My name is Adelaine, I am originally from Malaysia and I did my Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, I actually discovered that I wasn’t so passionate about going through tons of technical details but more in the greater picture and mostly in working with people. So when a company manufacturing compressed air filter wanted to employ me for a marketing position, I jumped at the job. I worked for the same group of companies for 10 years in 3 different subsidiaries, one of these jobs brought me to Germany for the long-haul… what was tremendously interesting and where I got lucky was that I had incredibly supportive boss and team-mates. The companies, I was attached to, were mostly more start-ups, with a small team and lots of freedom to develop my own knowledge.
Today, I am married and staying in Cologne with my husband who’s French. Two foreigners do not make a local… we are bumbling around to make our own nest and a place to call home here. While looking for more full-time employment, I blog and provide some marketing communication services and in between I am traveling, trying new recipes and testing new cleaning products for the house.
I had my first taste of Germany in 2003 when I came to attend the Hanover Messe. I felt that it would not be too hard, Germany wasn’t something alien to me and I could always go home.. so why not? On the pro side of things, I had a really supportive boss who arranged everything for me, I didn’t have to battle with finding a place to live, getting my internet connected and I had wonderful colleagues who were always there to help with all the other stuff that required the knowledge of German.
Living in a small town of 6000 people (between Köln and Bonn) and working in a small office with only Germans would most probably be strange, but it wasn’t. In fact, I started to live in my own bubble: people go out of their way to be helpful because I was away from home and everybody from the baker to the butcher spoke English with me. While the fluency varied, I was never really caught feeling that there wasn’t something I couldn’t do because somebody was always there to help around the corner.
But as humans are.. I wasn’t too happy in Germany. Despite going back every 3 months to Malaysia, I wasn’t particularly home sick but suffered more from the withdrawal symptoms of not having sun everyday. As it is eternally summer (and humid) in Malaysia, having long days of cloudy, dark skies from 5pm onwards every day was not deary.. I didn’t feel like doing anything and going anywhere when it is dark and cold.
Life was also not as exciting as in Asia. It is actually a bad point of working in Asia, but sometimes you get so used to it. In most Asian countries there is no clear line between work mates and friends. Your colleagues, suppliers, customers etc. are invited to your wedding, you are eating and drinking after work with your colleagues… heck many people even go on private holidays with their colleagues (especially young people without kids). In Germany I have met people who had been working in the same office for 5 years and never got a drink outside of work together…
In summer you have endless grill parties everyday from Friday to Sunday. Rest of the time you meet up in bars and occasional in restaurant or in the home of friends. I get invited often to the German ‘coffee and cake’ sessions but life felt mundane – there isn’t a whole lot you could do especially when the weather is bad 7-8 months of the year. I had too much free time and with no over time at work, I was home at 5.30 trilling my fingers. I stopped saying yes to all the after work drinking too as I was gaining weight like a pig being fed for slaughter :-), positively I took up a distant MBA program and this gave me something to do and introduced me to lots of interesting people. But I have already decided to go home after my 3 year contract was up. I needed a more dynamic environment for me to feel well. I guess I like being stressed and overworked..
…but I see you are still here?
Life tends to take up its own course. Despite all my clever planning, I met a guy (who is today my husband) during my last year in Germany. I was going to move to the UK to finish off my MBA and then stay in the UK or go home. Together but with lots of negotiations, discussions and rationalizations we decided to move to Singapore. The grand plan being I will go, find a job and he will come as soon as he found one too.. Our distance relationship went on for almost 2 years. My job in Singapore required traveling to Europe and his to Asia, so we did lots of juggling, but this could not go on. I needed to move to Germany or stay and change a boyfriend… so in 2014 I came again to Germany and now we are married…
Many things have changed though, mainly the mindset. I didn’t bother to learn German before, most people spoke English and when I really needed help I had friends and colleagues. But now, the thought sunken into my mind: “Oh God. I will be here till I die!!” OK, I am being over dramatic, but most likely I will be here for a long while, have kids here, kids that will identify Germany as their home. So now I am making much more effort into learning the language and doing things on my own.
Do you feel yourself accepted? Integrated into the German society?
I guess so, to an extend… but you will never be local. I think you can never truly belong to something like a region when your roots are not there. You are a part of the region where you grew up, where you went to school, you know the friends since you were young and you know the streets like the back of your hand. Sometimes you lose touch of this part of your roots when you have been away for too long and friends that you have always known have grown distance and there is so much change that you can’t identify with it any more. The inverse is, of course, when you are in a new country, once you have your own circle of friends and places that you are so used to going to, it starts to feel like home! I think if you feel safe and comfortable, you start feeling at home. Whether you are really integrated or you just built a well padded comfort zone is always a question for me and what is the difference between the two? At the end… While I don’t feel at all German, when I travel and come back to my place I feel ‘at home’ and Cologne is starting to feel like home too. Strange but true…
Can you think of a funny German moment?
Not really. I guess I just try to be more punctual, arriving early is as bad as arriving late in Germany and it is hard to be precisely on time. Here is a short but true story and I am not kidding! We were once invited to a friends’ house in Düsseldorf. I think 6 or 8 of us took the train from Cologne, all well-organized by the German members of the group. Before we got to the station, the German friends had already checked our way to the house and we arrived at the door maybe 10 minutes earlier than the invitation time. I reached my hand to ring on the door bell and my German friend said: “Wait Adelaine, do you think we should wait here until it is 20:00 (the exact time of party)?”