Living and working abroad – what’s it really like?

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It all began on platform 4…

My move to another country.

Picture this, you’ve just turned 20, have two big heavy suitcases, you’ve landed in Cologne and managed to make your way to the train station and the first word you hear is “Verspätung” (delay). You know you’re not going to make your next connection and have no idea of the validity of your train ticket to catch a different connection. You have a change at Frankfurt before arriving in Würzburg, a city you’ve never been to or heard of, where you’re going to live for the next 9 months as part of a placement with the British Council. Once there, you need to find where you’ll be staying, register that you’re in the city and set up a bank account. You don’t know anybody and are conscious of the fact that you need to have all these things sorted pretty sharpish. What do you do? Well, this is the struggle I faced when moving abroad. 

Although all the above may sound straightforward in the grand scheme of things, when faced with these challenges abroad, what seem like quite simple tasks can be rather daunting. Hearing banking terms in German you’re unfamiliar with, registering in the city, hoping you’ve correctly understood the forms, and signing your tenancy agreement whilst trying to navigate your way around the legal terms scattered throughout can be pretty tough.

Despite all these challenges, I did manage to tackle them head on, because I’d been given prior training on how to do these things (except for the train delays – that struggle never went away!). In order to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, it’s important you understand how to best do so.

Culture shock is real whilst working abroad

Working in a school, I experienced a real culture shock in relation to how things were done. Firstly, where was the interactive whiteboard?! I was given a piece of chalk to write on the blackboard, which meant I really had to rethink the PowerPoints that I’d been so used to at my own school. Granted, the classrooms did have a projector, but it was a real shock to see.

Directness is very common in Germany, which I found very hard to deal with at the start of my time there. When you get an answer wrong in a UK classroom you’re typically told “not quite, but I can see where you’re coming from”, to soften the blow, whereas in German schools it was “no, that’s wrong”. I found this quite harsh, but having seen the children virtually unphased by it, I came to realise that it was the norm. It made my second placement a bit easier in the Town Hall, where my colleagues were often direct. German is very much a “say what you mean, rather than what you think you should say” culture.

I often do my weekly shop on a Sunday here in the UK, but in Germany all supermarkets are closed, so you’d better hope the local petrol station has a few bits if you’ve forgotten to go on Saturday. Most places in Germany are not open on Sundays as it is typically reserved for family time and rest. Oh, and if you’re short of cash, if you use an ATM not affiliated with your bank you’ll often be charged. This I hadn’t understood when opening my bank account…

Ein Prosit…German Toast

Once you’ve got your head around most of the cultural nuances, you’re able to fully appreciate where you are. You can build lifelong friendships, develop professionally and truly enjoy yourself. Before you know it, you’ll be stood on a bench, with a Stein in your hand, singing “Ein Prosit” in a beer tent, wondering why you ever worried about moving abroad. I can honestly say that living abroad was one of the best experiences of my life. My language skills hugely improved and having cultural training as part of my studies before I set off helped me enormously. I was able to travel, work and meet new people.

Carina - Dialogue Project Manager at Neuschwanstein castle

Cultural training with us at Dialogue

Here at Dialogue, we offer both language and cultural training. Are you going to be travelling abroad soon for work? Why not get in touch with us to set you up for the perfect transition abroad?

We’d love to hear about your experiences abroad and what you wish you’d known before you went!

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