Anja Nettler Living Abroad

A slight green-eyed young woman with a posh British accent sat down to be interviewed.  She appeared more English than German.  Blond haired ponytail and glasses, she was believable as a confident student journalist. Yet, vulnerability exists within Anja Nettler, because she’s so far from home.

 Born and raised in Lagenhagen, Germany, Anja decided to live abroad five years ago when her boyfriend Jörg was offered a job in London. 

As Jörg worked tirelessly to make ends meet in the expensive city, Anja went to Queen Mary University to achieve her Bachelors.  Eventually, she joined a Masters programme for International Journalism at the University of Westminster.

Living within a different cultural background hasn’t been easy for Anja.  It didn’t take long before she noticed some preconceived judgments of Germans in the UK.

“When I lived in Harrow, a 15-year old boy once asked me what I thought about Hitler?”  Anja found it appalling that the boy didn’t assume she would denounce Hitler the same way any other sane person would.

Anja is concerned for the way that Germans are looked at by the rest of the world.  There was no hesitation in setting the record straight about the Germany that she had always known.

“It is against the law in Germany to glorify the Nazi’s.  You are also forbidden to wear a Swastika,” she said in a way that asked, Isn’t this obvious?

Anja blames the constant references to World War II in the UK as a possible reason for anti-German sentiment and one is forced to think back a few weeks to the sea of poppies on lapels of commuters.

Not Abroad Forever

Originally, Anja had agreed to three years in London, but was forced to change tactics when her boyfriend received a pay raise and promotion.  She was miserable when she and Jörg first arrived.  Due to very little money, they were forced to live on fast food in a room with a pest control problem.

“They say that money doesn’t make you happy, but having no money makes you extremely unhappy.”

Yet, despite the challenges that Anja has faced in the UK, it hasn’t been complete gloom and doom for the International student.  She admits to the wonderful culture of art that London has to offer and even plans to visit England again once she returns home for good.

Now that her education is almost complete, Anja has a 3-year plan to return to her beloved Germany, where she will use her British education to propel herself in the field of journalism.

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AN AMERICAN LONE WOLF IN LONDON: QUIETUDE

If you are American, like me, and are planning to spend some time in London then there’s a lot you may want to know. Nothing can take away from the actual experience of living here. No one can teach you that. Yet, if you are a rookie in the UK or making arrangements to study here abroad or live here for a time – there are some interesting tidbits, pitfalls and surprises that will ultimately become part of the best stories of your life.

I’ve been living here for five years. Back when I began studying here, I only knew London by its landmarks, rituals and monarchs. No one who arrives in central London is going to be very surprised to see the changing of the guards or Big Ben. They might be intrigued or excited, but not surprised.

What might prove to be a revelation, however, is the quiet. Now I don’t mean to paint a picture straight from The Sound of Music, with some nymph-like woman twirling around on a hilltop. London is a major city with traffic, rush hours, homeless people, tourists and criminals – make no mistake about it. Yet, there are subtleties that sneak up on the unsuspecting newcomer. For example, during rush hour in the city, you will almost never hear a car honk its horn. If you are from Minnesota, that might not be a huge surprise. But I’m from New York, and it’s not possible to walk through that asphalt jungle at 9AM on a Monday without hearing a cacophony of car horns. Every car is speaking, and though each one sounds different they are basically saying the same thing. ‘Get out of my way!’ Yet in London, a car horn is a rarity. You may hear one ever so often – but even then – other drivers are looking at the trigger happy horn blower as if he has utterly lost his mind.

Another reality is that Englanders, as a rule, are very reserved people. That is not to say that there aren’t scuffles, arguments, scenes, tirades and even the occasional fight. Still, on average, voices are at a moderate pitch. If you are from a major city in America, this may take getting used to. In my first year in London, I was always asking people to repeat themselves. I was also very aware of the stares I received whenever I spoke in public – the loud New Yorker that I am. I’ve since learned to lower my voice, so much so that when I return home, my family and friends are asking me for the first two days, ‘Why are you talking so softly? What’s wrong with you? Are you sick?’

These aspects of quietude gives London an overwhelming calmness that presents itself when least expected. One of my favourite hangouts was Leicester Square, which for all intents and purposes reminds one of Times Square if it was scaled down by about 60%. But right in the centre of the large movie theatres, restaurants and tourist shops is a tiny little park with trees, benches and statues. And though there is touristy mayhem and a vendor jamboree going on right outside the park, stepping in it is like entering a vacuum of hushed tranquillity. It’s as if the noise cannot penetrate the invisible walls of the park.

There are ever more interesting aspects about the journey that is England to be revealed in future blogs; as they are, even now, being revealed to me. Stay tuned for more. And remember, you don’t have to be American to relate to these experiences, and you don’t have to live in England to understand that every place on earth has its own special nuances. And the world keeps going ‘round.