There and back again – an expat’s tale
Kristi Fuoco


A brief moment of sun on my beautiful west coast at Christmas. My friend and I
took a stroll on the famous Stanley Park Seawall so I could soak up my beautiful BC.


Happy belated New Year from Hamburg! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and it’s partly because I feel like I’m going through a processing phase of my time abroad. Enjoying the fruits of my culture shock labour from the first nine months and processing you could say!

It takes a lot of work to settle into a new country and when a new place finally starts to feel like home, then it becomes just that…home. It’s funny how that change happens. How a foreign place suddenly feels like your every day life. How having to think before ordering or doing daily tasks becomes the norm, how knowing that you will just not know things on a daily basis and most likely have moments of looking a bit dumb become a part of your new expat life. I remember when I first arrived in Hamburg and was utterly and totally overwhelmed. I knew I loved the city, but I didn’t think I could do this…really live here, really work here, really make a life for myself here. I had quite a few moments of wanting to turn back…wanting to just get on a plane home to the comfort and ease of life in Canada and to the friends and family who I knew and loved, but I knew I just had to push through and believe that it would be worth it. And I’m happy to say, it is.

A happy winter walk near my neighbourhood in Ohlsdorf.


That’s why going home for Christmas was such a potent and needed experience for me in so many ways. Feeling like a bit of a stranger in your own home city/country is the strangest feeling (hence the stranger part). On the one hand everything feels easy because you know how it all works, everyone speaks your language (well mostly, it is Vancouver after all) and you are thrilled to see friends  and family (hugging adorable nieces rates high up there for me) and eat at your old favourite restaurants, but on the other hand you feel like you no longer belong, at least for that moment in time. Every expat I know here in Hamburg is in various stages of coming or going or thinking about staying or thinking about leaving. There is the “I’m married to a German, I’m here for the long haul” expat, the “I have a German boyfriend/girlfriend and I’m going to see how it goes” expat, the “I got a job here for three years and I am throwing myself into a life of adventure for that time but plan to go home” expat, the “I came here with a broken heart knowing no one, and having no idea what I would do, but now I want to see how things go” expat and a huge number of other varieties. I knew as soon as I arrived in Vancouver that it wasn’t yet time for me to be back home and I knew as soon as I arrived back in Hamburg that this was the place for me right now. It’s important to know and recognize these feelings. I have a friend from Australia who recently moved back to Melbourne with her fiancée after five years in Hamburg and I could tell, she just knew it was time.

My longtime friend Tammy and I having a blast at
Fray on Fraser, one of my favourite restaurants
and hang outs in Vancouver.


As I always say to my friends, “You’ve just gotta trust your gut. Your gut never leads you in the wrong direction.” Seriously, it works for me. My heart, well, that gets me into all sorts of messes, my head, it’s good for a lot of things and keeps me grounded, but over thinks things WAY too much, my body…well, we all know what happens when we only trust our bodies. There have been many times in my life where I didn’t trust my gut and had to deal with the not always pleasant consequences, but luckily more often than not, now I do. It doesn’t mean my gut leads me away from all hurt and pain…that wouldn’t be living at all, it just leads me to the place that I’m supposed to be right now.


How could I not feel at home
in a place that sells Nutella
by the caseload?


My whole life I wanted to live in Italy. Italian is absolutely my favourite language, I adore Italian food, I love the passionate Italian culture, the shoes, of course, plus I have family in Italy and Italian heritage (as you can probably tell from my last name), so when I decided to move to Italy the first time, my life took a sharp turn and headed me towards Brazil instead, but when that came apart in a devastatingly heart-wrenching passionate fashion I then planned to move to Italy a second time but somehow Germany (via my persistent Hamburg-loving cousin, Greg) weaseled its way into my plans and I ended up in Hamburg, much to my surprise. Maybe one day I’ll find myself working at some beautiful winery in Tuscany, but for now, apparently it’s not my time to be there.

Germany surprised me and continues to surprise me every day, both in good and bad ways, but always in interesting and wonderfully challenging ways. I love the German people, they make me smile, they make me think, they make me very aware of all my imperfections in a most intimidating but also endearing way. I love the German standard for everything. The most common sentence I hear from my new students is “Oh my English is not very good at all” and then they proceed to speak at an incredible level of English. Some days I feel the bureaucracy in Germany is going to drive me out of this country, though. I feel the constant attention to the tiniest and unimportant details of life completely and utterly exhausting and time wasting. I feel the constant contradictions (a blog post on that to come) boggling my mind daily, and yet…I really love it here. I love diving into this international environment, going out with people from four or five different countries on a weekend night out, exploring my own European routes, indulging in the rich beer culture, trying to master an incredibly challenging but amazing language, sitting out on a patio with all the Germans in the summer time, being able to jump on a train or a plane and just be somewhere entirely new. This is such a novelty for me. Yes, Vancouver is a very international city, but living in a continent full of different countries and transient people is incredible. Those lucky people with EU passports!

Well I may not have an EU passport,
but I’ll do my best to look the part!


One of the beauties of living abroad is how it makes you appreciate your own country and home so much more, of course. Despite the fact that the weather in Vancouver and Victoria was pretty terrible most of the time when I was home, I still bathed in the beauty of my west coast fully. One slightly sunny day my friend Marisa and I went for a walk along the Stanley Park sea wall. It was stunning. The sun was shining through the clouds and casting a golden shimmer across the ocean. The air was so clear, so pure. My cousin from Pennsylvania once told me that there is nothing quite like the air on the west coast of BC. Everything looks clearer, more stunning and vivid. She said whenever she leaves the west coast she cries. I know this feeling so well. The depth of the natural beauty is not something that you can really explain or even fully understand from a photo, you have to see it, you have to be there after a downpour, when the sun breaks through and there’s mist just above the water and everything feels alive and glowing. Maybe this is why I love Hamburg so much, because of my connection to the water. I know that the west coast will always call to me, I know that this kind of beauty that I was born in and around is part of me now, and when I’m away from it I yearn for it, but sometimes we take journeys in life that lead us away from home for a while and bring us something entirely new that we need. One of the hard things is after going through this something entirely new and growing and learning and overcoming and then changing, you go home and feel changed yet like you are the same to everyone else. I found a quote from a student who had experienced reverse culture shock after living abroad and it really sums up how I feel whenever I come home from living abroad (this is my third time living abroad).

“The hardest part of re-entry was people seemingly not caring how my life had been transformed.”

A beautiful Vancouver sunset
in Stanley Park.


A lovely walk on Taylor beach in Victoria, BC
with my parents.













For me I realize it’s not that people don’t care, it’s more that it’s impossible to sum up your experiences and even harder when you only have a short visit with a friend or with your family and mine was very short…I was home for only two weeks and was unfortunately sick half the time. When you’re home you also fall back into old roles and old habits so easily. You want them to know everything, and yet sometimes you feel like you have no idea what to say or how to sum it up. People asked me “How is Germany?” I said, “Great!” when I really wanted to say “You know it’s really the place for me at the moment, Germany is a wonderful yet frustrating place, there are days I want to go home and the culture feels so cold, but mostly I feel I am being pushed in wonderful ways, I am finding myself…and those Germans sure know how to party….” etc. etc. but there often isn’t enough time or maybe the right time to get into all this, especially at Christmas when a million thing are going on. It’s a humbling experience, and one I am still working through. I suppose when I finally go home for good I will have more to tell on the re-adjustment process and fortunately more time to catch up with all my loved ones too.

Some of the people I miss when I’m far away.
(Please notice the St. Pauli shirt on my oldest
niece care of her Aunt Kristi!)


On the other hand it is a wonderful thing to know that across the world you have people who will always have your back and are wishing you the best time possible every day (and who are also living vicariously through you.) But they are just that…across the world. Living abroad brings some of the most exciting and also most lonely times you can imagine, though modern technology and social media has helped a lot!

I absolutely love my life in Hamburg, even with all the ups and downs, the struggle to make money, living with a roommate again, feeling like my German never seems to progress…despite all this I feel free and happy and like I can truly explore myself and be in my element here. But I am always thinking of my friends and loved ones back home (or wherever they may be in the world). You just learn to live in a state of missing people all the time. But now I can say that I have even more friends from all over the world which is a wonderful thing. For instance, if I were to jump on a plane to Australia tomorrow I’d have someone to stay with (thanks Erin!)

Hamburg’s lovely Stadtpark which is
five minutes from my place and one
of my happy places where I run and
enjoy the scenery every week. I love
how much Germans are into parks!


Another thing I learned back home is…life is never easy, no matter where you are. Life has its ups and downs in the comfort of home and across the world. Life is hard when you’re married with kids, AND when you’re single and free. You can’t escape that, though we all have our “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence moments” but you CAN choose to embrace adventure, embrace risk, embrace that chance…the chance that you can find a wonderful and life-changing experience if you just throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe you are thinking to yourself right now, “I really want to live abroad but it’s just not possible right now.” I’m telling you…it is. I didn’t have much money when I arrived, I had no job lined up, yes I had a place to stay for the first while, but really I started from scratch. If you want it, go for it! Yes, it’s better to have more money when you get here, but don’t think that you can’t do it, because you can. But if living abroad isn’t for you right now…there are plenty of other ways to take risks in life without leaving home (though leaving home really accelerates the process!)

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”
– Alan Alda

And just in case you’re wondering why other expats love Germany, check out this video by my friend Merret.

No, I don’t really know what I’m doing in life, but you know, I’m just living it as best I can, and for the moment, that’s enough. So here I go, embarking on another year full of adventures, risks, many moments of looking ridiculous but most importantly amazing times in Germany and Europe in 2013!



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Kristi Fuoco

KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.