Zoe’s Story

Hi there, as the founder of WanderingBrits I want to share with you the story of how we arrived here.

The first pivotal moment was at 16 years old when a crisis emerged. I was inspired by both the brilliance of my Business teacher Mrs.Llywellyn and the sheer determination and enthusiasm of my Germany teacher Frau Watts. These were two of those very special people that you will meet only a handful of times throughout your life. Unfortunately when it came to deciding subjects to study at A level, both German and Business studies classes were conducted at the same time. After a very stressful 24 hours and a lot of negotiation, I was able to take both classes at once by alternating between missing one class and attending the other.

I was hugely grateful for this opportunity for about 2 weeks. It was then when I realised if I did not attend either class, I could go out for breakfast with friends and my misconduct would be unrecorded (I was 16 – sorry Frau Watts!). I also took advantage by plotting with the only 2 other pupils in my German class, by mutually agreeing to all not attend certain classes from time to time. Fortunately I did attend the majority of classes and finished my A levels with an A in Business, an A in Politics(don’t ask) and a rather underwhelming C in German. Never the less, this was enough to get me my ticket to university. Hello International Business with German and integrated placement year abroad.

In July 2015 at the age of 20 I hopped on a plane for my placement year as an investment banking intern in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was glorious. The weather was 30 degrees and the sun shone for 8 straight weeks of festivals and roof top bars .I tried to make friends with every English speaking person I met.  I Moved into a pretty little apartment in the attic of an Anglo-German couple’s house who were more like family and had so many suggestions of things to do and places to go.  I even dated a German pilot briefly but it turns out pilots are away a lot of the time and it was never really destined to work out.

Financially I felt like a millionaire. I had a nice starting salary from the bank, I was able to receive my student loan, I had a grant from the European Erasmus programme and I was even somehow able to convert a tuition fee bursary into a cash pay out. As the responsible young adult I was, I bought as many plane and train tickets as I could get my hands on. Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, Barcelona, Hamburg, Bonn, Cologne, Berlin and a few obligatory trips home to see the parents. I spent more money than I had ever seen before and to this day I think every penny was worth it. From all the people I met and all the strange hostels, boats, hotels and friend’ houses I stayed at, every experience that I had taught me something that I could never learn in a classroom.

However, around 3 months into living abroad the holiday ended. By now I expected that I would be completely fluent in German and life would be a breeze, but this wasn’t the case. I suddenly felt frustrated with myself that I wasn’t adapting very well. I was a bit lonely and rather miserable. I started to miss my family (whom I obviously hated during most of my teenage years). Actually living in Germany was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. All these German people kept shouting at me for breaking rules that I had no way of being able to understand. All the milk tasted funny. The tea was so weak that I was using about 3 tea bags per cup, and why on earth can’t I find a sodding bar of Cadbury daiymilk!? Above all I felt like I didn’t belong. Everything was difficult from catching a train to asking for bread at the Supermarket. By the time Christmas came I didn’t want to return to Germany.

Fortunately I did return and those difficult weeks turned out to be some of the most important in my life. They brought me a big step closer to WanderingBrtis. I stayed in Germany until the end of summer and I had a brilliant time. My German did eventually become fluent (but nowhere near eloquent), I learnt how to get through all those difficulties and fell in love with the simple and direct nature of German culture. “Entschuldingung!!”

Upon leaving Germany I was so upset I wished the plane would turn around and take me back. I had made so many friends and I had changed completely as a person. I was also very surprised at the reverse culture shock I suffered upon returning. Here I was with this amazing life-changing story to tell and nobody cared. Even my mother got sick of hearing about it after 5 minutes.

Luckily in my final year of University I found a Group of people who loved my stories- my university’s German society. This was a Group of people who met every week at the pub to speak no German at all. It was perfect. Many of the students that we persuaded to join us were from Germany and very keen to practice their English over a few Jager Bombs and we were more than happy to help them. These friends were like family and we connected over a shared understanding of culture and empathy.

When the opportunity came to return to Germany on a graduate programme, I couldn’t wait. I moved to Dusseldorf this time and it was so much easier. I knew how to find friends and how to use public transport and I wished somebody had told me all of this the first time I moved abroad. 4 months into living in Dusseldorf my company moved me to Bad Oeynhausen (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either). It is roughly an hour and a half from Hannover and is exactly in the middle of nowhere. I walked past cornfields for 40 minutes every day to get to the office that overlooked a field of horses. This was the real challenge as there was no expat community to slot myself into. I learned to appreciate the countryside, discovered some local spa baths (where everyone was naked) and generally had a very peaceful time.

Now I am back in the UK again I truly appreciate how easy it is to purchase a bar of Cadbury’s Dairymilk. I have completed all of my studies to become fully qualified and I am terrified at the thought of having to fill too much free time after all the studying ends. I also really miss my community of expat buddies who were so open minded and well-travelled, interesting people. That’s why I decided to start up the ultimate side hustle to create a virtual community of WanderingBrits and hopefully I am in the fortunate position where I can now send them some Dairymilks to wherever they happen to be wandering in their journeys too.

Zoe

WanderingBrits founder. Several-times Expat. General culture and travel enthusiast. Loves tea and makes the best Welsh cakes.

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Chrissie - a few months ago Reply

Hi Zoe,
Loved your essay! We really missed you when you left. I know the polite did too😜💁‍♀️.
All the best for the future.
From your top floor Ersatz family ❤️❤️
Chrissie & Petros

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