Interview with Annette and Thomas - European Expats in Africa

During my very first tour, I really struggled to find my social circle as I settled into a new lifestyle. One of the people I met during that tour, who has stayed in touch and is near to my heart was Annette Lohmann. She and her husband, Thomas Greven, are a German couple who were stationed in Africa for 9 years. Annette worked on democracy and governance projects for a German NGO and Thomas is a Professor of Political Science who would travel between countries.

They returned to Berlin in 2019 and intend to be there for a little bit. Returning after 9 years is certainly an adjustment, as you and the country have certainly changed since you were last there full time. I was therefore, excited to interview them about their return experience and hope readers will find some gems of wisdom in their reflections.

What was the hardest thing about returning home?

A: Leaving my friends, especially a very close circle of international friends, was the hardest part as I knew that we would have not so many chances to see each other in person at least for a while. Digitalization makes things a bit better but can obviously not replace our old kind of interaction. During the pandemic we have been more closely in touch.

T: In the months before leaving, I was somewhat worried about my professional re-integration (at the ripe age of 53). I even had a coach. But I got lucky and found a full-time job on a temporary basis (with Annette’s employer!). The position isn’t a complete fit, but it allows me to continue my freelance work and to figure out where to go next. What was hardest for me was to see how much German society had changed for the worse. While I had spent every summer semester in Germany, teaching, and while I had followed German politics intellectually, the increased polarization and hate-mongering from the right has been upsetting.

What did you least expect to challenge you when you returned? How did you overcome it?

A: I was very focused on what would come next in my new “German” life. I thought that I had simply closed one chapter and would move on. But I underestimated my need to deal with all the memories and I came to understand that I occasionally needed a moment to mourn the loss of my old life.