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Karin in Fort Wayne: “The amount of vast, open space in the USA still is the most impressive experience for me”

  • Karin in Fort Wayne
  • Karin in Fort Wayne
  • Karin in Fort Wayne
Interview
Published last year

Karin was born in Germany but traveled the world with her parents during her childhood. Many years later, she met an American national to whom she got married. Both now live in Fort Wayne where she works as a Senior Programmer Analyst.

karin_brenig

karin_brenig

Where are you from, Karin, and what are you doing nowadays?

I was born in 1956 in Göttingen, Germany. When I was two years old, my parents moved to München (Munich) where my three younger siblings were born. My father’s work took him around the world, and sometimes he took his entire family with him on these assignments.

When I was 4 years old, we lived in California for a year. I went to preschool and learned to speak accent-free English. Those language skills came in handy when dad worked at UCSD again for another year, right after I had finished my high school education in Germany.

Returning to Germany after that second time in CA was hard for me. It took me years to settle back into a European life. Then, I found a job I enjoyed, in the early days of Information Technology in 1978. I got married in 1986, had a daughter in 1989, advanced my career, bought a condo and put the USA on the backburner of my mind.

I was the Senior Data Warehouse Analyst at an insurance company in Munich, Germany. My professional life was fulfilling, challenging, rewarding – but my marriage was not working. For the sake of our daughter, we arranged an amicable separation and my first husband moved out. Shortly afterwards, I met somebody new online. He was living in Fort Wayne at that time, but moved to Munich in 2000.

We got married in 2004, and then moved to Fort Wayne in 2006. It took me a full year to find adequate employment in my field of expertise. Today, I am the Senior Programmer Analyst at a local private University in Fort Wayne.

Karin in Fort Wayne

Why did you choose to move to the USA?

We wanted to be able to support my husband’s young daughter better. He had left her with her mother and that arrangement wasn’t working very well.

As a German expat, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?

It isn’t easy to move to the USA for most people. The process has to be completed outside of the US, in your home country, dealing with the US Embassy. Being married to a US citizen is about as easy as it gets: you apply for an IR-1 (or CR-1) visa, which turns into a “green card” once you enter the US.

The procedure takes many months. My paperwork weighed about twenty pounds – the cost is high (prepare approximately $1,000 per person for the fees), and you need a “sponsor”. That part was the absolutely hardest to achieve because my husband was living with me in Germany. We needed to find somebody in the USA who was willing and able to provide that affidavit of support.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival in Fort Wayne?

There were no immediate surprises upon arrival as I knew the town from prior visits. The only unexpected obstacle was my hardship in finding a job in IT. I thought, given my decades of highly sought after experience and skills, I should have a suitable job within a few months. No such luck, though. It took a full year.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

Housing is easy to find in Fort Wayne if you are looking to buy. Renters will have to confine themselves to apartments, though. When we first arrived, we stayed at an extended stay hotel for two weeks. Then, we moved into a rented townhouse while we searched for a home to buy. It took only three months to find the perfect one with all the features that we needed, and in the desired school district.

Karin in Fort Wayne

What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to be hired there?

If you work in manufacturing, the food industry, or are a health care professional with the required credentials, you’ll find a job quickly. If you’re looking for anything else, it might be tough. The cost of living is about 10% below the national average, so you will not need as much income. That helped me survive the first year, working as a temporary Administrative Assistant.

How do you find the American lifestyle?

What do you mean by “American lifestyle”? That is as nonexistent as a “European lifestyle”. The USA does not present itself as some homogenous society with a defined, distinct “lifestyle”. The different lifestyles that you may find in the USA vary by the geographical region, the historic sources of immigration, the availability of education and work opportunities, the condition of the local infrastructure, and a multitude of personal preferences.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Given my “unfair advantage” of early childhood immersion into the language, country, and society, I had very little adaptation to do. One of my learning experiences was (to a degree still is) the most prominent difference in social values between Germans and US-Americans: in Germany, “being honest” is valued higher than “being polite”. In the USA, “being polite” is more important than “being honest”.

What does your every day life in Fort Wayne look like?

Karin in Fort Wayne

Very simple: my every day life is organized around the requirements of my job, and managing a healthy family home. Get up at 5:30 a.m., prepare breakfast, drive to work, do my job, come home and do my chores, relax a little, walk the dog, make sure you get enough sleep – rinse and repeat.

Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?

Coming from a densely populated Germany, the amount of vast, open space in the USA still is the most impressive experience for me. There is nothing more mind-boggling than lying on your back on a deck at a lake cottage far out in the Ozarks, on a clear night, and gazing at the milky way.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Fort Wayne? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

The cost of living in Fort Wayne is about 10% below the national average. That does not mean it is “easy” or “hard” for an expat, or anybody for that matter, to live here. Whether you are having a hard time, or not, doesn’t depend on the “cost of living”. It simply depends on your income and your ability to manage that income properly.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Here we go again with the stereotypes. Define “leisure”. Is that anything you do without being paid? Or is that anything you do just because you can? Or would that be anything you do at a slower pace? I find it difficult to distinguish between “leisure time” and “non-leisure time”.

I’ll give you an idea of some of the things, other than IT, that I enjoy doing whenever I can. I like swimming, hiking, skiing, riding bicycle, riding motorcycle, travelling, making simple natural food (like bread, peanut butter, jelly, soup, ice-cream, pickles...), creating articles of daily use (like ExxoPok, furniture, home deco, paintings…), watching certain US TV shows, watching certain German TV shows, watching science-fiction and/or action movies, reading and writing, talking to friends, and listening to enemies.

What do you like the most about the USA?

Karin in Fort Wayne

That everything is further apart.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

That everything is closer together.

What has motivated you to write your blog “Karin's Adventures”? How does it help?

Writing down my thoughts helps me consolidate and structure them. I want to be able to remember events that impacted my life, so I write the adventures down while they are fresh in my mind. I also enjoy “talking” to a worldwide audience, without revealing too much of my private life. Blogging is the perfect format to do that.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in the USA?

Stop comparing your old place of residence with the new home. Don’t start your sentences with “back in...we would do this differently”. If you have this kind of thoughts – which is normal – keep them to yourself.

What are your plans for the future?

Another vague question that is hard to answer. Define “future”. I have different plans for the immediate future – I will spend time with my family in Germany; or the short term future (within a year) – to declutter my home and my schedule; or the mid-range future (for the next 5-10 years) – to consolidate my finances and reduce my work-load; or the long term future (more than 10 years from now) – to stay healthy enough to travel between the “old” and the “new” world.