15 months and counting in Hamburg: why I decided to stay

Arriving in Hamburg in October 2015, I fully expected to be back in my beloved Leiden by the end of April the next year. After all, with the exception of Kuwait there had never been a place I liked well enough to stay long-term – not even Istanbul.  On that very first day in October 2015, I drove to my new work place, where I would start my career in Germany the next day. I could not help asking myself the ‘is this really it?’ question. I was disappointed with what I saw: Hamburg was grey, ugly, and above all  boring. No exciting architecture, that was all swept away by British bombs during the last period of conflict. The ruined St. Nicholas church seemed to symbolize it all, Hamburg as a city where all history was lost forever. And yet I stayed.

Having slowly reached the point where the length of my stay is no longer counted in months, but in years, it is time to evaluate the past and think about the future too. I have already stayed in Hamburg for much longer than I had originally intended, and for someone whose friends costumarily start conversations with ‘where are you?’ instead of ‘how are you?’, it is only natural that I start thinking  ‘und was jetzt?’.

When still at university, this would be the moment that I started planning my return to Leiden. But I find there is little for me in Leiden anymore these days. Having graduated, I am no longer part of the university community, I am too old to rejoin the National Youth Council, and the age gap with those that still study is increasing every day. Friends from my own university days are moving out, to other cities in the Netherlands, their home countries, to new countries. With many others I lost touch, as out of sight is often out of mind. Only a few friendships have remained, sadly. And whereas you often hear about how great it is to live abroad for a while, it also requires sacrifices. Some people I cared about the most have virtually left my life. And I wonder, was it really worth it?

Over a year ago, I moved to Hamburg to increase my work experience. I saw many of my fellow students struggle finding jobs, and I decided that would not be me. I was flexible with regard to my work location, and among the few dozens of applications I sent to companies in the Netherlands and in the Gulf there were two applications for jobs in Germany. To my eternal surprise, I was offered a job in Hamburg. And I accepted, as it sounded interesting enough. I had not seriously imagined myself moving to Germany up to that point, but I guess previous stays abroad in the UK, Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait have made me somewhat more flexible than comes natural to me.

Half-way through my previous contract, I saw a job advertisement from my current employer and decided since I matched all the criteria, I might as well give it a shot. And so I, never having worked with statistics anymore after high school, landed a job at one of the largest (if not the largest) online Statistics portals. Making Statistics, yes – not cleaning the toilets. And although it is very far from the fields I have my degrees in, I find it surprisingly interesting. I feel like I am seeing the world through a different lens today: asking not just for developments in time as any trained historian does, but also for numbers to prove those developments. It is no longer enough to be told a certain number, I also want to know the details: in what unit are the numbers measured, and are the numbers complete, or is anything left out while calculating? Academic studies are supposed to train your critical view on the world, and to a certain extend they do indeed. But work has added just as much, if not more to that. I am becoming a better researcher day by day.

The truth is that the job that I have now, I would never have been offered at home. At home, there would have been 500 applications at least, with 400 of the applicants being better qualified for the job than me. Based on my CV, I would have received a polite rejection email stating I did not have the right background for the job. They would not even have looked at my application letter – although in all fairness I doubt I would have been able to convince anybody that statistics were my one and only true passion this time last year. I remember even talking about historical egodocuments as my favourite type of sources when asked in the job interview! It’s a miracle they took me on at all, really 😀

I was lucky that so very, very few Dutch-speaking people were interested in moving to Hamburg. And yes, I can totally see why that might be. Had the office been in Berlin, I am sure the competition would have been tripled. But I was already here, and I decided to stay. Of all the cities I have lived in, Hamburg is probably the one that I liked the least. In most previous cases, I picked my location based on my interests: only Kuwait i did not know anything about before moving. I had no special love for Hamburg, Germany or Germans before coming here, but in all honesty, life is good here. I’ve learnt to appreciate the bratwurst and I like breaking my tongue over German words regularly. I have met quite a few lovely people and never feel lonely or bored. But still I wonder, has it been worth it? Some days I feel the sacrifices outweigh the gains, and I wish I was back in Leiden again.  On other days, I feel grateful for having been offered this great opportunity to be here. There is something addictive about being on the move. Once you have had your first taste of it, you cannot imagine doing anything else anymore.     


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3 thoughts on “15 months and counting in Hamburg: why I decided to stay

  1. Pingback: Why I prefer working abroad over travelling the world | The Life And Times Of A Dutchie Abroad

  2. You raise some really interesting points, and I have seen the same effect happen on my friendships with people back home. Weekly meetups become monthly, become yearly and suddenly you realise your friendship has become a virtual one, based on likes and comments. Still, I can’t imagine doing anything else, despite the sacrifices


  3. I understand how you feel and I think the same feelings will happen to me soon enough. It was cathartic in a way to read about your experience. I’ve been basically away from my hometown for 9 months and I already feel the sacrifices… It seems you have a good thing going on in Hamburg though, I hope you’ll feel it’s definitely worth it!


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