Jenn M Choi is a happy Berlin expat who is passionate about creating impact at scale. As a Writer, Speaker, and Content Creator she tells inspirational personal stories and shares practical life + work lessons to empower people. As an Empowerment Coach, she empowers real humans to make BIG ASS changes and design the life + work they dream of.
She’s also the Founder of a marketing communications consultancy. Her big dream is to finish writing a memoir on her journey of self-love through the grief of losing both parents. Originally from San Francisco, she’s now cozily settled in Berlin. You can find her online at jennmchoi.com and connect on social media @jennmchoi.
What made you uproot yourself and move to Berlin?
I totally fell head over heels in love with Berlin the first time I visited in 2014. The creativity, the freedom of authentic expression, the f*cking incredible music, the slower pace of life in Europe. It became one of my dreams to live here, even if for a short while. I loved it so much I visited six times before finally moving here.
When my mom died from cancer in 2017, I was heartbroken. I also lost my dad in 2010, so life in my hometown of San Francisco without my parents didn’t feel the same. I was ready to start a new chapter of my life in Berlin. Now I’m almost three years in and hope to stay for much longer.
How did you find the relocation process?
I moved here alone on a cold November day with only two suitcases and nothing else. I had to build everything from the ground up all over again. Thankfully I had a few good friends here who were a huge help, but the first few months were very difficult.
I had no flat, no visa, and no real plan. I first lived with a friend for a few weeks, and then moved to a temporary flat for another few months. In the meanwhile, I had to figure out how to stay here legally. Getting a visa was incredibly stressful, which is why I was so happy to find Expats in Wonderland. Ina totally saved me! Getting my visa approved for two years was one of the best feelings in the world! Later on, Ina and team also helped me get my next two flats, including the dream home we are currently living in now.
Which neighbourhood have you chosen to live in and why? Did you consider other areas?
Beautiful historic Prenzlauer Berg. I love it here because I’m a bit obsessed with the green tree-lined streets flanked with Altbaus. Also, we have a lot of friends and nice neighbors around us. Community and human connection are vital to me. The neighborhood is very chill, yet has enough going on in terms of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Some people make fun of Pberg because it’s less “cool” than it used to be and full of baby strollers. But after a life of crazy partying since I was 15 years old, I think I’m ok with slowing down now and hopefully building a family soon. I still plan to have loads of fun of course, but in a different way.
Why did you choose your particular apartment? What features/factors were most important to you when choosing a place to live?
My partner and I are blessed to call this light-filled Altbau our home. There are windows on both sides of the flat so we get tons of light in the morning and in the afternoon. This was a huge requirement for me since I work from home and light fills my soul.
We also love the high ceilings with intricate stucco patterns. It feels like we’ve traveled back in time to the early 1900s, yet it’s been renovated so it’s still modern. We also have the shiniest floors in Berlin haha. A friend once told us, “Wow, your floors are so shiny I could eat off them!” Other than that, the location, proximity to parks and public transportation, and spacious size were important to us.
What approach have you taken to making your living space your own?
My mom loved antiques and second hand items so I definitely wanted to carry her legacy on.
We combed flea markets all over Berlin in order to find vintage chandeliers and other pieces to mix in with our modern furniture. I also have two of her art sketches by our bed.
My partner’s Danish and has excellent taste in design (seriously it’s in their Scandinavian genes) so some rooms have mid-century vibes full of hygge. He got some great furniture from Exil Wohnen.
The kitchen is very special to me because creating it was a true adventure. It was completely empty when we moved in, which as a foreigner is a shock. There was no sink, no stove, no drawers, no fridge, no lights. Nothing. Though it was incredibly stressful to design and build a kitchen, it was an exciting challenge with many trips to IKEA. Now I get to say that we did it! And as my dad did, I love to cook. For me, the kitchen is the heart of the home.
Have you relocated your business to Berlin along with yourselves?
Yes, I feel fortunate that I was already working online prior to moving to Berlin. I already had corporate, startup, and private clients from different parts of the world, so the business relocation was fairly smooth. For years I had already built a global network as a digital nomad, so Berlin is a great base. I find it to be a really international city and as I’ve integrated more into the German culture and system I’ve also gained German clients as well.
My life here is much more balanced. Back in the US I felt like I was in a rat race hustle culture, especially in Silicon Valley. It was always go go go and more more more! Now I’m taking the time to slow down and focus on my health and overall well-being.
Do you ever get homesick for your home country? What things do you miss the most? Are there things you do or places you go when you need a taste of home?
In some ways I do because I miss my brother and friends. I also miss the excellent customer service, authentic Asian and Mexican food, and Spicy Hot Flamin’ Cheetos (my favorite snack!) However, I do not miss the political climate in the US and the heartbreaking homelessness in SF.
When I need a taste of home, I either find the ingredients to cook meals I miss myself, or hunt for restaurants that remind me of home. Food= comfort for me. I’m a huge foodie and eat more than people twice my weight.
What do you think are the best things about living in Berlin?
Ah, so many things! I enjoy the pace of life and endless exploration. Each neighborhood is like its own town. Mostly quiet but when you want to go out the whole night and dance til dawn there are plenty of options. Seriously the nightlife is delightfully insane. (Well, except for during the pandemic.) I also feel like there’s something for everyone, and it’s multi cultural. There’s history, there’s culture, there’s art, there are tons of parks. And there’s beauty in the breakdown...of old abandoned buildings adorned with street art.
I savor the quality of life here. Though living costs are rising quickly, you still get a good deal when compared to other major cities. I also feel much safer here in terms of less crime. And overall, my spirit feels more free here. Like I can finally be myself. Without judgment.
How have you integrated into the city? Have you learnt German? Did you make local friends or mostly expats?
When I first moved to Berlin, I didn’t speak German, which was frustrating. After I learned some German at a language school, life became ten times better. For me, learning enough of the language to speak to people was critical. Now I feel more integrated and appreciative of Germany as a whole. This country has accepted me as an immigrant. The least I can do is respect and honor that by learning the language and hopefully contributing in some way to the community.
I’m grateful that I have both local German and expat friends, which are like an extension of my family. In one close friends circle, we have a Whatsapp group with over 30 people, majority of which are Germans. And then of course I have pockets of expat friends from the US and many other different countries. Diversity in culture and thought are both important to me.
Do you have any specific plans which you would like to accomplish while living here, or just enjoy the lifestyle and spoils of the city?
Hell yeah I have plans! :) I’d like to publish my memoir. It’s a slow painful process to go through the trauma of grief again and again through writing it, but I hope it will help lots of readers one day when it’s out on bookshelves. We’d also like to start a family here and hopefully by that time I will have learned even more German to navigate through daily life.
What are your favourite places in and around Berlin to…
Cat Tuong (delicious vegan Vietnamese), Genazvale (Georgian), Aroma (for dim sum that reminds of home), Seaside or Fishklub (both have super fresh seafood), Night Kitchen (modern Israeli), Tinman (brunch), the KaDeWe food court.
Wohnzimmer (one of the few smoke-free bars), Ora (gorgeous interior), taking a bottle of Riesling or Grauburgunder to any park and sitting in the sun with friends
DSTM (stylish bodywear), Broke + Schön, Mauerpark Flea Market (lots of independent sellers), &Other Stories, handmade earrings by Berlin designers: Maskarades, or Zoe Tan Studio
Walking along the Spree from Berliner Dom to Tiergarten (such a pretty walk!), Vabali spa, running in Volkspark Friedrichshain
Pick any neighborhood and simply wander around to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. You can find a lot of hidden gems and corners that way. Not enough people get out of their kiez to explore and Berlin has tons to offer. I’m also a huge fan of hiking around the lakes in and around the city. Bernsteinsee is magical.
What advice would you give to other expats thinking to move to the city?
Just do it! If you have a calling to move here try it out and come with an open mind and heart. Mindset matters a lot. Don’t let the complainers get to you. For every negative person you can find many positive people. What you experience in Berlin will be a reflection of how you are deep inside and your attitude. Your identity might even change, but that’s the beauty of Berlin. It can change you, and hopefully be a playground for you to find out who you really are. Want more tips? I wrote an entire article with “10 Lessons I Learned Moving to Berlin” here.