In the first installment of my new expat interview series let me introduce you to Adriana! Born in Costa Rica, she has lived in several countries and currently calls a small village in Bavaria her home.
Please tell me a little bit about your family.
I was born in Costa Rica, moved to the South Pacific when I was 5, at 8 moved to Washington DC and now Germany! My husband was born in Germany but moved to South Africa and grew up in a German community there till he was 12, then bounced back and forth from Germany to the States. We have a daughter Sol, who was born here in Germany.
How long have you lived in Germany? What brought you here?
I’ve lived in Germany now for just over two years, my husband and I met when I was on a solo holiday in Europe and he moved to the States first for a few years, I was ready to do something new and fresh with my life, so we decided to make the jump and moved to Germany. My husband is originally from the north (Bremen), but his family lived in Munich because of connections to Siemens which is the reason we choose to move to Bavaria.
What languages do you use in your family?
My husband and I speak English to each other, my husband speaks only German to Sol and I speak English and Spanish to her. Things will start to get more interesting as I leave starting this year for a few months a year to Costa Rica with our daughter.
Do you have a system for switching between languages or do you do it spontaneously?
I speak to sol in English but use both German and Spanish words spontaneously. I don’t really have a system, I owe this to having all three languages constantly present in my own life. Honestly I don’t worry about her, I think in time she will sort it all out.
You mentioned a plan to take your daughter to Costa Rica for a few months each year. Can you tell more about it?
Sol and I are going to be in Costa Rica each year for a few months. Currently our family isn’t tied to a school system and in general doesn’t have a “set” plan on where our forever home will be. Our goal is to take her to Costa Rica to experience and grow up in the culture there as much as in Germany till we don’t have the back and forth option anymore. I think it’s very important to have memories and experiences in the culture that you’re a part of. When we go I plan on putting her in “school” a couple mornings a week with the local kids while I volunteer there. I want her to hear and be around different languages and cultures, when she grows up I hope it influences her to being comfortable and open no matter where she is.
Do you expect to encounter any challenges or difficulties with passing on Spanish and English while raising your daughter in a German speaking environment?
I do. I know that a majority language will ultimately win for a while but I will never stop speaking to her in English or Spanish. Even if she responds back in German that’s ok, she won’t forget how to speak English if I keep it going and one day in school here she will have to pick it up anyway so I think it will work out.
Do you feel support in your community for a multilingual upbringing of your daughter? (e.g., contacts with other multilingual families, support or understanding of your choices from your pediatrician, etc.)
I got really lucky with my pediatrician. He is German but in part went to medical school in England to learn Medicine in English as well as German. Languages here in Germany are everywhere, the school system wants your child to learn German of course but most children speak 2-3 languages. My nephew speaks German first, French second and English third…he’s 14. English isn’t considered a foreign language, it’s like math, you just need to know it and then you pick a foreign language.
Have you considered sending Sol to a daycare? If yes, do you intend to look for international or multilingual offers or opt for the standard German language ones?
I stay home with her right now, but when the time comes I will send her to a German English preschool, I’m more comfortable with the dual language being a part of her regular life AND we live in a tiny village surrounded by farms, it’s lovely but it’s a very, very tight and traditional community! Nothing wrong with that but I want her to be around more people like my husband and I and hopefully a more international community or at least Bavarian families that want the same as we do. Make sense?
As Sol will be growing up in Germany and her father is German, do you wish her to form a strong belonging to Germany, and perhaps also an identification with it?
This is a very big question for me that i have very deep feelings about. I 100% believe in a person’s identity with their country and culture. I know this from my own first-hand experience of having it taken away from me (huge writing project I need to get started on) and how I felt till I was in my 30’s, my father and in some ways my country were taken away from me through the disconnect, I felt like I had no identity or home. It is very important that we show her who she is, where she comes from and feel a connection to her countries, that she feels confidence is her roots.
Do you yourself feel integrated in the German society around you? If you can, please name a few things that were the most difficult and the easiest to adjust to.
No, I don’t. I fit but it don’t belong, this is part of the price I pay to have the distance that you need to see things with a little bit of distance, you see more that way. I love Germany, but I’m in a very interesting part of my life at the moment, just became a mother after a neatly 20 year gap from my first and I’m using this time to not only show Sol her own country and roots that will give her identity but I’m carving out my own identity alongside her. I have very deep feelings about most of them because they are hitting the root of why I’m where I am in my life at the moment. I want to spend time to myself and my family in both countries, travel through them and connect more to Costa Rica and learn about life in Europe. I feel like I floating which is very good but sometimes I feel very disconnected and need to anchor myself. I have good friends and family who support me, my husband. All this ties back to the previous question.
Difficult is the German language! It’s not an easy language for me to learn! The easiest? Well I love cooking and most ingredients that were hard to find in the states are at my grocery store, markets all the time! The European approach to food and eating in general is been easy to embrace and love!
Finally, to finish on a lighter note: could you share an anecdote or a funny story from your time in Germany?
It was my first time boarding the bus which you don’t pay in cash, you use a strip of pre-bought tickets you need a stamp for. I was nervous, I didn’t speak any German and knew nothing about the bus system, I started frantically shoving my strip in the machine. Convinced I’m doing something wrong I pull it back out and trying again, then I straighten it and try again. I look at the driver and he just has a cold look on his expressionless face, he’s not going to do anything to help me out. So I start to sweat and cuss in English, the bus driver is watching me attack the machine with what is now a soggy piece of paper due to my sweaty hands. The bus driver man says in a heavy Russian accent ” vy are you trying to shove da ticket in the credit card machine? The stamp machine is in da back.”
I am looking for more interviewees so if you are a foreigner living in Germany or know someone who is I would love to hear from you! Click here for more details.