During my own immigration 8 years ago I’ve been reading a lot in forums and websites about life in America and how stuff works here. One website that kept popping up was from Kai Blum, a German author of several German expat books. Last week I reached out to him for an interview to learn about his back story.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Germany. I grew up in Rostock and also lived for a few years in Leipzig, before moving to America in 1994.
Why did you decide to move to America?
I met an American girl in Leipzig.
How did you get your visa/greencard/citizenship?
Through marriage. The application process took only about 2 months.
What was the most difficult part of your immigration?
I didn’t speak English very well.
You’ve been living here for nearly 20 years. What do you like the most?
Most Americans are very friendly. They’ve never made me feel like I don’t belong here.
Is there anything that you miss from home other than family?
German dairy products and the German rail system. It’s so easy to hop on a train in Germany and go to a different city.
What techniques worked best for you to learn English?
Watching American TV with English subtitles switched on (“closed captioning”). Also, talking to people who were not native speakers, because with them I was less worried about making mistakes.
Have you found a good source to buy German food in America?
You can find German food in many places if you keep your eyes open. World Market, Aldi and Walgreens are good stores to look for German food, especially German sweets. Most grocery stores have at least a few German items, such as chocolate, canned fish, beer, and yoghurt.
Looking back at your migration to the U.S., would you have done anything differently?
I would have saved up more money before moving to the United States, because it can become very stressful to be in a new country and not have enough money.
What are the biggest differences between every day life in Germany and America?
There is very little to fall back on in terms of a social safety net. You are pretty much on your own and need to prepare for difficult times, such as losing a job. On the other hand, it’s much easier to change careers, even later in life. Age is far less important in the U.S. Old people in America usually don’t behave like many old people in Germany. Americans stay very active. When I go to Germany, I often notice that old people there have far less energy than people of the same age here in the U.S.
You’re an author of several German books to guide expats through immigration and beyond. Are all books based solely on your own experience?
Initially, they were for the most part, but over time more and more research found its way into my books.
One of your books is about the many pitfalls of the American culture that immigrants experience occasionally. What are some pitfalls that you stepped into during your journey?
For example, mixing up words that look and sound very similar in German, but have a different meaning in English. Or starting political discussions with people who I just met.
What will your next book be about?
It will be a sequel to my first mystery novel about German immigrants in North Dakota in the 1880s.
What’s your #1 tip for future immigrants?
Immigrants need to accept that the U.S. is a very different country than their country of origin. Some things are better, some are worse. Often, in the beginning, immigrants see only the things that are better. After a while, they will have some negative experiences and think that life in the old country may have been better. They might even become frustrated and move back, usually after living in the U.S. for only one or two years. If they stay longer than two or three years, they will get used to every day life in America, good and bad. They’ll become more relaxed and will be able to handle difficult situations.
Bottom line: Comparing two countries does not accomplish much. Immigrants need to simply educate themselves about life in the U.S. and then make the best of it.
Kai has a lot more to share with German speaking immigrants on his website www.auswandern.us, where he provides his readers with lots of tips and tricks plus content that he published in several books.