Why I’m Leaving Germany


When it was time for me to leave Japan, I knew it right away. Seeing how my colleagues acted so casually in the aftermath of the tsunami made me start piling up all the reasons why Japan made me unhappy. How I could never fit in. How I had terrible loneliness. How I started acting out when people were ignorant about non-Japanese people and culture.

Now, in Germany, it’s not taken a tsunami to shift me out of love with my life here, but I know for sure that it is time for me to leave. I often think I’m crazy, since I have a job I feel passionate about, and I live a very good life here in Germany. But there are two main reasons why I feel I cannot go on here without becoming very unhappy.

1. Communication.

Tonight I was in the food section of a department store with a friend when an elderly lady fell back and crashed to the floor, knocking her head on a freezer as she went down. Blood was pouring from her head. A man and a woman nearby jumped to help her, and I did too. I helped the lady to her feet then was listening as the woman was explaining to the lady that there was blood coming from her head. I stood around helpless, wondering what to do, what to say. The lady needed to sit down, and the woman spoke with a member of staff but I didn’t quite catch anything about getting her somewhere to sit. I said awkwardly to the woman “there are sitting places over there” but the woman looked at me as if I was a nuisance and turned away from me. In the end, I could do nothing. So I paid up and left.

Even though Frankfurt is an international city, where 99.9% of people speak English, I feel isolated. My German is coming along well and I understand quite a bit these days, but I would need to study German a lot more before I was in a place where it would take away my isolation. In Japan, I wasn’t isolated by a language barrier – but I’d been studying it since I was 16.

I want to be in a place where I can make small talk with someone nearby. Or help someone in the street. Or be able to live with people who don’t have to put any extra effort into speaking with me because they speak in English anyway. Although I have more English-speaking friends here than I know what to do with, the fact that my go-to language isn’t the same as the majority of those around me makes me feel very limited in my world.

2. Information.

I’m in a supermarket in Germany and I pick up a can of soup. I judge it by its price, the design, the ingredients list. That’s it.

Take that same situation in Britain and I have a lot more information to hand – perhaps I’ve seen an advert about the soup, perhaps I saw a review for it in a magazine, perhaps I remember eating this soup at uni and remember whether I liked it or not.

I feel that here in Germany – and, indeed, as an expat in many places – it can feel like such a one dimensional life. It’s almost like being a child, with no prior knowledge on the things around you. This goes beyond a language barrier, it’s an informational barrier. Of course, one could learn more about the things around them – watch the tv adverts, talk about things with locals. In Japan I can’t read the words “ajino moto” or “biku camera” without singing the jingles, and simple information like that made me feel more at home there. But it’s totally different when you’re back at home in your own country and you are holding an item that takes you on a trip down a million memory lanes, sparking recognition in your brain. I want to go back to living around things that I know well, not things that are new and unknown.

Though I look around at the amazing people and the amazing life I have here and feel sad to be leaving it all behind, I get a pang of excitement inside me when I think of being able to live back in the UK again. I’ve been away for so long it’s like a foreign country to me now and I’m even excited at the prospect of experiencing reverse culture shock. There’s nothing like living abroad for understanding your own country and culture, but I feel that when I return and see everything with fresh eyes, I’ll be able to understand what it is to be British more than ever before.

And then I can start writing a whole new chapter in my life.


  1. I totally agree with the last paragraph! I feel the same way about going back to live in the U.S. At first I was excited to leave and explore the world, but now I’ve come to appreciate it like I never did before. I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder?

  2. I 100% agree with you Charlotte and understand your frustrations. I sometimes feel like I’m in a world here that’s not really my own & I’m just observing.

  3. Did you ever read the book “Untangling My Chopsticks”? It is about a woman who decides to go to Japan to learn how to cook for a tea ceremony. Her struggle was intense and lonely and and and. I’m sure you would relate to a lot of what she wrote about.

    I can’t imagine leaving Germany at this point. But I can see why the two reasons above make life nerve wracking. I, too have been in that situation where I have tried to help and could not. I would love to be able to go to the store and buy my favorite tomato soup. A friend recently took us to the Commissary in Weisbaden. It was reverse culture shock and at the same time a moment of pure joy buying the things we know and love.

    • Ohh no that sounds great! I’ll add it to my book list!
      Yeah, sometimes I’m introduced to other Brits here and I sometimes think so myself that “real” British people are mostly like that…drinking too much and vomiting on the trams, being ignorant of most of the world etc etc. But When I was back in London for work it was great meeting so many great people so I think the people side of it will be fine…I hope…

  4. You’ve definitely got a point there. When I first moved abroad it was far from the exciting adventure that I’d imagined, but rather a life where nothing around you makes sense and you live life in isolation because after two minutes you’ve covered everything you could talk to somebody about. Am I glad I did it? Hell, yeah. Would I want to go back to living like that? No.
    Either way, I hope your move goes well and you settle in quickly back here in the UK.

  5. Hmmmmm, very honest post. Moving is always hard, whether moving abroad or back home. I felt after 2 years that there was NOTHING that would take me away from Japan. Half a year later and I was desperate to go home. I’ve not been in Berlin for a year yet but I’m starting to get itchy feet for somewhere warmer…
    It’s true, when you know it’s time to go home, you just have to do it. Good luck lady 🙂

  6. I hear ya!! It is definitely like being a kid 24/7… you never know what you’re expected to do in social situations, you don’t know what anything is and everyone talks to you like a 3 year old or gets frustrated when you aren’t fluent. It’s tough! I’m looking forward to following you back in Britain!

  7. Its sad that you’re leaving. But sometimes something feels right and I wouldn’t argue against that feeling. With more time, more language skills and a broader range of Germans to explain it to you, maybe things would be different.
    Its disheartening when people decide that they are changing their path, away from the one that you’ve chosen. So for me, selfishly, I feel sad knowing that it wasn’t something that worked for you. I understand the feelings you have.
    But I think there’s something to learn from this too. Not being able to communicate makes you listen more, watch more and see your situation differently. That woman in the supermarket didn’t need your help. Wanting to help is a beautiful thing, but you shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to. If there was nobody else around sure. But she was ok.
    Not knowing what’s in something is an adventure sometimes. I have a rule, to try and not buy anything with a commercial. Especially with food. I want to find things that are unfamiliar, and to try them and judge them on their merit not the advertising.
    Good luck heading home, and settling back into the UK. I hope it makes you feel the things you need to feel that you weren’t feeling here. x

    • Well to be honest, I never chose Frankfurt, it chose me. It’s been great but I knew from the start that it wasn’t forever.
      And I didn’t mean only by commercial. Like, knowledge that you’ve gained about a product. It’s really nice to buy things that aren’t familiar but I think it’s time for me to go back to the familiar. Or, more like, what was once familiar but is now not so much…
      Thanks so much! x

      • Sucky that it wasn’t your choice, and I really do understand the feelings you expressed. Sometimes you just want the honest comfort of really knowing what you’re getting. I feel that way about people too, like, knowing how an Australian will react compared to a German, and boy do I miss Vegemite! Good luck xx

  8. Wow, time for the exciting trip back “home.” Do you know where in the UK you want to end up?

  9. I feel touched and sort of concerned about the fact that this country has failed in making yourself feel at home here. But, to be honest, I think this kind of isolation is barely only a matter of language. Sometimes the subtlety of cultural differences between two countries in geographical proximity to each other can, let’s say, mask the fact that there are differences which have to be taken into account and which require to be dealt with deliberately. If you go to Japan, for instance, it’s crystal clear that as a European you will encounter some friction because of people just thinking differently and hence acting differently from what you’re accustomed to. I have made the experience when I went to Switzerland in 1997 (and stayed there for almost 10 years), that me severely underestimating the differences between the Swiss and the Germans (and they are huge…) played a significant role in me getting aggressive, sad, feeling isolated and just never at home…

    • I think that it’s worse when you expect a country to be so similar to your own but find that it’s not. 99% of German life is exactly as it would be in England but it’s just those times when something is completely different that throws you.
      You shouldn’t feel concerned – the culture here in Frankfurt is very different to that of elsewhere in Germany as well because of the vast numbers of expats. It’s a crazy culture!

  10. I’m right there with you, Charlotte. Like I said at brunch on Sunday, I share that linguistic isolation. The only thing at this point that would stop me from returning to the US at the end of this contract would be a dream job posting in another country where English is the primary language. (Living in or near London would be kind of a dream for me, but it’s not terribly likely.)

    I’m really looking forward to seeing your posts right after you get back to the UK. Reverse culture shock and re-acculturation are fascinating to me, and I’m very curious what it will be like for you.

  11. Back to UK? Perhaps you should try a different-speaking English country, like Aussie-land or the US. Even though the Visa-situation might be difficult.
    I don’t know if you’ll be happy back at home after all that traveling. I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with being back in Germany after living abroad for so long. I would be awaiting the day I planned my next travels, but that’s just me.
    I do understand your frustration when it comes to understanding people in the supermarket and also simple ingredients. I felt that way in Mexico, even though it was only a 2-week-trip. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be after 3 years. And German, next to Japan, is a very difficult language to learn from scratch.
    What will you be doing in UK and when are you leaving?

    • Hey! Hmm I think I want to be back with “my tribe” so another country won’t be on the cards for a while. To be honest, it’s hard to find a job so I’m planning to go freelance for a while when I go back. We shall see!

  12. Very similar to what I went through, can totally relate to you the “knowing when its the time” Isn’t it funny when life just tells you its time to go? Then you get home and its a totally shock that wait, maybe I did love it there?! I’m actually coming to Frankfurt soon, I really hope to run into the English speaking community as my time spent in Dorfen really wasn’t international at all and not many spoke English… although this did make my German develop super fast!
    Hanley Russell recently posted…When life hands you lemons..My Profile

    • Charlotte says:

      Ooh I can totally help you! Try Friday Night Drinks Club on Facebook. They’re a great group of people.


  1. […] “…I know for sure that it is time for me to leave. I often think I’m crazy, since I have a job I feel passionate about, and I live a very good life here in Germany. But there are two main reasons why I feel I cannot go on here without becoming very unhappy.”  Read more about how this expat knew it was time to move house and leave Germany behind here. […]

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