When I announced to my family in early 2012 that I wanted to spend 3 months travelling solo in Europe and then to live somewhere in Europe teaching for a year or two, it wasn’t a surprise to them. Fully supported by my family who were comforted with my tendency to over-plan and with the fresh freedom of booking a one-way ticket, I set upon my journey with little expectations beyond some time for culture-soaking and soul-cleansing. Also, luckily for me, just two weeks before departure I had a job in Weimar, Germany confirmed. I was going to live in Germany- wow!
My first impression of Weimar was just another small but attractive European town. It was just another city and admittedly, I felt very confident in my ability to immerse myself in this new town, this new culture. I had chosen to come here, after all! And I did all that travelling beforehand so the settling in process should be a piece of cake!
Well, within the first year, I definitely learnt some hard but helpful lessons. So if you are interested in how you could possibly skip some of those hard lessons for yourselves, here are some tips for you.
Accept all invitations
Living in this town means you must make connections fast, or else you will feel very isolated and alone very quickly. Weimar is a close-knit town with lots of young families that know other families. Some have made the mistake in thinking that the best way to adjust in this new life is to make home feel like home- and just stay there. Don’t get me wrong, moving into my new apartment and buying the little knick-knacks that spruced up the formulaic Ikea furniture was very important in feeling settled and comfortable. The important thing to do after the home decorating is to then accept that quick coffee outing after work on Thursday or a lazy stroll around the shopping mall on Saturday afternoon. Experience the city like a local, make connections with people who are in a similar state of haze as a newly arrived, don’t be home alone for too long because it’s then that you start to think of and miss home and the familiar. Yes it’s natural to miss your loved ones but building that cocoon can also be confining.
Don’t expect everyone to marvel at your foreign-ness
I felt like a big-shot, a very important person who dared to travel the world and move such a long way. Guess what- I am definitely not the only one and surprisingly I am not the only one in little ‘ol Weimar. Almost immediately I realised that I couldn’t bask in this pool of self-importance for very long. Compared to my colleagues, I was severely under experienced. It occurred to me very quickly that my shy, apologetic English would not be considered very endearing here, especially if I was a regular at the local pub. I made sure I learned the basics of politeness and I made sure not to expect an appreciative smile for the effort.
This brings me to my next very important point.
Learning the language is a non-negotiable
I have known native English speakers who have stated that they don’t care for the German language. They say, it’s not as nice as other foreign languages and it’s difficult, and as long as you know the basics you can get by. In some ways, these points are true. I can say from experience, that working in an English-speaking environment means that I could go for a day or two without hearing or speaking German. It doesn’t mean that I don’t need it those other days. However having regular lessons and opportunities to hear it and speak it is so important for my sense of identify in this town. It has given me the confidence to book a hairdresser appointment, give directions to visitors, ask about vegetarian options in restaurants and thus allowed me to connect with local people by showing the effort that I am making to learn their language.
It’s ok to feel annoyed about cultural difference but….
Get over it. Do not linger on it. Do not bring it up day after day. Do not talk about it loudly in a coffee shop. Do not refuse things because of your inability to be open minded in that very moment. Naturally, I had my own pet peeve to deal with. You may have already noticed me mentioning that Weimar is small town. Which is why the inhabitants seem to notice new faces, as well as a different dress style, a different language being spoken and why I often feel like I’m being stared at. And honestly this can still annoy me. However, over time I’ve accepted it, and meanwhile I found that the best strategy to counter it is with a direct stare back. No harm and I somehow feel a little empowered by this small act. I’m just a little like them now and that’s not such a bad thing.
Dress like a local…at least only in winter
Unfortunately during the seasons other than Winter, Weimar leaves a lot to be desired in terms of fashion. Naively, I thought that my winter jacket from Australia would provide sufficient comfort and warmth in Germany. It took me almost 4 years to realise that a puffer coat is the best thing to wear in winter. This is the sole piece of clothing in my winter wardrobe that I care about because it can keep me warm, no matter the conditions and I did spend a lot of money on it. On those icy-wind days, I don’t regret this purchase one bit.
There you have it, although I can’t say there is a definitive piece of wisdom I can impart to you. I just know from my experience that a little dose of confidence helped me to accommodate new ways of doing things. Not knowing a lot about my new hometime meant that I couldn’t develop any preconceived ideas or a romanticised vision of my life in Weimar. I think this is why I wasn’t that disappointed or overwhelmed with these changes. And This could be one of the reasons why I’m still hier.