This is Heike. She is from Germany. She makes her own patchwork handbags. “I love it. Some people have already told me: That looks amazing, you should sell them! (laughs)”
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When Heike’s husband Daniel was accepted as a PhD student at Georgia Tech, both of them were still enrolled as students in Germany. With only her thesis left to complete her degree, however, the couple decided to embrace the adventure and move to Atlanta, where Heike successfully finished and submitted her thesis and obtained her degree in Mathematics and Economics in July 2016.
If someone had asked Heike in the beginning whether or not she would want to stay in the United States, she would wholeheartedly have answered “never ever!”, but now, she admits that Atlanta has grown on her more than she would have expected. Still, Heike’s stay in her new home in the city of Atlanta has not exactly been a true love story. Listed on the negative side of Heike’s pros and cons list we find the lack of care for environmental issues like recycling and curbing waste production and the feeling that truly connecting with the people around her isn’t as easy as in Germany. More importantly, Heike really misses her family and friends back home. Even though they keep in touch regularly, she realizes that she still misses a lot living so far away. “Once you have a deep connection to your friends and family and you are so close to them; even if you don’t see each other for 5 years, it is like nothing happened in between. Even if things have changed, you are still the same person inside.”
Fortunately, Heike’s stay in Atlanta has also had its upsides. Number one on the plus side of Heike’s list is the famous Atlanta weather and she jokes that she often boasts about it to her friends in Germany. “Especially in the beginning, when I knew it was only 20 °C and raining in Germany, I would tell them: you know, it is 35 °C here and I’m going to the pool now! (laughs) In those moments I really like being here.” One of the biggest positive influences on her experience of moving abroad has been the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group, where she has found good friends that she can not only have fun with, but also complain to when needed. “This is a German thing, complaining. We are very good at that… and I like it, it really helps! (laughs)” She feels that, because they are all in the same boat, it is easier to relate to each other and become friends, even if everyone is from different countries, backgrounds and points of view.
According to Heike, there are a shit ton of differences between her home country and the United States. While she has embraced some of the American traditions, like enjoying a tasty turducken at Thanksgiving, some of her German habits are too good to give up. She jokes that, like any true German, they still drink a lot of beer. Also, in Atlanta, Heike still makes her own fresh German-style bread and the awesome traditional German gingerbread called Lebkuchen, with special gingerbread spices she brought from Germany and prepared according to her mother’s recipe. But, as it turns out, even cooking can be a challenge in a different country. “Everything is different. When you try to make your favorite recipe and you go out to buy the ingredients, often you can’t find the stuff you want. Or you find it and it is super expensive… That is challenging.”
All things considered, through travel, work and new friendships, Heike has learned to love her new home in the United States. She tells us that it is not about the place or the city…it’s about the people. “If I could make a city and put all my people in it, that would be my favorite city, no matter where that is!”
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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg
Make up by Denise Batista
Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja