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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Essen, 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?

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.

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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Comments about this Report

Mar 15, 2011 15:12

30 years down the week this Californian will be married to her German love of her life 30 years strong. I want to share with you thoughts that come from my similar personal experiences and my work as a Relationship and Expat Coach regarding having a bi-cultural relationship, blending in and finding your own way. In my first years of living in Germany I was completely submersed in the culture as I had no contact with other Expats or Americans. That was great for learning the language and making some lifelong friends. As you know, since you married a person from a different culture than your own, there are some people that we resonate with deeply where cultural differences (mostly) just melt away into the background. Because German culture is not vastly different from the US, (we also lived in Japan where the contrasts were larger), I used to wonder if the relationship glitches that my husband and I experienced came from our different personalities, was a man-woman thing, one of the various stages that relationships experience or those subtle cultural differences that have influenced us in our upbringing. It was usually one or all of the above at any given time. I found it helpful to understand what we were being influenced by, which then helped us know how to go about making "the space between us" great once again. I have American friends in Germany who married German nationals. We all tend to deeply miss various aspects of US culture, Californians especially the weather and gorgeous nature. But after a time, you yourself become a blend of both cultures. I find it extremely important not to try to blend in too much. One of the challenges that Expats face, the loss of majority status, can influence you to want to not stand out. But please accept your 'differentness'. It is a part of you. Germans can benefit from your Californian/American friendly and open ways. And you can appreciate different aspects of the German lifestyle such as, Kaffeetrinken afternoons with friends, good health insurance, living in a country with less extreme poverty, a great infrastructure and interesting and interested people. I would encourage you to incorporate into your life visiting California often to 'tank up'. The pain of missing loved ones will always be there, that is part and parcel of having a global lifestyle but it never needs to cripple. My husband and I are living for a time in New York now and miss our 3 adult children who all live in Europe. I also miss my people and places in California. You can grow a California garden in Germany. You can have deep relationships from afar through telephone and internet contact. We visit our children and friends every few months and are making plans to live in both countries. This may be a goal that you and your husband will want to strive for. The frustration of not having your credentials and work experience accepted in a different country affects millions of people. Hopefully as time goes on and the world becomes ever more mobile, we will see more change in this area. You can continue your education in Germany in various ways. The passion to learn, even if your mastery of the language is not yet perfect, will come when you find how you can best contribute with your strengths and skills. German education and subsequent work will help you to grow roots into the soil that you are now living on. And as the Expat lifestyle is expensive, a good job will help you to pay for the tickets that will fly you to your "other life" which you can enjoy through the lovely benefit of the long vacation time that Germany offers. All the best to you and your husband for your next 30 years! Oshikan If you would like to contact me my address is:

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