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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Cologne, Germany


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Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Yes, pretty good actually. Best thing is the w-curve, that is, the ups and downs associated with an international move, excited, depressed, exciting, frustrating, rewarding, not for everyone (they wont change the country you move to so you better change yourself). Dont be shy, try to communicate and look for the challenge and for other ways of seeing things.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Learned over 3 years, practice often, speak, speak, speak.... You must speak the language or you never really get to know the locals. Dont be afraid to try, pronunciation is critical, ask for corrections to get the sounds right... 'Did I say that right' You will eventually memorise the right word order... Germany has many words similar to English. Dont get frustrated by the Grammar, many Germans make the same mistakes.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

A little, the Germans can be stiff and sour pusses. However, once you get to know them, especially, the younger ones, you see they are very well versed in more subjects than a typical American and have a lot to offer in personal contact that usually go deeper once they become friends.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

You feel a bit ignored or pushed around at first, but you get used to it. It is sad there is not more personal interest in strangers that casual kindness is not more prevalent, but having said that I am seeing it more and more. The world is really becoming global and culture shock should only last a few weeks. The adaption to new routines is usually harder, which is in a way cultural, but I have lived in 4 countries now and see less national cultural shock influences and more local peculiarities..

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Yes, the best thing to do is go outside and make the strange and new familiar. Go shopping for the instant gratification. Go to the parks and cafes for a feeling of connectedness with the local good spots. Get into a routine so that normal living becomes more secure...

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Loneliness if you do it yourself. Frustration that I dont know how to do something (shopping, get a drivers license, read the menu) or that they do it so differently here. All passes eventually, especially if you have someone to talk about it with.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Intelligent and provoking conversation European holidays Culture is everday International feelings Order and Structure is sometimes a good thing Life is about living and not just working

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Language. Lack of casualness. Keeping smiling when others around you arent.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Yes, but it is really a language mistake. My wife was 7mos pregnant and we went to a Spa region to find a hotel to relax and unwind for a couple of days. I went in to ask about availability and told the hotel clerk I wanted my wife to be 'Verdorben'. I thought I was saying that I wanted to spoil her with a luxurous experience, but apparently it literally means to spoil (ie. go rotten) and in the case of people it means to have them move into less respectable professions (ie. corrupt). The clerk was a little surprised especially after my wife came in to check on me. We then had a good laugh once she cleared up that I was still practicing new uses for my new found language skills.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Slow down and don't worry it wont last too long, either you will adjust or move back home. One or the other is inevitable.

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