This is part of my unconventional interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)
Welcome to the next installment of unconventional interviews. Today, Candice Walsh, a badass Canadian travel writer who just spent a year in Berlin, is here to tell us about her year abroad.
First, tell us about you and your Berlin adventure.
I’m a freelance travel writer and blogger from Newfoundland, Canada. I’ve never had much of an opportunity to live abroad, although I’ve traveled pretty extensively for the past six years, and I thought Berlin might be a great base. I knew it to be affordable and fun, and I’ve always been really into Eastern European history. I’ve had an incredible year in Berlin…I could see myself living here for a few more years.
When did you first start traveling and what made you fall in love with it?
I grew up in such an isolated place, traveling wasn’t much of a possibility for me until I hit university. The first time I ever even left the island of Newfoundland was when I was 20, and I went straight across the Atlantic to London. I studied folklore and geography there for six weeks just outside the city, but it was actually fairly easy for me since I had other well-traveled classmates for guidance.
I’ve always been a traveler at heart. I read so many books as a child, I think my love for literature sparked my intrigue in other cultures and destinations.
How did you decide to live in Berlin for a year? And how did you get a visa to do it?
I had never been to Berlin before deciding to move here last year, but it seemed like an ideal location, a good base for seeing more of Europe, an easy integration. I have the youth mobility visa, which is an easy one to obtain for Canadians, and the process was fairly straightforward (although the German bureaucracy isn’t, haha).
What were some of the greatest joys of your year in Berlin?
There was a day when I realized I had actually made it, that I had successfully “assimilated” into Berlin and built a little life for myself here. I have a neighborhood cafe where the barista knows my order. I have my wine bar where the owner knows my name. And my favorite little English bookshop is just down the street. I’m immensely proud of the fact that I did this, if you know what I mean. My German still sucks, but I can navigate. There’s something so satisfying about staying in a place long enough that you make another life for yourself.
What were the biggest challenges?
It’s going to be hard to leave Berlin. But the biggest challenge was not seeing my family for a full year, nor most of my friends. My family doesn’t travel, and it was too expensive for me to go home. It’s crazy to me that I haven’t seen them since last July.
What was the craziest experience of your time there?
I’ve done a lot of historical tours that have left me unable to stop tears from streaming down my face. When you think about all that Berlin’s been through, it’s amazing to me how it has managed to rebuild itself. I feel like a proud parent.
But if you want the non-boring version, one time I left my house on a Friday evening and didn’t return until Sunday afternoon because Berlin’s nightlife scene is so ridiculous (many of the clubs have food stands and sleeping areas). That’s the only time it’s happened though because I’m too old for that shiz.
How did you afford to live in Berlin for a year?
I mostly picked up odd jobs here and there. My visa lets me actually work for German companies. It’s a very affordable city, but I am returning home to Canada in July, and lack of work and money were my biggest deciding factors.
How did you prepare for your time abroad? Any tips for people thinking about living abroad/in Berlin for a year?
A lot of it depends on your visa requirements, but no matter what visa you’re looking into, you’ll need meticulous paperwork. It’s kinda nuts. Make sure you have all your documents ready before meeting with immigration. You’ll have to register your address at the Burgeramt and then your visa at the Auslandebehorde, and, if you can, set up an appointment in advance online. Like, way in advance. Sometimes it’ll be two months before you can get an appointment.
When you’re looking for an apartment, it’s best to find a temporary place when you arrive and then start searching for a longer-term apartment after you’ve arrived. It’s easier to find a place once you’ve started making friends, in my opinion.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know, honestly! I lived in St. John’s Newfoundland for nearly 10 years before moving to Berlin, and now I’m basically homeless and adrift. It’s all exciting and slightly nauseating. I’ll head back to Canada for awhile in July to think about my next move, but I do feel this won’t be my last time in Berlin.
Any questions about living in Berlin? Toss them in the comments.