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Monday, July 24, 2017

My 4 Year Expat Anniversary!

Four years ago today, I flew to Germany on a one-way ticket and haven't left (for more than two weeks) ever since. And this past year of my expat life has been the biggest one yet!

Four years living in Germany

When I first came to Germany in July 2013, my main motivation was to pursue my Master's degree. Well (spoiler alert!), I accomplished that at the end of 2016, which meant that I had to decide whether I would go back to my home country or stay in my adoptive one. If you know anything about me, then you know this decision wasn't very difficult. I chose to stay in Germany, and search for a full-time job.

To find out more about everything I've accomplished during my fourth year in Germany, read on!


JULY 2016

  • After submitting the registration, we were also able to officially set our wedding date and location: December 30, 2016 in the Lüneburg Water Tower.
  • Otherwise, I was deep in the process of writing my Master's thesis during this month, and I didn't have much time or brain capacity for much else.


AUGUST 2016

  • After devoting a few months to my Master's thesis, the end of my degree was in sight, and I began to panic. As usual, the Germans have a word for that: Torschlusspanik.
  • I also ran into some new permit problems and had to spend way too much time at the Ausländerbehörde...



SEPTEMBER 2016

  • I voted! At 26 years old, this was actually my first time ever voting. Although shameful, I hope that I can inspire a few of my fellow expats to also register and vote from abroad.


OCTOBER 2016

  • I picked up my Master's thesis from the printer (do you like how they spelled my name?) and turned it in to the university!


NOVEMBER 2016

  • I finally got to know my neighbor of 3 years, Mrs. Nobody.
  • I celebrated my FIFTH Thanksgiving in Germany with the lovely Jordan Wagner


DECEMBER 2016

  • I GRADUATED WITH MY MASTER'S DEGREE!




JANUARY 2017

  • I started searching for a full-time job in Germany.
  • My husband and I got the keys to our new apartment!
A post shared by Courtney (@courtneydmartin) on



FEBRUARY 2017



MARCH 2017

  • As the winter semester came to an end, so did my time as a student. This also meant that I could no longer hold my student job, and finding a full-time job became more critical than ever...
  • In the meantime, I took a short trip to visit grandma in sunny Florida!
A post shared by Courtney (@courtneydmartin) on

A post shared by Courtney (@courtneydmartin) on


APRIL 2017

  • 24 applications, 8 interviews, and 2 job offers later - I began working a big-girl full-time job! Read more about my job search in Germany.

MAY 2017

  • I was working a lot and not doing much else. Well, nothing besides eating a disgusting pizza...


JUNE 2017

  • After spending the week working in the big city of Hamburg, I spent my weekends rediscovering my beautiful little city of Lüneburg.
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JULY 2017

  • I spent 2 weeks in my favorite city, Chicago! It was also my first time spending the 4th of July in the US since 2013.
A post shared by Courtney (@courtneydmartin) on


Now I am back in Germany, and even after four years of living in this country, I am still loving my life here! If you are wondering what I did during my first 3 years in Germany, check out the links below:
Here's to another great year!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tex-Mex Pizza with Hot Dog-Stuffed Crust | "American" Food Taste Test

Once every couple months, each of the German discount grocery stores (Lidl, Aldi, Penny, etc.) has an "American week" where they sell American-branded food products. These specialty weeks are a great opportunity for us American expats to pick up typical American goodies like salted popcorn and peanut butter. However, they also carry some food abominations that even the US hasn't even had the audacity to create.

Penny's most recent "American week" included this masterpiece, and I just had to try it  out:

Germany's American food - Tex-Mex Pizza with Hot-Dog Crust
Tex-Mex Pizza with Hot Dog-Stuffed Crust

This mix of American/Mexican/Italian/German cuisine was so baffling, I posted a picture to the Welcome to Germerica Facebook page. So many of you were just as baffled as I was, so I went out and picked one up.

American food at German grocery stores
Photoshoot in Penny!
Unpackaging the pizza back at home, my German husband asked me the question I am sure is on all your minds:

"Is is just one really long sausage in the crust, or a lot of little sausages?" 

Well, maybe you weren't thinking that, but I bet you are now! I was excited to find out, so into the oven it went.

Tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

American food found in Germany

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust


After 18 minutes, it was done and looking... delicious? Naja, not really. But it was done. 

By the way, all of the following images are unfiltered and unedited. Just a Tex-Mex pizza with sausage-stuffed crust in all its natural glory.

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

I was most curious about cutting into it and seeing the hot dog-stuffed crust. And when I did, I was actually quite pleased with how it looked. I mean, it looked like edible hot dogs, which was more than I can say about the ground beef (if you can call it that) on the top of the pizza. 

Frozen tex-mex pizza with hot dog crust

Pizza with hot dogs in the crust

But just one bite of the thing, and... well... I think my facial expressions speak for themselves.





The worst part is that instead of normal pizza sauce, this had some kind of spicy ketchup. It was gross. I was also really weary about eating any of the "ground beef" on the pizza. So, I didn't eat much more than that one bite.

The crust, on the other hand...


The crust was actually alright!

I love hot dogs. I especially love pigs in a blanket  and the crust of this pizza was basically just one big round pig in a blanket.

And guess what!

Pizza with hot dogs in the crust

I found out that the crust is actually made up over lots of little hot dogs, not just one big one. I guess that was a little disappointing, but in the interest of not wasting food, I did eat all the crusts off the pizza ;)

Would you have eaten this pizza? 
Should I try out more "American" food from German grocery stores?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

An American's Experience with German Public Healthcare

When I began my master's studies in Germany, I also enrolled in German public healthcare. At that time, I wrote a (somewhat naive) blog post about my first experience with German public healthcare. This is an update to that post.


Since I was a student at the time, I was only paying the student rate for public healthcare (about 80€ per month). Since I also have a chronic disease, I was taking much more out of the public healthcare system than I was putting in.

While most German-taxpayers were compassionate and understanding of my situation, I did piss a few readers off by cheerfully pointing out how the system worked in my favor. They complained that I was taking their money, draining the system, and that I wouldn't be so happy once I had a full-time job.

Well, I am back to tell you that (1) I have a full-time job, (2) 15.6% of my income is paid into the German public healthcare system, (3) I am (usually) paying more into the healthcare system each month than I am taking out of it, and (4) I am okay with it.

First, a few facts about the German public healthcare system:

  • Everyone that makes less than approx. 57,000 EUR (63,000 USD) must enroll in public healthcare
    • If you make more, you can choose to become privately insured (price depends on level of coverage and pre-existing conditions) or continue paying into public healthcare
  • The system insured 71.6 million people in 2016, which is about 88% of the country's population (source)
  • People earning over 850€ per month have to pay 15.5% of their income for public healthcare (8.2% is paid by employee, 7.3% by employer)

This system is widely accepted within Germany, and very few political leaders push for significant reforms. When I was a student in Germany, taking more from the system than I was putting in, I also never heard anything negative about my situation from the Germans that I would speak to about this topic. Germans would generally laugh as I spoke so highly of the public healthcare system, telling me that not paying extra for doctors appointments and prescription medication is how it's supposed to be. 

The entire premise of Breaking Bad is basically a mystery for Germans, and people would often ask me how a person in an industrialized country like the U.S. could go into bankruptcy just because he was diagnosed cancer or got into a car accident.

Solidarity
The principle at play in any publicly-funded healthcare system (whether it be German public healthcare or US Medicare) is solidarity. The healthy will end up paying for (at least some) of the health care services for the sick. The wealthier will pay for services used by the poor.

In the US, the prevailing mindset seems to be, "I don't want to pay for somebody else." For better or worse, people only want to be responsible for themselves and their families. The problem is, of course, that a serious illness or accident that often lead to financial hardship (at best) for middle- to low-income families.


Everyday, I see my American friends and family sharing fundraising pages on Facebook to help someone with their medical bills. Just the fact that this webpage exists is, in my opinion, a sign that the US medical system isn't okay.

Such websites don't exist in Germany because people don't need them. Public healthcare in Germany covers everything*, so insured people would never be financially burdened by medical bills.

There is strength in numbers, and with over 70 million people belonging to (mainly) just a handful of public health insurance providers, healthcare and medication fees can be negotiated strongly. Thus, health spending per capita is significantly lower in Germany than the US.


If you have a solid income, never get seriously sick or injured in your entire life, and you never have any children, is this system benefiting you? No. But the problem is that you cannot predict when you are going to get sick or injured, and (in my experience) Germans are willing to pay for the safety of knowing that should something happen, they are covered.

If you are curious what your net salary would be if you lived in Germany, and how much of it would go towards public healthcare, check out this salary calculator:
http://www.brutto-netto-rechner.info/gehalt/gross_net_calculator_germany.php

*German public healthcare does not cover everything, there are required "co-pays" (e.g. 5€ for a prescriptions, 10€ per day at the hospital), but these are fairly insignificant and would not cause financial hardship.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finding a Full-Time Job in Germany (a Foreigner's Experience)

Hey guys, guess what....


That's right, after graduating with my Master's degree from a German university in December 2016, I finally found a full-time job in my field! In fact, today is my first day at my new job (wish me luck!).

Wanting to be as real with my readers as possible, this post will review my experience with applying to and interviewing for full-time jobs in Germany.

First, the hard facts:
Length of my job search: 3 months
Number of jobs I applied to: 24
Number of interviews: 8
Final job offers: 2

I applied to a few jobs while writing my Master's thesis (Nov-Dec 2016), but I didn't really start putting real effort into the job hunt until the new year. I was also very lucky to have a part-time job contract until March 31, 2016. This meant that I didn't have the pressure of needing to find a job ASAP.

Here is a timeline of all the jobs I applied to, and how far in the application process I made it with each position:


Overall, I was very lucky in my job search. I usually got a response (even if it was a rejection email), and I got quite a few interviews. To better visualize this, here is a pie chart of this data:


I got absolutely no response from 25% of the jobs I applied to. Shame on the businesses that do this! Even if it is just a form email, you should reply to all applicants! It's just common decency!

Speaking of form emails, I got those from 42% of the jobs I replied to. Receiving a rejection email is not a great feeling, but it's better than hanging on to hope for a position that already rejected you without you knowing.

For 33% of all the jobs I applied to, I got at least one interview (usually via phone or Skype). I really hate interviewing for jobs, and the first few interviews went quite horribly. However, I also think I got better at interviewing each time. Which ultimately led to...

...drum roll please...


via GIPHY

...two job offers!!!

My job search reached its peak when I scheduled two second-round interviews for the exact same day -- the first for 1:00 pm and the second for 5:45 pm.


I got to the first interview about an hour early, so I stopped into a cafe next door and had an espresso. This probably wasn't such a great idea, as I was nervous and hadn't yet eaten anything that day. By the time I got to my interview, I was visibly shaking.


Of course I took an elevator selfie on my way up to the 19th floor office.


I was then placed in a beautiful conference room with one of the best views of Hamburg's Altstadt that I had ever seen. They also made a nice first impression with a little spread on the table. Since I was already shaking from my espresso, though, I just stuck with water.


After this interview, which went until about 2 p.m., I then sat in a café for over three hours until it was time for my second interview. The second interview actually ended up being less of a job interview and more of an employment persuasion. I left with an unofficial job offer and the peace of mind of knowing that my job search was finally over!


via GIPHY

The following week, I got final job offers from both of the companies with which I had a second interview, and after a little bit of back and forth, I signed a job contract on March 25th to start on April 18th!

Let me know if you have any questions about finding a job in Germany in the comments below!

P.S. This post was chosen by followers of the Welcome to Germerica Facebook page. Make sure to like my page to stay up-to-date on all things Germerica!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Our Germerican Wedding Reception

I married my German husband on December 30, 2016 in a beautiful wedding ceremony in the Lüneburg Water Tower. After the ceremony, we celebrated our marriage in a small reception in the historic Lüner Mühle - a restaurant and hotel located directly on the river in an old mill built in the 14th century.


The celebration actually began with a short reception on the top of the water tower, which is where we met our guests after the ceremony. Marco's father, an avid flag collector, also gave us our first wedding gift! :D

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

Couples that get married in the Lüneburg water tower also receive a plaque to place at the top of tower. So, we glued our plaque to the side of the viewing platform (make sure to look for it if you ever visit Lüneburg!).

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

After this little reception, we made our way back down, this time taking the stairs through the water tower's basin, which is where this cool picture was taken: 

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

And finally, we made it outside! We then walked with our guests to our reception venue on the other side of the river.

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

German-American Wedding in Lüneburg

Wedding in Lüneburg

Lüneburg Bergström

Lüner Mühle

I created the centerpieces and place cards for the reception together with friends, and I also made double-sided menu cards in English and German. Luckily, our reception venue let us set up these things the night before.

Winter Wedding in Lüneburg

Winter Wedding in Germany

Winter Wedding in Germany

For the sake of our guests' privacy, I do not want to post many pictures from the reception. All you need to know if that the reception was over 12 hours long, there was lots of drinking and dancing, and my husband and I had a great time (which, in my opinion, is the most important)!

German-American wedding

German-American wedding

Hochzeit Mühlensaal Lüneburg Bergström
All photos were taken by Björn Schönfeld

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Germerican Wedding Ceremony


On December 30, 2016, I married my [German] husband in a small civil wedding ceremony in Lüneburg, Germany.

Since we had planned a winter wedding in Northern Germany, we were never expecting nice weather. In fact, the days prior to the wedding were the typical gray, cold, rainy weather we are used to. However, the skies cleared for one single day in late December, and that was the day of our wedding.


The ceremony was held in the city's historic water tower. My husband, Marco, arrived at the venue before me and greeted our guests as they arrived. This was pretty easy considering there were only about 25 of them!


 I made the boutonnieres myself!
I actually walked to the water tower from an apartment my friend Meghan had rented nearby. Of course I forgot my bouquet (which Meghan ran back to the apartment to get), while I got to see my groom for the first time.






I then had a Cinderella moment as my Prince Charming helped me put my heels on, and strangers that were visiting the museum area of the water tower kept taking pictures of us.



Marco then went up to the ceremony room, as I waited downstairs with my father and the officiant. Luckily, my bouquet also arrived during this time (thanks again, Meghan!).

Then, when we were ready, we took the elevator up to the third floor, and my father walked me down the aisle to my husband-to-be.

I made my bouquet myself too!






I do have to admit that the ceremony itself was a little cheesy. Since Lüneburg is such a popular city for weddings, there are three public officiants that spend their days officiating civil wedding ceremonies. Our photographer, Björn Schönfeld, told us that ours is particularly well-known for her over-the-top flowery language. But the bright side was that her speech was so cheesy that I didn't cry (and will probably always remember it)!







And after each saying "ja," we were married! We exchanged rings and signed the marriage certificate immediately afterwards.





And we walked out of the water tower as husband and wife.




Come back next week to see the reception photos!
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