The Hardest Part of Living Abroad

living abroad, goch germany

The prospect of moving abroad can be exciting, freeing, nerve-wracking, and stressful. And for a lot of people, moving abroad also means having to learn a new language. It can be the hardest part of living abroad since language correlates with everything you do.

I had a comment from one of you wondering about my struggles relating to learning and communicating in another language. And let me tell you, it has been hard! I’ve been learning German on and off (I have motivation issues…) for about 6 years. You’d think I’d be fluent by now, especially since my husband is German, but that is definitely not the case!

After arriving in Germany, I had to take an A1 level (Beginner) German exam for my Visa. I aced it (almost) and was quite proud of myself, but my knowledge doesn’t go too much further. Being at an A1 Language Level is actually OK for day-to-day life and visitors to another country, but my goal is still fluency.

If you’re at all curious about what I mean by my ‘A1’ language level, you can read about the European Language Framework here.

How I’ve Learned German (so far…)

I’ve really tried it all when it comes to learning German. I started with a workbook (boring and not recommended) to phone apps, websites, in-person courses with multiple people, one-on-one online Skype lessons, watching German shows and documentaries. You name it, I’ve done it.

My advice to anyone trying to learn a language, is to learn about things that interest you and find opportunities to speak, either in a language class or through online lessons. If anyone is interested in know exactly what tools I’ve used and would recommend, then leave a comment!

How Day-to-Day Life Changes

If I’m completely honest, there are days when I don’t want to leave the house because I never know what kind of interactions I’ll be faced with. Or how I’ll embarrass myself, for that matter. Until achieving fluency, it can be a struggle when a person is trying to communicate with you and you either don’t know at all what they’ve said, or you actually do but you don’t know how to respond right away.

A lot of times, before I go somewhere, I try to come up with things people might say to me and how I’ll respond. There was once instance when I had to call a taxi and I rehearsed over in my head what I needed to say. But there’s always the unknown because people usually respond in a way you don’t expect and it can cause a lot of anxiety.

In other instances, I start speaking to someone in German and they immediately respond in English, knowing by my poor accent and pronunciation that I’m a foreigner. These times usually make me feel embarrassed or frustrated. The hardest part of all to overcome is the fact that because you can’t speak the language well enough, you worry that other people think you’re just stupid. It’s sounds harsh, but whenever I’m put on the spot to speak German my tone changes, I stumble upon words, it takes a long time to respond and I just feel dumb. Of course, I know I’m not, but if you’ve ever experienced this, you know what I mean.

Dealing With Bureaucracy

In the instances when I need to visit any authorities regarding my visa or insurance, etc, I’m so grateful to always have my husband with me. These are things I never deal with on my own and I couldn’t imagine coming here alone and having to navigate paperwork solo.

If you are in the situation of moving to a new country by yourself, it’s probably helpful to get a translator so that you don’t miss anything important. While it’s possible that someone may speak English, it hasn’t happened to me and I don’t expect it. It’s important to remember that you’re the guest in their country.

Visiting Doctors

Besides having to deal with all of the paperwork when moving abroad, visiting the doctor is probably the next scariest thing you may have to do. In my case, I was 6-months pregnant when I arrived, so I was sitting in that waiting room sooner rather than later. And yes, I was nervous!

The great thing about the doctors in Germany is that a lot of them speak English. However, it’s the receptionists that you need to be wary of. Again, I had my husband with my the first few times visiting my Arzt (Doctor) here in German. While I was in the Krankenhaus (Hospital) giving birth and during recovery, most Doctors spoke English, but the nurses did not. I spent 3 nights alone in the Krankenhaus after giving birth and it was definitely a struggle trying to recall all the German I knew while looking after a newborn and recovering from labour!

There’s English Everywhere!

While this will definitely not be the case everywhere you travel, in Germany there is English everywhere. A lot of people here have learned English in school and probably can speak a little bit. The younger people, of course, knowing a little bit more. When it comes to grocery shopping, it’s not unheard of to find products completely in English. Even shops will use English names to make themselves seem a bit hipper. Take the two tattoo shops in my town, for example: ‘Pro Pain’ and ‘Lucky You’. Both of which don’t sound too incredibly trustworthy, in my opinion!

Living abroad and having to learn a new language along with it is not easy. Confidently ordering bread at the bakery or engaging in short conversations feel like big accomplishments. Taking my daughter to the Kinderarzt (Pediatrician) and being able to communicate with nurses in German makes me feel proud of myself. As each day goes by, communicating in German gets easier and I gain more confidence. When I remember back to when I could barely speak German at all it’s a reminder to stay motivated!

If you haven’t already read about my other challenges related to moving abroad, you can find it here. If you enjoyed this post, leave and comment and let me know what else you’d like to read about!

4 thoughts on “The Hardest Part of Living Abroad

  1. While visiting Germany and other countries that don’t speak English as their primary language I usually ask if someone speaks English when I need to communicate with them or I just smile and nod. I also know that is is respectful to at least try to speak a little bit of their language if I can.
    I too have had good intentions in trying to learn enough German to travel confidently but it is hard to stay motivated for sure!

  2. I love your honesty about your struggles! It really shows your spirit of adventure. You have put an incredible challenge in front of you and it sounds like you are embracing it fully. You will know when you have settled in when, you come back to Canada and it feels like the foreign Country…… give it a few years. A sliver of insight from my 8 yrs expat experience!

  3. I’m learning ASL and Spanish to communicate at church with people and it’s hard and frustrating. My vocabulary is growing in both but i can’t think of answers to questions at the right time, only know the present tense of words or forgot all my nicely learned vocab when its time. Brain freeze. I shrug my shoulders a lot. Lol
    Keep learning. You know more than you think. I actually prayed, signing on Sunday, and knew more words than i thought. I was pleasantly surprised.

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