In the third installment of the expat interview series let me introduce you to Robyn from Australia who, together with her husband and two teenage daughters, have navigated three different cultures and languages in just six years!
Please tell me a little bit about your family!
My husband is from New Zealand, I am Australian and my girls (aged 14 and 16) are Australian. We moved to Shanghai in China in 2008 to join my husband on a work project. The move was for 1 year… we were there for 4 and we loved every minute (well nearly) it was very hard to leave. My husband is based in the UK with his company and we were moved ‘back’ to the UK from China, so lost our ‘expat’ status, though we were still foreigners. It was a nice time but quite hard to integrate, though we were in a small village in the countryside, not a big city. We had eighteen months in England when my husband was asked to go to Germany to help with a project for three months. At the end of the three months the company decided they wanted him there for two years. The girls and I came to Germany for a few visits, checked out the schools and a few houses and decided to go for it. Contract was signed on 4 December 2013 and we moved 9 January 2014… phew! We have all have enjoyed our life since we left Australia, soaking up different cultures, food, lifestyles and languages… not to mention travel to places we would never have had the chance to go to otherwise.
How long have you lived in Germany? What brought you here?
We have lived in Germany since 9 January 2014, we came for a 2.5 year secondment for my husband’s company. We are loving discovering the culture and countryside and have just about worked everything out.
What languages do you use in your family?
As Aussies and Kiwis we are all native English speakers, though Aussie English and English English are quite different. The girls and I can get by in Mandarin and often have little chats at home (badly) but really the only real language is Aussie English. The girls are both doing German at school, M1, the eldest is doing Spanish and M2 the youngest is doing French. We are looking into Mandarin classes for both and I will enroll in a German class once I get my residence permit card!
You mention that it was difficult for you to integrate in the UK, how does your experience in Germany compare so far?
We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to integrate in Germany. There aren’t many expats in our immediate area and all our neighbours are German. They have all been fantastic, giving advice on the basics such as where to shop and how to pay bills, telling us the ‘German way’ to do things…no lawn mowing on Sundays, how and what to recycle. One neighbour even arranged a dog trainer for us and act as interpreter for our classes. My husband’s German colleagues have been invaluable in translating and telling us where to go for fun festivals, even shopkeepers have been very helpful.
What has been the easiest and the most difficult to adjust to for you and for your family?
The easiest thing to adjust to is the German way of life. There seems to be a festival somewhere close by every week, so many public holidays and so much to discover. After the initial shock of shops being closed on Sundays, which we learned when we went out to do some shopping on our first Sunday, we now love having the day free to get out, have family time and discover our new surroundings. The wine and food aren’t bad either! The most difficult thing is the bureaucracy and paperwork involved. As we are from Australia and not EU citizens it was not as easy to move from the UK to Germany which was expected. There was no list of requirements and just when we thought everything had been provided, another document would be requested. Two months into the process I was told to apply for a new passport as the one I held would expire before the end of our residence permit which stretched the process further. It would have been a much smoother and quicker process had we been told up front of all that was required.
What were your main considerations when choosing a school for your daughters? From what I understand, a local German language school wouldn’t have been an option because of language knowledge, or am I wrong?
A local German school wasn’t an option as the girls couldn’t even count to 10 in German at that stage. We wanted an International School with good academic results which offered both the International Baccalaureate and the English IGSE options. The school would also have to ‘feel right’ for all of us, this was high on our list. If we hadn’t found a school that met our criteria we would not have moved to Germany, as the girls’ education is our highest priority. After three moves in as many years we plan to stay in Germany until both girls have finished school.
During the last six years your family has lived in three countries, do you try (or even want to) to “grow roots” in the places where you live?
We certainly do, each place has a piece of my heart and we have embraced the different cultures in all countries. We have lived in non expat areas in all three countries to really get a feel of local life. We would all go back to Shanghai tomorrow and miss our Chinese neighbours, the food, the life and the vibrancy. We immersed ourselves in our neighbourhood and loved living there, learning the culture and customs. Our favourite discovery in Frankfurt so far is a Chinese supermarket, so we can recreate our favourite Chinese foods. I have even adopted some of the Chinese superstitions. We unexpectedly found the UK culture to be quite different from Australian culture, but we loved the history and learning the local ways. We loved the old traditions that are still upheld today such as May Day and enjoyed living in our little village and being a part of it all. We got into the habit of the British Sunday Roast and still continue that tradition every week. We certainly felt ‘uprooted’ when we left England after only 18 months. In the nine months we have been in Germany, we feel part of the community, I love going for daily walks in ‘my forest’ with our dog and already feel ‘at home’ here. I love using local, in season produce and learning how to do things the German way.
Finally, could you please share an anecdote or a funny story from your time in Germany?
In nine months we have already accrued quite a number of funny stories. So many to choose from. Our dog loves his new home though was barking at anyone and everything that went by our house. This is one of the reasons we had classes with our German dog trainer, to help stop the barking. The trainer lent us a device which sprayed water under the dogs chin when he barked, to discourage him from barking. The dog didn’t seem to mind the spray but I persisted with it, refilling as necessary. One day the doorbell rang, a DHL delivery guy wanted me to accept a parcel for a neighbour. I had just refilled the dog’s water spray collar. The dog went to the gate and started barking at the delivery guy, the angle of the dog’s head lifted…so the spray was a direct hit on the poor guy’s face, over and over. I was mortified, the dog kept barking….and spraying. The delivery guy, water dripping from his face thankfully burst out laughing. He said he had a dog, he understood. Thank goodness Germans love dogs!
If you would like to hear more about the adventures of Robyn and her family in her blog Oolong to Earl Grey… to Riesling (don’t you just love the name?), plenty of beautiful pictures included.
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.