What were the most memorable moments of your 5 years as an expat in the United States? This is what Nancy from the blog Fuzzy Facts asked me when we talked about a topic for a guest post I was about to write for her readers. A really good question, right? And really good timing, too, because now really is the perfect time to look back! What happened during our 5 years in Chattanooga, Tennessee? Life-changing moments, for sure. We had a baby, moved houses, went on epic trips, transitioned from day-care to school, got used to tornado warnings and snow days, started listening to country music, learned the art of small talk (or not) and created our version of the American way of life! So please continue reading for the English version or head over to Nancy’s blog to read the German version of the 10 expat moments that I’ll never forget.

10 expat moments

September 2011 – I boarded the plane in Hanover, Germany, with my 18 months old daughter, and I never looked back. It had been our dream all along, to live and work as a family in the United States. A dream that became true on that particular day.

Today – almost 5 years later and with the moving date marked in my calendar – I’m looking back at our “American adventure” and I can say from the bottom of my heart: we had the most wonderful time!

Here are the 10 expat moments that will always have a very special place in my heart and my memory:

  1. The Southern way of life. So welcoming and friendly, cosy and relaxed. Back porch swinging, crickets chirping, sweet tea sipping, cool pool splashing, fireflies glowing, country music rocking, flip-flop weather from April through October. Who needs more than that?
  2. My son’s birth in 2012. While I had my daughter in Germany, my son is the real American in our family. With an American (and a German) passport. Having a baby in two different countries were two completely different, but very positive experiences. Looking back I’m really glad that I had my first baby in Germany, with a midwife at my side, not only on the actual day of the birth, but also in preparation for the birth and even more importantly for those hard, so emotional and confusing first days and weeks with the baby at home.
  3. Our family vacations to Sanibel Island in Florida, usually with the grandparents in tow. For spring break we would rent a house via VRBO, preferably with a pool in the backyard and in walking distance to the beach. Sanibel Island is small so you can bike almost everywhere: grocery store, ice-cream and souvenir shops as well as restaurants. The water of the ocean is clear, shallow and often feels warmer than the outside air. Which means that Mom doesn’t need to worry about her kids catching a cold, but she can enjoy observing the pelicans and dolphins or looking for sand dollars on the beach.
  4. The first day of school / my daughter’s year in kindergarten. In the United States kids start school a year earlier than in Germany, at the age of 5. It was a hard decision for me to send my daughter to school at such a young age because I felt like she was missing out on one year of relaxed, free and easy-going life as a child. But as it happens so often in my life there was no need to worry. She’s been loving school, she loves to learn, she loves riding the big yellow school bus. And her little brain really is like a sponge that can’t get enough. Another benefit? I’ve also learned a lot! I now know so much more about the solar system, the deciduous forest, opossums and their babies. And English bad words. But I still struggle accepting that basically over night a shy Pre-K-girl turned into such an independent kindergartener…
  5. Our house. When I walked into our house for the first time, it felt like I was coming home. A house so typical of the South: with pillars on the front porch, a screened-in back porch, an open living-concept, the fireplace with the mantle, framed by built-in book shelves that offer so much space for books, picture frames and random bits and pieces. And the golden appliances paired with the victorian-style wallpaper in the half bath add a very particular wow-factor to the overall picture.
  6. Listening to my kids speaking (D)English. These idiosyncratic word and sentence constructions make me laugh on a daily basis. And as a linguist they are music to my ears:
    Er hat pretended aufs dry erase board zu painten.
    Wir metten alle in Deutschland.
    Who wants to take a shower? Me not.
    Up higher. Noch up higher.
    Bürgersteig ist so lustig weil da ist ein Burger drin.
    We are in 2 minutes there.
  7. Christmas in our own house. It’s usually only us (and the grandparents), no further obligations that we need to meet. No stress. A perfect and real (!) Christmas tree that is so big that it touches the ceiling. After church service on Christmas Eve we celebrate our German version of Christmas, with the German Weihnachtsmann knocking at the door and leaving a big bag full of presents on our doorsteps. The next morning the kids rush downstairs to check whether American Santa Clause put a little something in their stockings that are hanging from the mantle. To me this is the perfect mix of German and American traditions.
  8. My blog. Before I started my blog, I struggled with my role as the non-working expat partner and stay-at-home-mom who organizes the daily life with two little kids. I wanted more than that. I wanted to put my creativity, my curiosity, my knowledge to use and not hide them somewhere in the back of my brain. I’ve been blogging for two years now and it’s been a very rewarding and fulfilling journey. Every day I learn a new skill, meet new people on- and offline and became part of a global expat and blogger community that I inspires me.
  9. Our trip to Disneyworld. Such a typical American thing, right? When we planned the trip we told ourselves that we were just doing it for the kids. So that they can meet Anna, Elsa and Mickey and have the time of their lives. Well, as it turned out we all had a truly magical time! We followed every piece of advice that our Disney-experienced friends as well as this great book gave us (e.g. for nap time we always went back to our hotel and relaxed in our room or at the pool). Plus we tried to not think twice about all the money we were spending.
  10. A very recent weekend filled with invitations from our wonderful American friends. If someone had told me that it would take a long time to make “real” American friends (at least in the German sense of what friendship means), I would not have believed it. But it’s true. There are many cultural and expat-related reasons that might explain this long process, but especially the coconut-peach-classification that we learned about during our intercultural training seems to be spot on.

Saying goodbye in a couple of weeks (!) is going to be so hard. So many memories, wonderful people, warm and welcoming encounters, positive experiences. And most importantly our kids’ early childhood memories will forever be connected to this wonderful place that we call home: Chattanooga. But – and here I’m quoting Winnie-the-Pooh – arent’ we “lucky to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”