I’ve officially been living in Germany for eight months. It’s hard to believe that the time has gone by so fast. It feels like just the other day, I was imagining what my life would be like here. I’ve decided in honor of my eight months, I will share a few things that I’ve learned so far in the past 240 days.
1. Being an expat is a lot different than studying abroad
I’ve had a lot of experiences abroad. I studied abroad in Australia and lived with other Americans. I studied abroad in Spain and lived in a homestay. I did my entire master’s degree in England and lived in an international dorm. On my various travels I’ve been a backpacker, a vacationer, a visitor, a tourist. But nothing quite prepared me to be an expat. It’s a unique experience that I can’t really equate to any of my former trips abroad.
I think one of the differences is that this is more permanent. I actually live here and I don’t know when I will be home again. There are also no forced activities that you often have to partake in while studying abroad. While it was annoying to have to wake up and go to class, it provided an opportunity for making friends and seeing the city. Now I really have to rely on myself to meet people or participate in new activities, which has proven difficult given that my German is not quite up to conversational level yet.
It’s not all bad though. I like having my own freedom and not having my schedule dictated by those in charge of the semester. I feel more settled than I ever did while living temporarily abroad and more at home in my own apartment. Having a German husband has allowed me to hang out with locals and spend all of my time with people from this country, rather than just hanging out with other Americans while studying abroad. And I get to live my own life that I’ve created for myself, which is a rewarding experience.
2. Learning a New Language is Difficult
I should clarify that this isn’t my first time learning a new language. I started learning Spanish in 8th grade and continued it all through college, including living in Spain for a semester. So I am familiar with language learning, however I’ve been using Spanish for so long that I forgot what it was like to start from scratch.
German is tough. I’ve never taken a formal German class or really had any experience with the language before moving here aside from learning a few random words. I threw myself into learning when I first got here, only to get pretty frustrated. Teaching yourself a new language is not easy. I should be at an advantage because of my German husband, C, but we’ve been speaking in English for so long, it’s been hard to make the switch. Plus, he said he feels bad taking my mother tongue away from me since I’ve already given up so much to come to Germany.
The strange thing is that I love languages. I love listening to German here and I’ve certainly learned a lot just from that. But I’m really hoping to increase my conversational skills in the next few months. Anyone else have similar experiences? I’d love any tips you have to share, especially from other multi-lingual couples.
3. Every day is a learning experience
I can safely say that I’ve learned something every day during the past eight months. Whether it’s learning a new German word, discovering a new place in the city, or recreating my favorite American dishes in the kitchen, I just can’t stop learning. I think that’s why I love living abroad so much. Every day is an adventure and I feel energized by acquiring new knowledge. A mundane life for me is one where I live in the same place and I’m never challenged or forced to confront things outside of my comfort zone.
4. Don’t Listen to Stereotypes
There are always going to be stereotypes about a country or group of people, no matter where you go. But I think it’s best to just totally ignore them. Make your own realizations and assumptions based on your personal experience, not on what some random person on the internet has written. I often get frustrated when people around me stereotype Americans or Germans, especially if they haven’t spent a significant amount of time in that country. (No, a one week vacation is not enough time to determine the attitude of an entire country.)
I’ve had the experience of many people from the U.S. telling me that all Germans are rude and unfriendly. The truth is there are rude and unfriendly people everywhere in the world, so yes, there are a couple here too. And perhaps the culture is not the same as American customer service, where an overly-friendly attitude is adopted by most salespeople. But I am here to tell you that I know plenty of really nice people, people who have gone out of their way to make me feel at home in a new place. So I’ve really learned to try to avoid perpetuating stereotypes that in reality are probably not true.
5. Learn to Embrace Mistakes
I think one of the biggest lessons that anyone can learn from living abroad or learning a new language is how to embrace mistakes. When you live in a new culture, you won’t get everything right. You just can’t. You will use the wrong word and confuse a waiter, you will potentially offend someone by accident, and you might even get trapped in a grocery store. And that’s ok. It will actually make you a better person, a person who can function with ease outside of their comfort zone.
It’s not easy though. I am still learning this lesson every day. Sometimes I can laugh at myself and not care. Other times, I am ready to hide from the world for a few days to get over my embarrassment. It’s a learning process and I hope that it will slowly get easier over time.
6. Staying in contact with people from home is essential
For me, one of the toughest things about living in Germany is being so far from my friends and family. I never had this problem when there was an end date to my trips, but making a more permanent move has been difficult. However the great thing about living abroad now is that you can remain in constant contact with those from home. WhatsApp is a lifesaver and allows me to text and also call people in the U.S., as well as friends all over the world. FaceTime is my other go to app, and the quality is usually so good that you feel like you are sitting together in a room. Having the ability to talk to my family everyday is something that is really important to me. I might live across the ocean, but I never want to lose touch with the people I love.
So that’s it for now. I’m curious to see what I will have learned after a year or two of life abroad. What have you learned from your time abroad? I’d love to know!