Moving to Germany. It didn't seem such a big deal back at the start of the year when I decided it would be my next move. Surely it's just like England, I thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. Now I want to make it clear, I'm not saying that I don't like my life here in Hamburg, but I think it's important to talk about an issue that a lot of expats face when moving to Germany. With Brexit looming, I think it's more important than ever to discuss the more negative side of moving abroad openly and honestly. Not to put people off, but instead to make sure you are more prepared than I was. For a long time, I thought perhaps it was just me facing some of these issues, until I started working for a company with fellow English expats. I also started to communicate more with expats from all over the world via Facebook groups for those who have moved to Germany and it's really opened my eyes to the issues so many expats are facing.
Lately I've lost count of the number of people who have confided in me about their feelings of loneliness, of feeling lost and without purpose, and finding it hard to adjust to living here. These people have great jobs, families, friends, many of them even speak German and have German friends, but they feel like there is something missing. So many of those affected have traveled across the world, many of them solo like myself, and despite never facing problems in Asia, South America, Africa, even elsewhere in Europe, Germany has been a huge struggle. I want to emphasise that these are my experiences and those of expats who have contributed to this piece - I am not saying this is the experience of every expat who comes to Germany.
Honestly, moving to Germany has been the biggest culture shock of my life, it has been the hardest thing I have ever done and there's no way I can sugarcoat that. That doesn't mean that I haven't made some incredible friends here, I'm surrounded by an amazing community of expats and I have a great job, but that doesn't remove this feeling of displacement that lingers in the back of my mind.
Why has it been so hard?
German culture is astonishingly different to any I have experienced before. It's funny, so much of Germany looks just like England, and yet the cultures couldn't be any more different if they tried. Now don't think I'm saying that I'm pining for English culture and expect everywhere to be just like the UK, it's more that moving here has made me appreciate English culture in a whole new light. I like the fact that in the UK, we're very involved, we help and support our community. We don't shove people to the ground on our morning commute as I witnessed once, if a woman is struggling to a get a pram down the stairs, we stop to help her and most of all, we leave people alone to just be instead of staring or commenting. I'm not saying the UK isn't without it's own issues, but since moving to Germany, I've found the sense of detachment overwhelming. It shocks me to see how unfriendly some of the people here are, it breaks my heart to see how uninvolved they are, I've seen someone being attacked in the street and everyone around just carried on walking instead of stopping to help. If someone plays music on the train, even a split second before turning it off, they get told off by other passengers.
Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful things about German culture too, and not all people are like this. But I wanted to just touch on some of these incidents and how I feel they have shaped my experience of moving to Germany. More so than any country I have previously traveled or lived in, I feel that there is very much an "us and them" culture here, I feel I would be lost without my expat friends. Many of those who have now become some of my closest friends here in Hamburg have spoken about how hard it is to find friendships here that go beyond an acquaintance level, the sort of friendships you can call on any time of day and night. That so many expats are struggling with the complete lack of spontaneity of German culture, how they find even meeting for a beer has to be planned weeks in advance. I spoke to one German girl recently who said that after moving to China for several years, she still found returning to Germany to be the biggest culture shock of all.
How to deal with loneliness when moving to Germany
Out of every negative comes a positive, and the most important thing to remember when moving to Germany is that the experience is what you make it. If you wallow in loneliness and complain you have no friends but don't actively reach out and take control of the situation, it will never improve. The same principle applies to everything in life, stop blaming those around you for something you can change. Here are my top tips for making friends and dealing with loneliness when moving to Germany:
Choose your job and neighbourhood wisely
This is so important when you first move over because it can really affect the first impressions you have of a place. I lived slightly south of the city where accommodation was cheaper with a partner, but I did live further away from all of my friends. If I was single, I never would have lived there, but having our own apartment made it worthwhile to save our money for other things. Likewise, for those moving on their own, it could be very isolating to live outside the city and make it much harder to make friends. Perhaps, if money allows, it would be best to choose a central and social neighbourhood. If you don't like your area, remember it's never too late to move!
When it comes to your job, it can be more difficult if you are limited on offers but make sure to find a job with community and with a supportive environment. I'm currently working in a great job, and while the pay is pretty rubbish, it has amazing community spirit and an entire staff of expats from all over the world. I work in the UK team and instantly had an amazing group of friends who have given me no end of support and friendship when I needed it most. If you're not happy in your job or feel there could be more out there, why not start looking for a new position?
Join social groups
Play a sport? Join the hockey team. Love music or the arts? Join a society or amateur dramatics group. Miss meeting people and speaking English? Join a social networking group. There are so many options and just like anywhere else in the world, there will always be a group no matter what you're passionate about. Can't find what you're looking for? Why not start a new club or get together with like-minded people and create your own community. Plus this is a great way to meet a range of people, I have friends who love hockey and joined teams where they have met lots of German friends which has helped them to feel more integrated.
Use social media
I honestly don't think I would still be in Germany if it wasn't for social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all helped form some of my greatest friendships since I moved to Hamburg. My best advice to anyone moving to Germany: join Facebook groups for expats, for those new to an area, try Girl Gone International - there's a group for every city - or even Girls Love Travel. These groups have been lifesavers for me all over the world, but more so than ever since living in Hamburg. I got a job interview out of a casual chat on Facebook, I've attended events for expats in the city, I've made countless friends and connections. Most importantly, I really found my tribe, a few women who I know I can really rely on, who I can call on if things go wrong and I need help. My support network, and all because of a few lucky comments on Facebook posts or the odd message on Insta. Use social media for the reason it was really invented and see the world of good that can come from it.
Go to expat events
As I mentioned above, I have attended so many different events in Hamburg, from lunch dates to cocktail nights and even a taco night with some amazing women from all over the globe. By joining the Facebook groups, or even networking groups like Internations, you will be invited to a host of different events (I recommend the ones organised by Hamburg Girl Gone International Facebook group). These are so much fun and they're a great way to meet like-minded people who know exactly what you're going through and those who have similar interests.
I will stress that you don't have to speak German to thrive in Germany, but it does help. Part of these feelings of isolation and loneliness might come down to the fact that you can't communicate as easily. One good way to combat that, try learning German. Don't be that person who complains it's not easy when you don't even try to speak the language. You don't have to be fluent to have a conversation. Perhaps your work offers German classes like mine, or you could do a night course, or even sign up for an intensive course before you start work. Can't afford to do a course? There are other options, you could use apps like Duolingo or Memrise to learn the basics and then practice as much as you can with locals. Or even arrange a language tandem - there are lots of offers for these on the Facebook groups where you teach your native language in exchange for learning German.
Get Culture Smart! with this GIVEAWAY!
One thing that has really helped has been reading this book that was sent to me, Culture Smart! Germany. It's a different kind of guide book, instead of focusing on the place and things to do, it takes a close look at the culture and all the things you should know if you are to really integrate when moving to Germany, or visiting. It's such an interesting concept and I think it's a really great read for anyone considering moving over here. While you may notice all these things about German culture once you arrive, you might not really know the reasons behind these cultural quirks. It's interesting to learn the history behind them and the reason they are part of society, after all, education is the best way to acceptance. These guides focus on the rich human dimension of foreign travel and are designed to help readers get the most out of their time abroad through a deeper understanding of the local culture. They are pocket-sized and practical, and are written to help travelers navigate new and unfamiliar situations they are likely to encounter with confidence and sensitivity. If you would like to check out the book, or order a copy, visit the website.
Lucky for you guys, I'm actually hosting a giveaway for a copy of this book, the 100th edition of Culture Smart! You can enter by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and commenting on this post with why you think you should win the book! Closing date 30/11/18, enter by midnight to be in with a chance of winning!
Enjoying my posts on Germany? Check out these gems:
- Expat Life | A Guide to Moving to Hamburg
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Weekend City Break to Hamburg
Have you moved to Germany - what weird cultural differences did you find? What's the biggest culture shock you've ever had? Would you like to move abroad?