I spent almost my entire career as an expatriate chef in foreign countries. I worked in 11 countries on four continents, starting off in Germany, then going to Switzerland, the United States, New Zealand, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and lately to Jordan.
In Hanoi, Vietnam, 2010
In the beginning I never seriously thought of moving to any foreign country. In hindsight, my decision to leave Germany was the best I ever made. A normal expat contract is no longer than two years, so what are you going to do after your time is up? Look for the next job, or go home to Germany? I never liked going back to Germany, even it was only for a short period of time. Sure, I had my friends and my mother there, but I was never a guy who missed those people too much and was never homesick. I always wanted to go back out into the world. I was drawn to it. The world is my home.
I feel so comfortable among different people, different languages, and different food. My greatest asset really is my ability to adapt. I relate very well to many different cultures, but without my flexibility that would not have been possible. I’ve lived in the jungle of Borneo, and in world class cities like Zurich, Phoenix and San Diego.
I’ve stayed in fully furnished apartments on Hong Kong Island, lived in tiny rooms of less than ten square meters in Arosa, Switzerland and shared apartments in Auckland, New Zealand. This is what I call adventure. If I had to make the same decision again today, I know the answer already. I would go again!
The experiences I’ve gained, professionally and personally are invaluable and priceless. They’ve made me what I am today. They have broadened my horizon and I have been learning every day since I moved to Zurich on June 4, 1998. I really cannot imagine having stayed in Germany and working in a bank, like my mother wanted me to do. I did not listen to my mom, but listened to my heart, which very clearly and loudly said: “Marcel, go out, earn your own money, and become independent!”
Since June 4, 1998, when I took the night train from Berlin to Zurich, a twelve-hour long ride, I have never ever regretted one single second. Sure, I would do a few things differently today, but I would make the same decision again. I have seen so many countries, and travelling is my hobby anyway. Whenever I was employed at some place, I always used that location as a kind of a hub for further travel adventures. Travelling the whole world, working where other people spend their vacations, that sounds like a dream. It is!
Of course, it is also a job, it is work. It is the same work as it would be in Germany, just a thousand times better. Moving abroad is not everyone’s thing. Most people miss their family and friends. Well, that’s true and I missed my friends too, family not so much. At the beginning of my journey, when I moved to Switzerland, I missed my friends, so I visited Berlin quite often, every few weeks. Later I adapted to my new lifestyle and started to love it.
Soon I moved on to Arizona, California and even New Zealand. At that time, I was so used to being on the road and travelling, I honestly did not know what it meant to feel homesick. As a matter of fact, I felt sick when I had to go back to Germany and stay there for a while waiting for a new job opportunity. I couldn’t wait to escape the country again!
I want to clarify something here. I am grateful to my home country. Germany has enabled me to become what I am today. I spent my childhood there, and enjoyed my apprenticeship there. Thanks to the German dual-training system I was trained very professionally. German chefs are sought after because of their expertise and training and perhaps some other traits. That’s why I am grateful. Germany is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country, so it is good to be back for a short holiday. I know where I am coming from and I also know where I want to be. The world is my home, at least at present.
The great thing about being an expat is the exposure to foreign countries and cultures. You learn a lot and meet tons of interesting people from all facets of life. They influence you. You become a different person. You broaden your horizon. You expand your consciousness.
I always say that one year spent in a foreign country equals five years of staying home. You grow, you develop differently, and in my opinion also faster. Expats are made from different wood, that I can tell you. We are different. Not everybody can do this job and live this kind of lifestyle. We are a minority, this is not a mass movement, though it can seem that way when you see how many foreigners work in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Bahrain.
It depends on the region and part of the world where you are employed.
For example, I’ve lived at places like the Borneo jungle in Sabah, Malaysia. I literally lived in the middle of one of the oldest rainforests of the world, among monkeys, snakes, and giant cockroaches. This Borneo rainforest is about a 140 million years old and our resort hotel was located right there. I loved every single second of it and I always made sure that I enjoyed my time. It was so peaceful there. No noise from cars or city life. No pollution and always fresh air. I did not enjoy the cockroaches though.
Travelling as a tourist is not the same as living amongst the local people and embracing their culture. Diving deep into their soul is not what I was after, but that is what you experience, depending on how deep you want to dive. I learned so much about different countries and cultures by living and working with the local people, sharing good and bad times. You don’t learn this in university or by watching TV documentaries. This is how you get things done. You mingle with the locals if you want to learn the most about them.
I always found it fascinating. Of course, it’s not all roses, as I come from a Western European background. And there are still things I am not used to, especially in South East Asia. Still today it is hard for me to understand why certain things a certain way is. On the other hand, you learn how to take different perspectives on things, which can help you to open your mind, learn and grow.
Have a good one and Merry Christmas everyone!