Teaching and Writing in Thailand, Portugal, and Germany with Georgia Knapp – in this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast, we will be hearing from Georgia Knapp. Georgia had the lucky opportunity to grow up in a military family that moved her to many countries around the world (including Cuba!) while she was young. She finished her childhood in the southern part of the United States before going to Scotland to study abroad in her university days. A few years later, fresh out of a relationship, she got an itch to go abroad again and started with Thailand before moving to Portugal and then most recently to Germany.
Georgia has lived in a variety of amazing countries around the world while pursuing her passions for literature and writing. Listen to the full episode to find out how she did it!
LEARN in this episode:
✔ How Georgia got her start living and working in Thailand without a job or being able to speak Thai
✔ How to pursue your passions through your career across many countries
✔ What it’s like to move within the EU and build a new life abroad during the coronavirus pandemic
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► Website: https://georgiaknapp.org
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Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.
Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad.
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With that said, let’s start the conversation.
David McNeill: [0:00:45] Hi Georgia. Thanks so much for joining us today on the Expat Empire Podcast.
Georgia Knapp: [0:00:51] Thanks for having me.
David McNeill: [0:00:52] It’s awesome to be able to talk to you in this context. Of course we’ve worked together here in Portugal for a bit, but you’ve already moved on to new places and of course have plenty of international experiences before then. I’m excited to hear all of it put together, even for myself, let alone for the audience today.
Georgia Knapp: [0:01:10] Yeah. Thanks. Excited to chat about all of it, it’s one of my favorite topics.
David McNeill: [0:01:14] Absolutely. If you could just start us off by telling us a bit about where you’re originally from, wherever around the world you’ve lived so far and where you’re currently living that’d be great.
Georgia Knapp: [0:01:23] Yeah. I am American but I was actually born in England. I grew up partially in Cuba and Germany and then ended up spending my teenage years in the deep south of the US. I have also lived in Scotland, Thailand, Portugal, and now I have returned back to Germany and I’m living in Munich.
David McNeill: [0:01:49] Okay, awesome. A lot of stuff to unpack there and I think a good place to start would be, how did you have such an international journey, even growing up at a young age and especially being in places like Cuba? That’s quite interesting.
Georgia Knapp: [0:02:49] I was very fortunate that my parents, they worked for the US Department of Defense but they worked as civilians for the US Government. My father was an art teacher for the military schools and my mom was an air force librarian. It’s really kind of the best of both worlds because active duty military personnel, they have to move every two years. They don’t get a choice of where they want to go, but when you’re a civilian, you can live on that base for as long as you want. Actually you don’t live on base, you have to live off base in the country with all the locals. That way you get to have a really good international experience but the US government pays for you to move around.
David McNeill: [0:02:56] Yeah, it sounds pretty great. Is that something that you ever considered in terms of your career, trying to, I mean, you have emulated it to a degree as far as moving here and there, but in terms of trying to find a similar opportunity through government programs and things like that, is that something you’d ever considered?
Georgia Knapp: [0:03:12] I didn’t until I was probably in graduate school and in my kind of mid to late twenties. Before that I think because I was raised by such a good teacher, I saw what it took to be a teacher and I didn’t think I had those skills. I was like, no, I’m not going to be a teacher, screw that. It’s very hard to travel around with the military if you’re not a teacher, that’s a very good gig to get in with. By the time I kind of decided like found a love for teaching. It’s very competitive to get in with the US Department of Defense because so many people want it as a travel opportunity. I had to kind of find my own way to travel around and work just to get quite the easy path that my parents had.
David McNeill: [0:04:06] Yeah. It makes sense. Were there any of those particular countries that stood out to you when you were growing up in terms of the experience? Any ones that you particularly identified with? Of course, I don’t know what ages you were in each of these, so maybe some of those you were still quite young, but any that you particularly find yourself attracted to or attached to before you moved up to the United States?
Georgia Knapp: [0:04:27] I was much too young in England, but my first memories do come in Cuba and there we were actually living on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base because even though we were civilians we couldn’t live on mainland Cuba. That, I would say I still bring some of that identity with me. I have a very false sense of security because Guantanamo is one of the most secure places in the world. As a child, you just run free, nothing’s going to happen to a kid other than you’re going to trip, fall and skin your knee on some rocks. Also I really love islands, beachy communities and Guantanamo is actually just an island, beautiful beaches, great wildlife. I still kind of recall those memories and feel like I still carry the little beachy girl with me, who probably thinks there’s still like machine gunners around who are just going to step in at any moment to help me, even though that’s not true.
David McNeill: [0:05:43] So what was it like going from that experience, going all over the world to these very different places as you were growing up to then going into the south and the United States. Even though you’re American, I’m sure it was even an adjustment for you probably at quite a young age. I’d love to hear more about that.
Georgia Knapp: [0:06:01] It definitely was not easy. I grew up maybe being a little bit less patriotic than a military brat should be, but I think also having spent most of my childhood abroad and then actually moving to the deep south, which is an area of the US where, I mean, people have been there for generations, their teachers taught their grandma and things like that. Not only did I not grow up in, I wasn’t born in the south, neither were my parents. I did really feel like an outsider. I really at a young age, clung to my expat identity, like, oh, they’re never going to understand me because I lived in Germany, I lived in Cuba. I’m never going to grow up or stay in America. It really wasn’t until I was in college, I kind of started to grow up a little bit and change my mindset on that and mature as we all do. But definitely in my adolescent and teenage years, it made me feel like a complete outsider from everybody I was going to school with.
David McNeill: [0:07:21] Did that make you want to pursue any study abroad opportunities or a gap year, or how did you ultimately keep and then manage to jump on the opportunities to be able to move abroad that you’ve done since your university days?
Georgia Knapp: [0:07:35] Definitely, study abroad programs in university were something that I really considered while was looking for colleges and the college I went to, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, is known as one of the top colleges in the US for study abroad because they have such an extensive study abroad program. It’s something like 96 different study abroad opportunities, something like that, maybe because that was like 20 years ago maybe I’m forgetting the exact number, but it was a college that’s also known for giving students an immersive study abroad experience. Like you’re most likely going to go live with a host family. That was super important to me because I still, I really did have that desire to still live abroad. I kind of always knew that I would eventually move abroad again. It was just waiting for the right opportunity for me to have the right finances as well, because as you know, it’s not cheap to just pick up and move abroad. I had to have like good savings, but that’s when I lived in Scotland, when I did study abroad in university.
David McNeill: [0:09:00] How did you pick Scotland, was it just a match with the program and what you were studying? Was the language a consideration as well? What led you to pick that among 96 study abroad programs?
Georgia Knapp: [0:09:10] Yeah, it was a lot to do with my studies because I was an English and theater major and Scotland was sort of known for the English and theater majors to go there and kind of get our science credits out of the way, because they were a little bit easier over there. Also because it was an English speaking university they accepted the scholarship I was on. Whereas if I had gone, I think there were like, I think if I went to Japan, those schools didn’t take my scholarship and I would’ve had to just pay out of pocket. Because I had been born in England that was as close as I could get to like my birth country. I wanted to experience it as a sort of adult, 20 year old adult.
David McNeill: [0:10:03] Having been born over there did you get any benefits from a citizenship point of view or was that really more just on the American side?
Georgia Knapp: [0:10:09] So England changed…when I was born in 1988 England had just changed their policy. It used to be, if you were born in England to parents who like owned a British house, were paying British taxes like mine were I should have been granted automatic dual citizenship, but the month before I was born, England stopped doing that.
David McNeill: [0:10:33] Bad timing.
Georgia Knapp: [0:10:34] Yeah, so I have a little bit of odd citizenship only when I’m in the UK in that I have a national health number. I have a lot of stuff that technically would make me a British citizen without actually having the citizenship. I only is a problem when I was very sick in Scotland and was trying to get like medical help on the national health insurance and that didn’t go so well. I’ve been told don’t commit a crime in the UK because that would probably also screw with things.
David McNeill: [0:11:13] Not go so well, yeah.
Georgia Knapp: [0:11:16] So every other country I’m fine, but just the UK.
David McNeill: [0:11:19] Good to know. As far as you know, going from there, of course you have this great study abroad experience in Scotland, you finished up your degree. How did you end up making your way to Thailand? Walk us through the big picture and the steps that it took to make that happen.
Georgia Knapp: [0:11:35] I always wanted to move to Asia just because I had never been there before. My sister had been there, but no one else in my family had ever gone. It was just sort of a place I didn’t know many people and it just felt very different. I do like pushing myself out of my comfort zone and that felt like the ultimate push myself out. It was something I had always thought of since I was at Kalamazoo College really. Then I went and I got some work experience in Chicago. I went to graduate school. The actual catalyst that made me go there was a breakup as most people do. Yeah, then I was just like, screw all of this. I had graduated with my graduate degree at that point and so just packed up and decided that was as good of a time as any because I had nothing else tying me down in the US. I had no job at the time so it felt like a good time to take that leap.
I really wanted Thailand because especially Bangkok specifically, cause it felt like a city that was sort of the best of both worlds where I would feel like I really was in Asia, but it wouldn’t feel like hyper-westernized so that I would just feel like I was in like a New York City or something. I kind of felt like maybe moving to Seoul, South Korea wouldn’t have felt too different from other cities I had been to. Bangkok seemed to have a good blend and it had a good transportation system, which for a single woman moving by myself was important to me so that I can always get home at night whenever I want to.
David McNeill: [0:13:34] So you have those sort of expectations as to what life would be like there, how it would be sort of different enough from home and give you that push outside of your comfort zone. Did you find that to actually be the case? What was your experience like from your expectations to what it was actually like there on the ground in those first months?
Georgia Knapp: [0:13:52] It did really match my expectations because I did have those moments where I did feel very lost, confused and I wasn’t necessarily searching to feel lost and confused. At least I felt like I was in a foreign country rather than just another big city that I could easily navigate. When I first moved to Bangkok, I also moved to a neighborhood that really wasn’t known for any other foreigners because I remember I was there for like three weeks and then I saw a German guy in the elevator and it was one of those like, oh my God, you’re the first foreigner I’ve seen. It was really great. At the time I know I was maybe a little bit nervous but it had been such a goal of mine that I still just felt like it was worth it and should just keep going through and figuring things out.
David McNeill: [0:15:01] How did you find that first apartment then, especially in a place where you didn’t see many other foreigners and other expats? Was that by design through intention to try to get that more local experience or did it take you by surprise as well after you moved in?
Georgia Knapp: [0:15:17] Yeah, it took me by surprise. It was just Airbnb. It had good ratings and that was the only reason I chose that place. I did not do a ton of research. Bangkok doesn’t actually have one singular downtown, so I couldn’t really figure out where in the city I should be near.
David McNeill: [0:15:40] Yeah. That makes sense. As far as your work there, I assume you went with work, so what did you do and what was the Visa situation? What was that process like? Was that difficult at all? Just walk us through kind of how you actually managed to be able to live there and work there.
Georgia Knapp: [0:15:58] So I actually did what you’re not supposed to do and I landed without a job. I just searched when I got there because I did have a graduate degree and I had teaching experience. I knew that, I mean, that’s at least good to have on your resume. I first started by applying to different language schools just to make money. I got hired fairly quickly by just a little adult night school who offered to give people a student visa under the…not terribly legal, but under the guise that I was at the school taking Thai classes. It was going to be a legal visa, even though I wasn’t actually taking Thai classes. I think that company has actually now changed their policy. Now you do actually have to attend classes, just as a teacher you don’t have to pay for them.
I had that for about four months before and I had then met some other people and I learned about how to search for more permanent teaching jobs through different websites. I ended up applying to a private all boys school and that’s where I ended up getting hired. Then I got a more permanent visa, but to work at the language school I actually had to leave the country, apply for my Thai Visa in Laos and then come back because you can’t apply within the country. While I was living there, Thailand actually changed the policy and now you cannot do what I did. You can’t just arrive in Thailand and get a Visa there, you have to actually get it in your home country. They’ve made it a little bit more difficult.
David McNeill: [0:17:54] Yeah, as they tend to. These things are always changing. There was a couple of things that came up there that were some interesting threads that I’d like to pull on a bit. There was this notion of studying Thai. Of course that was more from the standpoint of being able to qualify for the student visa and maybe you didn’t actually end up taking those courses, but did you manage to pick up any of the language and how important was it for you to be able to speak it to be sort of successful in terms of your career, but also your life there personally.
Georgia Knapp: [0:18:25] I ended up learning a polite Thai so I can count, I can say hi, thank you. There is a really popular phrase in Thailand, which is ‘mai pen rai’ which just means don’t worry about it. I obviously learned that. Even though it was not necessary, you can very easily get around anywhere in Thailand, even remote parts of the jungle without a single word of Thai, but it does just make your life easier if you at least can say hi, thank you and counting is very helpful there. I mean, it’s definitely something I would recommend to anybody going to Thailand and really any country just learn those little phrases. I learned how to give directions as well, which Thailand can have some sort of corrupt taxi drivers who they want to take you on a long way. Then you can start telling them like, no, no, like this way please turn left, turn right.
David McNeill: [0:19:35] Right, right. Definitely at least at a minimum survival level and hopefully staying out of too many scams and too much trouble, it makes sense. Another thing that you mentioned was learning a bit more about the different ways to find the jobs. Ultimately it sounds like your second job there. Do you have any particular pointers for people that might be thinking about trying to find English teaching roles in Thailand?
Georgia Knapp: [0:19:59] I think there’s a lot of really good online resources for that. For people who just want to move and just straight up teach English there’s Dave’s ESL Cafe, which has a lot of good job recommendations. It’s known in Asia, I don’t know if you being in Japan, if you guys would have heard of that, but he has a pretty extensive job board. I found just meeting other ex-pats and then telling them what I was interested in. Then I was able to get a bit more personalized recommendations. In Thailand, specifically, there is www.ajahn.com. Ajahn, which I’m butchering the word, but it’s the Thai word for teacher. It’s just teaching jobs in Thailand, but it’s all types like science teachers, math teachers. I actually taught literature and that’s how I found that rather than just an ESL job, which personally I like more, because teaching literature is a little bit more in line with what I like and what I was trained in, rather than just teaching English. I don’t think I was the best ESL teacher in the world. I think I’m a decent literature one.
David McNeill: [0:21:23] Got it. I’m curious what it was like to then work, let’s say in an all-boys school environment, teaching literature. I mean, I can only imagine that you might stick out a bit in such an environment. What was it like to be that teacher at that school?
Georgia Knapp: [0:21:42] It was chaotic. I was one of only two female teachers. I was the youngest by about 30 to 40 years. I did stand out a lot and my specific age were the 11 to 13 year olds. I taught very rich little boys who have never dusted something in their life. Like, God forbid you tell them to pick up a pencil. I love them, I love them to death, but it was an interesting experience, especially at that age. No kid wants to listen to their teacher and they had the benefit of being able to speak in Thai with each other. I couldn’t really stop them. I couldn’t know what they were saying. Actually I learned a few other tiny Thai phrases, like how to say, give me that, so that then if they would ask it to each other, like give me an apple, but I would then hand them the object and kind of make them think like, oh my God teacher, Georgia knows more than she says. And I’m like, that’s right.
David McNeill: [0:23:01] That’s right. Just imagine how much I actually know. As I listen to you, I can understand everything.
Georgia Knapp: [0:23:07] Yeah. Yeah. I did, I learned a few Thai curse words because of them because other Thai teachers would hear them in my class and later come in and be like, if you hear them saying this, stop it.
David McNeill: [0:23:18] So do you have any other advice for folks that are thinking about pursuing opportunities or trying to live in Thailand one day?
Georgia Knapp: [0:23:24] Yes. Thailand is known for expats who just land in the country and they don’t want to get a Visa because the country is very cheap to be there. You can easily still have your job in the US work, remotely in Thailand without getting a Thai Visa. Every 30 days you can do a border run. You cross into Laos, you cross into Malaysia and you come right back. A lot of people think that it’s just very fun, very easy, but Thailand is really cracking down on those cases. I know of at least three people personally, who got deported and that means like they actually, like you get put in a Thai jail, you’re never allowed back to your apartment. You just get escorted straight from the jail to the plane. The officer’s actually put you on the plane in the seat. You get a huge black mark on your passport and you’re banned like seven years, which is kind of an odd timeline for me.
Thailand’s really cracking down on that. I would definitely recommend anybody who goes there with the intention to live, to somehow find a legal Visa. Sign up for a Thai school, become a Thai student and at least try to get…even part-time jobs can give you Visas. You can get an entrepreneur Visa, because it is very risky and Thailand, they’re just super aware of that right now. They start rating places they know expats are in. Like there were a few nights I was told not to go to a certain popular club, not to go to a night market because I mean, I had a Visa so for me it wasn’t a deal, but that there was going to be a police raid. They’re definitely looking for a lot of Americans and stuff. Like they just, I think they’re a little tired of people abusing the system, which is fair. Like you should be there legally.
David McNeill: [0:25:40] Right, right. No, it’s a great point. I think a lot of the message that is spread online is how easy it is just to jump out of the country, come back in, you don’t have to worry about things, but I would strongly agree that it’s just better to try to cover your bases there. I mean, for the digital nomads out there that are trying to do this, best of luck, but also there’s plenty of other countries to visit. If you do decide that you want to settle down hopefully you can find a good, long stay, long-term Visa, but otherwise maybe keep the travels going, but just be respectful of the fact that they do have their policies and systems there for a reason. And you are a guest ultimately, right?
Georgia Knapp: [0:26:20] Yeah, exactly. I actually overstayed my visa by one day. I actually didn’t know it, I just didn’t know. It was on my way to move from Thailand to Portugal, I realized it in the airport and they did take me to the little back room where they questioned me. I had a fine, I have a red stamp in my Visa, so I didn’t get banned or blackmailed because I started crying. I think they realized it was a legit mistake and I was also like, I’m moving.
David McNeill: [0:26:55] Yeah, screw you guys.
Georgia Knapp: [0:26:58] They are not kidding around and they, I’m just very lucky that no one can read the red stamp in my passport. Thank God.
David McNeill: [0:27:08] Luckily not in English as well. That’s good. That actually brings us then to your move to Portugal. What made you decide ultimately to leave Thailand and to make the move to Portugal?
Georgia Knapp: [0:27:19] I’ve always had the idea of wanting to move back to Europe because like I said, I lived in the UK and I lived in Germany after Cuba. My memories in Germany are even more fresh. So I always had the idea that I would one day move back to Europe because I had lived here before. At the time when I was in Thailand, I actually wasn’t planning to leave for at least another year, but I was just searching online for jobs. Even though I was teaching literature in Thailand and I liked that. I am a writer by trade. It’s what my degree is in. It’s what my passion is, I saw the opening for a content writer position and just applied and got it.
I mean, at the time it was one of those applications that you just kind of sent out for the heck of it, but you don’t think anything’s really going to come. I had never been to Portugal before. Again, it was such a great opportunity. I figured moving to Europe any other way I would’ve had to have started, I don’t know, writing about toilets somewhere in some tiny town. This was a much better fit. I just decided to pack up and go and not miss the opportunity.
David McNeill: [0:28:45] Yeah. I think it’s a good way to do it. Of course being open-minded and flexible when opportunities come your way. That said, it sounds like you had maybe a thought towards staying longer in Thailand. Did you have any feelings of, maybe this is a little bit you know, sooner than I wanted, or how did you get the closure that you might’ve been looking for as far as Thailand was concerned before making the move then halfway across the world?
Georgia Knapp: [0:29:09] That is a very good question. I don’t think I did get that closure because I mean, I spent a solid eight months in Portugal just being like, I’m going to move back to Thailand. This was not great. I wasn’t done with Thailand. I wasn’t done with Asia, but at that point I was letting my career aspirations make the choice for me. Getting a job as a full-time writer is not easy. Again, it felt like too good of an opportunity to pass up. I’m mostly happy that I did because I did actually make great friends in Portugal. The community in Portugal, both the local and the expat are fantastic, which I cannot say such positive things about the expat community of Bangkok. Thailand does not have the healthiest expat community in the world. Like I said, you have the backpackers who really are not being good guests of the country and they’re really abusing the system. That just kind of doesn’t make you feel good when you’re a fellow foreigner and you’re just like, Ugh. I let the career make the decision for me and I’m happy that I did.
David McNeill: [0:30:39] What was it in those first eight months that made you think maybe I should go back and what were those things that made you feel that way? Was there anything in particular or a certain event, or was it just time passing that made that feeling pass as well?
Georgia Knapp: [0:30:54] Well, it is very easy to be in Thailand, especially Bangkok. I mean, such a city of what, 8 million people I think. Things are open 24/7, like at any time of the day you can get anything you need. You can so easily wave down a motorcycle taxi, zip where you need to be. The food, the food is amazing and it’s everywhere on the street. It’s very rare to cook in Thailand. Most people don’t have a kitchen because the street food is just so cheap and it’s available again all hours of the night.
Moving to Portugal, I mean, it sounds so spoiled of me, but it wasn’t convenient anymore. Like shops, clothes, taxis are more expensive. It’s not just like twenty cents to take a motorcycle a few miles, public transportation stops.
Actually compared to Thailand, I know Portugal is a cheaper place in Europe, but not compared to Thailand. It suddenly felt very expensive. My apartment in Portugal was the most expensive apartment I’ve had in my life and I lived in Chicago for four years but my tiny apartment in Portugal was almost twice the amount that I paid in Chicago, things like that. Thailand still felt a bit more exotic. I hate to use that word, but because you’ve got the jungles, the beaches you can easily hop on a plane and be in Cambodia. Whereas Portugal, you have beaches and mountains too, beautiful, but there’s no elephants in those mountains. There’s no monkey trying to steal your cell phone.
David McNeill: [0:32:57] Yeah. Thailand does definitely feel more off the beaten path, let’s say. You’ve moved to another country now, Portugal, and you’re also being able to work and of course write now in English for your job. Did you find it easy to adjust language wise as well? Was English fine or did you find it sort of helpful or necessary for you to learn Portuguese while living in Portugal?
Georgia Knapp: [0:33:18] I found English was okay but I found learning Portuguese to actually be more necessary than when I had lived in Thailand. In Portugal at the time my banking app wasn’t in English. My phone app to pay my cell phone bill was not in English. For my first two months there, a coworker of mine actually would pay my cell phone bill for me, and then I would transfer her the money or actually I would hand her cash because I couldn’t figure it out. All of the legal documents were all in Portuguese, whereas in Thailand I think because it’s a language that you can’t even like Google with, we call them Roman letters. I think they don’t expect you to be able to speak Thai to do anything in Thai. Whereas I think Portugal is a little bit more on the mindset of you can spell, you can Google. I found it harder to be there in Portugal and not know the language. I really had to rely on my coworkers at the time and a few expats that I met that they spoke either decent Portuguese or what they call Portanhol where it’s like Portuguese and Spanish. But by myself it was definitely more difficult.
David McNeill: [0:34:47] You also moved to Porto, how did you like the city overall and given that you probably traveled to other cities around Portugal as well, how would you kind of compare and contrast it to those other cities?
Georgia Knapp: [0:34:57] I really liked it. I do think Porto though is somewhere you have to live for a little while to really like, and I’m saying this as somebody who I love major cities; again, Chicago, Bangkok, London, like these places speak to my soul. Whereas Porto is to me, very small town. When I first moved to Portugal, I was really hoping to move to Lisbon eventually, but I’m very glad now that I stayed in Porto because I think the whole city has a really good vibe to it. It seems it is small, but it’s a bit more alive than I think people would expect but I think you have to live there for at least eight months. For some reason, eight months is stuck in my mind as to when I kind of made the transition to, oh, I want to stay.
David McNeill: [0:35:56] Right, and how did you build your relationships or friendships in the city, given that, as you said, there’s a great community of locals and expats, maybe better than what you were seeing or experiencing in Bangkok. How did you connect with them and build those relationships?
It helped that the company I was working with was based on expats. I worked with a lot of other foreigners and then even the Portuguese who I worked with, they kind of knew their company was hiring non Portuguese speakers. They were much more open to that and they were kind of open to showing the tourists around. Then I also started my own writing group through www.meetup.com and that helped me just meet a variety of people, but we all shared just the common interests of we like to write somehow. I was able to meet other expats, local Portuguese, just travelers. That was where I really found my community in Portugal.
David McNeill: [0:37:06] Yeah. I’ve also had similar success with the meetups here and different events. It’s been great to connect with a lot of expats and tourists. Like you said, there’s a lot of digital nomads coming through people wanting to check out Portugal. It’s a pretty cool community to be able to be a part of. What I was wondering is, so you had those first eight months where you were kind of questioning the decision, then it changed into really wanting to stay here and to stay in Porto. Then I have to ask, why did you leave?
Georgia Knapp: [0:37:33] Yet again, a job opportunity because my company no longer exists. It was hard to find another writing job that didn’t require me to be fluent in Portuguese and English. Maybe in Lisbon, I could have found a job like that because Lisbon is a bigger city, a bit more international. But by that point, I mean, I’d been living in Portugal for two and a half years. I was very attached to Porto specifically and I knew I wouldn’t want to live in Portugal if I wasn’t in Porto. I do speak German, not fluently but it’s much more natural and easy for me than Portuguese because I learned it as a child. I knew that I’d have better career opportunities in Germany. There’s a bit more of an international market, so companies that would hire a fully native English speaker. Yet again, it was just the job and I did, I wanted to return to Germany eventually because I liked living here as a child. I figured if I was ever going to become bilingual, my only chance was with German. It would be helpful to live here to actually speak the language.
David McNeill: [0:39:03] You had those great memories and experiences living in Germany when you were a child, now you’ve gone back in recent months. What has that experience been like? I would say like, does it match what you remember as a child obviously? Every country let alone Germany has changed a lot in the last couple decades. It depends on which city you’re in and all of those different factors, but was it sort of like you remembered or did you have a lot of surprises and unexpected experiences along the way?
Georgia Knapp: [0:39:32] Oh, I haven’t been here too long. It’s only been about six months, but already I would say it’s been a bit more surprising than I was expecting. Especially because I mean now I’m an adult. Obviously I had to find my own apartment. I have to do all of the legality of living here by myself, which I knew, but I really took for granted as a child because obviously either my father or the US government did all of that for me. Now it’s me who has to try to string together the German and legal documents. I have to be sure I have all of my ducks in a row. I did know before coming here that Germany can be a bit harder to make friends as a non-German, as someone who’s not fluent in German yet.
I guess I thought I’d be the exception to the rule. I thought having lived here somehow my German would just come back to me in a second and I would just blend right in as a fellow German. That has not happened and that is definitely taking me a little bit of time to get used to and to kind of suck up because it is a foreign country, so its customs and languages I have to get used to. But at the same time it’s not foreign to me. It’s still familiar. I tell people, I compare it to a children’s song that I knew. Now when I hear it, I know the tunes and I kind of know the beat, but I’ve forgotten the words. That’s how Germany feels .
David McNeill: [0:41:29] Yeah. I can only imagine that some of those challenges and difficulties that you’re experiencing now are just sort of increased and exaggerated because of this pandemic situation. What was it like to make a move in the midst of all of this?
Georgia Knapp: [0:41:41] It was very stressful. When my boyfriend and I first came here actually Germany was closed to Portugal. I think it’s when the Delta variant was first starting to come up or one of the variants. Germany closed down hard to Portugal. We actually had to go to Spain for about 10 days and then get into Germany. Even though at that point we had a housing contract in Germany, we both had work contracts, but it just did not matter because we were coming from Portugal. Then trying to find an apartment at that time was also a bit chaotic because people wanted to know that you were legally allowed to live here. I didn’t have a visa yet. I hadn’t even had a chance to apply for the Visa. We had to kind of do everything with my boyfriend’s name, because he is a European citizen. Just nothing was open. We came here and it didn’t really feel like we were living here because we couldn’t go to restaurants, we couldn’t go to museums. I mean just absolutely nothing. It just sort of felt like we were on a really long kind of boring business trip.
David McNeill: [0:43:04] Has it felt better in the ensuing months? I guess things I assume have opened up there as they have here in Portugal. Hopefully it’s looking a bit better and more friendly and open and you’re able to experience more today, but when did that sort of take place and how has your life changed since that first move?
Georgia Knapp: [0:43:22] Honestly, only in the past month. Had we had this talk in August I probably would’ve been a bit more negative because things are opening, but actually meetup groups still were not meeting in person. My job itself is still remote. Even though my office is in Munich no one’s going in, the company really encourages people to stay away because it’s a very large company and so they don’t want to have some sort of massive outbreak. I still had no way to meet people. I could go to restaurants, bars, but there’s no social groups I could join. That just changed this month and now meetup…some groups are having in person meets and so I’ve gone to a few. I finally met a few coworkers, just kind of randomly actually, and that’s really helped. Now I’ve just had to kind of move out of my comfort zone even more and just message people on expat groups, on Facebook and be like, do you want to hang out. It feels like dating. Even though I’m not dating.
David McNeill: [0:44:45] Have you found much luck with that so far or still in the early stages of building those relationships because I’ve had the same problem here as you know, in Portugal. I’ve been here longer, but most of the time that I’ve been here has been during the situation and with everything going on it’s been difficult. Have you managed to have some success with that strategy so far?
Georgia Knapp: [0:45:06] I have, I’ve actually met two very cool girls that way and that really helped. It did help that I was specifically posting things in ‘women only’ groups. Still trying to like, I don’t know, I found like a generic expat group didn’t really work for me. I needed one that was specifically targeted at women who had moved abroad. Again, it’s just, I can’t compare it to dating enough because it was like of 50 messages and 50 different women I was texting, only two worked out and now we’ve hung out several times and they’re really great, but I cast a very large net and I caught two fish. But I like those fish.
David McNeill: [0:46:02] Yeah. As long as you got two good fish, then that’s good.
Georgia Knapp: [0:46:05] Yeah.
David McNeill: [0:46:06] Do you find that it’s been easy for you as far as using the German that you had learn at a young age and to be able to build on that? Or do you find that you’re kind of in this situation where you need to learn a significant amount more to be able to do the contractual work or legal things. I don’t know exactly what your proficiency is like, but I can imagine that there are still some things that would potentially be challenging in your situation. How have you dealt with that and how do you think about continuing to build on your German language skills?
Georgia Knapp: [0:46:37] My German is definitely its own chaos right now because I was really trying to learn Portuguese in Portugal because I needed it so much. I now feel like for every Portuguese word that I learned, I lost a German one. Now I find my mind has started to try to revert to Portuguese and then it’ll try to fill in weird gaps with German. I speak what I have been calling Deutschegues which really confuses people because especially if I have a mask on. I mean I look German, my last name is German so people get very confused why I just start randomly speaking Portuguese at them.
Again, like the metaphor I used before that living in Germany is like a childhood song that I remember the tune and the beat, but I don’t remember the words and that’s the same with German. A lot of my colleagues are German, when I enter into a Microsoft Teams meeting with them I can understand when they’re all speaking to each other in German, but I don’t have the vocabulary anymore to respond to them. But actually I just started German classes this week. That was great. It come back a bit more because not only did I learn German as a child, I studied it in university. I took it as night classes in Chicago so I’ve been trying it a lot.
David McNeill: [0:48:20] You went from those large cities that you talked about Chicago, London and Bangkok. Then you went to what you found to be quite a small city here in Porto and now you’ve gone to Munich. How would you compare that in those options or maybe in the spectrum of big and small cities?
Georgia Knapp: [0:48:36] At the moment? I would say Porto feels bigger than Munich. Munich feels more like a place for families and people who want a quiet lifestyle and very nice clean city streets, which is great. But yeah, it’s still not quite the big city life that I was hoping for. Berlin is still a little bit more of a fit for me. I’m mean we moved here. I think you have to give any place at least a solid year because I mean, it can take a half a year if not more to really start to feel comfortable somewhere. I think it would be unfair to Munich to just pick up and leave now. I like Munich, but I would say people should move here if they’re looking for a more quiet lifestyle.
David McNeill: [0:49:42] So with that in mind, do you plan to stay in Germany and maybe it’s Munich, maybe it’s Berlin or another city, but do you think Germany is your home for the foreseeable future or you still have a bit of wanderlust and always kind of thinking about the next spot?
Georgia Knapp: [0:49:57] I would like to stay in Germany for the foreseeable future. That was kind of, as a child, I kind of always had that in my mind that one day I would move back to Germany and then I would just stay there. Even though we’ve only been here for six months, I’m kind of letting myself off the hook that it might not be the fit I thought it would be because yeah, it is hard to be in Germany. It’s a bit more rigid. The visa process is certainly just driving me up the wall in ways that none of the others quite did. I think if Munich doesn’t work, then I would want to go and try Berlin for a year and then if Berlin doesn’t work, then screw it, move somewhere else. But I would at least like to give it two years?
David McNeill: [0:51:00] Yeah. Yeah. That sounds reasonable. Do you have any other countries that are on your bucket list as far as places that you’d like to try living in the future if you could?
Georgia Knapp: [0:51:08] It’s a pretty big list. Honestly I would really like to move to Japan. I was only in Japan for about two weeks and I just loved it, but I think I do know, I think it’s another country similar to Germany and that there’s like a lot of red tape you have to cross. I believe you do actually need to know Japanese in order to live there and work there. I’m aware that that goal might not work. I would really like to move to the UK again. Iceland is also a little bit on my bucket list because my parents lived in Iceland for about four years I think. I think it would be a unique place to live. The list of places I would want to live is very, or that I would consider living is very broad. I more have to look at the list of places I wouldn’t live and then that kind of narrows it down.
David McNeill: [0:52:13] That’s a good way to look at it and I think it’s a great outlook and definitely an inspiration for our listeners as well. Wrapping up our conversation, it’d be great to know where our listeners can find out more about you and what you’re up to, whether that’s on social media or websites or any meetups you have going on right now?
Georgia Knapp: [0:52:29] Yeah. Right now I don’t organize any meetups anymore, unfortunately. I gave my nice little Porto group away but they can find me, I have a website, www.georgiaknapp.org because Georgiaknapp.com was taken. That’s my blog, that has links to my social media sites, my portfolio. I still do a lot of my own personal writing so they can kind of read about different travels there.
David McNeill: [0:52:59] Awesome. Well, thanks so much again, Georgia, for your time and for sharing your inspiring stories. I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing where you land in the future, especially if it’s Iceland!
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