I have been a German resident for 3 years and 9 months, as of today. It has been a ride like no other. 2016 was the hardest year of my life – I was new in town, and constantly drowning. I was angry, depressed, guilt-ridden, helpless an lipd ready to get on the first flight back to Pakistan every single night.
Today, when I think about it, I wonder why was it so hard to begin with? Germany is nor the first country that I have relocated to, neither was I alone to brave through the hardships. It shouldn’t have been so hard, but it was. And it took me a long time to understand why.
I had been working for almost a decade before coming to Germany. Career was a big part of my life. I wrote for a living (aka journalist), and had been doing PR for some time. I had never struggled to find a job. I started applying after a short honeymoon period of two weeks in Germany, only to face the worst sort of rejection. It was a blow to my ego and self-esteem. In turn, it angered me and I retaliated with stubbornness – the main reason for my struggle with finding a job was the language, so I decided to just not learn. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but rarely do decisions made in anger do.
This was a big mistake. It halted my personal and professional growth, which made me angrier. How dare they?! Of course, I was being childish and only hurting myself with baseless resistance. Even when I did enrol in a language class in Cologne, I wasn’t keen on learning. I am naturally smart and despite being absent from half my classes, I managed to clear B1. I was still angry. I was still in a rut.
2017 brought along opportunities, and this active engagement of my body and brain changed my perspective towards life in Germany. I was finally going out, meeting people, making the best of beautiful German summer, enjoying hot chocolate as my nose froze in winters, learnt to swim, tried bicycle riding (didn’t work), drove on Autobahn at over 200km/hr (it is a lot less scary than it sounds), made precious friends and indulged in many such little and big pleasures of life. From an angry person to a happy person, it was a journey, and I am here to share the lessons and tips with you.
Now that the fall term for universities is about to begin, there will be an influx of students, some of whom might struggle to adjust and make most of their time in Germany. This post is for them. This post is also for those who move here for professional reasons, and those who follow love and relocate to be reunited with their loved ones. Most of our struggles are similar, especially in the first few months. So this one is for you.
For this post, I also asked for tips from people who have been living here for more than a decade, so this is not just me talking – it is a whole lot of people, who have been through the struggle that you are currently going through. So, fasten you seat belt, and let’s get started.
1. COME PREPARED
First lesson that you will learn when you come to Germany (from say, Pakistan) is that grass is not always greener on the other side. You decided to relocate because of issues back home, but guess what, there are problems here too – just of a different sort. So first step, come prepared. Do an extensive research on the city that you are going to live in – where it is in Germany, what are the people like, demographics, etc. This will soften the blow after arrival and prepare you for what to expect.
Please know that there is no house help (not in the first few months/years at least), so you will be doing the dishes (if there is no dishwasher), vacuuming your place, running laundry cycles and mopping bathroom. Learn enough cooking to be able to feed yourself. The move and adjustment will be easier if you are prepared and can keep an open mind about things.
It is difficult to find a place in most German cities. I know that, and hopefully you know it as well. A major part of an expat’s struggle is finding an apartment, and the sooner you conquer it, the easier your journey will be.
If you are a student, dorms and student housing complexes are your best bet. For others, renting a furnished apartment for first 3 to 6 months, via platforms like Airbnb, HomeLike and Wunderflats, is the most common option. Also, many companies provide relocation services and offer accommodation for upto 3 months; ask your employer if that is a possibility.
Before you arrive, make sure you have a bed to sleep on and a roof over your head.
3. LEARN GERMAN
I have already shared my story with German language above to give you an idea about how important it is to learn the local language.
Every single expat I spoke to said the same thing – learn German. Even if your job doesn’t require it, you will need the language for every day life. Buy things, ask for direction, chat with your barista, deal with government offices (and there will be loads of dealing here), rent an apartment and make friends – German is an integral part of the society and you will do yourself a favour by learning it ASAP.
4. BEFRIEND FACEBOOK
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has helped me in adjusting in Germany as Facebook has, primarily because it allowed me to make friends. I joined couple of groups for Pakistanis in Germany, and that was my go to source for information for paperwork. Groups I have joined and loved:
Then there are girl groups, which helped me make friends and vent when I just couldn’t stand the amount of mail I got from my bank. In fact, my latest trip to Paris was with a friend from one such group and it was fantastic.
As a blogger, I have an active Instagram as well, so I met some people through that as well. But if I didn’t have it, Facebook would have been enough. There is a group for pretty much EVERYTHING. Just look it up and you will find support online.
Having said that, do you own diligence when you get information from Facebook. We know how the story of blindly trusting what you read online goes.
5. CONNECT WITH PEOPLE OF YOUR OWN COUNTRY IN GERMANY
This one gets heat because some assume that this is the reason many expats do not try to befriend locals. They stick to their own. I beg to differ. To begin with, when you connect with people from your own country, it helps keep severe homesickness at bay. Second, when you need guidance with paperwork and such, they can offer incomparable information because they have gone through the same processes, with similar documentation. Third, venting in your own language is a treat like no other.
Please remember that good and annoying people are everywhere; you can pick and choose your own tribe.
“Learn to talk to community members in the time of need instead of falling prey to depression and loneliness. The homesickness can be minimised to some extent with communication from people of your land,” mentioned Hasan.
“I’ve experienced this myself and I’ve also seen many fall prey to this thing. When you’re leaving your entire life behind in Pakistan, then Germany can be very depressing in the begining. That’s why I always recommend everyone to make friends with their senior even before coming here. I’ve already seen a few people go back to Pakistan because they just couldn’t adjust, ” reminisces Farah.
6. BEFRIEND LOCALS
I can’t stress this enough. I know it is intimidating and you might feel unwelcome sometimes, but try, try, try. You can’t have a German life experience without Germans. If you are in school, it will be relatively easy. If you are at work, try harder. Initiate conversations. Tell them stories from back home. Introduce them to your cuisine (keep spice level to zero). Take a plant when you go to introduce yourself to your neighbours.
“When you first arrive, do not automatically assume that people or neighbours are cold towards you. Take the first step and introduce yourself. It might take time. I have learned it through experience. I would go all guns blazing at the first sign of hostility towards us but with time and age, I have realised you sometimes have to give time to things to settle. By no means be a doormat just because they are goras. Keep things civil and do your part,” shares Amina.
Most of the German people I have met have been really nice. And if you attempt a conversation in broken German, they truly appreciate the effort. The infamous German rudeness is mostly a language barrier than real disdain.
“Make sure you show up in parties/events when there is an invitation. Avoid sticking around Pakistani only groups, it excludes you and makes you less-approachable for locals. Give spending time among locals (germans) priority,” recommends Saima.
The bottom line here is that make friends. As soon as possible. Having a support system in the form of friends will take the edge of transitioning and settling in. How to make friends? I did a whole post on it and you can check it here.
“Adapt their language and basic culture. You don’t have to sacrifice your beliefs and religion or culture for that. Just be more open and accepting and do not shun them. It will only isolate you more. Go out and explore,” recommends Alisa.
7. RESPECT GERMANY, IT’S CULTURE AND SOCIETY
“You have both rights and responsibilities. You can’t enjoy one without working with the other. This country is a well oiled machine and depends highly on people doing their jobs properly and with utmost integrity. They give high regard and weight to your word. Please keep it and don’t abuse it,” Zeen shares an important lesson. He further adds, “You are in their country. They don’t owe you anything other than respect and freedom of practicing your religion and beliefs. Do not try to impose your beliefs or make them an issue with them. If you don’t like something, remove yourself without throwing a huge ‘I am a Muslim and I don’t sit with people who drink alcohol or eat pork’ tantrum. Good for you if you don’t, but no need to advertise it and come across as an unapproachable person; hence unapproachable and extremist nation.
“Furthermore, please don’t abuse the trust people and authorities have here in their citizens. Do not abuse the facilities you have been provided, be it monetary or social. Don’t exploit resources and trick authorities – please keep in mind that you are not just representing yourself, but an entire culture and country. Yes, there are others who might be doing the dirty, but focus on what you can do; your actions and gestures can tip the scales. There is a reason for mistrust in Pakistanis and Indians. Not all but some have exploited the system.
“Plus, if some Parveen baji (sorry to any Parveens here, no offence intended) tells you that she gets money from the government monthly and you should too, don’t be too enthusiastic. Be cautious as there are strict rules and regulations in place. Go to the right authority and ask them directly. Parveen baji is not an authority (sorry again Parveen baji),” concludes Mahwish.
8. DEAL WITH WINTER BLUES
Fall is hard in Germany. It’s cold, wet in most parts and there is an obvious gloom in the air. The fact that some of us come from warm and humid parts of the world only makes the season that much harder to live through. I moved here from Dubai, and survived.
For starters, eat healthy. Ginger shots with honey will be your friend. You need an immunity booster, so if ginger shots are not your thing, commit to warm milk with turmeric and honey, or whatever else works for you.
In addition, invest in quality winter wear. I have been guilty of buying relatively cheaper jackets (because they were red and purple) and shoes in my first year, and shivered in my boots for most part of the season. If you are on a budget, keep an eye out for sales. There are a few outlet malls across the country as well. And then there is TK Maxx if you are really desperate. H&M, Zara and Mango usually don’t cut it.
Third, health insurance – make sure it is sorted as soon as possible. N and I have a family insurance by TK, so I can only recommend what I have used. Regardless of which provider you go with, just make sure you are fully covered. “Don’t automatically select the cheap insurance. You never know when you might need medical assistance. Insure your self in every way possibly available. Your trip to Paris and elaborate dinner for friends can wait. Invest and spend money on your comfort and health first and then do other things,” advises Sumaiya.
9. FIND A JOB
If your German language skills are not good enough to hold a conversation, it is likely that you will face difficulties in finding a job (unless you are an engineer or a scientist). But there are still jobs, especially for students. Look them up and get something as soon as possible. One, it will help you with your expenses. Two, you will be able to meet people and make friends. Three, entertainment options can be VERY limited in smaller cities. Fourth, it will be good for your headspace and resume.
10. PLAN A VACATION
It is very easy to travel around Europe, so if it gets too rough, plan a holiday. I have a few travelogues on the blog (Paris, Prague, Copenhagen, Brugge, Königswinter, London, Amsterdam, The Hague, Milan, Madrid, Malta and Kaukenhof), in case it helps. There are group trips as well, if venturing solo is not your thing. “Travel, travel and travel. It keeps spirits up,” exclaims Bluebert.
11. ASK FOR HELP
“This culture and society relies heavily on its individuals helping others. But people here won’t come and coddle you like in Pakistan. You need to be vocal about what you want and need,” shares Faiza. And truer words have not been said. Don’t wait for someone to come and rescue you. You will need to get over the hesitation and reluctance of asking for help, and call out when you need support. Jis ne ki sharam, uske phoote karam. Reality of an expat. I am quite an introvert as well when it comes to asking for help, but trust me when I say this, the hesitation only hurts you.
And dump any preconceived notions that you may have about Germans (or their rudeness). Most are not rude, but there certainly is no ‘coddling’. An adult is expected to act like an adult, and not a fragile flower.
12. STOP THE CURRENCY CONVERSION
Please stop converting money in your head while shopping. You will drive yourself crazy.
To conclude, please trust me when I say that you will be fine. If the transitionary time looks difficult and unbearable, know that every cloud has a silver lining and it will all get easier. If you are depressed and lonely, reach out to people. You will be surprised at how much warmth and support the expat community has to offer.
P.S Get all your salon services and a hair cut before getting on the plane. Beauty industry here is nothing like that back home.