Repatriate Interview # 1
Cordula, her husband and their three children (7, 9 and 11 years old) repatriated from the US back to Germany in summer 2015. They’ve lived in San Jose, California for almost 6 years.
Why did you move back?
I always wanted to move back. I wanted to work in my old job as a nurse. In the US I’d have had to go back to school in order to get a nurse license. We wanted our kids to be socialized in Germany as well.
When did you go back?
We moved last summer. I’d have loved to move back earlier, but my husband’s job situation wouldn’t allow that. Now he still works for his American employer “Specialized” and opened up an office in Germany.
Where did you move and why?
How did you experience the reverse culture shock?
The every day life and the interpersonal relations are different. Germans tend to be less friendly and less helpful than people in California. But it helps to be extra amiable when you talk to people, essentially interacting with a “Californian spirit”. Most people respond to that and start being more friendly as well. Germans don’t necessarily greet each other all the time and they don’t necessarily love small talk. But I would say that Germans are not unfriendly on purpose, it’s more that they are “negligently discourteous”. And they can’t stand in line.
Customer service is terrible. If you go to a hardware store like “Bauhaus” you will have a hard time to get assistance. You feel a bit like “the customer has to threaten with an order” or otherwise nothing will happen. We miss that the stores are open seven days a week. Here the stores, except supermarkets, close on Saturday at 4 pm and remain closed until Monday morning.
What are the advantages of the life in Germany?
I can work in my old job and the kids have way more freedom. They can roam free. They ride their bike to school, they take the bus to go into town and they meet friends to go to the public pool all by themselves. We have more time together as a family. The kids usually come home for lunch.
The cost of living is much lower. The activities for the children are much more affordable. Germany has a huge “club” system (Sportvereine). You become a member of the local sports club and with your membership (which is about € 30/year) your kids can play soccer, do gymnastics, play Handball and so on. Our girls can ride their bikes to the horseback riding stable.
There are less restrictions about what you can say or not. People are more straight forward and you don’t feel like that you have to think about what you can say to people. In the US I was more afraid to talk to people about religion or politics than I am here.
How did the children adjust to their new schools?
That was very different for each of our children. Our oldest one started 5th grade in one of the local gymnasiums and had a pretty good start. He quickly made some friends and felt very welcome. It was easier for him, because in Germany all children start high school together in 5th grade and stay there until they graduate. We didn’t have a probably to get him into the school, because they have one bilingual (English/German) class in each grade and not everyone wants to get in that class since it is more challenging than the regular classes. Now he has only 20 children in his classroom. I have to say that math was much more of a challenge than German. It seems that American school math is way different from the math they teach here. The academic standard is higher in general. My youngest one started elementary school in 1st grade. So it was the same for her. Everyone starts school in 1st grade, she was not the “new kid on the block”. The change was the most difficult for my middle daughter who is also the most social one. She came into a 3rd grade class which had been already together for 2 years (in Germany they don’t usually switch the classroom composition every year) and it was difficult for her to make new friends. Everyone already had a best friend. She was really sad in the first year and missed her Californian friends a lot. Now she found two girls that she spends most of her time with.
I want to emphasize that all the classroom teachers were very welcoming, helpful and accommodating since we didn’t know too much about the German school system which is so different from the American one. Parents of classmates were also very supportive and helped our kids to build a social network.
Soon after we moved into the house, we got two kittens and they provided all of us with a lot of comfort.
How do you feel now, a bit more than a year after your move?
I am definitely happier. I have a job and get to see my children more. The children have more freedom and are pretty happy and integrated. We bought the house and our financial situation has improved. My husband misses the more relaxed lifestyle in California.
If you could do your move again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t move back at the beginning of the German summer break. Our kids didn’t know anyone and in the summertime it is way harder to make social connections. We couldn’t get them in any summer camps either because there are not many and they fill up early.
What do you miss most about living in California?
We miss the huge variety of leisure activities. In California you can go for a different hike every week and after more than 5 years we still didn’t do all of them. You can go to the ocean or to many different beautiful places in a close proximity.
Overall I am happier living here in Germany, but nonetheless I left some amazing friends behind who I miss every day.
Thank you, Cordula!
This post is a part of a series called NaBloPoMo 2016 hosted by BlogHer. NaBloPoMo is short for National Blog Posting Month and it challenges writers and creatives to post on their blogs once a day (at least) for the month of November. You can find all my posts on my blogher page, too. Stay tuned!