Duncan from Vancouver made use of the German-Canadian Youth Mobility Agreement and decided to move from the Canadian metropolis to Berlin, the Vancouver of Germany, as it has been described. Working in a local restaurant, in an internet start-up company, living with a German family and talking to refugees, he found his way in Germany’s capital, now calling it a second home. We caught up with him a year after he returned to Canada.

What came first, the plan to go to Germany or the job offer?

A bit of both. I was invited to Germany to help with a friend’s restaurant project. At the same time I was also looking at getting some work experience internationally, so I decided to move abroad to Berlin. I had a contract with a Canadian company that allowed me to do three months of work remotely.

When you arrived, did you see what you expected or where you very surprised about what Germany was like?

(laughing) I was a bit shocked. I didn’t know what to expect at all … it was quite a big change and took a little bit of time to adapt. I was in a new city for the first time. I had no experience living in a different place for a longer period of time, the architecture that impacted me, the layout of the city, the transit, and the language of course.

Did you know any German when you got there?

I learned a little bit before, and when I got there I enrolled in lessons. So I’m pretty fluent right now. Wir können auch Deutsch sprechen, (laughing) English is more comfortable though.

Learning a new language to me always feels like dealing with a new person you meet. You are trying to adapt, to get along with its character traits. How did German feel to you?

It felt like a… really intimidating… boss. There are so many rules, it was very challenging. But I am happy that I got to learn it, it took me three months to be able to properly have a kind of conversation that makes sense.

I can imagine… How did you find a place to live?

That’s a good question. I lived at my friend’s place, the one who invited me over there, for the first month or so. Then I wanted to get my own space and found a place on www.wg-gesucht.de. (A free platform to find shared accommodations)

Being two years in another country open your mind up to new perspectives.

Did you live with German people in your WG (German shortcut for Wohngemeinschaft, shared accommodation)? There are so many other non-German speakers in Berlin, sometimes you’ll hear more English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and so on than you hear German in public…

No kidding. I lived in a couple of different places, one of them was a student housing, where there were some German students, but also a lot of international students. And then, I also lived with a German family for longer.

What was that like?

It was intense. I never thought I would be living with a German family, but it worked out really well. The mother was flight attendant, so she was gone for half the month. We had a couple of interesting talks.

Did you find it hard to make friends with the local people? I mean, Berlin people must seem so cold and hard and super direct to people coming from the North American culture. They don’t hesitate to criticize everything all the time, I feel like this is a cultural trait that is not so much common here in Canada.

Good question, it took me a little bit of time to adapt. It was really nice that I had a friend there from Vancouver, so he introduced me to a few people. At one point, I started to work at an international internet start-up company, where I met a lot of people from everywhere, so it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Berlin has a really inclusive and welcoming community. But I know what you mean, that some of the locals, especially the Germans, can be really cold and direct, but I actually kind of liked that.

Are you still in contact with the people you met there?

Absolutely! Through Skype and Facebook, I try to keep in touch with a handful of them.

Where do you think the time in Germany has influenced the life you live right now?

When I came back I started studying journalism. It changed me in a lot of ways. The German companies I worked with definitely taught me very good work ethics, the mentality they have behind work, that was a big one. I think just being two years in another country opens your mind up to new perspectives. I am just a much more well-rounded person after going there.

Did you have a strategy when looking for work?

It’s great if you can start contacting some potential employers before you actually go. In terms of searching for jobs, there is plenty of resources online, and I think that joining Facebook groups is a great help.

Was it a problem that you didn’t speak German in the beginning?

There is a lot of Facebook groups for English speakers in Berlin, there’s a whole community of people sharing job postings that are in English.

Is there an encounter that you still remember very lively?

Any single encounter, that’s a really tough question, there were so many. I remember going to volunteer at the Prinzessinnengärten, the urban garden in Kreuzberg, in my first month. My friend from the restaurant was only using locally grown ingredients, I remember volunteering at the garden to learn about some of the herbs they have and their practices. Then going back to my friend’s restaurant, I was able to serve up the fresh herbs from the garden.  There were these amazing volunteers who were refugees from some parts of Africa, have made it to Italy and then to Berlin and who were looking for some kind of job. We had some really powerful interactions in that month…

Right, you were there exactly when the biggest wave of refugees came.

That’s right but I didn’t see a lot of that.

What would you tell anyone who’s considering going to Germany?

Stay open-minded, make sure you’re prepared and have some money saved.

I read in your interview with the Canadian Embassy in Berlin that you were considering going back to Germany. Is that still a plan?

It really feels like home in Berlin now, I went there twice so it would be my third time. Both times were amazing, they opened my horizon to think about where else I could go. Perhaps Japan.

Interested in spending a year in Germany to travel, work or study? Find more information on the Youth Mobility Agreement here.


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