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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Erlangen, 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?

I came to Germany as a member of the US Armed Forces and was stationed here for a bit more than three years. I received a 3 day training immediately upon arrival, but the German word for Thank you was about all I really took away from it. Since moving here I have totally integrated myself into the country, have attended 5 years of school alongside German Nationals and have spent many years living/working under the same conditions as any German citizen.

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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?

I did not speak the language when I arrived in country nor did I learn it throughout my military stay. Upon my exit from service I continued living in Germany and within a few months was speaking basic German. Two years later was fluent enough in both speaking and writing to attend the German equivalent of High School then on to college. That was 20 years ago and since then I have taught both children and adults many different subjects and in both English as well as German.

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

I was worried, but being a member of the military, I knew that I would be well cared for.

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

Daily life in Germany is not that much different from that which I was accustomed to in the US. The main difference in my eyes is probably the lack of "service with a smile". German culture is very different in that aspect. Although they have improved drastically over the last 20 years, they are still a very "closed" society which can be difficult to break into. People do not greet strangers on the street with even so much as a hello and those who do attempt such politeness may be disappointed by the reaction it produces. Also Germany can be "brutally honest" with those they deem friends. This becomes apparent in situations where they tend to point out faults of said friends which in their mind is meant to help, but where I come from such things are often not spoken out of general politeness.

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?

There were (and still are) occasionally times when I question the reasoning behind certain laws, rules and regulations, but not any more often then most do in my home country.

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.

Occasional frustration and homesickness, but not really any more than if I had moved to the other side of my own country far away from family and friends.

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

There are many things about Germany that I feel constitute an improvement to my life, but the single most important one is easily their healthcare program. They have a single payer system and everybody in the country is covered. Regardless of what my medical needs are, it is paid without question and without me seeing a bill. The second most appreciated improvement is probably the ability to travel cheaply and without restriction to so many historically and culturally relevant places throughout Europe.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The most challenging aspect was definitely learning the language and proper etiquette.

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

My advice to those who may be considering a relocation to Germany is to remain open-minded in the face of cultural differences. You cannot expect locals to behave according to what you deem "correct". It is our job as guests to conform to local traditions and etiquette. Remember that you are an ambassador to your country and your actions may influence the way locals not only see you, but also the way they see your homeland as a whole.

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