6-years-ago today, our life, my life, changed drastically.
After 6 years here, I can, I think, finally say that we have arrived.
That culture shock roller-coaster is/was not an easy one to ride.
Culture shock is "the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes." And yes, culture shock can certainly happen within Europe, or while moving to a culture you thought you knew. There is no need to jump continent (although I am sure that makes it even harder).
For the past 6 years, I have been going through all of the culture shock phases. 6 years? Yes, I think this is really what it has taken me to actually be comfortable/happy living here.
The literature will tell you that culture shock is totally normal. The process of moving to a new country, new culture will take you through several phases. The honeymoon period when everything is great and you discover your new surroundings. You love your new house, you visit all the new exciting sites around, etc. Then, gradually, you sink into a frustrated and annoyed state of mind where you start noticing all of the differences between your old culture and the new one. You can even start feeling angry and resentful. This phase is often quoted as happening around the 6 months mark. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all go through this phase on some level. Finally, once you have learnt to accept the new situation, you move on to the adjustment stage.
It is really hard to put time-lines on these things as we all move at different paces in our lives and personal events play a big role in these stages.
Germany was never going to be long term for us, for me.
The honeymoon stage lasted quite a while (much longer than 6 months in any case). I love the child-rearing philosophy here. I love the central location of where we are to travel and many other things. I had reinvented myself. I went from academia to self-employed. I was dabbling into making multilingual stationery and had quite a successful little business run from home. I had become a career chameleon and that was fun. I had survived 2 years with minimum friends and acquaintances (I am an introvert so that didn't bother me too much).
Yet, somewhere around the 2-year mark, life became tough. I am not sure what changed then. Maybe it was the fact that the husband was travelling more and more. Maybe it was the fact that I saw the 3-year mark as a kind of make-or-break deadline in my head: my own personal cut-off point for staying longer term or moving on.
Around that 2-year mark, though, something changed. I started getting really annoyed at a lot of things. I even wrote a post about how Germans are horribly rude. I know a lot of foreigners also feel that way, so I was in no way isolated. A blogging German friend also wrote about it.* A year later, I gave birth to my second child. The pregnancy had been tough and scary. When he was born, I had to drop my business. He was not sleeping. I had no support. Several family medical misadventures also happened during that time.
And also school for our eldest was looming. School in a language I was not mastering well enough to offer her my full support. That was big for me.
So how did I get out of this? Well, I didn't. Our tickets out were almost booked (literally). But one life event I won't go into, last year, made us really re-evaluate everything. We made pros and cons lists. I cried. A lot. We made choices. We took decisions. Brexit happened (killing the possibility of going back in this current climate). We mourned Britain. European schooling went from a dream to a reality. We found that one person you can drop your kids to in case of an emergency. We decided to stick to it for now. I learnt to live with the things I don't like here. Many of the positive things happened thanks to acquaintances who started to become friends. It took me that long (I am an introvert, I told you). I am not the kind of person who can ask for help easily.
Germany still isn't our happily ever after kind of place. Or at least, I am not ready to admit it yet. However, I am happy to say that I think I am out of the culture shock phase. I am learning to deal with it all. I am happy my children get this German-style childhood with our multicultural twist. I am thinking about my next career move. It is tough with little support and solo parenting so often but I will make it work (somehow).
These culture shock time-lines are misleading. To me, they should be more like a giant roller-coaster ride that go up and down endlessly until you find your peace with the situation and learn to live this bi-cultural (or multicultural) adventure.
*While it is ok for him as a German citizen to write it, I now feel it was not appropriate for me to do so. I have deleted that article. While the apparent German coldness still gets to me, I am learning to live with it.