Cheryl Howard is an established writer and world traveller with 32 countries under her belt. As
this Canadian now calls Berlin home, she has a particular knowledge of expatriate life and what it takes to plan long-term travel. Through her self-titled CherylHoward.comblog, she not only provides her own advice but supplies access to a community of international ex-pats whom also share their lived experiences from locales all around the world. She hopes her experiences inspire others to travel and that her advice helps along the way.
FC: What drew you to settle in Berlin?
CH: During my sabbatical, I took two trips to Europe; one trip was to Italy and the other was a journey through several countries in Eastern Europe. It was then I fell in love with the continent and decided to move there.
A few months later, I’d secured a one-year working holiday visa to live in Germany, which I chose due to their strong economy and the better chance to gain employment. I went through a whole “Berlin vs. Munich” phase and ended up choosing Berlin based on the advice of friends, even though I never had visited the city.
This was the single best decision of my entire life, as Berlin turned out to be the city for me! I began working as a freelancer, doing some project management consulting and writing for my own blog and for a local 5-star hotel. I travelled even more frequently than I had before.
Sadly, there came a time when I had to move back to Canada. I stayed home for two years, but as I missed Berlin so much, I jumped at the first chance to come back. I’ve now been back in Berlin for a year-and-a-half and plan to stay for the foreseeable future.
FC: You’ve been an expat for quite some time now, any advice for settling into a new country?
CH:Yes, three years in total and I couldn’t be any happier.
Many expats feel a strong sense of homesickness when they first move abroad. The first few months when you realize that you’re not just on vacation can be especially daunting. Many people feel lonely and are unsure of how to get out and meet others. Depending on where in the world you live, this can especially challenging.
My top tip is to get out there and meet new people no matter what, whether it be through an organization like Internations, a local Meetup group, or even by going to a bar alone. Some of these things worked for me and helped me meet tons of people in Berlin including fellow expats and locals.
I even ended up creating a Meetup group, along with my buddy Adam. Make Friends in Berlin now has more than 1000 active members, with events being held monthly at different venues around the city.
FC: Has a particular country or culture been more friendly or patient with the language barrier? In contrast, has one been particularly brutal?
CH:I’ve had my best and worst experiences in Germany.
As Berlin is such an international city, you can live here for years, without having the need to ever really learn German. Again, not recommended! Usually, people are happy to speak with you in English, even if you actually speak to them in German first.
However, if you go outside the city (at least in smaller towns and less touristy places), German is an absolute must. If you try to speak English, locals may refuse to speak with you at all and may start complaining aloud in front in you about how you really need to learn the language.
I went to the doctor once and he asked me how long I’d been living in Berlin. When I said one year, he started lecturing me about how I should’ve known the language by now. While I understood where he was coming from, I doubt that I’d have enough knowledge to converse about complex medical issues after only one year of study.
Usually, it’s best to try and speak at least a bit of German. Locals tend to appreciate your efforts and will often go out of their way to help you improve.
FC: Where is next on the bucket list?
CH: While the traditionally popular destinations like Paris, Rome, Barcelona etc. are perfectly nice and well worth visiting (I’m heading to Paris for the first time in June), I’ve really fallen in love with Eastern Europe, specifically the Balkans.
I’d like to experience more of the region, so I just booked a trip to Montenegro and hopefully will head back to Bosnia and Herzegovina later this year as well.
... Part two is available here! Also, feel free to check out her blog ->
(all photos above from instagram @cherylhowardblog)