For the first installment of our series presenting other Leipzig-based Web writers and publishers, I interviewed Dave Murphy from the Lost in Leipzig blog, and through him found out both about the Podstel guys and the person being featured today. It’s nice to have this sort of collaboration, and also to see other people reaching out to an international audience and adding to a pool of diverse voices narrating life in and visits to our great little city. Today is Becky Markovitz‘s turn to be featured in our Q&A; we are happy that, through her blog Live. Laugh. Leipzig: An American Expat Experience in Germany, she gets to share with readers everywhere her personal journey and discoveries in Leipzig. Here, the recently wed PhD candidate gives us a little taste of her blog and what it’s been like for her to move abroad for the first time, and start delving into the local cultural life and differences to what she knew back in the U.S. – oh, and the job market.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to Leipzig?
A: My name is Becky Markovitz, I am 27 years old, and I am a (remote) Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate from the United States. I recently married the love of my life, Craig. Just a few months before our wedding, Craig received an impressive job offer from an American company that would place him in Leipzig. As we both love to travel, learn, and experience new things, we agreed that we couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity, and soon we were packing our bags for a 3 year adventure in Germany!
Q: What inspired or compelled you to start your blog, and when did you start it?
A: When we started telling friends and family that Craig had accepted a position in Germany, everyone we talked to was excited and curious about the adventures we had ahead of us. As we told more and more people, I started to grow tired of answering the same questions over and over – “We’ll be gone for 3 years. I took a year of German in college but don’t remember much. No, I don’t know what I’ll be doing yet. Yes, we thought about going on House Hunters International. We don’t really care that if we had a child in Germany he or she could have dual citizenship; that’s not really a reason to start a family.” It was then that I realized that an easy way to avoid constantly repeating ourselves was to start a blog to answer those common questions and document our time abroad. I started blogging just 6 months ago when we were searching for an apartment in Leipzig. Initially I just thought of the blog as a way to keep our families updated on our lives as expats, but then I was surprised to find that other people, including complete strangers, were interested in what I had to say. I’ve always enjoyed writing as a personal creative outlet, but after I initially received such positive feedback from the blogging community, I decided to take my hobby more seriously.
Q: What would you say is the main purpose of your blog – personally for you and in terms of content for an audience?
A: I find what’s fascinating about travel is that people from different parts of the world have completely different ways of thinking, acting, and living. Sometimes we may think that our experiences are universal, and then when we travel to another land and see something entirely different, our minds are suddenly awoken. A big part of what I write about in my blog is these little cultural nuances that I encounter on my journey. The other element of being in a foreign land is dealing with the fact that you are a foreigner! No matter how much you study up on the place you are now living, you are innately ignorant of so many things – be it culture, customs, common idioms, etc. For a lot of people (me especially) this is a really uncomfortable feeling, so in order to deal with the vulnerability and humiliation that comes with repeatedly feeling like an idiot, I laugh at myself, and then I share my stories so that others can laugh, too. At the end of the day, I’m really just writing about what I love – travel, culture, ridiculous stories, and, of course, Leipzig!
Q: What are some of the highlights of your blog currently, and favorite things to write about?
A: So far my favorite section of the blog has definitely been what I call “Craig’s Quandaries.” This is where I somewhat unabashedly poke fun at my husband’s cultural mistakes living as a foreigner in Leipzig. He’s an incredibly good sport about it and even edits my posts to make sure the stories are accurate. Full disclosure: I do intend to dedicate a section of the blog highlighting MY funny cultural mistakes, but I’ve only lived in Leipzig for a month (he’s been here for 4), and I seriously don’t get out enough. Other than that, my favorite entries have been Apartment hunting (Parts 1 and 2) – written in the style of the popular HGTV show House Hunters International; 10 things I learned on my short trip to Germany – a list of 10 nuances I discovered about myself and German culture while visiting Leipzig; and How moving abroad is exactly like preparing for the apocalypse! – a metaphor (simile, technically) for the anticipation felt before moving to another country.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: My blog has garnered attention from many different people (so far, mostly other bloggers) who are interested in Leipzig, German culture, travel, and living abroad. My target audience is other expats or like-minded people who are also interested in culture and the observations of a goofy 20-something. As an American expat, I can only really write from an American perspective, so a lot of my musings are written with an American bias (hence my tagline, “An American Expat Experience in Germany”) and probably appeal mostly to a North American audience. That being said, a few of my readers are actually native Germans who I think enjoy reading about how the other half adjusts to life in their country and correcting me on my cultural ignorance (which I am incredibly thankful for). However, I know my time living as an expat is finite, so in the long-term I’m also looking to expand my niche into travel and food.
Q: Do you currently have a job or are searching for one in Leipzig? If so, what has the experience been like?
A: I am currently a PhD candidate who is on the brink of defending her thesis. In preparation for my life after academia, I have started to search for a job. However, so far my search has been daunting. I’m looking for a position in the medical device or pharmaceutical industries, but my specific field doesn’t have a particularly large presence in Leipzig, so my options here are limited. Also, being a native English speaker with limited mastery of the German language doesn’t help my cause either. While I am working with a tutor to strengthen my language skills and I am flexible about the positions I apply for (I would also love to teach math, science, or English!), there’s still a real possibility I won’t find anything. Eventually I hope to land a job in Leipzig, but it will probably take a lot of time, effort, and networking.
Q: Is this your first time living abroad? If so, what are some of the main challenges and surprises (positive and negative) you’ve encountered?
A: Yes, this is my first time living abroad. Before my move to Leipzig the longest I’d been out of my home country was 2 weeks. It’s quite a different experience living somewhere versus traveling. When I travel, I don’t worry so much about making a fool of myself, because I typically won’t return, but while living abroad I’ve found I’m very self-conscious about saying or doing the wrong thing, because I might encounter those people again. Another big difference is having to establish your roots. When you travel you can take in the sights, people, and cultural oddities and then be on your way, but in living in a new country you need to find a grocery store, a doctor, a hair salon, a dry cleaner, a new favorite bar…and, very importantly, a new social life! Back home I would just ask my social circle for recommendations, but that’s hard to do when you haven’t established a circle of friends yet (and even harder to accomplish if you can’t speak their language!).
Q: What would you say are the main differences between life in Leipzig and your homeland?
A: Off the top of my head, here are just a few differences I’ve noticed:
- The prevalence of pork – Germans eat pork like Americans eat beef!
- Food prices – everything seems so inexpensive here compared to the US.
- Nudity – I’ve never seen so many naked people on the beach before. The attitude of body acceptance is refreshing.
- Age and history – Leipzig is celebrating 1000 years this year! The US just can’t compete with that.
- Transportation – Just about everything here is accessible by bus, bike, or foot. In many parts of the US it’s impossible to get basic necessities without access to a car.
- Smoking – This is probably the only difference that really bothers me as an American in Germany. Smoking has more or less been phased out of, or at least marginalized by, American society. For at least the last 5 years, the areas I had been living banned smoking from all restaurants and many other public places. It’s weird to me to return to a state of involuntary second-hand smoke inhalation after breathing clean air for so long.
Q: What are some of your favorite things to do and places to hang out at in Leipzig?
A: I haven’t been in Leipzig long enough to really establish my favorite hang-out locales yet; I’ve only just started sampling what this city has to offer. So far I’m really enjoying the green spaces in the city and its many bike paths – the warm weather has been great for a bike ride down to the Cospudener See! One of my other favorite things to do is just walk around the city center and see what is going on. Every week I’m surprised by something new happening in this vibrant city; in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen Bachfest, a pride parade, an orchestra concert, a car show, and a volleyball tournament! Leipzigers certainly like to keep things interesting. In addition to simply wandering around town, I also like trying the local (and not so local) cuisine. For German food, I’ve had great experiences at Zills Tunel and Spizz – these will be my go-to places when friends and family come to visit and want the full German experience. As for other foods, I’ve been rather surprised by the variety and quality of foreign fare. Living in Leipzig I expected that my cravings for Mexican food would be basically insatiable, but I was pleased by the food at Enchilada, and even more satisfied by the authentic flavors at Diego. In addition to Mexican, I’ve also tried Greek, Italian, Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and even American foods!
Q: How friendly would you say Leipzig is for foreigners at the moment?
A: I can’t speak for all foreigners, but in my experience Leipzigers have been pleasant and patient with me as an Auslӓnder. That being said, at the time of our initial move, my husband and I had some serious hesitations after hearing about the recent Legida demonstrations and the corresponding overtones of hostility towards foreigners and certain religious groups. Though many locals participated in the xenophobic rallies, we didn’t want our view of the city, or of the country, to be tarnished by the outspoken, bigoted minority. We decided to come in spite of the tensions, and we are very glad we did. Leipzig is a beautiful city filled with kind, open-minded people, who seem to have since extinguished the efforts of the callous few. At the moment, I think Leipzig is a great place for anyone looking for a new home.