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Welcome on board to Germany

That moment when your spouse comes home and breaks the news, they have found a lucrative job offer in Germany. What is the most expected reaction of the other spouse; delighted or ambivalent or down right anxiety or a flat rejection? We all witness such situations at some point in our lives. Moving to a foreign land is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a marked difference between visiting a new country as an explorer, and actually living in a foreign country as an expatriate. But, what if the above two combine together? Still don’t get it? Be an expat explorer, the mantra for a most productive stay abroad. Explore the new land, its culture, its language, its societal norms, the local cuisine, the local music and the local beverages, while you work your way there. The crux of the matter, however remains, that most expatriates inadvertently build a wall around themselves by not opening up. This is where the problem lies. As expats we tend to get too wary of the new land and its natives.

Before embarking on a journey to any foreign country with regards to employment (in our case, Germany), it is advised that you understand, and also make your family realize, the possible challenges which might come along following the move. This is something very common and natural. The decision of relocating to a foreign land, and its implications on your future life should be pondered.

Living abroad is like rose picking. With its many advantages come sizeable trials as well. After all, the roses come with thorns too. As an expatriate, one has to be prepared to face the daunting hurdles which keep brewing up, more frequently in the initial years. For example, all the sweating and running around the foreign office and hell lot of bureaucratic complications. However tough it may be for you to adjust to the local surroundings, do not live in the expat bubble of familiarity and comfort. Every day should dawn with more positivity in you. You might trip a few times or feel unsettled or think that all has gone awry in Germany.  It’s not so, what you are experiencing is something very usual, most expats face it. Every expatriate living abroad goes through phases of acceptance and rejection by the host country. It is not anything only you are subjected to. Off course, if its Germany, the ways of business dealings, work ethics and socializing, would all be German and different from what we are used to. As an expat you are supposed to learn all the nuances of the culture of the host country.

When we step into foreign countries we try to build our own familiar group with familiar faces, in order to remain close to what we can easily relate to, thereby, further alienating ourselves from the local environment. This familiarity seeking tactic hinders the transition of an expatriate into a comrade. Thus, they will forever feel out of place, and the host country will forever seem like a ‘foreign country’.

Indeed, there is an element of culture shock, but the sooner we get over it, the better it is for our own good. It is best not to carry the baggage of our own culture to a foreign land, and expect others to comprehend and respect it. Instead, be more open minded and accept the change. Let yourself be accommodative and open to newer friendships.

For a healthy and a steady integration into German society, first you need to cleanse yourself of all the false impressions and stereotypes you have created in your mind. Believe me, this alone is a big leap towards successfully assimilating into a foreign country, which can turn out to be a life rewarding experience. One thing that has to be understood well is, ‘any transformation takes time.’ You can’t sleep one night, and wake up the next morning behaving like a German. A few years have to be invested before you start embracing the new land as your new abode. The trick is, to not let the fear of mingling up with the locals take the better of you. We often feel, ‘what would others think if I speak wrong German, or what would they think, if I behave differently than them in any situation, God! I would be so awkward.’ Friends, go easy. Nobody gives a damn! That’s the best part of being in Germany. Also, blunders are a guide to learning. Patience and perseverance, are the keys to unlocking the art of adaption. The best thing you could do is, say goodbye to all these diabolical thoughts that obstruct your integration process.

Once the integration part has been handled, half the battle is won except that there still remains a catch. The big question is ‘what about the trailing spouses’? Mostly, the women follow their husbands on their projects/work abroad. Hence, they quit their existing jobs. Though, usually the trailing spouses manage to get jobs in the new land sooner or later, but there have also been cases of failure to do so which leads to frustration. Many spouses who were actively involved in jobs in their respective home countries, ever since they have made a move to Germany, they complain of crisis in their lives in terms of career and identity. Their dream of a prospective career in a new land is slowly wearing off, and life has become plainly mundane. Under such circumstances, even the strongest, and the must adjusting of spouses, would fall into pits of depression and frustration, which are born due to constant comparison between their current unemployed state and their past productive state.

To all those, who hate the tag of being labelled as ‘a trailing or accopanying or an expat spouse’ trust7 provides you a breather from all your mounted frustrations due to lack of a proper job. Yes! You heard it right. If you are an engineer, and are still struggling to find a job apt for you, give trust7 a chance to help you in job hunting. In the words of Mr Detlef von Hellfeld, founder of trust7, “trust7 offers a chance on a freelance/success basis to assist you in your career as a consultant in HR business.” All you need to do is, forward your updated CV as per German standards to Mr Detlef and wait to hear some good news. As for professionals in other fields like me, there is a plethora of options to choose from, but, I would suggest that you begin with learning German first. Even if you have the knack for creating your own future job, you still require the native language for growth.

Moving past the language hurdle allows free access to the heart of any land and its culture. By learning the new language, you gain an insight and understanding of the ways of functioning of a particular culture. Language unlocks all distances and discomforts; you may have as an expat in Germany. It makes you, and others around you, more at ease with one another. The more hesitant you are in approaching the locals, the locals are even more hesitant to open up with you, because you are a foreigner who speaks an alien language. Friendship breeds on familiarity, that’s why German is pivotal. After all, you are in their land, you should take the initiative of learning their native language and remove the disquiet around you. 

Funny enough, in every non English speaking country I have visited so far, I have come across a group of expats who mumble-grumble about the toughness of the language they are supposed to learn. So, basically every non English speaking country, with its own language, somehow gets labelled as the country with the most difficult language and very unwelcoming.This is the most common statement by which we try to gain public sympathy, and conceal our own lazy to learn attitude. The ‘I will do it tomorrow attitude’ is to be held responsible for distancing us from the host country, and we have to get away with as soon as possible, if we want steady settlement in Germany. ‘I will do it tomorrow’ gets postponed so far that eventually it becomes impossible. We all know tomorrow never comes, so do it today. It is sad but true that the vast majority of expats, despite living in a foreign country for years learn close to nothing with regards to the local language, and thus the feeling of loneliness and isolation. Then, we blame the locals for being unfriendly and practicing discrimination. In reality, it is clearly failure on our part to integrate. But it is always easy to accuse the natives of behaving differently towards us.

I would summarize by saying that don’t let the charisma of a new land fade away.  Let the fire of fascination remain ignited in you. Come out of the comfort zone, and explore the newness around you. You know the best part about being an expat is that our early struggles in adapting ourselves to the new environment make us stronger than ever. We gradually learn to overcome our worst fears and appreciate the good times. An expat’s life is a true adventure. How thrilling you make your adventure is up to you.

Tune into local radio, hear German music, read German newspapers, listen to German news…. all this even if you don’t know a word of German. That’s how you will slowly start picking up the language and develop a flair for it. You don’t have to become Friedrich Schiller or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in holding conversations with fellow Germans, just a normal expat who is learning a new language and struggling with accusative, dativ and genetiv.

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