First steps towards integration into a new culture?
Learn the language (or work on it)…
Before taking the plunge into the delightful swimming water, I first came to Germany for 2 months to take intensive German classes on weekday mornings. It was a lot of work, and it forced me to practice and use German which made me really pleased with myself and I began to gain some confidence in German — I mean, a couple of beers would also help said confidence.
I tend to be a classroom learner, where I appreciate being with a group of people where we have some instruction and engage with each other. Participating in a German Intensive Course WHILE in Germany means hearing, writing, reading, and speaking German every single day. Integrative and intensive is totally true, at least from my experience.
Originally, I was looking up the supposed best, or at least most well-known, language schools (cough cough: Humboldt Institut and Goethe Institut). As my searches continued on, these institutes are also the most expensive when taking a language course. The click happened in my brain to instead research cities I was interested in living in and THEN look at what language schools are offered there.
In every city in Germany, there are a number of different language schools offered, including those at Volkshochschule and programs through the local universities. The VHS ones tend to fill-up the fastest because they tend to be the cheapest, while the university offerings are mostly geared towards uni-students. Checking out the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees can introduce some useful information about moving to Germany, and learning German. There are options to be subsidized, however I haven’t had much success with fitting into that category (at least, yet!).
I’ve settled in East Germany. Although there are many people in the city who can speak English, their level of English could easily be very low – and why would anyone expect Germans to speak any other language besides German? I decided on Leipzig because it is a decent-size city (roughly 600,000), has one of Germany’s oldest universities, a known cultural scene (at least within Germany), and close proximity to one of my favourite cities: Berlin. I knew coming to East Germany, although a solid city size, I would have to speak German.
Sometimes, it’s incredibly frustrating because my level of German is not where I want it to be. Patience! Sometimes, I forget that I’m in a different country, where English is not the native-tongue. Sometimes, I even forget that not everyone will speak English (nor should they). It’s been a process, to say the least. When going to any bureaucratic office, it is expected that you will speak German. It honestly boggles my mind how people with NO German are able to navigate the world of paperwork here. Plainly speaking though, learn some German if you’re living in Germany – it’s basic respect towards the culture.
I’m in a land far, far away from fully integrating to the German language. I have found though – here’s something positive, finally – the majority of German people I have interacted with thus far, have been polite and listen when I fumble my way through their language. Those that I have more than the briefest conversation with, are even encouraging of my language speaking. Progress!