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Expat in Germany: Culture Shock in German Class

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Culture Shock in German Class

Recently I wrote a post about not experiencing a great deal of culture shock in Germany to date (see Culture Shock in Germany...or Not), however I must say the culture shock in Germany coming from my Intensive German class, is well... intense.

Our class has 23 students from 17 different countries and while I could prepare for culture shock in Germany by reading about German customs and getting an idea of what to expect, I couldn't possibly prepare for what happens in German class.  Complicating matters further is that not only are so many different cultures involved, but we are a very diverse group.  We range in age 17 to 57, and our income levels vary from those supported by German welfare to millionaires.  We also differ dramatically in religion from Catholic to Aethists to Jewish to Buddhists to Muslims to Agnostics, and those are just the ones I am aware of!  And of course, we all speak different languages with varying degrees of success.  It would not be uncommon to walk into our German class and hear German, Spanish, Portugese, English, Russian and Turkish all being spoken simulataneosly.  Is it any wonder that I am experieicng culture shock in Germany in my German class when I spend 5 days a week, 4 1/2 hours a day in such a multi-cultural environment?

As with most forms of culture shock it starts with minor irritants, in this case being half the class regularly coming late which disrupts the rest of the class (but demonstrates that different cultures value time differently), to talking in class when the teacher is talking (reflecting different attitudes towards both the teacher and to education itself), to not being able to have more than a 3 or 4 sentence conversation with somebody because of language barriers.  These are my personal annoyances and while none of them are major, I am finding them increasingly annoying, but at the same time, note that for better or worse, these annoyances reflect my cultural values.

I see other students struggling with culture shock in Germany in the German class as well.  Several students have made comments that they had never met a gay person before and were surprised the Brazilian student was so open about it. One of the Muslim students had it no better, when a follow student asked him if he supported Sadam Hussein and whether he had ever witnessed a stoning.    No on both accounts, but he was understandably not impressed with this line of questioning.  Another student from the Ukraine asked if you must pay taxes in Canada.  "Of course", I replied confused, until he explained to me that due to corruption, paying taxes in the Ukraine is optional.

Our German class has been running for two months and I'm still unsure of where I fit in it all and am unsure of how I will not just stand up one day in the middle of class and yell "Shut Up!” but fortunately I haven't had any outbursts yet.  I guess all I can do is keep doing the best I can, recognizing that my fellow classmates are going through the same thing and are probably wondering when the Canadian (that's me) will stop doing whatever annoying things I do that are irking them.  And despite my annoyances, I really am grateful for the opportunity to be in such a multi-cultural environment and I recognize that this opportunity may not present itself again.  While we are in German class to learn German, the unexpected gifts of learning so much about other cultures and cultural tolerance are gifts that I will happily receive and try to put to good use.



At October 29, 2010 at 9:38 AM , Anonymous aldo said...

Hey, I work with the CheapOair travel blog ( and we're interested in having you guest blog for us. Please contact me if you're interested. Thanks! Aldo.

At October 30, 2010 at 7:49 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Aldo, I would definitely be interested in guest blogging for CheapOair. Thank you for considering me. I can be reached at: to work out the details.

At November 15, 2010 at 1:09 PM , Anonymous Jen said...

Oh man, you described my previous class experience to a T. I, too, found my class of 20 people to be quite an interesting - and sometimes irritating - culture lab. Sometimes I would leave so exhausted. And you're right, you can prepare or learn German culture all you want, but when it comes to that environment, it's all up in the air. I always felt so worried I was doing everything wrong. It's pretty funny and fascinating, isn't it? In the end, I thought it was cool that here we all were from around the world and yet we came together to learn to speak with each other (in German).

At December 27, 2010 at 12:49 PM , Blogger MooAtU2 said...

I just found your blog. Great stuff! I'm taking the same intensive courses you are, but in Kaiserslautern. I must say, your class sounds just like mine. Right down to the teacher! She was good at first, but she's getting less and less patient, and spends a few minutes a day yelling at us, haha. We have another teacher that we like more and lets us talk more, but she only comes once in awhile.

At December 27, 2010 at 1:08 PM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

@MooAtU2 - thanks. Sorry to hear that your teacher is as bad as mine. Mine got worse and I'm changing schools in January. Hopefully the other teacher will start coming more often to your German class.


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