Susie Kahlich: Culture Shock in Paris before Heading to Berlin with a German Citizenship
Our special guest on The Moving Roadmap podcast, powered by Avvinue, is Susie Kahlich.
Susie is an American living in Berlin. She started her expat journey in 2010, first arriving in Paris where she lived for 6 years before relocating to Germany.
Transcripts are automatically generated and may not be an 100% accurate transcription.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, 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. Susie Kahlich, Susie is an American living in Berlin. She started her expert journey in 2010 first arriving in Paris, where she lived for six years before relocating to Germany.
Welcome to the show, Susie.
Susie Kahlich: Hi. Thank you.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. So tell me about your journey. You are an American and you move. So where is this jump from? Paris to Germany.
Susie Kahlich: Oh yeah. Well, I happen to be of German descent, so I kind of knew that I would eventually migrate over to Germany anyway. It wasn't that surprising to me, although that might not make a lot of sense to other people, especially after being in Paris, which is such a beautiful city.
Berlin is vibrant and fantastic, but. Not beautiful.
Nicole (Host): I've been to Berlin. Love it. I definitely understand what you're saying with the energy.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. They're really great. And warm and vivacious and, but yeah, it's really not pretty,
Nicole (Host): Really interesting. Yeah. Because, with Paris beautiful architecture, but then Berlin has like the creative young hip vibe. I don't know. I very much related to, like Williamsburg, New York. I'm like, Oh, the little coffee shops, like all of these colors.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. It's yeah. It's definitely, I lived in Williamsburg many years ago actually, before it was hip and trendy. And I find in Berlin many places like Williamsburg, I find in Berlin different parts of my life. In different parts of the city, which is kind of cool. Like one part is like Williamsburg. Another part is like Los Angeles. There's even some parts that remind me of Paris, some parts that remind me of Chicago where I'm originally from.
Nicole (Host): Very diverse. So at least you'd get that mix of all of that.
Nicole (Host): Very cool. So tell me about it, so you said you're from German descent, but when did you actually officially decide, alright, you know what? I want to move abroad. When was that moment?
Susie Kahlich: So we decided, in 2007, Okay. So it was about three years before I made the actual move.
I was living in Los Angeles at the time, working for a law firm. Yeah, and I just, I was ready for a change. I had been in that law firm for like eight years. I think I'm in LA for a total of 11. So yeah, I was just ready to go. I wanted to wrap a few things up that I was doing in Los Angeles first. and then spend a little extra time with my family in Chicago before I actually moved overseas.
Nicole (Host): All right. So, yeah. And you said it took three years before, so you decide in 2007, then you did some things right. During those three years. So do you mind walking us through the steps for you to actually plan? Like what did that look like?
Susie Kahlich: Sure. I think the first thing that I started doing was looking at apartments and looking at work opportunities.
So that those are, I mean, I think that's everyone right. Concern. Right. Where am I going to live? And how am I going to support myself since I wasn't being moved over through a job already. And it was completely of my own volition with pretty much no contact on the ground. So I was looking, I think I was looking at Lamond.
Okay. And just on the internet, when I was supposed to be working, I leave to keep myself motivated and trying not to get ready, to start active with like, you know, they're beautiful, you know, old apartments around like park Bansal and stuff, but that I can never afford, but just to kind of keep an eye on the price ranges and how much money I would need to put down on an apartment.
I did a lot of research about it. Sort of like what life was on the ground and at the time, so this would have been in 2007, obviously at the time there was a website that no longer exists, unfortunately, that was created by people who worked in foreign service jobs. And it was created by them for other families who worked in forest service, foreign service jobs, and would give you kind of realistic information of life in different cities and countries around the world.
So it would give a list of like, this is how much a McDonald's hamburger costs. This is how much a carton of milk costs. This is what it's like to send your kids to school. Like really, really practical, pragmatic unadorned information. And so I was pouring over that all the time. I started to study for my TEFL certificate.
cause I figured I probably ended up teaching English as a, as a second language, which is exactly what I did. yeah. And also I think because LA is a driving city and you're in your car a lot. I was listening to a lot of Pimsleur French. On my way to work and on my way from work.
Nicole (Host): Nice. So you were learning French while you were preparing.
Did you feel comfortable by the time that you moved with what you learned
Susie Kahlich: Honestly Not, not at all.
Nicole (Host): I think that's the case for most people moving abroad. It's almost like you think, you know, until you arrived, so, but that's good. You were already learning ahead of time.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. I mean, I knew that I had a little French in high school.
but I think, I think like a lot, yeah. There's people. I was like, yeah, no problem. I've got this, you know, and then you get there and it's just, it's so different in person. And you realize that all of your schoolbook, French, isn't gonna, it's gonna get you, you know, a cafe in a cafe, that's it screwed up.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. And then they start speaking to you and then you go, Ooh.
Susie Kahlich: And you learn like, Hmm. Oh,
Nicole (Host): Yes. It's an art for sure.
Susie Kahlich: Yes.
Nicole (Host): It's very cool. So, you definitely looked at the numbers you prepared, even with the toughest certificate. I know a lot of expats, you know, before they move abroad, they look at that as a really great option, especially if, you know, they're looking for work, but in the meantime, or even if that's like their main purpose of moving abroad.
So that's really good that you actually ended up. Finding work doing, you know, as a, as a teacher, or with your TEFL certificate. Very cool. Okay. So you were looking for apartments, all these different things. So now I meant, you mentioned that you have German descent.
Nicole (Host): So what was that like in getting paperwork in place?
moving abroad. Was it easier? What was your experience?
Susie Kahlich: Well, this is where I have a really big advantage over, or a lot of people who move abroad. I do, we have German citizenship. so that was basically, I just inherited that first cause my father was a German citizen when I was born. so I applied for my German passport.
And that took care of everything. I didn't have to deal with any paperwork or any visas or just nothing. amazing, no idea what it was like for people that do have to apply for visas until I got to France and meeting people and hearing about. All the paperwork and the bureaucracy and the stress and dealing with all that stuff.
And I think if I had had to deal with that, I'm not so sure I would have made the move.
Nicole (Host): That's interesting. Yeah, definitely. It's a very challenging experience for most experts. And I'm sure those who are listening in are, are envious of the citizenship that you have in order to move abroad, because it's really difficult, especially with countries that tend to be quite bureaucratic in their approach.
And of course not knowing the language, it's really hard to navigate the government, anything like that.
So I experienced it myself, so I know. I'm envious of you, seriously.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. Now, I mean, I really understand what a privilege it is speaking to so many people who don't have the same privilege, so I'm really grateful for it.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. So since you had that quick path to moving to Europe, can you explain maybe some challenges you did experience in your relocation experience?
Susie Kahlich: Yes. so France being French and being so proud of its language, the language was a big barrier initially. The first three or six months, I think I would write out the things that I needed to say all day.
So I tried not to do too many things, you know, I tried not to interact with too many people because I couldn't, it was just because it was, it was a little too exhausting. so that was very daunting. But I think one of the hardest things that I was faced with was kind of really practical items. I remember when I arrived in Paris, it took me a little bit to find an apartment, but I found one and.
It was, it was summer and it was really, really hot. And coming from the United States, I'm used to air conditioning all the time, or at least a fan. The, I discovered that the French don't really like family very much so it's, you know, the question of moving air, whatever it is. So, but I needed a fan and my first apartment was a Moto.
And I remember thinking like what, you know, I've been to Paris several times over my life. I walk around all night, ever see are like, you know, bakeries and cafes. Where do people buy fans? Like where do you get hardware? Where do you buy plates? Where do you get bed sheets? What do you get?
All the practical stuff. I don't even know where Ikea is. I don't know. And I realized that, you know, in the United States I've moved around city to city, but it's also my home country and I speak the language. So it's easy enough to move from New York to Los Angeles and just ask your new neighbor, Hey, where's the target?
Yeah. You know, without, cause you know that that's the place where I can go get stuff. Where's the closest Ikea, whatever, wherever it is, you get things from. So that was my biggest. Challenging it in their first like months, you know, where do I get this stuff from magically?
Nicole (Host): I completely can relate to that.
moving to France, the first thing was, and getting an apartment. We had to build out our kitchen. And, in this, in the United States, of course your apartment comes with the kitchen. So it was the same thing. Where's the hardware store? What, where in the world do I build a kitchen? How do I get there? How do I get it delivered?
And of course there is another. You know, a forever long checklist of, well, you need to measure things. You need to get things approved. Then of course you have to decide, and it's just such a, big cost starting out in your new home. But again, it's just the simple things of where is what I need. Which you're used to from your home country.
So, and even how do you, how do you describe things? How do you say I need a screwdriver? Or how do you say so you're, you know, bombarded with, okay. I want to express something, but then how do I say it? If I don't know yet those words are.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. After a couple of years in my first apartment.
Yeah. I moved to the 19th arrondissement, and by this time I thought my French had been pretty good until I went to the hardware store and realized like, no I'm missing this like massive percentage of vocabulary because I have no idea how to ask people, you know? Like, so where do I get tape? Or where's the paint. Exactly. No clue. It's incredible. How much we kind of like to take for granted about that. Yeah.
Nicole (Host): Yep. Absolutely. So definitely a great example of what, you know, challenging experiences and moving abroad, you know, for people who are listening and they're thinking about moving abroad, of course, learning the language, learning a vocabulary, but just know that you're going to come across these simple challenges in the beginning.
And it's almost like you go through this. Hurdle at first, almost like a fear of going and doing these things because you know, you're going to encounter a language barrier, but once you get past that fear or, and just go out, you, you learn something new, you just realize, you know what, I don't know the language, but I'm going to go after what I need.
And you just go from there, right?
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think necessity is kind of the mother of invention in that. Score very much.
Nicole (Host): Yes, absolutely. So what are some things you didn't expect to happen during your move abroad that kind of goes with the first question, but just what did you not expect?
Susie Kahlich: What did I not expect?
I didn't expect the, the, like the closing of things, closing hours. Was a surprise to me. especially because Paris is the capital city. So I thought things were going to stay open later. I didn't know that close, you know, just after lunch she met, you couldn't get. You know, you couldn't get a sandwich, never.
You want to go to a cafe. That was a bit shocking. When I had traveled to Paris. And before, as a tourist, you kind of just, you know, you're on everybody, else's regular schedule anyway, but when you're living there and you're doing your work and you're trying to like, you know, paint your apartment or wear whatever you like, you know, you suddenly realize, Oh, I'm hungry and it's three o'clock, but you're not going to get lunch anywhere.
Yep. So I know that was, that was a big surprise to me. but what was like, kind of the inverse of that was that everything was open on Sundays. Meaning I could go grocery shopping on a Sunday, which I was fully prepared to not be able to do when I moved to Paris, because it didn't used to be like that.
So that was, that was kind of a nice surprise.
Nicole (Host): Okay. That's a perfect example because you know, everywhere, every country is completely different. So of course, coming from the US Sunday, usually things are closed and then here it's open. So it's a nice bonus to the weekend if you want to do shopping.
Susie Kahlich: Right. Exactly.
Nicole (Host): So you mentioned when you moved to Paris and you were looking around at apartments and things like that, were you looking to purchase or were you looking to just rent?
Susie Kahlich: I was just looking to rent in the beginning. I didn't know the city well enough, you know, again, I knew the city as a tourist, but I didn't know what the city was like to really live there.
And I didn't know the city well enough in the different, small, well enough, well enough to know like, Oh, this is exactly where I want to live. So the idea of purchasing right off the bat didn't make a lot of sense to me until I got a better feel for different neighborhoods. And I also was finding my feet, you know, again, I arrived in Paris, I wasn't moved there through a job, so I was building a life basically from scratch.
And it just seems strange to purchase something. And then, I mean, what if I discovered I hated it, Yeah. I mean, I moved to two years later. Anyway. I think buying property in Paris is probably always a good investment, but nonetheless. That wasn't something I wanted to do initially just to rent. So I had a bit of freedom to move around and change and explore the city.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. Did you, how did you move with your belongings from the States or did you just come, you know, with your baggage?
Susie Kahlich: I arrived. I actually had, I had quite an arrival into France actually. I moved with just. Luggage with clothes initially, and then was going to have stuff shipped once I was here settled into an apartment. Unfortunately when I arrived, when I moved to Paris, It was in may of 2010.
So it was 10 years ago, right about now. And the volcano, this volcano that I can't pronounce in Iceland was busy erupting and covering the sky with Ash. And a lot of flights were canceled, but I was really determined to get to France. So I flew into Brussels instead of those places. Okay. Maybe because I was so stressed, I don't know what happened, but somehow while I was in Brussels, my passport was stolen.
My American passport, not my German one, just the American one. And my luggage for some reason, went to Florida. So I was, I do have a friend who lives in Lynchburg, just outside of Paris. So I was staying with him initially until I found an apartment and it took me forever to get to Paris because, you know, suddenly I'm missing my passport and I was, you know, talking to the police.
So when I arrived, I had no luggage. I have no passport, very little money. And my friends said, you know, Oh, you're like, it's what did he come pick? Who he compared me to? I think like Hemingway, he's like, yes, you arrive in Paris, you know? And you can't yeah. Leave. You have to stay now because you only have your European passport and you know, it's just, this, it's a romantic arrival.
Wow. Hello. I go for a date of aunties. I saw photos of it. She had moved to Paris temporarily, and I had seen photos of her arriving with like these high piles of matching Movietone luggage and her boyfriend who was like a Baron or something, picks her up at the airport, all very glamorous. And I was like, yes, that'll be me.
Nicole (Host): But it's funny. We fantasize this idea. We have this romantic idea of when we move abroad and yet somehow there it's like a rugged journey, but then looking back it's, it's always like, you know what, it's my story.
Susie Kahlich: Exactly. Exactly. So, yeah. But yeah, I just came with my clothes, and then had my stuff shipped.
Nicole (Host): Okay, great. So what would you say? Cause a lot of people bull listening in, you know, they're moving abroad, whether they're some of them moving with just their luggage in hand and others that are, so what was a rough average of how much your relocation costs?
Susie Kahlich: My relocation wasn't really that expensive because I was, well, I didn't have that much stuff to ship either.
I'm kind of a minimalist, so I don't really carry a lot of stuff with me. in general in life, I think overall it was. I would say between like 15 and $20,000. I mean, that includes putting money on the apartment, the flight, the shipping, you know, the setting myself up in a new place, all of that stuff.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely. I mean, but this gives a really great idea for people who are thinking of moving abroad, there are things to consider, like you said, putting out for an apartment and those things should be allocated for relocation, if you know, for someone considering to move, right?
Susie Kahlich: I mean, it's, you know, you need to put a deposit on an apartment and then you need your wifi.
You need to get a cell phone, you know, you need like all these, you have to pay your electricity bills. So all of those things also needs to be taken into consideration. It's not just the apartment. I mean, just like in your home country, you know, all the extra utilities and stuff that you have.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely.
So now looking back, what would you have done differently in planning your move?
Susie Kahlich: I would have secured an apartment before I moved into it before I moved overseas. And instead of waiting to get there and look for an apartment that was an, that was an added stress that I think wasn't necessary. and I think I would have worked harder at my language skills. So, I mean, literally my language working on my language skills, it was just in my car listening to Pimsleur CVS.
So I think taking classes would have been a wiser idea, not having good enough language skills in the beginning. I mean, there's the obvious barriers of that, but it also kind of cuts you off. From the place where you live, you know, it's, you can't talk to your neighbors and learn about, you know, all the little idioms and strange holidays and customs and all this, all the reasons that you actually moved there are denied to you until you're more fluent in the language.
Nicole (Host): Yeah, absolutely. So kind of going off of that question, what advice would you give to someone considering to move abroad?
Susie Kahlich: What advice would I give? Definitely get your language skills up to speed. And if you're wondering what that is, I would say minimum two. If you're, if you're studying a language, you'll know what I mean by that B1 is better, but a two is a minimum don't look for your home country in the place where you live. And by that, I mean, you know, don't look for the products and, you know, you're there to experience something new in a new culture and we all get homesick. And we think like, I, you know, from, if you're from America, the thing I heard most in Paris was people missing trader Joe's, mostly whatever.
That's like those pirates. Whatever that stuff is. It's like Cheetos, basically trader Joe's versions of Cheetos. for some reason,
Nicole (Host): Very interesting. I have yet to hear that
Susie Kahlich: I felt like I heard that a lot, which I thought was bizarre in Paris. Cause I was like, you know, you're in, you're in that capital of okay, whatever, whatever it is you're missing.
But I think if you look for that, if you look for all the things that you're used to having in your home country, That's going to make your transition difficult because you won't really find them. Maybe you'll find kind of facsimiles of them, but you won't really find them. And that's, you didn't move to recreate your home country in this new place.
You move to experience something new. So stay really open to it and look for idiomatic phrases, which are wonderful clues to culture. look for the customs and the holidays that are different because they are also beautiful clues to a country's character in society and kind of how this group of people approaches the world.
There's so much to learn. I think from other countries in this way, I learned a lot from French culture and have taken some of the things with me. Some of them I've left behind. Now I apply there, woven into my life here in Germany, but then the Germans have also taught me things that I didn't know, growing up, even with a German father.
So. Staying open to that, I think gives you a richer experience. And again, it's, I mean, that's the reason that you're living overseas, don't treat the country that you've moved to like Las Vegas. I've seen a lot of people, when they move overseas, it's kind of like, well, you know, if they can't see what I'm doing back in my home country, then anything goes,
Nicole (Host): Hmm. Very good analogy.
Susie Kahlich: Yeah. But it's, it's not anything it goes and you may have a really great time partying it up, you know, super good for you. But again, that's the same as kind of looking for your home country and your new country. No. And it's also rude to the people that you're integrating with. Yeah, they are your posts.
And even if you become a citizen of that country, they're still in a way I was going to be your host and I personally, I believe that, you know, they deserve some respect.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. Yeah.
I love that really great, really great advice. I'm sure those listening are really gonna appreciate that. And it's definitely something to learn.
It's also a learned skill because it's not common to be adapting to a new culture until you move abroad. So, but always have that cognizant, to know that. You are a guest right to this new country. And so learning more about their holidays, their customs is, is only going to open up a new world of perspective.
And you can take that anywhere you go, just as you've moved to Berlin and carrying that French culture with you there. All right. So as a random question, what's the best city you visited? What's your favorite city?
Susie Kahlich: Hmm. I would say probably Shanghai.
Although Shen Jen comes in a close second. I really liked both of these cities in China. Shanghai, Shanghai is just really vibrant and exciting and multinational and, and really crazy challenging and exciting mix of old and new Shenzhen is a more traditional Chinese city. in that it's a very new city, but it's in the sense that it's not as vibrant as Shanghai, but it's a really, really fascinating city in the way that it's constructed and the way that the people use the city.
I had, I was there for two weeks and I have just good memories of being there. Great.
Nicole (Host): Thanks for sharing that. I'm sure those listening, if you've been to Shanghai or Shinjin, then you know what she's talking about, I have yet to go. So I'm going to add that to my list, my next travel, for sure. So as we conclude, just want to ask how can our listeners find you on social?
Susie Kahlich: I'm on Twitter and Instagram as my name's Susie Kahlich. Just of course the app and you can also find me through my business that I run here in Berlin and which is called “Pretty Deadly Self-defense” If you Google that, you'll just find it. and then all the social stuff will come up cause nobody else has.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. Perfect. So if you're listening, you want to connect with Susie, definitely find her and her business “Pretty Deadly Self-defense” and also on different social channels with her name. And, thanks so much for joining the show, I am really excited and learning more about your journey and hopefully we'll continue to follow your journey. Wherever life takes you.
Susie Kahlich: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed being here.