Sunday, September 25, 2011

What sort of expat are you?

I have read that there are three different kind of expats. The ones who completely integrate in their new host country and adapt. The ones who don't integrate at all. And the ones who adapt to some customs of the new host country while also keeping lots of their own. I see myself as belonging to the later group.

There are also many reasons for becoming an expat- moving countries for a job, sense of adventure, moving for love. Some expats come and go - they live in Germany for a few months or maybe years but ultimately return to their home country- their Heimat. There are fewer of us however, who are probably going to be here for the long haul.

There have definitely been times when as an expat, you can feel like a fish out of water. Like you don't belong. I could relate to this post by fellow blogger about the isolation you can feel living in a new country:expat isolation and loneliness

Travelling home, I've had moments where I just felt such relief once I got to the airport and heard other people with Irish accents around me and just to be able to understand everything! And once home, it's so nice to be able to talk to someone in a shop or a restaurant and be understood, and every little thing, doesn't feel like an ordeal! That was was how I felt at first. My German has improved a LOT now, so that most times out and about in cafes, restaurants, trams etc I am understood.

How will living in Germany change me? Sometimes I feel like I am more shy here and not myself. That's mainly due to the language. But this is getting better. I have heard lots of people say it took them 3 years of living in Germany before they were really fluent. Maybe I will become more "European" like one of my aunts said. What would that entail exactly? One positive aspect of being an expat makes you more independent as a person- you realise you can cope in a lot of situations you didn't think you could!

I mentioned earlier that I have to carve out a life for myself over here. When I first moved over and started living with my GerMann, I was very dependent on him. I didn't have much of my own life here at the start at all. That was tough at times. Once I got a job here that helped a lot. And then the more I gradually made friends and developed a routine the better things got. It's not too hard to make acquaintances but it takes time to make really good friends. Ones who you can talk about everything with and depend on. I have reached the stage now that I have some great friends here, but for a few months at the start it was tough. Apart from my boyfriend I didn't really have anyone to talk to- past the chit-chat/small talk level.

I have heard from some long standing expats that you feel gradually more distanced from you "home" country as the years pass. So that you don't feel "at home" in either country. Another (and much nicer) way of looking at it though, is that you have two homes. Germany is gradually feeling more and more like home to me.

My wish for the future would be to adapt to German life, while still remaining me. I would love to reach a level of complete fluency in German - spoken and written - where I can handle any situation, but also not lose my Irish accent (when speaking English)! The GerMann and I have discussed it and it probably makes most sense for us to stay in Germany. So I shall continue with my ex-pat adventures!


  1. Thanks for writing this, in the 3 days since Uwe has been back at work I haven't had the confidence to venture out alone yet. You have totally given me hope that I will find my mojo soon. It sounds like you are doing great!

    1. Oh yeah, I remember at the start how doing every little thing through German just seems like a big ordeal- even just trying to order something in a restaurant or going to the post office! It gets easier I promise!!

      Don't get offended if you try to speak German and the Germans just speak back to you in English. I used to take that as an insult that my German was crap but I think they were just trying to be helpful. It happens less often now as my accent is better.

  2. haha GerMann, I like that! Great post Elaine :)

  3. I've been living in Germany for just over 4 years now and whilst I speak German pretty well I am still not my complete self when interacting in the language. My vocab will improve and it will get easier but things like small talk in German are just twice as hard and the restriction frustrates me still. For that reason, I do have a lot of fellow expat friends as the relationships can of course run deeper and the conversation is stronger and less restrictive. I hope it'll change one day or that I'll just get over my self consciousness of it. What I can say though is that whilst it's still hard, I still wouldn't move back to the UK!

  4. Great post! I agree with everything you've said and I understand having to be dependent on the man. It is really frustrating. I find now when I go back to the States I find myself wishing I was back in Germany. I think it is because I don't have a life in the states anymore. It is really strange. Keep you head up! It gets better.


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