friendship across borders

I had an „Iron Curtain Moment” at the post office this morning.

I think one of the best ways to stay human in the face of a crisis is to give each other an unexpected joy, so I really wanted to send this thing to Italy, to my friend from University whom I had met again at a trade fair a couple of years ago. She had looked beyond the obvious and had “seen” me in a moment when I was feeling terribly down, so I decided that it was time to let her know how special she is.

Even before Corona, it had become unnecessarily cumbersome to send anything outside of Germany (Anything that is not “documents”, i.e. loose sheets, is considered “goods” and must be sent with a parcel, not an envelope).

My envelope this morning was small and flat.

“What is it?”
“Pictures”, I said.
“Pictures are goods, not documents!”, said the lady, adding that “all envelopes will be inspected and sent back in case they contain goods”.

And she made me send the content of said envelope (14×21 cm) in a parcel!

What’s the point of all this? Wasn’t it a blessing to let goods, information and people circulate freely?

Luckily, we will overcome this. Friendship is stronger, and we will stay human even with barriers, borders, and obstacles.


When we think about moving abroad, usually “language barriers” and “culture shock” first come to mind. Here are some less obvious aspects worth taking into consideration and how to tackle them.

A friend of mine asked on social media this morning how long it takes to get to know a new country.

In my opinion, it depends on your goals: if you aspire to have the lifestyle of a digital nomad or if you change countries every few years and live in an „expat bubble” with a global job, I believe you can adjust quite quickly to any new environment.

On the other hand, if your goal is to resettle more permanently abroad and integrate into a new country and society, the adjustment will take longer and will involve challenges as diverse as:

  • mastering the language to a level that you can work with the locals in their language
  • understanding the tax system and how it affects international pension plans
  • having a taste of how foreign individuals are seen in the country you have settled in

and many more.

Questions to guide you

I have now spent (voluntarily!) almost half of my adult life in a country different than my native one. As in all relationships, the relationship with my chosen home has gone through various stages: after the initial “honeymoon”, where everything seemed better, easier and more efficient than in the country where I grew up, now I have a more “mature” relationship with the place I’ve been calling home for twenty years: I appreciate its qualities and I am aware of its imperfections.

My chosen home and I have also gone through various conflicts that have weighed on our relationship and that I have managed to resolve by asking myself questions about issues that went far beyond the decisions of everyday life.

Here are some ideas for reflection on less discussed and yet very pressing topics:

How important is status to you?

Status – as long as we have it, we take it for granted. As soon as we lose it, we realize how the perception others have of us might differ from our self-image.

Maybe when you moved, you didn’t consider what reputation your country of origin enjoys in your chosen country and now you find yourself wondering why you have to dismantle stereotypes that you didn’t even know existed!

Establishing a solid reputation can be challenging when you start from scratch, especially as an “outsider”.

You might consider losing temporarily some of the privileges you were used to and equipping yourself not only with the self-confidence to overcome rejection and prejudice but also with the will to consistently consolidate your strengths and add to your skills.

How strong is your appetite for risk?

I assume that people don’t overthink the long-term consequences of their actions in their twenties – I most certainly didn’t!

Yet, when I found myself facing some major life choices, I realized that living abroad had tax implications I could not foresee when I was younger. During the past twenty years of globalization, it has become increasingly normal for people to develop a transnational biography, however, national fiscal regulations have not developed at the same speed and are not designed to accommodate the needs of international individuals. Penalizing tax regulations might affect you and you need to educate yourself and gain specific knowledge to make informed choices and avoid disasters.

What are your fundamental values?

Values are like a compass for decision-making. I found, time and again, that having a clear set of values and acting accordingly is the best help for navigating difficult times.

It is interesting, for example, to see the multiple implications that the importance given to family relationships may have.

When I decided to embark on my new life abroad, I didn’t think much about the logistics of how I would care for my aging parents – as most young people do, I thought they’d stay young forever! Years later, when faced with reality, I discovered the importance of cultivating strong family bonds and rejected an opportunity in a country further away just to be able to live at direct fly distance to my previous home.

Family is just an example of how values will shape our choices and I find it to be particularly interesting when moving abroad because of the unimagined consequences it may have.

Exploring all of this means getting to know a country way below the surface and getting to know yourself at a deeper level. I find it a very rewarding experience and one which stretches my resilience muscles, even after so many years.

What are you discovering in your journey?