Why I moved to Berlin to set up Nomaden

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

I’m originally from the small, far away country of New Zealand. Literally isolated on an island in the middle of the South Pacific, I’ve always had the urge to move abroad. I based most of my decisions on the goal to move overseas, and only a few days after I graduated, I left New Zealand. At first, I only planned to be away for a year, but now seven years have passed and here I am in Berlin, running a business that helps people like me do the same thing.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I spent some time in New Jersey in the US, then on to Amsterdam when I was 21 years old. It was a scary time full of unknowns – Will I find a job? How will I make friends? Why does everyone here look so dazed and confused? These questions and so many more were constantly on my mind, and not easily answered. After attending a job fair, I joined the team at Booking.com in their Amsterdam headquarters. That was one thing ticked off the list, but in some ways it made it more overwhelming as I was still searching for a place to live and trying to take care of countless bureaucratic requirements – all without a phone or a laptop of my own.

Instead, I was spending most evenings after work at the public library, planning my exit from Amsterdam. After a month or two, I still hadn’t found many new friends in the city, and I was almost ready to pack my bags and move to London where I did have friends – until some Booking.com colleagues invited me for after-work drinks. I connected with a great group of people at work, who ended up being my saving grace. I put a pin in the plan to leave as everything changed: I started to do better at work, found a better place to live, and grew my friendship circle. After nearly bailing from Amsterdam, I was now distraught about the thought of leaving.

My next move took me to Melbourne, where I worked a multitude of jobs to save up enough money to move back to Europe. During this time, I held what is still one of my favourite jobs to date: as an events organiser for the Intern Group during its first year of operation in Melbourne. Many of the interns that came through the programme from other countries ended up staying in Melbourne after their internships were over, and I gave them advice on how to make the move. This is how my work in relocations began.

Post-Melbourne, a series of events somehow found me stuck in the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia, with no plans and no place to go. It didn’t take much for a Kiwi friend I’d previously convinced to move to Amsterdam to talk me into moving back there, so I booked a flight. A few days later, my Kiwi friend introduced me to a great group of people who soon turned into my best friends. They had all recently moved to Amsterdam, making my transition back into the city seamless. Even though I had lived there before, I was new again, and it was great being in the same boat as fresh Amsterdammers. Looking at my great community, hanging out together one night at Singel 125, I realised that it’s not always the place, but the people that make an experience what it is.

That realisation was the start of a year full of turning points for me. I had had one too many boring jobs and lost all my enthusiasm in the standard work environment. I hopped from job to job trying to find something that clicked, but nothing seemed to fit. I was fired from one job, and only lasted three days at another. I was back to the drawing board and something had to change. Then sprung to mind the first seed of what became Nomaden Berlin.

Thinking about my first – nearly completely failed – experience of living Amsterdam, compared to the vastly more successful second attempt, the biggest change was having a group of great people around me from the get-go. So I set out to make a relocation programme that connects people moving abroad into a group, and gives them a point of contact and assistance with the often very confusing paperwork involved.

The stress of the paperwork can take away from the excitement of completely changing your environment. Despite there being lots of blogs online with information, they never quite fit your situation and often information is outdated, confusing or incomplete. Of course, Berlin has countless corporate relocation companies and personal specialists who can assist with just the paperwork side of things, but I wanted to provide thorough and helpful information tailored to each person to help them start on the right foot. Nomaden would become the only company in Berlin that provides a huge set of resources including translated documents, visa advice, company listings, and clear advice, and that also focuses on the social side of relocation.

After some initial research about setting up Nomaden in Amsterdam, I decided it wasn’t the right place for it. Although I had only visited Berlin once for a few days, I already knew that it would make a perfect base, so I packed up again and made the move. Even after a number of moves abroad, Berlin was another kettle of fish. The red tape made me feel like I was running around in circles: my tax-ID never arrived and no-one at any tax office would print it for me, even though I knew they could all see it on their screens.

With the paperwork out of the way, I spent the first six months in Berlin working at online fashion company, Zalando, in the tech recruitment team. There, I met some great people and learned a lot about the Berlin startup scene, which kick-started my obsession with the Nomaden concept. I spent a year of endless hours researching and planning, then I started off on an ad-hoc basis, but this soon changed as it was an important factor of Nomaden for people to arrive in a group, and go through the journey together.

In April 2017, my first full group arrived, and I soon realised I was on the right career path. Despite their nerves and fear of the unknown that is always part of an international relocation, many participants from that group are still in Berlin and are joined each month by a new set of Nomaden participants. I’m still excited for each person when they find a flat, or a job, or even just spend a few months taking in the city. Berlin can be a tough nut to crack, but our participants settle in quickly and I’m always impressed with everyone's efforts and achievements in the city. We’ve had participants awarded rare tattoo apprenticeships, land jobs at top companies, perform in front of large audiences and master the German language.

Best of all, we all did it together, and made friends who became like family. One of the best things about moving abroad is meeting new people, having the opportunity to share ideas, life experiences and learn new perspectives. When you are pushed far out of your comfort zone and interact with people from far reaches of the globe, your awareness of the world expands. Berlin attracts vastly different types of people and so does Nomaden Berlin: we’ve had everything from DJs, business analysts, artists, bankers and former contortionists join the group. Participants come from all corners of the globe, from Norway, Argentina, Canada and Taiwan – we even have a Nomaden couple. We are a tight-knit community that grows every month, and we will give you a warm welcome to Berlin.

Where better to move to than one of the most exciting cities in the world? Berlin has something for everyone. It’s a city of transformations – my 86-year-old neighbour in our building in the former East Berlin, who has lived there for most of her life, tells me that a lot has changed in a relatively short amount of time, and that the city changes everyone who comes here. If you never recycled, you will after living in Berlin. You’ll ride a bike and take the U-Bahn even if you’ve always driven, you’ll love babies and dogs even if you were a children-hating cat-person, and techno will find a place in the heart of even the most die-hard heavy metal fan.

I started Nomaden Berlin because I am passionate about youth mobility around the world and its benefits for creating a global community. We live in a highly interconnected world and while everyone now has the opportunity to interact with the world via the internet, experiencing other cultures first-hand is a luxury not everyone can enjoy. So if you have the opportunity to live abroad, experience a different culture and take a bit of that understanding back with you, then I recommend you do it. You will help the world become even more interconnected, while experiencing what may be some of the most challenging moments in life, but also the most defining. Now is the time to move to Berlin and the best way is with Nomaden Berlin. If the world was a house, would you only stay in one room?