Ina Schumann: the testimony of a serial-expat

Expat interviews
Published on 2016-09-19 at 14:00
"Slow-travel" lover since more than 10 years and expat since 2000, Ina lived in seven different countries! Now, she set her luggages in Barcelona with her boyfriend, learning spanish and writing for her blog. She gives us her feelings about how a serial-expat way of life looks like, between France, UK, Ireland, Spain and Australia.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what encouraged you to move to Spain?

My name is Ina from I love “slow” travel and have been saving up for backpacking trips ever since I left school. At some point, one month trips weren't long enough anymore and I took every opportunity to live abroad, which has now led me to Spain: partly because I wanted to learn another language and partly because I liked the Barcelona / California-like lifestyle. The weather reminds me of the time I spent in Australia. The opportunity arose when my boyfriend decided to start his business here in Barcelona, so I had no doubt about following.

Spain is your seventh country, can you tell us where you lived before?

So far my nomad lifestyle has led me to the French Alps for an Erasmus exchange year. I went to Ireland in search of an internship and ended up writing my thesis in Liechtenstein. After finishing my studies, I got my first “proper” job in publishing in Oxford, U.K. and later moved offices to Paris.
Just before my 30th birthday I treated myself to a work and travel visa in Australia, which probably turned out to be my most nomadic 12 months so far – living out of a backpack at all times.

After almost 10 years abroad, I briefly moved back to my home country Germany. Surprisingly this turned out to be like moving to a new country only with the benefits of already knowing the language (although the use of slang words had changed!) and the advantage of being able to ask friends and family how to do things – I believe in “reverse culture shock” but hope I won't do that again.

Australian landscape

When and why did you decide to live abroad in so many countries?

I never planned it, rather it just happened. How I first moved abroad? Well, I always liked France and the sound of its language (as most Germans do) and researched a partner university for an Erasmus exchange. Ever since then it was just normal for me to search for internships and jobs in other countries.
Once you get the travel bug you'll naturally take most chances to discover new countries, mentalities and ways of life. It often started with "I wouldn't mind to see something different" and when an opportunity arose, I took the chance.

What is the richest personal thing that being a serial-expat brings to you?

The beauty of living and working abroad is that it teaches a great amount of tolerance and the flexibility to easily adapt to changes. You'll develop an understanding for things turning out differently than planned and you'll be able to use it to your advantage while gaining trust in yourself! You'll see how easily you can change your life completely within months; you just have to start with a first step towards your goal and be persistent.
I also highly value having learned something new from each culture / mentality, which often has given an influence on my views.

Irish sunset

Thanks to your travels, you speak 3 foreign languages. How did you learn them? Is it different to think in an English-speaking country than in a French-speaking one for example?

I believe if you decide to stay and live in a foreign country, you really should make the effort to learn the language, adapt to local customs and make friends with natives.
By far the best way to learn is living with a native partner or sharing a house with locals. Blend in at work or when studying and take a step towards them to socialise and make friends. Do not just stick to expat groups, which of course are easier and tempting. Motivation and immersion are key.
I always started off with language classes, reading children's books and watching my favourite DVDs with subtitles in the target language. Language exchanges are great too, and help you meet the locals.
Sometimes, I had to put one language on hold until the new language got to a fairly fluent level: for example when I started learning Spanish I would mix it up with my French, so I stopped speaking French for a while. With a bit of training and regular freshening up by reading or watching movies or asking friends to practice with you, it'll all come back later.
Languages need work, however the more languages you speak the easier it gets to pick up a new one. Spanish for example uses a lot of English words and as a Roman language is very close to the French language, which allowed me to understand it fairly quickly. When I didn't know the vocabulary I'd try French words with a Spanish accent. I wrote a blog post about How to learn a language.

I believe when speaking a foreign language we always take on some of the place's identity and manners, with its expressions and our personal experience of living in that country. English for example, is a very polite language that uses plenty of active verbs and has a huge vocabulary of synonyms – more than my other languages. I perceive it as very specific, fairly light-hearted and I am probably more polite when speaking it.
French I see as a very confident language that can carry a fair bit of personal emotions or attitude. It needs “wrapping” your intentions into nice words (like you would wrap a present), so that you could easily swear or throw a tantrum without doing too much harm. In contrast to that, German as my first language is very direct, almost black and white with a lot of passive expressions that consequently leave less room for personal emotions.


What was the biggest cultural surprise in each expatriation's country that you've done?

I guess we all hear about country stereotypes and once we've been there we discover it was all wrong.
That probably applied to me when moving to England: I had pictured the Brits rather uptight and socially awkward; their lack of good food was just too obvious to me. However almost 4 years of living and working in Oxford made me discover a very warm and friendly mentality. Yes, it does take ages to make close friends but you'll probably stay in touch forever. I love their pub culture and funny way to engage in conversation! And they do the best crisps and chips around the world.
Paris hit me hard. When I first studied in France, I had a fantastic lifestyle with great French food, surrounded by the beautiful French Alps, and some exceptionally friendly people. However “Paris is not France and France is not Paris”. To me Paris meant having to cope with its rude and aggressive day-to-day life. They even have a name for it: Paris syndrome, a severe form of culture shock.
Australia surprised me being quite British (even though they hate to hear that) and being so remote. I spent most of my time in fairly isolated, picturesque places where education and cultural events still are a challenge. However, the most controversial thing for me was the probably impossible integration of Aborigines – their cultural values seem too different to find a compromise that truly would work for both.
In Ireland I lived in beautiful county Kerry on Dingle peninsula and it all felt like going 50 years back in time. I loved it! We went to the pub by tractor. The Irish are a good craic and I am always amazed how much they can drink (and probably still drive that tractor back).
I didn't stay too long in Liechtenstein – which by the way strikes me as being very Swiss (and they hate to hear that, too) but straight away I noticed those fancy cars and designer houses, which apparently are mostly built on a credit lifestyle.
What surprises me about Spain? Well, when traveling in Spain earlier I had often seen locals being quite grumpy and rude to tourists. So I was really surprised to meet all these happy people in Barcelona, even though the crisis hit hard. The people have developed so much patience for when things don't work out as planned, they just seem to get on to get by.

Travelling means also eating local food. Any good meal's memories?

The great thing about traveling is to meet people from all over the world and learning their family recipes or trying out traditional celebrations like the “Calçotada” in Catalonia (a gathering to eat grilled spring onions).
I'm always curious to try new things like crocodile, kangaroo, reindeer, Chinese chicken feet and many weird things a traditional French restaurant would offer…
But I probably prefer a BBQ with an open fire under the Southern Cross of Western Australia or a home cooked Gratin Dauphinois on a terrace overlooking the French Alps.

With hindsight, how is Germany doing? How has this country evolved in the last 10 years?

To be honest I probably can't say much, I am only visiting once every two years and it's never really been my country of choice.
Its reputation has definitely changed over the last 15 years. In my first years abroad, I always had to listen to terrible Nazi jokes (exactly like in the movie L'Auberge Espagnole / The Spanish Apartment). Thanks to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany was seen differently overnight and people thought Germans were friendly! With the latest political movements and receiving the majority of refugees in the EU, this seems to have improved even more.

How do you see the future? Any places where you want to live or visit after Spain?

Good question, I wish I knew. I definitely would love to see more of Asia. The Mediterranean has lots to offer which I like to take advantage of while living in Barcelona.

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