Editor’s note: In 1999, Claudia Topplep was a German exchange student at Auburn’s Edward Little High School who vowed to one day come back and live in Maine. Today, our four-part series concludes — in Claudia’s own words — about the effort by her and her husband, Rene, to relocate to America. For the three previous columns, go to www.sunjournal.com.

“Leaving everything behind is hard.”

That was what everyone told us in Germany when we told them we were emigrating to the U.S. Well, there were obstacles, but we kept in mind the beautiful things that made us want to come here, and the obstacles didn’t even seem to matter anymore.

It has been almost four months and we have gotten settled. My husband, René, and I have started working at jobs that we really, really like. We both made friends at work, who seem to make our sometimes very long work days a lot of fun. A big difference that we experienced from Germany is that the word “weekend” gets a totally new definition here in America. First of all, we now define Sunday as our new grocery shopping day, because we enjoy being able to go to the store whenever we want. In Germany, stores have strict rules and are only allowed to open four Sundays a year, usually before Christmastime. And even big department stores have to close at 8 or 10 p.m. during the week.

Additionally we mostly don’t even know what day of the week it is because both of us got jobs that are not like the typical German ones — working from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also different about our jobs is that in Germany there is a law that whatever job you start, you have to get at least 24 vacation days a year. This seems pretty nice, but there are also disadvantages to the work environment in Germany. In America, if you are a hard-working person, you can definitely make more money than in Germany. In our home country, the government subtracts about 1/3 of your income and it goes automatically to your taxes, health insurance, pension plans, unemployment savings and things like that. It is not of your choice; you just have to do it. So even though the social coverage might be better, if you are a person that knows how to handle money, your freedom of how to spend it is much bigger in America.

Another topic that we had to face a lot in the past months is how to build up our credit history. Even though teenagers get their credit cards here in America very easily, and even though we had great credit in Germany, we had to start at the bottom again. The bank told us they could not give us a credit card because we didn’t have a history. In order to build it up, they advised us to get a loan somewhere and start paying it off. But you do not get a loan without a history. Even stores have stricter rules now than they used to have. The only way for foreigners to start is to get a secured credit card, prove your reliability and one day get this one changed to a “real” one.

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The credit history made it also harder on us to get an apartment on our own. Even though people think we are friendly and might look trustworthy, if there is no history, they will get suspicious. That is why René and I are still looking for the right place to finally settle down on our own. The apartment market in Germany is pretty much the same as it is here in the U.S. Apartments in the city are mostly cheaper than the ones in the outskirts. But we still hope to be able to find something somewhere in the green. And until then, we just enjoy the time with our second family, whom we are really truthfully thankful for.

“Leaving everything behind is hard.” It’s true, and one way we experienced that is that all of a sudden the most ordinary things become so much more important if you don’t have them. No matter if it is just cell phones or your own TV or your family that always used to be there for you.

But we do not want to complain at all. We are still more than happy that we made the decision to move to Maine. On Memorial Day we had our first cookout with new friends. That meant a lot to us, not only because it was our first Memorial Day in the U.S., but also because we are not strangers anymore, we have made new friends and caught up with important old friendships. My best friend even gave a “Welcome to America party” for me and my husband. We can truly say we have arrived and we are so thankful.

We still have dreams that we want to achieve and fight for. We have just picked up our media business again that we had in Germany for three years. We designed www.ctr-media.com to one day be able to not only have our professional camera equipment in our rooms, but also to go out and live the passion of making videos and practice journalism.

Furthermore I will be happy to get the chance to pass on our beautiful native language by teaching German classes at Auburn Adult Ed in the fall. Once a week I will get together with interested adults, introducing them to our country and language.

Overall we can say that we have achieved a lot in the past four months. And when we sit at Lake Auburn and watch the sunset we realize that this is not just a vacation, it is home now and we can have this beautiful view every single day.


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