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Insider Tips for Overcoming Culture Shock in Berlin, Germany
Written by: Lynda Galea
Last Updated: June 18, 2020
By Tina Angok
Tina is an International TEFL Academy Alumni Ambassador who lives and teaches English in Berlin, Germany.
Germany’s culture has small yet drastic differences from American culture. (Especially if you’re accustomed to a Midwestern way of life.) Say for example , you bump into someone in the Midwest, you can expect them to apologize profusely for being in your way. Germans would never do this, and even though I studied abroad in Berlin, I still didn’t get a full grasp of such nuances of German culture until I moved here to teach English.
Here's another example of feeling a touch of culture shock: I remember walking down Prinzenallee Strasse in Wedding (northern district of Berlin), and smiling at strangers as I passed them. It seemed like a totally normal thing to do. I used to do that everyday when I lived in Minnesota, but German people thought I was crazy. This was definitely the an example of the culture shock I faced. Germans can be quite standoffish and take a while to open up to someone new. So to them, it’s very odd to just randomly smile at someone unless you know them.
So, here are some tips for how I overcame this type of culture shock as Midwestern American settling in the heart of Germany:
1. Immersing myself in German culture
Just spending time with my German friends really helped give me a better understanding of the culture. Yes, I could’ve spent my time with other American expats, but that would’ve been taking the easy way out. Plus, I moved to teach English and live in Germany to learn about German culture and not to only spend time with other Americans.
2. Stay open-minded
Being open to everyone and different, unique ways of life has helped a lot with the cultural immersion process. It was definitely hard at first but it ultimately paid off in the end.
3. Keep at it and live the culture
Practice make perfect, right? After living in Germany for nine months, I find it somewhat strange to smile at strangers, as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go right back to my Minnesota way of life if I ever go visit! But adapting to German culture has taught me another way of thinking about my interactions with strangers and friendliness altogether.
4. Staying positive
This was incredibly difficult for me. I remember regretting my decision to move here because I couldn’t understand why Germans were so cold and unfriendly. What I came to realize is that it’s not unfriendliness toward everyone, it’s just distance towards strangers.
5. Discussing cultural differences with Germans
I found that talking about how I felt with my fellow German friends was the key to understanding the cultural differences. Once I heard their point of view and they heard mine, it was a lot easier to have effective communication.
An extremely international Midwestern girl, born in Cario, Egypt and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her family is originally from South Sudan, but she has lived in California, Iowa, and Minnesota! Tina chose to teach English abroad because of her passion for travel, enjoyment in helping people, and her interest in different cultures. During the summer of 2014, she studied abroad in Berlin and absolutely fell in love.
An accomplished traveler (she's visited 40 countries!), Lynda hails from Melbourne, Australia. Since she joined ITA in 2017, Lynda has become a primary expert on the field of teaching English online. Not only has she published numerous articles on the topic herself, but she has worked with International TEFL Academy alumni around the world to produce an entire library of information and content about teaching English online. Lynda also serves as a primary organizer of ITA's ground-breaking Teach Abroad Film Festival.
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