"There are so many wonderful benefits from being part of an international community. We try to take all the best bits from each of our cultures to enhance our lives and I think this has made us open to new opportunities and broadened our minds. For our son, the fact he speaks both English and German and has family in both countries the advantages are endless. I can see this already when he is conversing with other kids in the Kita and the experiences that he´s already had. Over time the disadvantages that I encountered in the initial stages of moving here are forgotten and are over shadowed by the wonderful advantages we have in our lives." (LJB, March 2014)
How long have you lived in Königs Wusterhausen?
It will be 4 years this summer. In 2007 I moved from the west coast of Scotland with my German boyfriend (now husband) to Stuttgart because of his job and 3 years later we moved to the historic town of Königs Wusterhausen just outside of Berlin
What is the area like?
I love it. There is so much green space and we have a beautiful lake in the village which we use in the summer to go swimming in. We are only 20 mins by train to the centre of Belin and I like to mix both worlds; the city has everything we could need: amazing restaurants, museums, markets, and architectural history and the village is the perfect place to raise a family. I love how every day I leave my house and bump into people I know.
Why did you decide to move there?
My husband and I both love Berlin. It was the first place I arrived at for my very first visit to Germany and I fell in love with it immediately. Fortunately, because my husband now has a home office we were able to relocate here. It also means that we are closer to his family for support (2 hours away instead of 10 hours) and the flight connection to Scotland is easier, both of which we did not have in Stuttgart.
How many children do you have and when were they born?
I have one son who was born in 2008 in Stuttgart.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
I feel very lucky that in my first year in Germany I was able to take time away from my career and learn the German language. This worked very well for me and shortly before my course finished I found out I was pregnant. I know a few mums who struggle to take language classes because of child care responsibilities. Being able to speak German confidently has definitely helped me integrate and where I live almost no-one speaks any English, so it is very important. It´s only when I meet up with my friends in Berlin that I revert to English.
My husband and I made the decision very early on that our child would attend a German Kita and school rather than a bi-lingual school and we were confident that he would receive sufficient English at home to enable him to be bi-lingual. So far this has worked very well and on a Saturday my son also attends a British school in Berlin giving him the opportunity to socialise with other kids who speak English.
What language do you speak with your children?
At home we speak 2 languages. My husband speaks only German with my son and I speak only English. Someone told me when I arrived in Germany that you will always communicate with your partner using the language when you first met. This is true although I speak to everyone else in German I find it strange to speak German to my husband and we have always communicated in English. So there is quite a mixture at the dinner table between the 3 of us and the two languages.
What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?
This is a tricky question as I did not have any children in the UK so I don´t have anything to compare it with. We have one school in the village which has a good reputation so this takes away the issue of choosing a school. What I did find difficult to cope with is the age that children start school in Germany, 6 years old, compared to the UK which has an entrance age from 41/2 years. There are pros and cons for both situations and we will see in August when my son starts school what it is like but I have learnt that the system is more strenuous here. The school day starts at 7.30am and finishes at 11.30am so there is a lot of learning to squeeze in that time.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the region?
There are so many wonderful benefits from being part of an international community. We try to take all the best bits from each of our cultures to enhance our lives and I think this has made us open to new opportunities and broadened our minds. For our son, the fact he speaks both English and German and has family in both countries the advantages are endless. I can see this already when he is conversing with other kids in the Kita and the experiences that he´s already had. Over time the disadvantages that I encountered in the initial stages of moving here are forgotten and are over shadowed by the wonderful advantages we have in our lives.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?
I am a qualified Health & Safety Manager and worked mainly in the media industry; BBC, Scottish Film Industry and Newspapers. After having my son I was offered a position with an international company in Stuttgart. It was hard taking the decision to go back to work so soon but finding myself at home all day I knew that I was losing my German language skills and as a compromise I decided to work half days in the office and then in the evenings when my son was asleep.
You have your own online business. Can you tell us what that is exactly?
Online mama began just after I became a mum, and it has grown and evolved over the past few years. The birth of my son, Roan, changed everything. From the minute he was born, I questioned the need for style in the midst of sleepless nights, feeds, and lots of nappies, and made a decision to merge motherhood with smart designs. Online mama is a Children´s store for all things STYLISH, UNIQUE & FUN. I sell high-end international products, many of which I sell exclusively in Germany. The products are already highly acclaimed in countries around the world receiving numerous awards for innovation and style and I love the fact that many of the products I stock have been designed by parents who found a solution to a problem took it to the market and made a successful business out of it.
How has your previous professional experience helped you in this new venture?
It was my experience as a Health & Safety Manager which actually introduced me to my first product, an infant safety helmet for babies who are learning to crawl and walk. My son was only 9 months old when he was attempting to walk and we had tiled floors throughout our apartment. Being so young he did not have enough muscle structure and was very instable. I couldn´t bear to watch him crack his head on the floor, therefore I scoured the internet for a solution. This was when I found the helmet and the rest, as they say is history.
How have you found the whole experience of starting up your business? Were people receptive from the beginning?
The biggest challenge has been developing a business in a foreign country with a language that I am not 100% fluent in with different laws and regulations. Also I had to find the right people to support me and my business and this takes time establishing good working relationships and networking groups. Although everything can be done virtually these days I prefer to meet people face to face. I had moved to a new part of the country, knew no-one or the area and despite being in the throes of planning my wedding, decorating and furnishing a new house I decided to start a new business. Looking back now it seems like madness but I love how my business has given me the chance to connect with people that otherwise I would never have met. Being connected to so many talented and creative people has enriched my personality, and inspired my parenting skills in so many ways. I love connecting with other business mums who have start-up businesses and these women are a constant source of inspiration to me.
What advice would you give to other mums wanting to start up their own business?
Definitely do it. Being your own boss gives you so much more flexibility when you have a family. It´s not easy but having the flexibility to organise your day, how you please, can alleviate a lot of the stress that comes with being a mum and working for someone else. My son attends Kita everyday which allows me time to concentrate on my business. I also work in the evenings when he is in bed, although I would like to reduce these hours and tear myself away from my office and relax a bit more. The hardest part is to stop working, which is especially difficult because my personal and professional life is so intertwined. I think the key to success is to be super organized in everything and network as much as possible, get in touch with as many social networking groups. I am fortunate that my husband also has his office at home and although we have no immediate family support we manage and the situation works well for all of us.