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Getting over culture shock So now you know about items that are good to pack and bring along. But there are also some things you should definitely discard: namely, prejudices and preconceptions that may severely hinder you in adjusting to Germany and enjoying your time here. Leaving these behind will facilitate your integration in this new society. But do not fool yourself: once you have set foot in Germany, you will almost certainly experience the infamous phenomenon called culture shock. Even a European citizen coming from a country that borders Germany may be surprised to discover a society that is quite dissimilar. Culture shock can be a painful process, but there are ways of minimizing its nasty effects - and soon enough you will be well adjusted to your new life in Germany.


Stages of Adjustment

A number of experts who have studied the phenomenon have charted several stages to culture shock found in the experiences of most people who resettle in another culture. It can best be illustrated by the so-called W-curve seen at right.

Stage One, right after arrival, is characterized by initial euphoria and is also called "the honeymoon period." In this period, everything is new, much of it exciting. You will be struck by the similarities between your homeland and Germany, as well as by the things that seem to be more efficient, that work better here. This period can last from a few weeks to a few months, but it is almost inevitable that it will eventually take a downward spin.

Stage Two is characterized by disenchantment, irritability, confusion, maybe even harsh resentment towards Germans and all things German. Suddenly, differences that you didn't even notice before or that may have seemed charming during Stage One become sources of frustration, even aggravation. They also take on an importance they would not have under normal circumstances, as you begin to feel trapped in a strange and foreign culture.

Stage Two is what people usually identify as "culture shock." It's the most hazardous, because you'll find the irritability seeping into all your relationships, including your marriage and family life, along with the workplace. You may even suffer health problems, often those with a psychosomatic basis. While in this unpleasant stage, the best thing you can do to boost your lagging spirits is to remember that almost everyone goes through this to some extent, and it usually leads into a more pleasant third stage.

Stage Three, then, involves a gradual adjustment to the German way of life. This is often called the recovery phase. Slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, you find yourself becoming comfortable with your life and job here. You stop generalizing about Germans and Germany and see unique qualities. You may discover changes within yourself, the way you do things - and sometimes even concede that these changes are in fact for the better. The huge problems from Stage Two shrink in significance, or may even disappear altogether. Much to your surprise, you are actually starting to fit in.

Stage Four, the final stage, is adaptation or biculturalism. When you reach this stage, you know that you've truly arrived. You have not given up your own identity, but you now find that your personality has somehow expanded. You can function with confidence and comfort in two cultures: the one you brought from your homeland and the culture you find here. Plus, you start finding the new culture more and more rewarding, more pleasant.


Minimizing Culture Shock

As mentioned, there's almost no one who completely avoids the nasty aspects of culture shock, but you can minimize its negative effects and shorten its duration. There are, in fact, certain steps you can take in order to achieve both. One thing is to find a buddy, a confidant who you can talk to about your adjustment during that second stage. The best person for this role is someone who has already gone through the stage him or herself and come out safely on the other side. This confidant will be able to sympathize with what you're going through and give you first-hand experience of how she or he dealt with it.

In fact, you needn't restrict yourself to just one such buddy: the more you can find, the quicker and smoother your eventual adjustment will be. In fact, it would be very good to find some Germans as confidants, particularly those who have themselves lived abroad and thus know the expat experience from the other side. The worst person for this role is someone who is still quite negative about the new environment. There are, indeed, people who live abroad for several years without ever really adjusting, who spend all their time grousing and criticizing. Such people will only reinforce the negative feelings you're having and make eventual adjustment that much harder. Also, you should work to dispel the misconceptions you might have about German society. Try to accentuate the positive aspects about life in Germany - it certainly boasts a huge store of positives. Admit to yourself that some things that disturb you over here are universal characteristics of our contemporary post-industrial world rather than of Germany per se. Most importantly, get to know as many Germans as you can. It's hard to slip into empty cliches and false generalizations when you have friends and acquaintances who don't fit these generalizations in any way.

One way to expand your circle of German friends and acquaintances, to make your daily trips to the market or to government agencies more pleasant, is to learn the language as quickly as you can. Although many people here are at least functional in English, being able to handle the local lingo will lubricate the wheels of social interaction considerably.

Finally, there are several good books that will help you familiarize yourself with Germany and German ways in your early days or even before you arrive. You might want to pick up Culture Shock - Germany (ISBN: 155868251) or Living & Working in Germany (ISBN: 1901130355). Such guide books can also help you with what is the best thing you can bring along with you - the right attitude, that approach with which you learn to look forward to your living-in-Germany experience.

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