Mari Volar: Gap Year in Cologne Turns into New Home
Mari is an extroverted international Estonian now calling Germany her number 1 home. In September 2019 she started The Expat Lady Experience podcast to share stories of inspiring international women and showcase the joys, struggles and stereotypes that combining cultures can highlight in their everyday lives.
Transcripts are automatically generated and may not be an 100% accurate transcription.
Nicole (Host): Welcome to the moving roadmap podcast powered by Avvinue. My name is Nicole, and I'll be your host for the show. In this episode, we're excited to introduce our guests. Mari Volar who is. Extroverted international. Stony is now calling Germany, her number one home in September, 2019. She started the expert lady experience podcast stories of inspiring international ones and showcase the joys struggles and stereotypes that combining cultures can highlight in their everyday lives.
Welcome to the show, Mari.
Mari Volar: Thanks for having me.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. So from Estonia now in Germany, where in Germany are you?
Mari Volar: I am in the Western parts of Germany in Cologne, so quite close to the, to the borders with the Netherlands and Belgium. So it's, it's a really international hub have been
Nicole (Host): Love it, and when exactly did you move abroad?
Mari Volar: So, this is my third time living abroad. The first time I moved was in my late teens. So I was 19 and I was headed to the UK. And now this is my second time living in Cologne.
Nicole (Host): Okay. So you went to Cologne first and then you moved again.
Mari Volar: Yeah, exactly. So I feel like a gap year kind of thing from university and completely fell in love with it.
It's a wonderful place to be and am. I was having so much fun that once I was done with my degree, then back home, I decided to move out here once again and freely, try and put down some roots and hopefully learn the German language. It's a tricky thing to do for sure.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. I agree with that.
Wonderful. So, wow. You had your first experience at 19 moving abroad and then your gap year, everything kind of like led to going back to Cologne. So that's really wonderful.
Mari Volar: Yeah. I mean, I've never really, I often tell people that I'm very proud to be an Astonian and I'm very, very proud of my heritage, but I'm a much better Estonian outside of Estonia.
Nicole (Host): Very nicely said, I'm sure many experts can relate to that.
Mari Volar: I think so, too.
Nicole (Host): So. Your first journey was you were young. When did you officially know you wanted to go abroad?
Mari Volar: To be fair going abroad was like the least scary option. At the time I had, you know, I had to finish high school. I was completely oblivious to what I wanted to do in life and where my path was headed.
All I knew was that I was very. I'm more than unhappy, but I just, I didn't feel at home anymore. So I knew that I had to make a change and the whole move was completely random. I put it together in a couple of months and, and it was back in 2010, I think. Yes. 2010. And I actually moved during, global North global pandemic global travel free.
So back in 2010 on Icelandic, a volcano had just erupted in Iceland and the dust in the atmosphere meant that all plane journeys were halted. And no flights were happening. So I ended up trekking across Europe with six random guys in a minivan with my two suitcases to actually get to the UK in time.
Nicole (Host): That is so adventurous.
Mari Volar: Yeah. But another option would have been to really pursue my professional goals. What I wanted to do it through at the time. And I had, I had so much insecurity about that. Then moving abroad and trekking across Europe in a van was like the least scary option at the time. Ironic.
Nicole (Host): Love it. And how did you know, or how did you feel ready to move abroad? So you kind of mentioned, it was the least scary thing and you, you felt you needed to make a change. What was that moment that you felt, you know, completely ready? Or how long did it take for you to feel ready?
Mari Volar: I don't think I actually realized what it was going to be about or what it was going to be like until I was actually there.
So, and that's something that I think a lot of people can relate to, that this sort of excitement of starting a journey. You have your sort of adrenaline highs and you are constantly on the go and you plan and you execute your plans and you get everything ready, all your ducks in a row. But the reality for me hit when I was, When I was sitting at a, at this big bus station where I had been dropped off waiting for.
My host, a family to come and pick me up. So I moved abroad first as an all pair, because that was as a young woman who had childcare experience. That was like the easiest way to slowly increase, create myself into another culture. And knowing that I had a place to live and, you know, steady employment, straight away from the ghetto and waiting for someone I didn't actually know.
I had never met face to face to come and pick me up and, and then take me through the house for me to live there. That's pretty much where the reality, they hit that all my actual goal to like, this is it. I have been planning this and now, and now, like I have no plans from this point onwards.
I just have to deal with it. That was a really, really scary realization to have, right. Six in the morning, at a random bus stop, in high Wickham, UK. So looking back, I don't know what I was thinking.
Nicole (Host): I love how you made, like how you mentioned the excitement of starting a journey, right? There's all this adrenaline, you were just like, Oh, this is so exciting.
Let me, let me prepare. And then reality hits in some way and it’s funny how yours happened to be at a bus stop. And you still remember that years ago? Just that moment.
Mari Volar: Yeah, it's been, it's literally been 10 years now and, and I still, I still can't believe that, you know, I did that. I'm really, really proud that I did, but I don't know what my parents were thinking of letting me go.
Nicole (Host): How do you, how do you think, that bold, adventurous move affected your future move to Cologne?
Mari Volar: I mean, that was the start of everything. Really. It's an immense confidence boost going somewhere and surviving and not just surviving, but thriving. So I ended up staying in London for. Two plus years. And, and I made, but made a life there for myself.
I had a career path in the end. I was mingling with people. I was having so much fun. I met so many amazing people. I made so many good friends and, to have that knowledge that even without a security network, really, which is. What home is all about. Truly you have your family, you have your friends. I mean, if you are lucky, I'm like, I have been very, very lucky to have these people.
I look after me my entire life. Yeah. And then going and just dropping us off. In a completely different part of the world in a different culture, in a different language in my environment, and actually getting by quite successfully and knowing that whatever happens, you have that experience that if need be, you can start from scratch and everything's going to be okay.
You can do whatever it takes. So knowing that has been an immense boost to my confidence in life in general, especially as a woman as well, because we. I don't know about you, but I definitely grew up in the mindset that what you can do, you can do anything you like, if you want, you can be anything you want, because it was sort of the late nineties skills, empowerment errors.
But at the same time, there were still these expectations that no, like good girls don't do this. And nice girls don't do that. And actually you're bursting out of that bubble and saying, you know what? Screw that pardon my French. I can go and I can, I can get by and I don't need anybody to, to sort of hold my hand while I do it.
That was a really, really good lesson to learn.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely completely agree. When you mentioned the immense confidence boost. I also had that experience when I moved from Florida to New York, still in the same country, but just moving and thriving in a really big city was the start of, okay. I do want to move abroad.
That was my experience. And it really does give that confidence, especially as a woman, if you're moving alone, that could really jet set even your career. so. Definitely for sure.
Mari Volar: Yeah. I love how you said New York. Cause you've literally done that. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Nicole (Host): Exactly. Exactly. Oh yes. That's how I felt after a few years in and like, you know what? I did it, yes, it's hard in the beginning and even in the same country, like, yeah, it was, it was hard. you know, you had to navigate your way through. but in the end it's like, all right, I did it. So why can't I do anything else?
Like I can, I can conquer anything and it's so empowering.
Mari Volar: Yeah, for sure. The sky's the limit at the end of the day. Absolutely.
Nicole (Host): So now once you finished your gap year and you're like, okay, I want to move back to Cologne. walk us through some of the steps that you took to plan that move. Cause now it's like, all right, you're making the official decision to go and settle in Cologne.
So what were some of the steps you took?
Mari Volar: Yeah. So mentally that was a little bit harder than the two previous moves combined. Really? Yeah, because either the UK or first time being in Cologne, Deep down. I knew very clearly that these moves were temporary, that it wasn't a permanent thing that I was always going to go back home.
So I had like two homes at the same time, and I do feel that I have two homes now as well. But coming out here this time was way more significant. emotionally. Because I did know that, okay, I need to, I really need to pack my stuff up mindfully. I need to make hard decisions of what to bring and what to leave behind, knowing that I'm probably going to be out here for years, at least, you know, I don't have that end date in mind.
Everything can happen. And I don't know where life will lead me, but I know that, you know, this is. The first step of many, and it's all going to be forward from this point on, I'm not going to have that security net of, well, after this date, I'm going to be back in the safety zone. So that was a really, really big change.
And for the first time ever, I actually, you know, Shipped boxes and packed like childhood mementos, making me really sure that I took that feeling of home and this feeling of security with me. And I was a lot more mindful when it came to looking for accommodation and looking for areas or wherever I wanted to settle and what kind of work I wanted to accept what offers I wanted to pursue to make sure that I had a longevity mindset in place the entire time.
Nicole (Host): I love that you said that, you know, just having that long term mindset, right? Because before you were thinking more, okay, this is temporary and you had a security net or a safety net back home. And it's interesting that you even mentioned that because I think a lot of people don't realize how their home country or where their families there's, that security net.
We have a community. We have things that we treasure and things that make us feel comfortable and at home. And the fact that you packed some of those things, to make sure that you were kind of recreating that safety net for yourself, considering, you know, this is a move without an end date. So having that longevity mindset really.
Probably helps. Do you think that having that mindset helped you through challenging times?
Mari Volar: It created challenges of its own, but I do agree that it is very important to sort of plan through your steps and have that feeling of home with you. So I just came across this sort of quote a little while ago on that research shows that homesickness is not actually.
Sort of longing for home, a longing for that one location emotionally, it's more longing for that feeling that you have when you're quote unquote at home. So you feel you miss that safety, it literally is that your body aches for that feeling of being at ease and not having to worry about things that sort of stress relief that you have when you know that no matter what you're looked after.
So having things and having, sort of ways to incorporate that into your life abroad is very important for your mental health, because you make yourself last longer. You, you don't, you don't get burned out because living abroad is a massive stressor. Especially if you move somewhere where you don't know the language, or you're not quite fluent in it, and you don't.
Not too many people yet, because that's just the matter of fact when you move somewhere new. so it's, it's really important to sort of have these tricks up your sleeve to alleviate this tension in your brain.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. Now living abroad in a country where I don't speak the language fluently.
You're right. It is massive stress or the simplest things can become frustrating, when there's a language barrier. So like you said, you know, some people have tricks, ways to, you know, combat those challenging times and really can I give you that peace of mind? for your own mental health. so I like how you tie that in.
Mari Volar: Yeah. Really important. Like when I'm well, and that's why I started the expat lady experience both as like the podcast form and also like an online sort of social media society, where, where we share these stories. So for example, the very first episode that we recorded. I was with a group of my friends and we swapped these stories, of like language barriers or sort of meltdowns and a friend of mine that said how she went out to buy cooking cream for the day to show something. She went to the supermarket and she knew what it was called, but she still couldn't find it anywhere because just the way supermarkets are set up, laid out is different country by country. And the way things are packaged is completely. you know, it's completely different as well. It's, it's not, we used to, so she just did not know what cooking cream looked like in Germany and supermarkets here.
For some reason don't have good cell reception. So she just had a meltdown. She had to go home, have a cry, then Google cooking cream at home, take a screenshot and then go and look for it as like, once again. So, so. The simplest tasks become really, really weird for me. It was a meltdown or finding baking powder.
Cause once again, it's just packaged completely differently. It leads to what I was used to. So like the very, very, very simple things can take you off.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. And you painted such a vivid picture there. And for those listening that are living abroad and there is a language barrier, we can all relate.
Nicole (Host): It's something to laugh about, you know, but those were the moments that help us grow and help us realize, okay, it's okay to feel like this. and these things are going to happen because there's stressful experience with moving abroad and living in a different culture.
So I love how you have a community that supports each other that shares those stories because we all need each other. And, it's nice to know you're not, you're not feeling these things alone. Other people have experienced it too.
Mari Volar: Exactly. Exactly. It's yeah, it's a, it's a human experience and we all like to, you know, hashtag live our best lives and hashtag Yolo, hashtag blessed.
But at the end of the day, you know, we all wake up with messy hair and we all have days where, you know, we don't want to shower and stuff. So showcase that too.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely. So what were some things you didn't expect to happen during your move?
Mari Volar: What I didn't expect. So I knew, I knew that I had to budget with a surplus.
Like that's the first thing. You learn when you move abroad, it's like, it's going to be expensive. Even if you do it on the cheap. And I try to do it as cheaply as possible. I was straight out of university. Obviously I had a very student by student to eat budget. So I hired a company that moved a sort of four of my boxes.
I would be abroad with two suitcases and four boxes. This time. And that was a lot for me because I am also trying to be a minimalist because being an expert has also taught me that having a minimalist lifestyle is so much easier, when you have to uproot your life again, and it's a lot easier to clean as well, which is an added bonus.
And, so I got this company to move my boxes and I wasn't at home when they arrived. I had a friend in my apartment waiting for them, but instead of ringing the doorbell, they decided they were going to unload my boxes and just leave them in front of the house with, in the middle of the city of Cologne.
Is not like an okay approach to anything because here, if you leave anything on the streets, people automatically assume that is, that you've decided to give these things away. That's the easiest way to recycle or upcycle here in Germany. You just leave your stuff on the Curb and people come and pick it up.
So luckily these boxes weren't there for too long. And my friend managed to see that they were out there and bring them indoors. But, but yeah, sort of cutting corners like that, I did not expect to happen as with a simple thing as, you know, ringing the doorbell. So things like that and yeah, budgeting is all, you know, you, you think what you're gonna spend you think about who's going to take, and you have to add at least like a third, if not a half on top of that, that's like the main thing that, that I've learned the hard way.
So whatever you think it's gonna take. Double it.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. Good point and very interesting story because it easily could have gone in a really bad way.
Mari Volar: It sure could have, I could have lost my favorite belongings, did they. And I would have been so unhappy.
Nicole (Host): Oh my goodness. So glad it turned out. Okay. Glad your friend was there and you have your personal things because yeah. It could easily have gone the other way.
Mari Volar: Yeah, thanks. Every time I tuck myself in for the night, I'm hugging my stuff like, Oh, I'm so happy you're here. So yeah,
Nicole (Host): I love it. So now looking back, what would you have done differently in planning your move?
Mari Volar: I don't actually think I would have done anything differently per se, because.
Everything worked out the way it was supposed to. So I'm, I'm all about thinking that, you know, you have to do your best in life. You have to try your hardest and then whatever is meant to come your way will find you eventually. so there's, you know, you have to, you have to work really hard and try your best, but ultimately things are out of your control when it comes to things like this.
So I think. Everything went the way it was supposed to, if I ever move again internationally or even within the same country, then I definitely have the experiences of doing my research a bit better and knowing who I'm going to book for, for moving my stuff and, and actually, you know, helping me out.
But, ultimately I think everything was fine. And, and considering the circumstances. I, yeah, I could've, I could've maybe started planning a bit sooner, but really it's, it's not worth mentioning anymore.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. and I love how you said what is meant to come your way. We'll find you, it goes to show the openness that you have, in moving abroad, because you know, for many people it's really stepping out of their comfort zone, but then knowing, you know, What is meant to happen.
it will find you, and for those that are considering to move abroad and, or have been. Trying really hard to make a way to move abroad. You know, it will work out, what's meant to happen and to just have that free spirit in mind to know what it would be.
Mari Volar: And I mean, to be fair at the end of the day, you can plan your hardest and you can try your hardest.
And you can have a goal in mind that this is where I want to go. This is what I want to do, but you know, life happens. Life happens outside of your plans all the time. So, I mean, look at the situation we're in right now, you know, we all had so many plans. I had the most amazing summer plan and now I just have to amend those plans to have.
Other kinds of amazing stuff. So you can, you can plan all you want. But, something that I've learned in the last sort of decade of being a constant student, going from one institution to the next educationally and, changing career paths multiple times and on all these things is that, yeah, life happens outside of your plans.
So, do your best, try your hardest and keep your goals in mind, but also don't pass along the opportunities that are offered outside of that, because you're just gonna miss out on so much fun stuff. And so many life changing experiences.
Nicole (Host): I love that. And I think that's great advice for those listening. well said.
Mari Volar: Yeah. And also something that I think it's really, really important for people who want them to go abroad to know, especially if you're young, is that. Moving abroad is not a solution to any of your problems and running away from things that you are battling with is it's not really going to help.
They're going to find you wherever you go. You're going to take that stuff all with you. If anything, it's going to highlight. The issues you have with yourself in your life. Moving abroad is a very solitary experience at times. So you really need to be your own best friend, and you need to have a lot of love, respect, and patience for yourself and with yourself in order to have a successful experience.
And something. My mom told me, yeah, actually about nine months into my first into broad, where, when I went home and I had a bit of a meltdown because I didn't realize how homesick I had been this first nine months. And I was really finding it hard to get back on the plane and go back. She just looked at me and said, you do know that you have nothing to prove to anybody.
and that, that is something that I would really, really also want people to know is that you don't have to do any of this to show other people anything or prove anything to anybody. You just have to be really, really happy with your decisions yourself at the end of the day.
Nicole (Host): Your mom sounds very wise, and amazing advice that she gave you.
Mari Volar: Absolutely. I am so annoyed that she is almost always right.
Nicole (Host): That's the role of a mother, but also how you pointed out, you be your own best friend, love, respect, and be patient with yourself to have a really successful appearance abroad.
So, you know, keep that in mind and, and it's true. Being abroad can be very solitary, but stepping out and trying new things and building your community is really important, to feel that safety net and build that safety net in your, your new home country or your new country.
Mari Volar: Exactly.
Nicole (Host): All right. So I love to ask this question. It's a little tricky. Where's the best city you visited?
Mari Volar: Oh, this is, you know, you're asking me to betray my love for different places right now, because I would like to be a good parent and say everywhere is wonderful. And I don't love any of my children less than the others.
I don't have any children, but still, but one of my loves. Has been a Granada in Spain because it's very difficult for me to travel because I don't really travel. I just go to places and then move there. So I visited London as a teenager and two years later, I moved there and I visited Cologne, to see my friends.
And a year later I was living here. So it's very, very difficult for me to go anywhere, then move. So going to Spain and spending like a week there. It was very, very hard for me. And also pack my bags and actually move out there without speaking a word of Spanish. So that's my, that's my sort of secret crush, I would say.
Nicole (Host): Well, you never know what may happen in the future, so yeah, love it.
So how can our listeners find you on social?
Mari Volar: Well, on social media, I love welcoming everybody. So on Instagram, we are quite active. They can add me @TheeExpatLadyExperience and our podcast the same, is also available on all the major podcast streaming services.
Nicole (Host): Great. Awesome. Loved hearing your journey. I'm going abroad.
Well originally from Estonia, then UK to the Cologne and who knows where next? thank you so much, Mary, for sharing your story with us, and we'll be sure to include all the links in the description so anyone can follow along your journey and, thank you so much for being on the show.
Mari Volar: Thanks for having me, Nicole. It was absolutely wonderful.