This blog will be twenty years old next month. For the first five years – which, let’s be honest, were the only years anyone cared about blogs – whenever anyone would ask me why I had one, I’d say that it was because I was an expat and it was a way to share my life with family overseas. But then expat life became just “life,” and the Internet moved away from websites to social networks, and gradually the blog just became a repository, a place where some of the detritus of my digital life would maybe wind up. Truthfully, I use it more for historical reference now than anything else. (“When did we go to Hawaii? Let me look it up on the blog…”)
But now, twenty years on, we go back to the beginning, back to expat life. Yesterday the Snook and I arrived in Munich, Germany, which will be our home for the foreseeable future. Everything is slightly weird and scary and uncomfortable (even disregarding a little thing like a GLOBAL PANDEMIC), and it occurred to me I should probably start documenting this stuff again. So here we are.
I should back up a bit. Last November I was invited to speak at Build Stuff conference in Vilnius and Kiev, my first ever European tech conferences. The Snook decided to come along with me, and we figured we deserved a few days of actual vacation at the end of it. For twenty years I’ve been promising to take him to Germany, so we ended up choosing Munich. (I spent one summer in high school studying in a town near Düsseldorf, but I’d never visited Bavaria.) We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, toured fancy places, ate sausages and drank beer, and visited an early Christmas market. We met kind and friendly locals. We rode a very fast train across the country through green fields dotted with solar panels and wind farms. And then we came back to Sydney and it was hell on Earth with the bush fire smoke and oppressive heat. We started joking about moving to Europe… and then in January, we realised that it didn’t have to be a joke. We both work for companies with big offices there. There’s nothing significant tying us down. We could do it. Gradually the idea started to take form, with a vague idea of maybe moving towards the end of 2020.
On January 18th, I was in Chicago at the end of a work conference, trying to escape the city to my Dad’s house before a major winter storm. My flight was delayed and I was bored at the airport, so I decided to check what jobs were available in the Amazon Munich office.
Two days later I was on a call with the hiring manager, who knew me and was very excited that I was interested. Holding the job until later in the year was no problem. Suddenly this was a very real possibility. I messaged Rodd to give him the update, already nervous about everything this might entail. “But it would be a big disruption. You’d have to get a job; we’d have to find someone to take the cats; we’d have to do an international move… Anyway, we can talk about it later. Maybe have a look and see what jobs are going in your team there??”
He replied that he had installed Duolingo. ❤️
I had my internal transfer interviews at the end of February and everything was looking good… and then Covid happened. The world ground to a halt, and we kinda expected that all plans were off. Germany closed their consulates and stopped granting visas, and Australia put a ban on citizens leaving. We hunkered down along with everyone else.
And then unexpectedly in April, I got the job offer! We still couldn’t travel, but we could start making plans. We thought hard about renting out our house, and whether we’d take the cats with us overseas. (Sadly, Dr. Amy Jones simplified that equation by passing away.) I went through a bureaucratic nightmare trying to get a copy of my university diploma for the visa application. (Protip kids: don’t assume you’ve paid off every single one of your student loans just because they stop sending you bills. 😩) The Snook applied for a few jobs in his Munich office in May and ended up with a couple different options. The German consulates reopened and we were able to submit our applications in June, and then in July we attended consulate appointments and were granted the visas a few days later. Slowly, slowly, things were coming together.
The last step was getting permission to leave Australia. There is still a ban on citizens and permanent residents leaving, presumably because they don’t want you coming back with Covid. However, there’s a process by which you can apply for an exemption. I read lots of horror stories from people who were denied permission, and I joined a Facebook group for those applying to see what tips I could glean. To be honest, most of the posters there struck me as extremely entitled, wailing that their inability to travel wherever and whenever they wanted was tantamount to a human rights violation. 🙄 (Both Rodd and I have immigrant grandparents. When they left their home countries, it was a one-way trip. We are so incredibly fortunate now, and a lot of folks forget that.) I submitted our application at the end of July. I didn’t bother resorting to tricks, or submitting dozens of times with heaps of documents. I made a single submission, stating that we were both relocating overseas for work and had no immediate plans to return. I included our German work visas, our work contracts, and proof that we had insurance lined up here. Ten days later, the request was granted. It was really happening. It was finally time to actually tell people.
The flights are booked, work visas are in hand, and the Aussie government's approved our application to travel. If you haven't already heard, The Snook and I are moving to Munich! Three weeks from today. 😳✈️ Still so much to do to get ready…
— Kris Howard 💃 (@web_goddess) August 5, 2020
Over that last month, we had so much to do we had a Trello board set up to keep track of everything. We confirmed with a friend that she’d rent our house and look after Petey, and we got all the paperwork for that in place. We tackled a ton of home improvement projects we’d been putting off, like replacing the carpet in the offices, installing LED lights, and cleaning up the garden. We started culling twelve years of accumulated stuff, selling a heap of it on Facebook Marketplace and making hard decisions about what to ship, store, or throw out. (There were several trips to local op shops and recycling centers.) We cancelled phone contracts and applied for international bank accounts and switched to electronic bills. We organised sea freight shippers and bought extra suitcases and boxes and started filling them. There was so much.
Not gonna lie – there were several times over the past few months when one of us would get so stressed out we’d think of backing out. We were true to form: I’d been an early enthusiast of the idea but then got cold feet once reality set in. The Snook is slower to make big decisions, but once he commits, he rarely wavers. We made a rule that only one of us could freak out at any given time, which helped through the rough days. We cuddled Petey a lot. That helped too.
Sadly, the “Throw a big fuckin’ goodbye party” item on the To Do list remained unticked thanks to the pandemic, but we were able to visit with Rodd’s family and have a very small number of folks over to say goodbye. My knitter friends all collaborated on a secret project to make a chain of mini jumpers for me, each of which had a personal note inside. My work colleagues threw me a virtual cocktail making goodbye, which was amazing. Even though people were sad we were leaving (and so were we!), everyone was so supportive and encouraging. ❤️
The very last task was the one we’d been putting off the longest… to bury Amy’s ashes in the garden. We did it on the very last day. We said goodbye and left rose petals on her grave. That’s when all of the emotion finally came out.
Next post… flying internationally in the time of Covid!