Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over the repetitive questions from our family. We stop hearing them with open ears. I sometimes do this with my grandmother’s questions given that her memory is not as sharp as before, but today I found one of her questions very thought provoking. Almost like the questions I try to ask as a coach. It made me stop and think about the assumptions and generalizations I’ve been making about living abroad. She asked me if living in Germany was really all that different.
My gut reaction was, “well, yes, of course!” It’s obvious. Germany has a different language, currency, system for transportation, culture, history, different rules, Germans behave very differently, my profession here is totally different, the taxes are different, and I could go on. Just for one example, I’ve been told that parents here get about 180 Euros a month per child until that child is 28 years old. Regardless of whether they live at home! But my grandmother asked if living here was very different. That’s a whole other question. On second examination, living here is not much different than living anywhere else in the U.S., especially give that everyone treats me like any other Germany, as I “pass” for a German: I’m white skinned with light hair. Humans are impressively adaptive.
I’m able to drink running water, transportation similar/better, I’m meeting wonderful people (often non-German foreigners like myself), and I have a new city to explore. But it could be any new city. Maybe I eat a bit more sausage than I would normally, I’m learning to speak a new language, learn new laws, and figure out how I can make a professional identity here, but as unromantic as it sounds, all-in-all living abroad in Europe is not too different. In the end, we bring our habits with us where we go. I seek out what I need in my life everywhere: people, good food, a gym, and meaningful work. I came here with my partner and am still pursuing my same line of work—in a different language of course—but it’s quite similar all the same.
The main thing that’s different is my attitude. I’m willing to see everything with fresh eyes, and not take things for granted, since I’m often wrong about how things work here. For example, don’t ever assume you can put your feet up anywhere or serve yourself. I’ve learned to watch and observe first before acting.
Being in a new country is an easy and constant reminder that you’ve done something brave. Friends and family from home are often impressed. Every time I call my grandmother she is flabbergasted I’m calling from Germany on a cell phone no less! But for other things, we need more deliberate reminders of our accomplishments, i.e. anniversaries or celebrations of endings and beginnings. It can help to recognize the adversities we’ve overcome to be proud of ourselves and grateful for the opportunities. It’s not about the outcome at all. It’s not about realizing I am living a completely new life. Because I’m not.
Most importantly however, is that we overcame fears and unknowns to get us where we are today. Don’t ever take those things for granted!