I recently announced that I’m leaving Berlin and moving to NYC after six plus years living in Europe. Yes, it’s a bit crazy. Yes, it may seem like the wrong time to make a change like this. Yes, it’s a BIG change. But it’s my choice and here’s why…
This has been a bit of a surprise for most of you—even many friends and acquaintances in Berlin. I’ve kept it under wraps for a while now because, well, I’m terrified of commitment and even the act of saying it out loud was a little hard. I couldn’t even quite agree to say whether “I’m leaving Berlin” or “I’m moving to NYC.” Both are equally terrifying and exciting and sad and, well, a hundred other emotions.
But here we go.
I’m leaving Berlin, moving back to America, to New York City. It’ll be my first time living in the Big Apple, but it’s always been a part of my bigger plans.
At some point in 2017 I made a promise to myself to leave Berlin. I’d reached six years in the city—just about the longest I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. And it was finally starting to feel like the right time to move on. This was not an easy decision, not even an impulse decision. It took months of planning and a lot of help from my friends and my family.
Since I publicly posted about the big change, I’ve gotten a lot of questions. Even as many of my American friends have been looking to move abroad, here I am moving back to America. It might seem ridiculous and strange, but it is what it is. And I’m 100% happy with my decision. Just scared. Terrified really. Change is always a challenge, but in my limited life experiences, I’ve found I always strive when I’m pushed to the edge.
The reasons why I’m moving range from reasons to leave Berlin (time to move on!), reasons to live back in America (to get involved! to experience NYC!), reasons to escape, to challenge myself, to be different. There are many reasons, and many personal ones, too, but here are the big five.
Living abroad is not easy
First, living abroad is FUCKING HARD. No one really talks about it, but living abroad is not always easy. It’s an attainable goal for most people, but it is 100% not easy. It’s also not cheap. It takes serious support from loved ones at home and abroad to make that initial move, and a certain amount of extroversion is almost necessary. Of course, living abroad is equally, if not more, rewarding. But it’s not a cakewalk.
As a foreigner, you’re often stuck in a weird place emotionally. Home is a tough thing to define, and when you’ve voluntarily left one home to create another, it’s even harder to define. The challenges of living abroad start from before you might even leave your home country. Bureaucracy, visas, residency, languages and that always-hard-to-describe “culture” are all going to create challenges. Personally, for me, I was able to master most of it: gaining basic proficiency in German, successfully navigating the bureaucracy and I even managed to make friends and build a home that I could be proud of.
Berlin is and was my home. It’s where my best friends still live; a city I know inside and out that I always will feel comfortable in. But at a certain point, I just knew that Berlin is not my forever-home. And while I’m single and young, I might as well continue my search for that place I’m looking for—wherever, whatever that is.
There’s always more to do in a self-made career
I left America on May 4, 2010. That’s almost exactly 8 years that I’ve lived abroad. And during that time, I’ve completely changed my career from the ground up. Today I’m an award-winning travel journalist. My blog and my writing gains more and more notoriety with each year. It’s something I’m extremely proud of, even if I sometimes seem grumpy or frustrated about the industry.
But, as an American travel writer based in Germany, and working with brands around the world, I hit the occasional snafu. A lot of my industry isn’t in Berlin, and if I want to continue with what I’m doing, I’ve got to expand and grow. In the past year or two, I’ve just felt like I hit a wall professionally, and now’s the time to take it up a notch.
They say if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere. And I’m not one to turn down a challenge like that. I’ve managed this far and I’m ready for the next step. Time to S H A K E T H I N G S U P.
Politics have become increasingly important
Probably the question I’ve received most often since announcing my departure from Europe, is, “Why America? Why now?” While I have friends in the USA now currently planning their moves abroad, escapes from Trump’s America, I feel so far removed from what’s happening in the USA. Living the past eight years outside the country, I’ve missed out on as many cultural hits from the past decade as I have the political turmoil.
I am an American. I always have been and I always will be. Even if I’d like to identify as European with my residency and long-term connection to Germany, the American culture I grew up with is still deeply ingrained into who I am, what I believe, and what I want to do.
But in the past few years, I’ve felt increasingly disconnected from where I came from. Hearing the struggles of my friends in the USA dealing with healthcare, with job losses, with home ownership, with every other millennial hot topic covered in a New Yorker think piece, I just don’t know or understand fully what’s actually happening in America.
And I want to know. I feel as if I need to know.
There’s a little bit of guilt inside of me, having lived the European life as an expat in Berlin, going to parties, getting injured and having the affordable healthcare to cover it, the insurances that I would always be okay thanks to a social system built to protect me. I know it’s crazy to voluntarily leave that behind, but as an American writing about the world as I travel from here to there, it just feels like time to re-learn my cultural history.
And, also: I’m happy to have a little pride in the country whose passport I carry. Or, at least I’d like to be happy and proud. One of the biggest reasons I want to return to America now is to help shape my country into what I want it to be, to get more involved politically (locally!) and to hopefully make a more positive difference.
I’ve spent years traveling around the world and living in Europe, and it’s time I took those experiences, those things I’ve learned, and (with any luck) bring some of it back to the country that will always be my home.
As a foreigner living in Berlin, I was never fully going to be integrated politically. It’s something I learned previously when I was living in Tel Aviv, working in a political NGO. People will always see you as an interloper, a foreigner trying to inflict your own ideas onto an adopted home.
And, in Germany, as a non-European, I simply wasn’t entitled to all the services my European friends received. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to vote on a lot of the decisions that had a direct impact on my life abroad.
There’s more of the world to discover
With my six+ years living in Berlin, I’ve managed to see a lot of Europe. I’ve been lucky to travel more than most people—some 40 odd countries or so—but I’ve missed a lot on the American continent. And, frankly, there’s still a lot more to see and explore in the USA, too.
Six years based in Europe has made it easy and affordable to travel a lot around the continent, to get a pretty deep understanding of how things work on that continent culturally and politically. But there’s so much more to the world and as a natural explorer, I’m ready to branch out.
It’s New York City, baby!
As much as this big life change is about “leaving Berlin,” it’s equally about “moving to NYC.” From as far back as I can remember, I always just assumed I would live in New York City at some point. It seemed like the only natural thing to do when I was a kid growing up in Texas—I had family connections and roots to the city; it was the backdrop for every movie and TV show that I’d obsess over. NYC was always a part of my plan.
For college, I skipped the idea of NYC, afraid to go from the suburbs to the “big city” and totally unaware of how it would even be possible as an 18-year old. (I wasn’t ever very brave or much of a risk-taker, as much as you might believe otherwise from my travel stories.) In college in Boston, I’d visit NYC frequently thanks to the cheap Chinatown buses—always staying with friends, in town one ridiculous night at a time.
After my year-and-a-half backpacking around the world, I landed in Berlin pretty much on accident. The city sucked me in like it does so many others. I was in love with the cheap thrills, the easy-to-navigate city life. And, in fact, half the city I knew seemed to have moved from either London or NYC themselves, escaping the very city I once dreamed of living in. That kept me in Berlin, thinking I was one step ahead of the others.
But, visiting NYC again and again over the past decade, I’ve come to realize there really is nowhere quite like New York City. It’s been a lifelong goal, and it’s never going to happen unless I make it happen. That’s the one life lesson I’ve learned over and over: nothing happens unless you make it happen.
Plus, come on!!! It’s NYC! Broadway, the MET, Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, pizza…everything is in NYC. It’s the city where everything happens and, honestly, I just hate the idea of missing out.
• • •
There are other reasons I’m making this move now, and not later. But this was 100% my decision. One of my biggest fears is boredom and in the past year, Berlin has been a bit boring tbqh. It’s a city I love, and one I will always call home, but I need a new challenge, a new place to explore, a new motivation.
I’m equal parts terrified and excited about this change. I don’t know what will happen. But I do know that it doesn’t really matter. I’m lucky enough to have work that allows me to have a certain amount of mobility, a self-sustained career that affords plenty of opportunities to exist how and where I want. And I’d be silly not to take those extra steps for those extra challenges.
See you in NYC, baby!
In 2011 I seriously considered moving from Belgium to Melbourne in Australia. Motivated by the love for Melbs and the vacation boyfriend I had made.
I didn’t. Why not?
– It’s so far away from everything. Belgium is central.
– Social and familiy support. I was afraid to start from scratch.
– English is not my mother tongue. My degree in communications is worth nothing there…
So I stayed in Antwerp. I just travel more. And I finally started blogging about it.
Interesting, Timothy! I totally understand that fear – something I’ve dealt with in a lot of my moves. Also can 100% relate to the challenges of a vacation boyfriend ughhhh :D
Good luck! Everyone should live in New York City at some point in their lives – and then flee!
Thank you John! Definitely excited to give the coty a try myself!
I went a second time that year and honestly, Australia felt just a bit less magic. I suppose because I by then knew what to expect.
So I chose security. I don’t really regret it. But sometimes I wonder what if…
Anyway good luck in NYC. I look forward to read about it.
Totally relatable! I’m always wondering what if about so many situations…
Nice to hear what you are up to. Hope to meet up with you at some point. Bring your Excedrin because politics in the US are a heeeugge headache to deal with! xoxo
Definitely will come by Boston soon and would love to meet up – it’s been so long! I’ve missed you! xx
I wish you all the best. I am sure that you will succeed and have wonderful travels ahead.
Keep your foot on the road and fly!
Thank you Albeniz! So much more to come – stay tuned :)
Thank you :)
It’s a shame to see you leave Adam! I’m at year 3 in Berlin and I have no intention to go back home, but I totally understand your pain with life in a foreign, German-speaking country.
I had a slightly different reaction to it though. I grabbed the bull by the horns and decided to document every single minute detail of Berlin’s bureaucracy, just to make it a bit easier for others who need to go through it. I feel more invested in the city I live in, and I’m helping people. Win-win! I made lots of friends that way, too.
I hope you enjoy NYC and its amazing pizza. Damn I miss NYC pizza…
hahah okay thanks Nicolas! Yes, well as you can imagine, I did a lot of writing about moving to Berlin, living in Germany, dealing with bureaucracy, etc., and my monthly meetup with Cheryl Howard attracted thousands of people over the past 3 years, with many becoming very close friends. And our Facebook group has become a really useful tool for those who might feel lost in Berlin. There’s definitely a community of those new to the city and lots of opportunities to make friends – it was a big passion of mine for a long time, as well! Glad to hear you’re also helping people and hopefully meeting and making friends. Weird we never met, actually!
Really thrilled to learn about you and your story.
Keep Writing :)
Thank you Susan :) Appreciate it!
Inspiring! Loved your post. Good luck mate!
Thank you Simon!
Welcome back to America and welcome to the Big Apple. So much is going on here and in this country that it will make your head spin. But you will make it, enjoy the ride and looking forward to reading about your newest adventures .
Thank you Jo Ann! Lots more to come :)
Having grown up in NYC myself, I think this is a great move for you! I’m looking forward to reading of your adventures there.
Hey Michael – great to hear from you!! I’m really excited about NYC and loving it so far. Definitely made the best choice.
Well, I’m new to your blog, but I am a native New Yorker (now in Jersey City) and I’d love to be your friend! Of course, if you decide to jump abroad long or short-term again, I’d be happy to join that, too! Happy to be in touch, I am also looking for a travel writing mentor! :)
Hi Ariel – thanks for connecting!! Always happy to meet – send me an email and let’s chat!
Congratulations on the big move! Wishing you all the best on this new adventure.
Thank you Linda!
Wow! it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re up to. Wish you all the luck mate.
Cheers Ronnie – it wasn’t an easy decision but now that I’ve done it, I’m quite happy about it!
Hi Adam, this post really resonated with me – I’m about to leave Berlin and go back to London, and you kind of summed up many of the reasons I’m making the move – work opportunities, Berlin not being a forever home, and living abroad being hard. But as much as anything it’s the sense that there’s so much going on in politics and activism now and I want to get involved. Being in Berlin has started to feel like burying my head in the sand. Thanks for making me feel a bit less alone about my decision (which many here don’t understand)! Good luck and all the best to you in NYC. Exciting! :)
Hi Abby – wow, thank you so much for your comment! (sorry I’m late to reply.) I’m glad to see my story resonates so well for you. I think a lot of the Berlin experience is shared by so many people so it’s not totally surprising you would feel similarly!
Kudos to you Adam!
I have visited 63 countries worldwide ( many of them multiple time visits) and lived in Thailand for 6 years, with the same emotion you shared after 6 years- time to ‘move on’. I have a condo in Bangkok area and Thailand will always be “home” for me. I love the Middle East ( IRAN and Beirut, and Sana’a being among my favourites in that part of the world). I concur with you that returning to USA has so many re-adjustment cultural issues, and believe it or not, I am still going through mine. It would be a fun ( on going?) blog about return adjustment issues and what we are trying to do about it? tell me your opinions!
I have been to NY only 2 times in my life, and want to explore it more intimately. Good for your decision making ideas! ( besides, you can ALWAYS move abroad again at any time you wish!)
ps. I’d love to meet up with you over a hipster cafe , or a nosh at a Jewish neighbourhood bagle place!
Thanks Jim! Really interesting to hear your story of living abroad as well. Appreciate it!
I’m only catching up with this now (bit late to the party) but wanted to wish you all the best with getting set up in NYC. Can’t have been an easy decision to make, but I hope it’s one which brings you more happiness.
Thanks John! It’s been an exciting step to take!
This is amazing news! Congrats on the move! Change is never easy, but i always believe in change can be good. No one ever learns, grows or evolves without change. I’ve been wanting for years to move to Europe permanently but life seems to happen and i haven’t been able to take the leap yet. But you’re so right, it is ok if plans move slowly, eventually you’ll get there. For now we’re close neighbours and one more reason for me to go to NYC and say hello :)
Hi Cristina – thanks so much for your comment! Everything always takes some time and you never know where life will take you – so best to make the most of it and plan what you can!
Interesting story you have made ! Indeed it was tough decision but you have done the “life” experiencing while out there, learning, adapt, society, culture, trans with anything, discpline, etc. I had similar life story as you have and still not finish searching. Only time will tell. Anyway, all the best luck in your new home as you have found the ‘search’.
LA is much better, leaving NYC for the west coast
hmm.. Interesting ! For slower pace of life or better climate ! This is the same with me, leaving London, England for Edinburgh, Scotland… Less population and more pace of life with good educational facilities, I am seeking for ! I have lived in Cyprus for 6 years (on – off) but know Cyprus is not for me… I love the lifestyle Cyprus offers but educational is still lacking…. I am into Arts and Science…
Moved from NYC to Toronto recently. i so miss NYC. I hope you are settling well. Not to say other cities are not worth it but every other city feels “stuck” in comparison to NYC especially for ambitious folks.
Hey! That’s a good way to put it – NYC has definitely been amazing so far, and you’re right, the ambition here is just so palpable compared to what I’ve seen in other cities.
Thank you for sharing. I’m an American who has been living in Europe for two years. I will be moving back to the US in September for many of the reasons you shared. However, for me it’s to San Francisco, for the same reasons you to New York!
Congrats on making the decision, Sean! And that’s cool that you can relate – thanks for sharing your story
I actually have a question about the, landing in America, part. I myself am thinking about moving back after living in germany since i was 10. I ended up becoming a german residence and well, long story short, it’s not for me. I just want to go back to a place I feel like is really my home. Somewhere where I don’t have to worry about which way to say “the.” Anyway, I was really just wondering if you could tell me what you had to do to leave the german system and how you went about letting America know that you’re back again.
I just haven’t found much on the topic and this was the closest that I feel like I’ve came.
If anything, thanks for the motivational story.
I recently traveled back to San Diego for a couple weeks over the summer of 2018 and from the moment I stepped off the plane in LAX, I was bombarded with a strange sense of being in a foreign place.
In Shanghai, I get it. I know what to do and where to go, even at the airport although we are expats. But in America, I felt an instant rush of confusion. Everything was in English, yet I felt a strange sense of not know where to go or what to do. I had to ask several people where to catch my connecting flight to San Diego. And oddly enough, that was what made it confusing. I actually could ask someone where to go.
Going back to my home country is now a big deal. Like expatriation, repatriation is always unexpected and makes you feel the reverse culture shock depression.
Adam you must be in NY by now? I hope you settling in nicely. We definitely have a lot in common. I moved to Thailand about 10 years ago and recently I have seriously been entertaining a return to LA where I spent 20 years of productive living in Santa Monica. I was born in South Africa and once lived in Cape Town so that seems to be constantly tugging on my mind but in light of the political atmosphere I fear this might not be a solid long term investment. I see you had Australia on one of your lists. I have a brother there so that might be choice. I admire that you have come to a definitive decision and that it’s NYC which is is wonderful city. A move like this is challenging and terrifying but some where along the line people like us feel the need to explore something different and exciting. We always find a way to land on our feet. Give us some feedback how you doing. Good luck, cheers and God Bless. Gary.
Hi Gary – thanks so much for the comment and glad you stumbled on this blog post. Yep, I’ve now been in NYC for about 6 months and it’s been a wild ride. A lot of initial culture shock, lots of stress and worries, but I had a pretty healthy handle on what I was getting myself into (probably because I’ve moved around as an expat a few times now). I feel a lot like an expat in America, even though I’m American–just my sensibility I guess.
Good luck with your own possible move and whatever adventures you get up to!
This is just what I needed. I have been in China for the past two years and I really feel that desire to move back to the U.S. The main gig you get in China is teaching. I love the kiddos but I want to explore different opportunities in the education/social justice field. There is so much great work that can be done back home. I feel like I want to be part of it again! Especially now with what is going on with the country politically. I am pretty nervous but I think it is worth a shot. Also the great thing about expat life is that you can always go back to it!
The big thing holding me back is money. In China I make decent money and I have a free apartment. That is just unheard of in the U.S. Plus coming from NYC it feels like a blessing to not have to worry about rent. There is a lot to think about but reading this made me feel better about my decision.
P.S.I think NYC is a great choice. I am from NYC and I miss it all the time.
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Wow, thanks for sharing your story. It’s hard to find people who relate to this experience. I’ve also just decided to move back to America after 8 years in Norway. I’m so encouraged after reading this. Wishing you all the best in NYC!
Thank you Lena! It was an intense and emotionally complex process; best of luck with your move!