Tobias is an award-winning designer and entrepreneur from Germany who currently lives and works in NYC.
"NYC is too expensive and exhausting to live in just to be bored: you come here because you are on a mission".
What do you consider your nationality to be?
European (to be more specific, German).
Have you ever considered yourself a Foreigner?
Maybe in some countries I’ve visited so far, especially those with very strong national pride such as the United States. But mostly I don’t feel like a foreigner unless I’m treated as one. Airport customs is a perfect example where I become painfully aware that I am a foreigner.
Can you tell us your story as a Foreigner?
To sum it up: the initial thought to move to New York was a romantic one. In my head it seemed easier than it eventually turned out to be. My move happened very spontaneously with a 6-month sabbatical in NYC. After falling in love with the city I tried everything possible to come back and make New York my new home.
I can only describe the process as exhausting, expensive and emotionally draining. The US system does a pretty good job at letting you know that you’re not welcome in their country. Getting a visa is difficult, especially if you don’t have any traditional education on paper (like me). But in the end, I think it’s worth it.
There are so many little things I learned when I moved to New York. I wrote a blog post about it. One thing for example is how everyone walks two or three times faster than in most cities I’ve been so far. Another little detail is that instead of just saying “Hi”, people say, “Hey, how are you?”, even though no one really cares about how you are. It’s just a thing you say.
Also, people in NYC still pay with checks for some things. For example your rent. And then things are measured in inches, feet and whatever else there is. I think I will never get used to any of these.
Still my biggest surprise is how much you tolerate just to live in New York City. Things I’ve taken for granted before, that aren’t really so easy to get in New York. For example, an apartment I would never live in back in Germany, doesn’t look so bad if it’s just $2000 rent in New York. It’s almost like all your expectations are lowered. But then again, New York seems to make it worth it, otherwise people wouldn’t pay way so much money to live in a s***hole with s****y heating, cockroaches and where having a hot shower is like gambling.
What do you enjoy about living abroad?
I love the diversity of thought. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot in my young life so far and it has opened my mind beyond anything I’ve ever imagined.
Moving to New York also means that you’re not really joining one specific culture, but hundreds of little cultures. Some people often ask me why I moved to the United States, and my answer is always: I didn’t move to the US, I moved to New York. NYC is everything and nothing. It’s a big collection of people from all backgrounds and my circle of friends is from all over the world.
Was there any key encounter that helped you, personally or professionally?
I think the vibe in New York is what helped me personally and professionally. It might have changed a bit over the last seven years, but when I first came to New York I felt this hidden energy while walking on the streets. An energy that is both inspiring and addictive.
Every single person who moved here has an interesting story to tell. Most people are passionate about what they do, they aren't bored or unmotivated. NYC is too expensive and exhausting to live in just to be bored: you come here because you are on a mission. Because you want to achieve something and make something happen. This attitude is addictive.
Do you think your experience as an designer would have been the same if you stayed in your country of origin?
Absolutely not. I believe that you have to leave in order to be recognized at home. This goes for your local community as well as your close family.
How do your origins inspire your work?
This is an interesting question because I think the influence of your origins becomes more present and appreciated the older you get and the further you are in your career. If you asked me ten years ago I would have said "no". Today, my answer is "yes" because I can see how my style of working differs from those around me. There are certain details you could consider being "very German" that only now I can recognise and appreciate.
As an example, I like being on time when I meet someone. It’s an absolute "no-go" to be five or twenty minutes late without saying anything. I’ve noticed Americans for example are very casual about this. When you say lets meet at 1pm for lunch, it means being fifteen minutes late is totally fine.
Is there anything you would like the world to know about your country of origin?
This is a hard question for me because I consider myself European and not specifically from a certain country. I feel as much German as I feel Austrian. I do hope the future of this world will have less borders and we can consider ourselves all together as citizens of the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I'll think about tomorrow, tomorrow. I live life as it comes to me. Life is too short to be busy making plans for the future. But if there is one plan then it’s: travel more!
Where is home?
Home is where mama is.
What words/ideas do you associate with "Foreigner"?
When I hear someone is a Foreigner it makes them even more attractive to me. I like foreigners because they’re interesting, inspiring and can help me broaden my horizon. For me, the term “Foreigner” sparks curiosity whenever I hear it.