Andrew Couch is an American who has been travelling back and forth to Germany for half of his life. He moved on a leap of faith to Freiburg, Germany nearly three years ago. He believes the decision to become an expat was one of the best things he could ever do for himself. It is not easy living in Freiburg, he says, but it has changed him and improved him so much. He talks to us about the life he is building for himself there.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I grew up in North Carolina, US.
How did you end up in Freiburg?
I really wanted to see if I could live in Europe, so I up and left the US, quitting my job and selling my car. I applied all over Germany and Austria and found a job here. I really believe I am meant to be here. This is my third time coming to Europe where I ended up in this town, each seemingly randomly. I came here first on a summer trip in college. Then during my graduate degree I had the chance to come back and took it. Now I just happened to find a job that needed my exact skills; so I’ll stay and enjoy it.
Have you lived abroad before?
Only in fits and starts, a few weeks here, a month or two there on study abroad trips. Never anything so permanent as now, but I wasn’t completely new to being abroad.
So what’s so good about Freiberg?
What isn’t? We are a small city. So there are the benefits of living in a city: good public transport, a number of arenas for bands, a good farmer’s market and plenty of new people to meet. But in some ways it is like a small town. It is not unusual to be walking around the city center and run into someone I know. There are local festivals and it is small enough that I can ride my bike or walk everywhere. Freiburg is the gateway to the Black Forest. An hour train ride into the hills gets you into nature and alpine style lakes as well as skiing. It is a very green city, with plenty of trees even in the city center as well as a strong environmental movement. The air is clean and it rarely gets hot or overly cold. This is however in the end a University city. The town has a definite university feeling which I like. During the semester there are always tons of students around. They keep things fresh and a progressive young feeling to the area, as well as providing a nice steady economic drive for the town center.
And what don’t you like?
We are an hour away from any bigger town; so sometimes the smallness gets to me and it feels a bit isolated out here on the back end of Germany. Having a student population means that people are always coming and going. It gets hard saying goodbye to friends and waiting for the next group.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
I don’t feel like an outsider very often, although it does happen sometimes. With so many international students, it is not that unusual to meet foreigners here. I tend to be a real insider within the expat community and with my German friends. I have caught myself referring to this place as “my city”.
How do you support yourself?
I work as a software developer.
Any advice for wannabe Freiburgians?
Actually the local word for locals is Böbbele, but I don’t qualify because I wasn’t born here. I guess in English we would say Freiburger. Advice? Hmm… Come and see it. Most people just fall in love with the place. To stay for a while? The easiest way is to come as a student to one of the several universities or multiple language schools.
Is the move permanent?
Who can read the future? But I have no plans on leaving and have really tried to put roots down here. That said I still love travel and will always leave to see somewhere else. I just expect I will always come back here.
Finally, tell us about something typically Freiburg
As a feature the most unique thing of Freiburg is the Bächle. These are small deep gutters along most roads in the city center that run with a few inches of water all year round. I have heard them as a middle-ages fire hydrant system or as drainage. In the end as a local you get a sense of them and step over without thinking. A local legend says that if you stumble into one, you will marry a local.
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