I’m currently writing this 37,038 feet above the Eastern edge of Greenland. My wife is sitting next to me and snoozing quietly at my feet are our pets, Moro and Sasha. We’re on our way to Berlin, where we will start the next big chapter of our journey. Back in Seattle, we’ve left behind family, friends, wonderful memories, and most of the furniture from our cozy two-bedroom apartment.
These past few days are the culmination of months of research, planning, job interviews, plenty of stress, and a dream to live abroad. Over the next few weeks, months, and years, I plan to share our expat experience, mostly for our family and friends, but also to inspire (and maybe caution) the random people who happen across my blog. I expect some of these posts will be more contemplative, while others will focus on the day-to-day practicalities.
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So why did we decide to upend our lives and move five thousand miles away to a new country? Well, many reasons. I suppose the best way to break it down is where we started, namely Seattle, and our destination, Berlin.
I vividly remember the my first few hours in Seattle. On a beautifully sunny day in September 2011, Daniela (my then girlfriend and now wife) picked me up from Seattle-Tacoma airport in our brand new car. With the sunroof open, leaned back in the seat, taking in the expansive blue skies and stunning views of the Cascade mountains. That day started more than seven years of exploring my new city, hiking the trails of the Pacific Northwest, making new friends, marrying my wonderful wife, and so many other events that have shaped my life.
As I changed , so did Seattle. When we moved into our apartment in South Lake Union, our neighbors were warehouses, construction offices, and the other businesses that typically set up shop in low rent areas. We set our couch facing the window so we could enjoy our views of the Space Needle and Olympic Mountains beyond.
A handful of Amazon buildings had also recently opened nearby, a herald of what was to come. The rest of the story is well known. Amazon’s explosive growth dramatically changed Seattle, and especially our neighborhood. Instead of low rents, South Lake Union soon topped the charts for the highest year-over-year rent increases of neighborhood in the US. And it stayed there for several years in a row. Our view of the Cascades became a view of another apartment building, and we turned our couch to the TV.
I’m certainly not one to say all of this growth is bad, or that Amazon “ruined” Seattle. As with most change, the real story is mixed. The growth brought new people to the city, many of whom I was privileged to call friends. It also brought choking traffic onto over-burdened roads. Friends were able to start new and thriving businesses, supported largely by transplants brought by Amazon. As rents spiked, homelessness, fueled by the opioid epidemic, grew worse. Tents popped up blocks from swanky new restaurants. There was good with the bad.
Our thinking was also influenced by reflecting on where the United States is headed. Some recent health challenges (largely resolved, thankfully) exposed us to the absurdities of the American health-care system. The cost of our excessive consumerism is rarely discussed. And the less said about Washington DC, the better. So, there isn’t one reason we’re leaving, and no single issue was unmanageable. Taken together though, they are the reason we fell out of love with Seattle and why we chose to move.
Moving to Berlin
On to our destination. I’ve always wanted to live abroad, but I was never sure where. In my student days, I assumed it would be Asia or South America, – somewhere cheap, befitting my limited income. Exploring the Pacific Northwest quieted that voice, but it never really went away. A recent business trip took me through Amsterdam, so I took a few days to explore, booking an AirBnB just outside the center of town. It on was a quiet tree-lined road. Every morning, a bakery flooded the street with the smell of freshly baked pastries. Tucked into the corner at the end of the road, the local cafe came alive each evening.
But the best part was how accessible life in Amsterdam felt. When you stay in a hotel, it is tough to get a sense of real life. You’re in this artificial bubble, something that will never be a home. In my AirBnB, I rented a spare room from Misak, a chef at a local restaurant. I did my laundry in his compact washer/dryer combo. It took ages. And we talked about living in Amsterdam, what he paid for rent (not cheap, but not all that much worse than Seattle). That was the seed.
Back in Seattle, I told Daniela about my stay. She was wary but interested, so I promised we’d do a European adventure so she could get a taste of what I’d experienced. We stayed with a photographer in Amsterdam, a developer in Copenhagen, friends in Brussels, and had a flat to ourselves in Berlin.
While we loved each city, there was something about Berlin. Daniela studied in Austria and her mother is German, so aspects of the city and its culture felt familiar. Only a few days in, she remarked it felt oddly like “home”. I felt it too (even through the haze of a nasty cold which leveled both of us for days). Perhaps it was the many parks, lively cafes, efficient public transit, vibrant arts scene, or diverse residents.
Or maybe it was something completely intangible, perhaps even fate. As I lay on the sofa, my head throbbing from the cold, an email popped into my inbox. It was from a recruiter, hiring for a design role in Berlin, a company literally blocks from our apartment. After returning to the US, and several rounds of video interviews, they invited me back to Berlin for the final round. While I didn’t get the role, it made this idea of moving abroad seem so much more tangible and well within my reach.
In a future post, I’ll share more about how I made it happen, from scouting companies to prepping for remote interviews.
We are landing in Amsterdam, our first layover, in a couple hours. Then, one more flight, a short drive to our hotel, and we’ll be “home” in our new city. I imagine we’ll take a shower, play with our pets, and then sit quietly to reflect on how much our lives have changed in fewer than a couple days. Then, we’ll go out, get some food, and start writing our next chapter.
And we’ll probably be in bed by 6PM. Ah, Jetlag.