Posted by: Ken Brown | January 21, 2011


This picture of the view from my office aptly symbolizes my first four months in Germany. Through the twisted branches you can just make out the three poles around which my life has unevenly turned: church, state and academy. On the right is the bell tower of one of the city’s old cathedrals. It is currently under renovation, much like my religious life. On the left is the main University library. So near and enticing, yet I’ve hardly found time to visit. And in the middle, frowning at the back of my whole landscape, stands the grey tower of the town hall.

You know those comedies where everything imaginable goes wrong until the last possible moment, when suddenly everything falls together at once, as if by magic? I hate those kinds of movies. They feel so unrealistic, and the constant misunderstanding and misfortune grates on my nerves. Apparently, God doesn’t share my taste in comedy, as that rather perfectly describes my life for the past four months. Since we arrived it felt like nothing could go right. I visited the immigration office more times than I can count. The first half-dozen visits I went in fully expecting to walk out with our permits, and each time I was given some new hoop to jump through instead. After the two dozenth time, I went in fully expecting to be turned away again. There was always something, and time was running short.

Along the way, they forced us to completely rearrange my financial relationship to the university, which in turn required us to replace our current insurance coverage (which had taken us forever to secure in the first place), and continually delayed our search for an apartment. Not that we were having much success on that front either. We could only stay in our current place until the end of January, but every time we found a reasonable offer, it would either be gone by the time we could get a hold of the landlord, or would come with a hefty agent fee, or would be impossible to secure a viewing, or would be 20 kilometers outside the city, and so on and so forth. Just a week and a half ago, after three and a half months of struggle, we still had no long-term residency permit and had yet to succeed in seeing a single apartment, much less signing a contract. We couldn’t help but wonder if either was ever going to happen, or whether we had made a huge mistake in moving here in the first place.

Then suddenly, with no time left to spare, everything fell together this week. Last Thursday we finally managed to visit an apartment–and actually liked it!–Tuesday we finally received our residency permits, and just yesterday we signed the papers for the apartment and finished the documentation for our new insurance coverage. In the space of a week, the three biggest worries that have been hanging over our heads were wiped away. We should get the keys to our new place in the next few days, and move in next weekend, and then maybe things will finally settle down around here.

And as nerve-wracking as the wait has been, it actually worked out better in the end than if we had been granted our permits at once. First, we will have more money per month due to the reworking of my funding. Moreover, if we had managed to convince them to give us the permits at the beginning, they almost certainly would have only been for one year, forcing us to go through this whole process again in 12 months. With the higher monthly income, though, (and proof that we actually managed to live, and save, even with the old lower income), they granted a permit through 2013. I’m not sure if they were finally convinced that we will be able to support ourselves, or if after four months they are just tired of dealing with us, but that was a welcome surprise.

More than that, the extended wait for the permits was also indirectly good for our family. My wife in particular struggled the first couple of months wondering if she really wanted to stay here at all. The uncertainty was especially hard on her, and at times she probably would have been happy if we had not been approved at all (though she felt bad for feeling that way). After four months, however, those initial feelings of homesickness and displacement have settled out and she had finally reached the point where the news that we could stay was exciting and relieving rather than merely bittersweet.

For my part, I never wanted to leave (though I did entertain a few doubts about our decision to come in the first place!), but the long delay was good for me in other ways. I’ve always been a procrastinator and have never been particularly assertive, so marching in and out of immigration, insurance and rental offices on nearly a daily basis was a major challenge to me. Add to that my longstanding hatred of calling strangers on the phone, and the last four months have been among the most stressful in my life. I think my hair has been turning grey faster than most American Presidents, and I’m only 28. In the end, though, I had no choice to press on, and found that I can be a lot more assertive and persistent than I’m used to, which can only benefit me in the future. At the least, no English phone call should ever be intimidating again.

In the end, though, we’re just excited to finally be able to move forward with our lives.


  1. Hey Ken,

    We used to be twitter pals, although I’m not much on twitter anymore. I just wanted to let you know how well you have done!

    I spent two years in Cambridge studying at the University and while we did not have trouble getting our two year visas we did have quite a bit of trouble get a good place to live (so many tiny smokey shared places that cost three times more than we had ever paid rent in our lives, or great places that were always gone despite the number of times a day I checked the listings),… and my husband never did manage to secure a job in his field.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say that “The uncertainty was especially hard on her, and at times she probably would have been happy if we had not been approved at all (though she felt bad for feeling that way).” I was not an fortunate in my funding as you and after the first year my husband made the difficult decision to return to the US (where a job was waiting) and wait out a year apart.

    That was certainly an age-ing process. And it is always hard to experience so many things that you would like to share alone.

    Keep up your stamina, and get to that University Library (or UL as we called it), you will regret it if you don’t spend more time there. Now that I have moved back to a small town in Virginia there is nothing I miss more about University than the libraries. Conversation I can get online, and I can study and write on my own, but access (even in these days of e-books) to specialized resources….and the mood of scholastic work can only be found in special places.


  2. Thanks for the comment Kara! I’m sorry to hear that things did not work out as well for you. Concern about funding was one of the main reasons I did not apply to any British programs, but even still there was a while where we wondered if we might have to split up our family as well (which would have been especially hard with kids).

    I hope you and your husband are doing well now that you are reunited.

    God bless!

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