My integration experience is perhaps a little different than for many people who move to Germany. You see, in the beginning I did not really need to integrate into the German society. I was studying in an international university and pretty much everyone around me, from other students to the university administration, spoke perfect English. Surrounded by this comfortable campus “bubble” I had the luxury to encounter German life slowly, step by step. I could decide what I was ready to handle by myself and help was available for everything else, I just had to know whom to ask. In the beginning every little step towards dealing with issues by myself and in German felt like a small victory: I just called a hotline! I handled a doctor’s appointment solely in German!! I found an apartment!!!

Hi, my name is Ilze. I come from the small Northeast European country of Latvia, and I have been living in Germany since 2007. I originally moved to Bremen for MA studies in sociology and had no intention of staying longer than the two years necessary for getting my degree. Little did I know that life has other plans. A month before graduation, when I already had a one way ticket to Latvia in my pocket, I met my future husband and got accepted for a PhD program. Long story short, these days I live in Hamburg with my husband and baby daughter, and I have prolonged my stay indefinitely. Long story short, I have just been awarded a doctorate and I am enjoying the last months of parental leave before starting to look for a job. If you want to know more about my experiences in Germany, as well as my adventures in trilingual and multicultural parenting feel free to check out my blog Let the Journey Begin.

How was your integration process?

My integration experience is perhaps a little different than for many people who move to Germany. You see, in the beginning I did not really need to integrate into the German society. I was studying in an international university and pretty much everyone around me, from other students to the university administration, spoke perfect English. Surrounded by this comfortable campus “bubble” I had the luxury to encounter German life slowly, step by step. I could decide what I was ready to handle by myself and help was available for everything else, I just had to know whom to ask. In the beginning every little step towards dealing with issues by myself and in German felt like a small victory: I just called a hotline! I handled a doctor’s appointment solely in German!! I found an apartment!!!

I started speaking German more often after meeting my husband as I communicate with his family and most of his friends in German. But it is only in the last 1,5 years that I am beginning to feel more integrated and that has happened largely due to my experience of being pregnant and becoming a mom. From birth classes to parent cafes there are so many organized activities that allow getting in touch with other parents and it certainly helps to improve language skills! As a result, I have gained a new circle of German acquaintances but, for Germans as for Latvians, building friendships takes time and my closest friends remain other foreigners.

Can you tell us about a cross-cultural blunder you have committed in Germany?

When you ask a Latvian “how are you?” you will likely receive a short reply along the lines of “thanks, fine” independent on whether the person really is doing well. In the circle of my international student acquaintances this same question was used instead of a greeting, often said in passing without even slowing down to hear the answer. So when one fine morning I uttered the phrase “wie geht es Ihnen” to my German next-door neighbor I really was not expecting much of a reply. Instead we had a five minute chat about the current troubles in his gardening business and the well-being of his family. Since then I have learned to be more careful with my “how are you” with Germans and do not inquire unless I really want to hear an honest answer.

What strikes/did strike you most in Germany?

Looking back, it was surprisingly easy for me to adapt to my new life in Germany. From food to customs, Northern Germany and my native Latvia can be quite similar in many aspects so I never experienced a culture shock. As a consequence, what struck me most were often the little things, e.g., the slower working pace, or people religiously observing the red light at pedestrian crossings, or the fact that everything is closed on Sundays. I actually wrote two articles about this, taking stock of my seven years in Germany: 7 Habits for 7 Years in Germany with the things that I have come to learn, accept and even love and 7 German Habits that I Cannot Understand with the things that I still find strange.

What does multiculturalism mean to you? Do you think Germany is a multicultural country?

It definitely is but I sometimes think that people haven’t fully realized it yet. Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean. My father-in-law comes from Malaysia and my husband looks quite Asian. He has, however, lived his whole life in Germany and German is his mother tongue. Despite this, most people will never be ok with him answering Hamburg when asked where he comes from. People want to know where he is from “really” or “originally”. He also gets a lot of compliments for speaking such good German ;-). In contrast, during a trip to Scotland we struck up a conversation with a British guy in a bar and, after a few sentences back and forth, he inquired whether hubby comes from the Netherlands. Instead of looking at him as most Germans do, this guy was listening to him instead.


0