I’ve always needed constant change of scenery. Historically, for whatever reason, I seem to have a very clear expiry date of about two years before things need to start shifting. From switching high school’s to rearranging my bedroom, to switching hair colour and now continents, I’ve always had an itch of discontentment that seeps in at a certain point. An itch that only change can scratch.
Upon reflection, It wasn’t because I couldn’t make the paint stick in Melbourne, but because I needed a constant change of paint colour. At the beginning of 2019, my need for change outweighed my need for comfort more so than ever, so I decided to pack up my shit and move alone to Berlin. And boy, did I wildly underestimate the gravity of the change.
A perpetual string of existential crisis’s
When you move somewhere foreign there is this whole new dimension to your life that people who haven’t experienced it can never fully understand. You’re just the random chick from down under that moved to Berlin to bump to techno and draw logos or something. For those lucky enough to have never experienced an existential crisis, count your blessings. Moving abroad alone can be a constant rollercoaster of emotions and faces you with some extremely hard pills to swallow, over and over.
Today marks 9 months that I stepped off the plane completely alone with only a suitcase, weary eyes and three bowls worth of anxiety. Sometimes I like to refer to the time in Berlin as a pregnancy, where my former naive self was birthed into a new person. Maybe not a better person, but a different one. I can still clearly recall the feeling I had in the depth of my stomach when I first arrived from the airport like it was yesterday. The moment was comparable to the infamous scene from Pixar’s Madagascar movie, when the penguins eagerly step off the boat onto the icy surface of Antartica and say; “Well this sucks!”. I was suddenly marinating my own cesspool of uncertainty, isolation and a dose of, “Why the fuck did I think this was a good idea?”
Whilst I thought I was adequately trained during my adolescent period in the area of dealing with change, little did I know how much this change would change things. From fading relationships, to missing family events, to the smallest things like walking down the road with your Creative Director for a (Melbs) coffee, FOMO became an emotion I dealt with on a day to day basis.
How to enjoy getting chewed up and spat out.
An expression that you often hear about when people speak about Berlin is that the city can chew you up and spit you out, which is common when you spend time in bigger cities. I had three factors that made my life a little easier; I had a German passport, I could scrape back some of my childhood German and I had a reserve of ‘emergency’ savings that could relieve some of the financial pressure, but no one could have prepared me for the beautiful bastard of a city that Berlin is.
I will never forget one of the first people I met in Berlin composedly told me; “Berlin will take a weekly shit on your face”. And so far, she’s given me the best advice out of anyone in Berlin. From trying to do your taxes, to making doctor’s appointment or doing something as simple as registering yourself in the city, Berlin can slowly strip you of your hope, patients and dignity if you let it.
There is a positive coincidence to this theory though, that once you are freed from the expectations and ‘isms’ that you may have brought over from home with you, slowly things that effected you a lot start to affect you a lot less. And it’s not all bad. In fact, a city of extremes suggests that there is diamonds amongst the rubble and eventually a concrete flower will bloom. Ameldungs, Krankenkasse lodgements and VAT forms aside, switching lanes allows you to shed a layer of skin, get a new a perspective on life and maybe even give you a new appreciation of where you really come from.
If you fail to prepare, you're preparing to fail.
The disheartening downside of shipping yourself and your freelance career overseas, whether you’re travelling or emigrating, is the potential of being very unprepared or having to start from scratch. New country, new cultures, new rules. But if you prepare and plan a little, it also means new chapter of life, new clients and stifling personal growth. For anyone thinking of taking the plunge themselves, here are some good places to start:
Put some feelers out before you leave home
This may seem obvious, but if you’re arriving alone, don’t make the mistake of not forging a couple of loose connections with people in the creative world before you arrive. The pressure of moving abroad alone is enough, without being greeted by a mad scramble of cold emailing in an attempt to make your first connections. Whilst you won’t have people waiting for you, you might be able to have a couple of beers with people that will act as the foundations of your personal and professional networks.
Market the shit out of your self before you leave home.
This means, you need to have a clear grasp of who you are as a creative, what services you can offer people along with a decent built up of digital presence. In a high pace, over-saturated creative market like Berlin, people don’t give you much time to prove yourself, and there is probably someone in a five-metre radius who can do the job better, faster and cheaper. So at the very least, you need an online portfolio you can quickly, swiftly and neatly send them. This doesn’t need to be a full swing custom-built website, but an Instagram feed with a few months of content will go along way. Whatever you do, don’t arrive with nothing.
Save up a small fortune
For the love of God, save some cash. I can’t begin to explain how much my emergency fund saved my ass. No one is expecting you to land in a new city and land new clients straight away, but you better prepare for the fact that even the really talented creatives probably won’t get much work for a little while, especially if you’ve made the trip abroad alone with no contacts in the city. Save enough money so you know you could go at least 6-8 months with no income. This will give you enough confidence, clarity and financial security to put your effort into where it needs to go. Building a social and professional network, finding somewhere to live and slowly piecing together a life for yourself without worrying about the food on the table and roof over your head.
Looking back over the last year, I look at how living in Berlin has been the biggest pillar of change in my life to date. Moving abroad as a freelancer will make you question everything, and help you find answers to things you wouldn’t have never otherwise found. I wish I had words more eloquent than my own to express how rewarding it can be, but I can’t stress enough that it’s not without sacrifice and a shitload of planning and perseverance. But what I can promise you is that it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll do.