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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Essen, Germany

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Essen

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

Not really. I moved here first as an Au Pair (international nanny) and during those 10 months met my now-husband, and then married him and moved here permanently.

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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?

Yes, I speak a bit of German now. I learned a bit out of a book before coming, but couldn't really speak/understand, but learned the language after I was here, mostly from my guest family's children and the youth group at our church here.

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

No, which was a huge mistake. I really didn't even get hit with it during the entire time here as an Au Pair, but then after moving here permanently (5 months ago) it has set in with a vengeance.

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

I had lived for a year in Sweden without much, if any, culture shock, and as mentioned above, here in Germany for 10 months without culture shock, so really was not expecting it now, but I think the 'permanence' of being married a living here has affected it hugely. Before, I think I used to just ignore the little irritations because I knew that 'in a year I'll be going home'.

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?

I think the first 10 months as an Au Pair were my honeymoon stage. After marrying, I definitely had a combination of irritation, anger, and rejection. I think I am transitioning to the adjustment phase, but slowly.

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.

I definitely had bouts of depression, especially coming from California summer right into German winter. I got easily frustrated and overly worried about fitting in, etc. New social situations were very nerve-wracking. I also am dealing with missing family and friends.

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

I know that most people say Germans are not open and friendly, but I have found that most people are willing to give me the chance. Maybe that is because I am married to a German, and therefore have an 'inside contact'?

I also LOVE how punctual everyone is!

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

All of the regimen especially in regards to education is hard for me. I finished American high school and have then been a working adult for 8 years, and to arrive here in Germany where I am no longer 'qualified' simply because I do not have a degree is rather frustrating.

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

I actually am rather disappointed that I haven't. I would have loved a great story to share with my family/friends in California, but I can't think of anything too terribly embarrassing.

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

Just because it hasn't set in yet doesn't mean it won't! Try to learn the language as fast as possible - connecting to people is difficult without it. Make friends as fast as possible - especially with 'natives'; it will help you adjust faster.

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