XPAT Spotlight – Interview with Barbara Kempen, business owner, and nature lover, who manages to combine the two cultures she loves in her daily work while helping fellow expats.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Barbara Kempen has moved to Los Angeles about 30 years ago. She arrived in L.A. as a young student and was fascinated by the magic of the American dream. She decided to stay, raise a family and start a business of her own. She knows life in Los Angeles inside out and can tell you a story or two on what it takes to make it or break it here in California.
What made you leave Germany and choose California as your new home?
I was 24 years old when I finished my Diplom Kauffrau (similar to MBA) at the University in Cologne. As I was very young I wanted to gain some work experience abroad. During that year I worked for Lufthansa in Marketing and Controlling in Los Angeles and met my ex-husband. Instead of returning to Germany I started a career in the fashion industry and was a successful fabric sourcing specialist for several LA companies and often traveled abroad.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to stay in California?
Naturally, my family and friends in Germany were not happy that I had decided to make my permanent home in Los Angeles, and that I had chosen Los Angeles over Cologne. However, I always made a point to regularly visit my parents while they were still alive as well as my three brothers in Germany.
Did you change careers while living here in CA?
Yes, I did. When my son was born, I decided to leave the fabric sourcing world and became a controller in a fashion business. While working there, I developed a huge interest in insurance, as I had to deal with all the insurance issues for the company. I decided to get my insurance license and, for 11 years now, I have owned my insurance company Solid Health Insurance Services which specializes in health, life, and long-term care insurances.
I love what I do, as I deal with people on a daily basis and I am able to help many clients to sift through the jungle of health and life insurance options. My job reminds me every day, how grateful we can be to be healthy and also enjoy such great medical treatment facilities. Each year, it gets more challenging as Californians have to struggle with the high healthcare costs and with that also increasing insurance costs.
Comparing your business here in California with Germany, what comes to mind?
Without wanting to go into politics, it is frustrating for me to see no cost transparency and no medical cost control here in California or anywhere in the United States. In Germany, you can easily access any doctor charges online and know what a treatment costs. So it is frustrating to see how far behind the U.S. is in medical cost transparency. On the other hand, we don’t have to deal with the long waiting lines in doctors’ offices here in California, which are not uncommon in Germany. Also, we have many amazing treatment centers here in the U.S. should one get seriously ill. But sometimes it seems that medicine in the U.S. is more of a “hardcore business machine” rather than a “calling to help and treat patients”.
Is California your dream come true? What do you love and what could you do without?
Interesting question. Yes and No, and I think many expats will feel the same. I love Los Angeles with its mixtures of cultures, tolerance, unbelievable nature, and great weather. However, it is an expensive city; it has too much traffic, and sometimes it’s a lonely city. There are so many people, but so many people, who do not talk to each other!
Sometimes I think antidepressants and stress pills are given out like Smarties. So, I make a point to be active in my community. I am the co-chair of the Women In Business for GABA and love to organize workshops which support women to be successful in this big city. I also am a chamber member in the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.
I love my daily hikes here in the Santa Monica Mountains or spending time on the beach. I make a point to eat healthy and exercise. I’ve worked all my life here in California and have seen many financial ups and downs. I know that it makes sense to be a bit frugal and think before spending money in a restaurant, which charges me $50.- just for a glass of wine and an appetizer!
Do you miss Germany?
I do love and miss the ‘Deutsche Gemütlichkeit und Frohsinn’. There is nothing better than Karneval in Cologne, Germany. The city closes its business for 5 days, everyone is in costumes and is out partying until the morning hours. Seven years ago, I happened to meet my husband Uwe in the Kölner Karneval. Uwe happens to be an investment and insurance specialist in Germany, so we both complement each other. We are able to assist many expats with questions in regards to insurance in California and Germany. As a result, we both travel often between the two continents. We both love this challenge and are very happy together. Life in Germany is easier, living costs are lower and there is less “Existenz Angst”.
However, who wants to deal with the cold weather and the “Stursinn” and “this is how it’s supposed to be”. California has so many possibilities that offer endless opportunities but, let’s not forget, it also demands much energy to ‘make it happen’ in California.
Your thoughts on Heimweh?
Travel, when Heimweh gets too big! No sense in torturing yourself when you miss your loved ones! I enjoy the trust of many older German clients, who have lived in Los Angeles for a long time. And many of them have been able to keep their roots to Germany alive and travel to Europe during Spring and Summertime. This is also my retirement goal as both places are in my heart!
Your Special Expat Tip?
I have in fact a few…
- Make a point to actively get involved in a community, which represents your interest. This might be a German Association, Sport or Religion or a book club.
- Make time to get out in nature for a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, or go to the beach or do a sunset walk. You will be mesmerized. It’s beautiful!
- Travel, when Heimweh gets too big!
- And, lastly, never believe the naysayers; you can move continents if you just set your mind to it!
Thank you, Barbara, for this insightful interview! You managed to combine the two cultures you love in your daily work. What a great path!
Credits: Images ©Barbara Kempen
Connect with Barbara Kempen and Solid Health Insurance Services here:
Barbara Kempen – Solid Health Insurance Services (Lic.# 0G05625)
Tel. 310-909-6135 and Fax 310-633-8306