My First Three Months in Hamburg

About 10 months ago, I made a decision to move to another country to experience life there. For most Indians who choose to make such a move, the US is mostly their first choice. While, a lot of people did tell me that it would be in the best interest of my career to move to the US, I chose otherwise.

I had the opportunity to visit Berlin for a tech conference and got to spend a week in Europe as part of the trip. I really found a liking to Berlin. So, when it came to deciding on choosing a place to move to, Berlin was on the top of my list. Cutting a long story short, while searching for jobs, I expanded my search to include Hamburg and got through the interview process at Yelp, where I currently work as a Software Engineer. In many ways, I am glad that Hamburg is where I eventually moved to, and not Berlin, I am getting to really like this city!

I formally got an offer from Yelp sometime in June, after going through the interview process, which I must say was one of the most pleasant experiences, I’ll probably write about my entire interviewing experience in a separate blog post. Given that the paper work and visa application would take some time, it was decided that I was to start in October, 2017.

I chose to move to Hamburg 15 days before my formal start date, so that I can search for a place to live, explore the city and get myself comfortable, so that I can start my life here.

Hamburg is a vibrant city, full of life. It has the hustle and bustle of city life, and also has places that are rather quiet and calm. It’s an amazingly well designed city, with an astonishing public transport system consisting of 2 different metro lines, the S-Bahn which dates all the way back to the 1900’s and the relatively newer U-Bahn, along with an excellent bus network and also a ferry system. This was one of the largest selling points for me. I could get from point A to point B in a defined time, unlike the unpredictable traffic that I was used to in Bangalore.

St. Elisabeth

Another important thing for me was to find a nice church to go to. I’m a Christian and having a good community with whom I can have a fellowship was a big priority. Thankfully, Hamburg has an English speaking Catholic Church — St. Elisabeth. They have a nice diverse community spanning people from multiple nations. The church also has a wonderful Youth group, which was started only a few weeks after my arrival in Hamburg, so much so that I feel it was perfectly timed to suit me :)

Yelp is an amazing place to work at and I have wonderful colleagues who supported me right from day one. The good thing about the Hamburg office is that you get to work in a large tech company but it still gives you a feel of a closely knit small org because of the size of the office here. I’ll go into more details about my first few months at Yelp in a separate blog post.

I’m breaking down this post into three sections

  • Finding a Home
  • Finding Friends
  • Living Here

Finding a Home

I had read a lot about the Housing situation in Berlin and Hamburg and a lot of my friends had advised me about how difficult it’s going to be for me to find a place. This was one of the reasons I chose to come here a few days in advance so that I could spend that time looking for a good apartment. My initial thought was to find an unfurnished apartment and then furnish it. But alas, that thought was shot dead the moment I went for my first apartment viewing. The way you search for an apartment here in Germany is by appointment. Landowners usually contract out the maintenance and handling of tenants. So these real-estate agencies schedule viewings for which you need to apply to. And trust me, it really is very much like a job application. You need to show them that you have a sound financial backing, etc. before they grant you a viewing (read interview). After seeing the number of applicants, I was losing hope. I was already making plans to extend my Airbnb stay or find another one.

Time and again, God has shown me that all I need to do is trust him, and things will follow. The next place I saw was a nice small semi-furnished studio located in Altona-Nord with an extremely short commute to work. I instantly liked the place and decided to take it. I might later look back at this moment and think that it was a rookie mistake to do this, but finding a place that you can call home in an unknown land where you don’t understand what people around you are speaking is such a big relief.

I was able to move into my place before I started my first day at Yelp, which was what I was rooting for.

Finding Friends

I’m not a very outgoing person, most of my friends who know me would call me boring. Unless I’m dragged out somewhere, I rarely go out. I was warned early on, that making a move to another country all by myself, is not the wisest of things to do. I still chose to do this as I knew this was what God was leading me to do, and I knew I’ll have the strength for it.

I am blessed to have a lovely team at Yelp, they’re all very helpful and nice to talk to. They made me feel comfortable and made sure that I felt welcome.

I am even more blessed that I found a nice church community. My weekends revolved around me going to IKEA, Bauhaus, trying to see Hamburg before the winter settled in and looking forward to going to church on Sundays and attending the Youth meetings. I am very thankful to God that I have my church community, they are a real support for me, and they have no idea how much they mean to me.

Living Here

One of the most important things I learned here was about being punctual. In India, meetings would almost always start late. The first 5 mins of any standup are spent waiting for everyone to assemble. People here respect each other’s time. Not once have I found any meeting start late. Standups start at the dot and are crisp.

It’s not that easy to live in a place where you don’t understand whether your buying rice flour or wheat. I was running around with Google Translate in my hand carefully trying to make sure that I was buying the right product. I also never understood what the cashier used to say, and most of the time got to know the price of something only after I counted my change. Whenever I went out to eat with my colleagues, I would just tell the waiter to get me whatever the person beside me was ordering. It felt much simpler that way. I must really thank my colleagues for making sure that I was comfortable and taking the effort to see that I actually would like the food I ordered.

I speak English, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and some Malayalam. Out of these languages, I studied only English, Kannada and Hindi. Tamil, is my mother tongue, but I learned to read Tamil by watching movies, and Malayalam I can speak, solely because of my friends. Thanks to this ability, I’ve also started picking up Deutsche. Whenever I heard Ausstieg right or Ausstieg links, I watched my fellow passengers, to understand that it meant to get out on the right and get out on the left. This is how I slowly began to understand the language. While I certainly cannot speak a straight sentence or make sense of what people are speaking, I can now confidently order stuff at a cafe or buy things at the supermarket.

Moving to a different country which is culturally different from your own, is not the easiest thing to do. It might not even be the sanest thing to do. But I find a lot of excitement in finding my way through this new life. It’s still very much my start here, while I might be going at it slowly, I know there’s a very good reason God put it in my heart to come here. I am slowly learning and unlearning a lot of things in life.

Tchüss, bis bald!