, are you going to wear it with that gold choker that I like?” I hadn’t even considered that when I bought it, but they totally match.

Cheap Steve Madden flats and the great Cholula discovery

Today I moaned and whined about not having any basic flats in my closet. Between my mustard lace-ups, my patent black buckled flats and an assortment of black boots, I basically have no quick warm weather shoe options. Sure, I could sashay through Kaufland in my thick soled bluchers, but I could also make a quick trip to the nearest mini mall and pick up some Chinese factory made flats, because I am poor and ignore the consequences of fast fashion like the horrible human being I am.

But I actually found these cool Steve Madden flats for 27 Euros, which is maybe $50 USD, but I generally ignore my depleting bank account these days so I can’t give an accurate conversion.

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They’re perforated and pointy, everything I need as a girl who refuses to wear open-toed shoes.

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Cardigan: Primark
Top: H&M
Skirt: Aeropostale
Flats: Steve Madden (so damn similar)
Bag: Rebecca Minkoff
Necklace: Forever 21

Speaking of Kaufland, THEY NOW SELL CHOLULA AND FRANK’S RED HOT. One of my biggest fears about moving to Germany was having to give up my hot sauce addiction. When I first moved here, I only thought Tabasco and the cheap Fuego brand hot sauces were available. My suitcase was over its weight limit and I refused to let go of the three bottles of Cholula I had packed for my move. I used them so sparingly in the first few months, only choosing the best pizzas to have them with.

But as we were shopping in Kaufland yesterday, my German came over to me and said, “Come with me, and I think you need to hold my hand.” He led me to the moST GLORIOUS SHELF I HAVE SEEN SINCE DECEMBER 2015.

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I bought one of each.

The fun didn’t stop there, because Kaufland also decided that tiny overpriced fruit are the new hottest thing for summer.

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Also this week, we ventured out with the Wes dog to a park nearby that had a bountiful amount of daffodils that I lovingly refer to as “tax flowers” because they were planted using tax money from working Germans. Germany decides what is beautiful and worth spending money on apparently.

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We also stumbled upon several man-made branch huts, which I made Wesley get in with me for a picture, which ended up looking like an awkward engagement photo.

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Today I made monkey bread for the first time, which I ate a regretful amount of. It’s a bit too sweet for my taste, but I am thankful it stayed intact.

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I’ve spent the better part of my day trying to put together outfits for an upcoming sponsored post and making myself look ugly despite Snapchat’s beauty filters.

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I have work in the morning, which is apparently going to be my Saturday ritual from now on because it’s easy to piss on the new person when it comes to scheduling. I really don’t mind, it’s money, but I am hoping for an easy train ride there, unlike last Thursday.

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My neighbors (most likely) think I am from the Middle East

Being an Arab shouldn’t be a problem, and I am not offended by this assumption in the slightest. However, Germans (I am speaking for Cologne) have been more outspoken about anything they deem “odd” in their community circles since the New Year’s assaults.

In my last post I was upset about a woman who aggressively questioned me while taking blog photos. She tried to tell me that this area was private (it’s not), that I wasn’t allowed to take photos here (I am) and that she was calling the police (wait what). Even before this incident, I had a slight suspicion that their questioning may be racism fueled. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions because I am not one to become offended by that. I make fun of my skin, hair, poop brown eyes and Mexicans all the time. However, I do have a problem with those who are unreasonably rude to me because of the color of my skin.

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I may regret typing this, and I may delete it later so I’ll remain vague, but I experienced racism the first time I visited Germany as well. I had to spend some time in a certain place as part of a college study abroad program, and I was treated very poorly. I was even refused at the door by a shoe shop in the neighborhood. This place I was supposed to spend a few weeks at wanted me gone after a week, and I remember calling my mom crying because I was miserable.

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While taking these photos today, an older man and a young girl were riding bikes together. I was putting my hand over my lens and standing to the side anytime people passed, and I heard him telling the young girl, “She has a camera.” I told them hello as they passed me, and I didn’t see him again until I was finished taking photos. He politely asked me if everything had turned out all right, and if I had taken any nice shots. I said yes and he asked to see one. While I was going through my camera for a non-derp photo, I joked about my German being embarrassing because I kept fumbling with my words. He responded, “My Arabic is too.”

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Cogs clicked into place in my head, but I remained calm and told him that I was from the U.S., Texas specifically. Even though he had been nice to me before, his attitude seemed to change from curiosity to relief and he left immediately.

I can’t help but think that the woman I encountered last week, and the people before her, are assuming that I am an Arab, the very people they are showing prejudice towards. I understand their concerns and worries, but since Germany managed to redeem itself from a grueling past, it would be a shame if they began to tarnish their reputation again with damaging assumptions. It’s worrisome enough how racially insensitive their Carnival celebrations are, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

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I still love this country and I am happy it is my home. I just hope to one day receive mutual respect from my neighbors. I have done nothing to betray trust, and I promise, as is evident here, that my photos are only of my dumb self.

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Jacket: American Eagle (similar)
Top: H&M (similar)
Skirt: Banana Republic
Shoes: Topshop
Earrings: H&M

Alright, this is a style blog after all. These shoes are the most dangerous clothing item I own, and also the most comfortable. I was feeling a bit “dressed up” in this outfit, so I toned it down with a jean jacket. If you’re looking for a fitted soft denim jacket, I highly recommend American Eagle’s selection. I’ve outgrown their clothing, but their denim is hard to beat.

My neighbors are STILL suspicious of me: Police edition

This is an unexpected part 2 of the the blog post I wrote this past February: My neighbors are suspicious of me

I spent my morning recording a video about why bloggers wear seasonal clothing if the temperature hasn’t yet reflected that season. For example, why a blogger might wear a sundress and strappy heels when there’s snow on the ground in April. But this idea was completely halted when a neighbor decided to accost me while taking blog photos for this project, accusing me of photographing houses.

LET US SEE THE BACKGROUND, SHALL WE?

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Beyond my smiling ass face and cold legs, you can see trees, sidewalk, poles and apartments in the damn distance.

Oh wait, what about this photo.

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MY FEET. OH HELL NO.

Wait, wait, surely it’s these offensive photos that warranted being confronted:

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Oh, oh no WAIT. WAIT. This old German woman cleared it up for me. This is a PRIVATE. AREA. This sidewalk here, y’all. Private. This open, connected sidewalk in a public living area is private. My camera and tripod and brown self are not welcome there, and that totally justified her saying that she was going to CALL THE POLICE.

I am SICK of this. She aggressively approached me and I answered as calmly as I could, told her I have a style blog, that I am only taking photos of myself, and just, ugh, listen to my rant if you want to know:

(WARNING: Cursing, whining, multiple chins)

This is getting out of hand. I don’t know what to do. I had the idea of making a sign in German that I can prop up against my tripod for anyone who may be curious or confront me again. I can simply say, “Lesen Sie” and point to the damn sign.

What would you do? I have every right to take photos in this area, and a quick scroll through my blog is evidence enough that I never post addresses, street names, houses or anything else “private.” I need a nice, mature way of handling this problem because I will not stop taking blog photos around here and I will not tolerate being mistreated by members of this community.

Dress: Vero Moda (similar)
Jacket: H&M
Shoes: Zara
Earrings: H&M
Ring: c/o SammyDress (similar)

Moving abroad with a pet: Flying to Germany

I recently moved from the United States to Germany, and brought along my 8-year-old West Highland Terrier, Wesley. I was nervous enough about this giant change in my life, but this was also my first time traveling with an animal, freaking internationally, and knowing that he can get a bit….stressed.

I researched several pet forums for helpful information on which airline to choose, how to prepare for the flight, and my destination city’s requirements. Most of the answers I found were from 2013 or older, so I would like to share what I learned.

Please note that the vaccination/health forms/registration may be different depending on the country you are flying to and from.

We flew with Lufthansa

Though the information I found was decently outdated, I trusted the many recommendations I saw to fly my pet through Lufthansa. I knew I didn’t want to fly him in cargo, but I was worried about my dog meeting the weight requirement. Lufthansa allows dogs up to 8 kg (17.6 pounds) to be in-cabin, and they must be your only piece of carry-on luggage and fit under the seat in front of you. Wesley was admitted even though he was at least two pounds over the weight limit. This may vary depending on the check-in attendant you get.

Wesley had to be taken out of his carrier when going through security. His carrier went through on the conveyor belt, and I had to hold Wesley and walk through the full body scanner that resembles a door frame, not the one that asks you to place your hands above your head. A TSA worker swabbed my hands, I packed Wesley back in his carrier and we headed to our gate.

We had at least three hours until take-off, so I made sure my dog had plenty of outside time at the Houston Intercontinental Airport, which has two pet relief areas that are not fenced, and require leaving the terminal and going back through security (same procedure) when you come back in.

My dog traveled in a Sherpa Bag

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Wesley barely fit in the large Sherpa Bag. He could lay down comfortably, but had to squat a little when standing. The bag has a zippered top, allowing you to open it halfway and let your dog stick its head out. I bought the bag one month prior to our trip, and would practice zipping Wesley into it, placing it under my desk and playing a YouTube video of plane sounds at full volume. I would extend the amount of time he was in the carrier by 15 minutes each day, and reward him with a treat when he would stay quiet.

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When we weren’t practicing, I would leave the Sherpa bag on the ground near his bed zipped open on the side, and I got so excited when he would crawl into it by himself for a nap. Westies like small spaces, so I wasn’t surprised that he grew to like it, but it still felt like a success.

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Totally over this photoshoot

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During the flight

I paid ahead of time ($35) to have an aisle seat near the middle of the plane situated next to a bathroom. Wesley stayed in his carrier under the seat in front of me, completely zipped up, for the entire flight. He only whined once when I got up to use the bathroom, even though I tried to creep out of my seat like a ninja and return as fast as I could. I waited for him to fall asleep the next few times I went.

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I packed a small bag of Blue Buffalo turkey jerky for the nine hour flight, since turkey has tryptophan to help Wesley sleep and kept him preoccupied with chewing. He ate his last meal at least four hours before the flight, as recommended, and I would give him a generous piece of jerky at least once per hour. When I was served dinner, I noticed that my salad came in a rectangular dish that I re-purposed as a water bowl for Wesley. I asked for a cup of water, poured it into the dish, and carefully slipped it into his carrier from the side zipper. He drank it immediately, but I refrained from giving him anymore since we were only halfway through the flight.

Wesley slept majority of the time. I made sure to book a flight that left in the evening, so that we would essentially travel overnight. It was 10 a.m. when we arrived in Germany, and Wesley was quiet, even while landing. Our seat neighbor even commented that she completely forgot he was under the seat, and said he was “so well-behaved.” That didn’t last long once we got off the plane. He whined and turned around in his carrier during the entire walk to baggage claim, eager to get out.

Going through animal inspection

I began Wesley’s travel preparations six months before our flight. He needed a series of shots, most importantly his rabies vaccine and a 15-digit microchip required by Germany, that had to be administered in a certain order, and even time frame. He received his rabies vaccine in the summer, then got his microchip a month later, then a last group of shots that may or may not have been required by border control. He received his final health inspection at least ten days prior to traveling, in which they checked his eyes, heart rate and teeth. This final health inspection was documented on a packet of paperwork, which had to be sent to a U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Austin, Texas for notarization. I received my approved packet back four days before traveling, which I had to pick up from the veterinarian.

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These health documents had to be presented to the Germany animal inspection, who greeted me from a small table near the exit after I grabbed my luggage. I had to unzip Wesley from his carrier so they could confirm his breed (certain breeds are not allowed in Germany) and they looked through his paperwork and noted their approval in their system. They gave me all of my papers back, and Wesley and I were free to set foot into the country.

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A few details:

I spent just over $1000 to move my dog from Texas to Germany. The vaccinations and paperwork were the majority of the cost, the paperwork alone costing $364 plus a $39 fee, which had to be sent as a check. The downside (besides the price) is that these documents are only valid for 30 days in Germany, 10 days in the United States. From what I understand, the procedure will need to be repeated to travel back to the United States, with new requirements.

I first called Lufthansa to check if there was room for a dog on the flight I was interested in, booked the flight, then called back to have him added to my itinerary. I did not have to pay the $100 fee until I checked-in at the gate. Also, you are not allowed to do early check-in online if you are flying with a pet. The pet must first be approved in-person to check-in.

My dog does not have a history of major health problems nor any major allergies.

Your dog is allowed to walk through the Frankfurt airport on a leash after you leave the baggage claim area. I did not see any pet relief areas, so I waited until we had driven away from the airport and let him out at a rest stop.

My dog rarely barks, but he whines a lot when stressed or worried. I only heard him once when I got up to use the restroom, but if he whined any more during the flight, it was too loud on the plane to hear it.

I recommend:

Practice the flight with your dog. Buy your carrier ahead of time (and spending the extra money on a nice airline approved one will give you peace of mind) and practice with the plane sounds, walking up and down stairs, setting it on a table and giving your dog treats while it is in it.

Research all the requirements of your destination country. My veterinarian really appreciated that I had done my homework and knew what my dog needed. Their travel expert was already knowledgeable about the procedure and requirements, but she liked that she didn’t have to explain everything and we could just proceed.

Do not give your dog “doggy downers” or any kind of sleep aid for a flight longer than five hours. I was warned by my vet and groomer that this was not a good idea for long flights, because the dog could have an even bigger panic attack if it suddenly woke up and didn’t know what was going on. I made sure Wesley was aware of his surroundings, and that he would occasionally receive a treat and see me sitting right in front of him.

And lastly, don’t worry. I really stressed myself out before this trip, and in the end, everything went much smoother than expected. There is always the chance of running into a problem, but your dog may surprise you. I expected Wesley to be a complete mess, but he was the most calm little darling. Honestly a miracle.

I will write a post soon about getting your dog registered in your destination city. I can only really speak about my experience in Cologne, Germany, but I learned that the procedure is similar across the country.

Drunk Europeans: Amsterdam and Karneval Köln

I turned 27 last week and crossed the German border to party with the Dutch in Amsterdam. I had typical American expectations about Amsterdam, but didn’t expect it to be so damn charming.

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My Amsterdam knowledge, embarrassingly enough, is only based on what I had seen in movies, most notably “Eurotrip” but also “The Fault In Our Stars.” I had this idea that the streets would be crawling with petty theft, prostitutes and drug dealers. They were there, but were only a small part of this fairy tale city.

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We stayed at the Amstel Botel (only 35 Euros a night, heyy) and took a ferry into the city each day, which seemed inconvenient at first but soon became a true highlight of our visit. The forecasts threatened that a storm was headed our way but then nothing happened. We were able to stuff our bellies with vending machine bitterballen and Dutch beers until our casual stroll through the Red Light District to see prostitutes in windows waiting for business while playing on their phones.

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Many of the Dutch are great English speakers, so my lazy American self felt comfortable ordering the french fries and beers that now cling to my midsection. Even the Heineken Experience, a multi-level interactive “museum” for Heineken Beer, welcomed me with English narration and placards. We munched on barley, watched videos about the brewing process and even got to customize a beer bottle of our own (for a price of course) and enjoy a large extra cold Heineken. This stuff tastes better on tap.

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We downed some semi-disappointing Dutch pancakes, I bought a pair of over-the-knee tights and gifts for my family and headed back to the land of bread and my looming German language exam.

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So now I am sick with some throat and nose thing, and it’s rainy but Karneval is alive and well in Köln. The German and I, who didn’t wear costumes because we suck at planning, took the train downtown last Thursday for the kick-off to find large groups of drunk Germans in costumes dancing to modern folk party music and huddling under tents.

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Drunk Germans are my favorite Germans. They really do live up to their stereotype of being serious people who seem unapproachable and intimidating. So to see this group suddenly dressed as clowns, monks, dinosaurs and superheroes was just, oh man, it was just the best thing. AND THERE WERE SO MANY MEXICANS. Like, really! Cultural appropriation and racial sensitivity is not a thing here. You can walk into any bakery right now and buy a Berliner with a paper cartoon of an Asian man with super slanted eyes wearing traditional Chinese garb. Really.

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There was an increase in security at the event because of the sexual assaults on New Years. You couldn’t go anywhere in the city without seeing groups of police marching together. Honestly, it was the most German police I have ever seen in my life. You can typically go a whole week without seeing or hearing any police, unlike in my hometown, Houston, where police sirens used to sing me to sleep.

In the end, the best part about Karneval, and honestly, the best part about Germany, was the Reibekuchen. Well worth the 5 Euros, unlike the overpriced Kölsch and weak rum punch.

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No other words needed. Reibekuchen, I love you.