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'What makes a home': Why this family of 6 moved from Germany to Long Island

Jason Wagner, his wife, Marion Weiler, and daughters

Jason Wagner, his wife, Marion Weiler, and daughters Niko, Eva, Sofie and Hanna in a portrait taken in May 2018 in Germany. Weiler said accepting an offer to work as a senior vice president for Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty in Cold Spring Harbor was a "no-brainer." Photo Credit: Jason Wagner

When marketing executive Marion Weiler and her family lived in her native Germany, she recalled often getting asked two questions during job interviews: Do you have children? And if so, how many?

As soon as Weiler would tell prospective employers she had four children, that was “the end to that conversation," she said.

Weiler and her husband, Jason Wagner, felt like they needed to seek opportunities in the United States for her to advance her career — and they didn’t want their four young daughters to face similar roadblocks in the future.

So when she got an offer to become the senior vice president of marketing and business development for Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Cold Spring Harbor, Weiler said it was a “no-brainer" to take the job and move.

“When you realize that something is not working, and an opportunity presents itself, you kind of have to jump on it,” Weiler said. “And we did.”

The couple and their daughters Niko, 8, Hanna, 7, Sofie, 6, and Eva, 2, moved to Syosset in July 2018 after two years of living in Mainz, a German city west of the Rhine River. In doing so, they took a chance on Long Island — a place they had only briefly visited once before — at a time when officials are trying to attract families to the region that’s burdened by high housing costs and high taxes. 

Wagner works as a field engineer for DeWalt, which produces manufacturing tools, and got a transfer from Germany to New York.

“We wanted [the girls] to be independent, and that’s what they see with us,” Weiler said of her and Wagner both being working parents in the United States. “I want the girls to experience that.”

They flew into Kennedy Airport on a Friday, bought a new SUV that Saturday, and by that Monday, Weiler started the new job and the girls started summer camp. The couple initially spent time preparing for work while sleeping on air mattresses, and they only had a few outfits with them while they waited for their shipping containers full of belongings to arrive in the states.

Weiler, 42, was born in Germany but moved to the United States after college. She and Wagner, 36, who’s originally from upstate New York, met in California and started their family there in 2009. But job opportunities eventually brought their growing family to Connecticut.

Niko and Hanna were born in California, Sofie was born in Connecticut, and their youngest was born in Germany.

The couple moved to Germany in 2016 to be closer to Weiler’s family and to experience a new culture. But they said single-income families are more common in Germany, and while there are anti-discrimination laws, it wasn't customary for women with more than one child to hold high-ranking jobs there.

Women in Germany are underemployed, and like other countries, underpaid compared to their male counterparts, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Women in Germany are also more likely to hold part-time positions than men, the data show.

Wagner and Weiler said they also experienced a lack of child care options in Germany, where it was difficult to find full-time care.

Weiler eventually started working with a recruiter to find a managerial job in marketing on the East Coast.

“It’s great to be back, especially because we have four daughters,” Wagner said. “They get to look at Marion as a role model.”

But moving the family of six was challenging. They uprooted their lives, including leaving Weiler’s parents in Germany, and they found the home they're renting in Syosset by using a Sotheby’s real estate agent while still in Mainz.

“This was the hardest transition that we’ve ever made in any of these moves, by a long shot,” Weiler said.

Now the family has been settling in and say they’re thankful for the proximity to their jobs and a nearby LIRR station to get to New York City. They like their diverse neighborhood that has a melting pot of cultures and religions, and they enjoy being surrounded by the water.

The Syosset school district with its ESL program was also a draw for Weiler and Wagner. Their 6-year-old, Sofie, spoke German as her primary language while the family was overseas. She transitioned to English at home once they moved to Long Island, but was hesitant to speak at all in school, Weiler said.

Sofie tested into ESL and after working with teachers and at home, she started to feel more comfortable talking in class this spring. Now she’s talking without hesitation, a “huge relief” for the family, Wagner said.

The girls have made friends and they've gotten to know the Island. They go to Sunday school and attend karate together, which the oldest three daughters say is their favorite after-school activity (they have earned blue belts).

They all love different subjects in school and have their own ideas of what they want to be when they grow up. Hanna has her sights set on becoming a cowgirl, she says. And Sofie says she wants to be a teacher when she grows up, inspired by her favorite one at school.

Now that the girls are settled in, the couple said they’ve been connecting with neighbors and creating their own routine in the neighborhood to make it feel more like home.

But Weiler said home isn't always just about the physical space — it's more about the people you're with.

“That's what makes a home," she said.

Newsday is looking for Long Island residents who have moved here from another part of the country or the world. Do you have a story to share about making LI your home? Send them to erin.serpico@newsday.com.

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