Fresh eyes: Reverse culture shock in America

Walking through Walmart at 9:30 pm felt wrong. Not being able to ride the train to school or work was strange, and Sunday was another work day.

A few years ago, I never thought it would be possible to see my hometown differently. But that was before living and working in Germany for two years.

Reverse culture shock is an actual thing. In fact, there is an entire article entitled “The Psychology of International Living” written by Dr. Dennis White. Dr. White is a clinical and consulting Psychologist, whose work is cited for the Rotary Exchange program.

In the article, Dr. White explains, “In a sense, you have become a citizen of the world, so it may be more than a little confusing to think where home is”.

Also, “…the extent to which you immersed yourself in your host culture, and truly adapted, is probably the best indicator of how much reverse culture shock you will experience”(White, Dennis).

In a way, it is kind of treated like the mourning process, in that it has different phases:

1.)Happiness: You’re super excited to be back and see friends and family!

2.)Frustration: You can get really frustrated. For some reason, after returning from small town-life in Germany, I hated huge stores like Walmart where everything felt commercial. I felt like no one really understood what I was talking about. Everything grated on me (and sometimes still does).

3.)”Gradual Adjustment”: It may sound strange, but I had a hard time remembering certain phrases in English that made me sound like a wierdo in my own native language, and no matter how cool riding the train was in Germany,there’s nothing more fun than cruising down the highway in your own car, blasting music. In short, you slowly get the hang of not being in a foreign culture anymore.

4.)”Biculturalism”: You’ll never forget what you learned during your stay/travel abroad! I’ll always hold onto the German language and love of Bavarian tradition. With time you can feel at home in both cultures.

The article also suggests not to ignore reverse culture shock, rather to talk it out with loved ones, and maybe even find a group of return exchange students, missionaries and other travelers!

I hope this helps anyone out there who may be experiencing reverse culture shock but doesn’t know it.

Anyone ever had an experience like this?

My Volunteer Year Abroad

I never really planned to dedicate and volunteer a year of my life abroad in Germany. It just kind of… happened.

I was studying German at a small school in Bavaria and I was intimidated by the prospect of attending university over there (going to school is stressful enough and even more so, when you’re not 100% with the language).

So I took my friend’s advice, and considered applying for a volunteer position to orient myself. As with any big decision I was scared, had my doubts, but I did it anyway.

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I have absolutely no regrets! I made amazing friends, visited beautiful cities, and dealt with learning curves that come with a new job.

In Germany this volunteer year is sponsored by the German government, and with most positions, you receive room and board as well as some pocket money. I had the luck of finding a volunteer position at a historic monastery in Upper Bavaria.

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In the monastery, it was like a dorm setting, and I lived and worked with seven other awesome people who became my friends. We greeted visiting school groups who would come there for retreats and seminars. It was a great way to meet hundreds of new people!

When we weren’t doing chores or office work, we got to take school groups out canoeing on this beautiful emerald green lake nearby (that will forever by my favorite swimming spot), or hiking and spending the night at a cabin in the forest. I had to pinch myself several times, asking if this was a real job!

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On the weekends, we’d sit out in the cool beautiful inner courtyard of the monastery on yoga mats eating pizza, or taking a bike tour to the different small villages.

Unfortunately, after a year the contract ends, and I said goodbye to my friends. But it was bitter sweet, because, although it had come to an end, I knew I had gained so much from my time there.

I learned how to handle stressful situations, how to be happy with less, and how to make new friends.

This is just to let you know, what can happen when you do say “yes” to certain chances. It may be the beginning of something you’ll never forget!

Home-sickness: Have a Plan!

As I sat in my host-family’s living room, surrounded by smiling faces and polite small talk, I felt like a scuba diver whose oxygen had run out at the bottom of the ocean. Everything that was familiar and dear to me was thousands of miles away.

Never had I been this far away from home. Never had I stayed somewhere, where my hosts were not blood-related or friends of mine. I was 19 years old, it was my first day as a foreign exchange student in Germany, and I was desperately home-sick.

Thank goodness my dad literally wrote down a plan for me before I left. I didn’t feel I would need it, but that first night alone, I frantically dug through my backpack until I had fished it out. For anyone out there who feels they are on the verge of a home-sickness panic attack, breathe and read:

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1.) Exercise: Take a walk around the block. The first five minutes your mind will still be a knotted mess, but after maybe ten minutes you’ll be distracted by the birds in the trees or an interesting building.

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2.) Don’t think about how long your trip is: Big mistake! Stop it! A lot of panic comes from thinking about how long you will be away from home. Instead of stressing out about being gone for 3 months, think only as far as tomorrow. How do you eat an elephant? Bite for bite.

3.) Write in your travel diary: Think of your diary as a buddy. Friends share what’s bothering them and getting it out of your system can take a lot off your chest. Plus, you’ll need to write down all of your awesome experiences somewhere!

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4.) Souvenirs from home: This can be anything that gives you the comfort of home. For me that was bringing my favorite DVD’s and playing them at night on my laptop before going to bed.

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5.) Get spiritual: For those of you who are religious, it may be comforting to attend a prayer service. I’m Catholic, so going to mass anywhere in the world is the same. The language was different, but the flow was the same.

6.) Take care of yourself: Keeping up with personal grooming is important because it keeps you healthy and helps you mentally. For example, giving myself a manicure/pedicure lets me concentrate on something else and makes me feel put together.

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7.) Carpe Diem! You’ll only experience this once! Don’t waste time mourning a place you’ll return to soon. Soak up everything like a sponge; enjoy every bite of a new dish you just discovered, take pictures with newfound friends and come home exhausted with too many stories to tell!

8.) Stay connected (in moderation): Luckily technology makes it easy to call home. It’s helpful to get an earful of encouragement from family and friends, but don’t be on the phone all the time! Sometimes it’s helpful just to know that you can always call home if you have to.

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9.)Learn something new: It’s good to talk about where you come from, but also be open to new things. Learn something about the country you’re visiting!

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10.) Personal space: Traveling and meeting new people can be exhausting and sometimes the most luxurious experience is having alone time. Slow down and enjoy where you are!

After a few days of applying these tips, I forgot I was homesick, and started to fully enjoy the present. That is the goal of traveling, and that’s why I hope anyone who’s homesick reading this will realize it is only stealing time away from a precious experience.

Let me know if there’s something YOU do to stop homesickness, or if this has helped you! I wanna know ūüôā

Berlin: First impressions

When we rolled into Alexanderplatz station in what used to be East Germany, Berlin didn’t exactly overwhelm me with it’s beauty.

It was hot, it was crowded, and it was dirty. This was Berlin? I expected a gleaming capital city centered around modern parliament buildings.

We were staying in Marzahn at a Don Bosco youth shelter in an area known for its poverty and crime rate. Here, young adults had a place to stay without paying rent, and learn various trades if they had no home to go back to.

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On my first evening there, I stood on the balcony and looked around me. We were surrounded by what East Berliners call “Plattenbaus” or high rise apartment buildings. Every surface was decorated with graffiti, and trash skittered along the sidewalk¬†in the hot breeze. I couldn’t wait to go back to Munich.

Berlin’s beauty lies not in her appearance, rather her significance. During our stay, I expected to see scars of war and memorials, but what I didn’t anticipate, was how moved I was being able to put my hands on history.

Standing next to the wall made me feel small and powerless. I imagined my family or friends on the other side, and I could suddenly feel a pang of desperation. The same emotion that was the strength behind the hammers that brought down the wall.

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When I visited the Holocaust memorial, I saw a forest of tall black cement blocks in front of me. There is no plaque explaining the reason why the memorial was constructed this way, but it becomes apparent when you walk among the giant black slabs. You become separated from friends, intersecting with total strangers in this labyrinth. A sense of loneliness seeped into me. I realized this may be a very small taste of what Holocaust victims felt. Forever searching for family or friends that may never be found, crossing paths with others who are lost in an endless bleak landscape.

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On our final night, I had an experience that tied it all together. We were near the Bundestag and Brandenburgertor on the banks of the Spree river. A short open-air documentary was being shown, and I expected a boring explanation of Berliner history. It was projected onto a screen on the opposite bank of the river and the music and lights took my breath away.

It described the hard-fought battle to regain democracy in a country lying in smoldering ruin and then the pain of being a divided nation with little sovereignty. This small film highlighted the strong will of not only the Berliners, but also that of the German people to never be separated or controlled by malicious powers ever again. It also demonstrated that despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Germany and democracy has not only survived, but is now thriving.

 

Berlin is not beautiful, but it works. It’s a city many call home, and it’s rough exterior is just a badge of honor, celebrating its resiliency. It’s the cold hard truth of the effect of war, and she has a valuable lesson to teach.

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So later that night, as I sat in the beaten down grass of a park on the river with friends, I smiled as I flicked an old cigarette butt out of the grass. The park was filthy, but all around me, friends and other groups of young people were drinking their beer, laughing and enjoying the cool evening. Berlin was not beautiful but it is beloved.

 

Cultural diffs and tips-Germany

As a tourist, Germany may not seem too different from any other western culture, but the devil is in the details!

There are many unwritten rules about social etiquette and most expats have to learn them the hard way.

One thing that always threw me off, was the “no-hugging policy” when at a social gathering. If a friend of yours introduces you to his girlfriend, she will be very confused if you go in for a hug. A firm handshake will do it!

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Americans, I’ve learned, are very forward and open beings in comparison to our German friends. Hugging is reserved for close friends and family.

Also, in Germany it is not considered rude to give criticism, especially in the work place! Working at the Biergarten, co-workers would explain to me how I could’ve served more efficiently, at the train station an older gentleman schooled me in how to operate the ticket kiosk, and my German teacher was brutally honest about my conjugations!

It was enough to about drive me crazy, until I realized it was only meant to be helpful. Criticism is meant to help you succeed, not to bring you down. So don’t take it personal! Appreciate the fact that someone is giving you an honest evaluation!

Of course I had to address the stereotypical German¬†punctuality! As in any other culture,¬†showing up late¬†shows a lack of respect and organization. Here in the US, being five minutes late may be excusable. In Germany it is as if you were half an hour late! There’s even a saying: “Ten minutes before the time, that’s the German punctuality!”

Lastly,¬† your German friends¬†want meaningful conversations. Don’t rattle on about how nice the weather is. Instead, discuss what your studying at the moment, what you think about a certain issue etc.

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That’s what really made talking and meeting other people fun! I got to talk about things that were important¬†to me, and get to hear what is going on in their lives.

Of course, every one experiences a culture differently! Anyone here ever been to Germany and experienced these cultural differences? Would anyone disagree or add something to my list? Let me know!

 

 

 

Gap Year(s): Things I learned off the beaten path

Dropping out of college was one of the most scariest things I’ve ever done. I’d been a student all my life, and I was afraid to step out of that protective predictable bubble and¬†into the real world.

But just like the thrill you get after jumping off the high dive, or stepping off a roller coaster ride, I am so glad I did. Why? Because through all of the hard times, friends and beautiful moments, I learned things I never would’ve in a classroom.

Happiness: I never realized the truth in the saying, “Happiness is a choice”, until this past summer. I ended a four-year relationship, and was rejected by a translation school I had been straining to get into. I knew I had no choice, but to leave a country that I loved and return home.

It took me a long time to realize that time was slipping through my fingers, and it wouldn’t be too long until the friends that surrounded me, would be too far away for me to reach out and hug. I was determined not to waste any more time.

 

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One of my best friends: Caro

 

The result? I took up friends’ offers to go the Gelateria and get sick eating delicious ice cream, or go hiking up a beautiful mountain, jumping in freezing lakes, and just spending time with them, listening to the things on their minds.

It wasn’t always easy. There were still times it was hard to get out of bed and smile, but I tried, and that was all that mattered.

It makes me happy just to know that I am now more easily gratified by the small things in life. Like an honest conversation with a good friend, a glass of tasty wine, or even just the sun laying warm against my back.

“Diving in”: I learned this from my good friend Magdalena while I was in Germany at a house party. I stood awkwardly in a corner sipping a beer watching her play games, striking up conversation, and generally having a good time.

While walking home, I asked her how she knew so many people there. “I didn’t”. She stated

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In Berlin with friends

just ‘dove’ in”.

She taught me not to hesitate getting to know others. All other people want is to see that you are open. Don’t hold back.

 

 

Now that I am returning to college, I am excited by the prospect of a crowded classroom. Perhaps a group of new friends is just waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 annoying things about Germany

Scrolling through Pinterest, or reading a travel magazine, no one would think that traveling to these beautiful places has its down sides.

Most people don’t even realize the disadvantages until they are faced and forced to deal with them. I hope by sharing my experiences, that you will be able to avoid them.

Public restrooms: Use the nice toilet at your hotel or wherever you are staying before going out! It happened that while I was in Rome I had to use the bathroom really bad, only to find out that there was a huge line for the toilet and you were supposed to pay a tip for the washroom attendants. Some bathrooms are glisteningly clean and pleasant to use. Others are not worth the pocket change. Beware of free bathrooms at train and gas stations! Some of them are downright disgusting and I was dry heaving after opening the door to a public toilet at the Nurnberg train station! My tip: duck into a fast food restaurant like McDonalds since it usually¬†doesn’t cost anything and there are no lines.

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Paying at the grocery store: Cashiers ring up customers at lightning speed! It is expected that you have your money ready. If not, you have a line of impatient customers waiting behind you, an armful of groceries, and a cashier who is losing patience with you. To avoid this hassle, do have your money ready, and pack it all up (in a bag you brought yourself) while the cashier is ringing it all up. Or bring a buddy!

 

Strikes– During my short two years, striking sometimes affected my life in surprising ways. For instance, Deutsche Bahn (the German train system) organized strikes that lasted several weeks (I almost didn’t make it to an important exam). There was also a “Kita”¬†strike last year where many kindergartens and daycares closed down in order to protest low wages. Of course Lufthansa is always striking. In short strikes were hit or miss, but when they affect you, it can be pretty inconvenient. Pay attention to the news, because some companies and organizations give advanced warning. Even if it is unavoidable (like with the train), it is not impossible to get where you need to go. Just really, really, really annoying.

 

No public drinking fountains-The first few months I was there, I was always walking around thirsty, hoping to catch sight of a drinking fountain in a public building. In Germany at least, I have never found a public drinking fountain and took my own reusable water bottle with me.

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Sorting the trash– Tourists won’t really run into this problem, but for those of you finding a home in Germany, trash sorting varies from state to state and is somewhat complex. For example, there is a difference between plastic and hard plastic, and some paper goes with the cardboard trash. It was annoying at first, but with some practice, it was easier to sort.

 

Hard shell, soft center– This is my personal opinion, but I’ve heard some other expats share my frustration, that Germans do not greet new-comers like they would in America. In America, neighbors ring your door bell and maybe spend a few minutes getting to know and welcome you to the neighborhood. In Germany, you are quietly smiled at and maybe said hello to, but it takes a few months to even make good acquaintance. But once you do, the German friends I have made will most likely be friends for life.

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Smaller portions– Maybe it’s just me being a picky American, but the portions were smaller. I searched in vain for a steak bigger than the small¬† expensive cuts they would serve at restaurants. Luckily at some restaurants this is not the case. I enjoyed the bigger portions at Bavarian restaurants ūüėČ

 

No ice– Drinks come chilled in good restaurants, but you practically have to beg in Europe and Germany to get a few cubes of ice. Therefore I savor the glacier layer in my drinks here in the US!

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Difficult dialects– I could listen to Bavarian all day long it is such a comfortable and quaint dialect. However for people new to Bavaria, it can be disorientating and sometimes sounds like a completely different language all together!

 

To¬† “Sietzen” or not to “Sietzen”. That is the question!-For those of you who speak the language,”Sie” is the formal way to address an older person, a boss, a stranger, or generally someone you’d like to show respect to. But sometimes you are standing next to someone your own age and equal position at a job and you’re not sure if they would like you to address them informally. I always address them per “Sie” until they ask me to do otherwise.

 

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Overall, I love Germany (Bavaria especially)! It was hard sometimes to think of items for this list, but these are things that were inconvenient for me. However, it was worth the price of living in a beautiful country.

What annoying things do you agree with? Disagree with? What would you add? Share in the conversation!