My name is Ginger Kern and I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city on the coast of beautiful Lake Michigan. My Midwestern childhood was safe and comfortable, but after a wonderful, eye-opening trip to Europe when I was 14, I made up my mind that I was going to live there instead one day. To do that, I figured I should learn some languages, so I chose to study German, French and a bit of Italian at university.
The first extended amount of time I spent in Europe was in Bonn, Germany during a semester of study abroad. After I returned to the US I immediately knew I wanted to go back, so I applied for and won the Fulbright grant to teach there the following year.
After the school year ended, I still wanted to stay so I started a job search that ended up being shorter than I thought! I landed a job with the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt and worked there for two years, while blogging for travel websites on the side.
Three years in Germany turned out to be the perfect amount for me, and I decided to move back to the US – to a sunny city called Boulder in Colorado.
Now I’m excited to speak at TEDxBrookings about the “Traveler’s Mindset”, a mentality that gets you out of your comfort zone and into the zone where the magic happens.
How was your integration process? Do you think it was easy to integrate into the German society?
I had studied the language for years before moving to Germany, so it was very easy for me to integrate and communicate. There would have been some issues, yes, had I not spoken German, as I spent time in a town of 10,000 while teaching on the Fulbright grant.
In larger cities, it’s relatively easy as a Westerner from a developed country to integrate into life in Germany, even if you don’t speak the language. Frankfurt and Berlin are especially international cities, where most people have at least a basic command of the English language and share similar Western values that make for smooth integration.
Can you tell us about a cross-cultural blunder you have committed in Germany?
Well, I’m a fairly extroverted person even by American standards, so I’ve been known to dance in the streets, to talk to random people at bus stops, and smile at people passing me on the sidewalk…all behaviors that aren’t typical of German culture. There were plenty of times where I was the recipient of strange looks!
What strikes you most in Germany (good and bad)?
I loved how orderly and clean the small cities and towns were. It was clear that Germans hold a high standard for their surroundings and feel strongly about taking care of their spaces, whether at home, in school, or in the office.
Too much order can be constrictive and burdensome, though. There’s a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy involved in getting the smallest of official decisions made – which inevitably means waiting in multiple administrative offices and filling out extremely long, detailed forms.
One other fabulous thing to note is that Germany’s higher education is practically free. This translates to a large population of noticeably educated people and has great trickle-down effects for the society as a whole.
Do you think Germany is a multicultural country as in comparison to the States?
Germany has become an incredibly multicultural country, especially since the end of World War II. From previous waves of immigrant workers from Turkey to modern international cities like Frankfurt, known globally as hubs for trade, finance and commerce, Germany’s identity as a mono-cultural nation has absolutely shifted to one that’s more diverse.
Want proof? Visit the capital of Berlin and listen to the spectrum of languages spoken on the streets. Also, be sure to try the delicious international cuisine that’s available on practically every corner!
Had your lifestyle changed when you came to Germany?
Slightly – I moved to Germany from Madison, Wisconsin, a place that was already bike and pedestrian friendly and fairly healthy in terms of food. I did shift small habits though, like purchasing groceries two or three times a week instead of shopping in bulk for two weeks at a time. Fresh, organic and non-GMO foods were readily available, both in supermarkets and at weekly outdoor farmers’ markets, so I took advantage of that too!
Anything else you want to share with the readers about you and your experiences in Germany?
It might sound strange, but I really enjoyed using the public transport systems like high-speed trains, or traveling via intercity ride-sharing websites like Mitfahrgelegenheit.de. Most of all, I loved having 26 days of vacation while working at a German company – it was the perfect opportunity to explore and Couchsurf in countries like France, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium that were conveniently only a few hours’ drive away!