InterNations Featured Blog
Aaron and Meghan: Submerged Oaks
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Germany, etc.
Our names are Aaron and Meghan Oaks. We are both born and bred Michiganders (people from Michigan). We moved to Germany in August of 2014 for work (we both are engineers at BASF) and now live in Mannheim. In our spare time, we have been exploring Europe, and we love diving, even in the cold, dark German lakes.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
We started blogging about our experience as expats shortly before moving over here to keep our friends and family back home updated on how we were doing, what we were seeing, and what our experience is like here in Germany. Over time, we realized that our experiences over here - from the relocation process to European travel to German culture to everyday life as expats - could be helpful to others either planning a move, or even a vacation, to Germany.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think two of our best experiences have, ironically, both involved bathing. The first was in a huge, absolutely beautiful public (nude) bath in Baden which has 17 individual bathing steps. The other is the bath we took in beer in the Czech Republic. Sounds a little gross, but it was awesome and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Tell us about the ways your new life in Germany differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The biggest difference between our life in Germany and our life in the States is travel. Germany is so centrally located, and flights are so much cheaper, that we have been able to do a lot of traveling while we are over here. Additionally, since we won’t be here forever, we have been trying to squeeze as much in as we can! This spring we will be really busy with travel - dog sledding in Sweden, diving in Iceland, Paris with some friends, Amsterdam with college friends to see the famous Kukenhof tulip festival, and a trip to Austria to dive in a flooded Alpine park (Grüner See). All before the end of May!
As for the culture shock, it didn’t come in one big wave. Michigan has a large population of people that identify with German descent, so many traditions, and foods are Americanized German. Instead, it’s all the little things that catch you off guard: shops closed on a random religious holiday, your first time getting sick and finding a doctor, figuring out laundry detergent to buy. But all culture shock isn’t bad. Some of our best memories are from times when we experienced something new and unexpected about the German culture, like that time we went to a wine festival and tried to keep up with a German drinking club!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Germany? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I’m not sure that anyone can ever been fully prepared for a move like this. You can read the books, do tons of research, speak the language, but none of it can really make you understand what it’s like to live it on a day to day basis. Thankfully, our company has provided language lessons and cultural training, which has made the transition easier. If I had to do it over again, I would bring less ‘’stuff.’’
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Last Halloween, we attended a party hosted by our local InterNations chapter. Neither my husband nor I are very ‘’in’’ to Halloween but we decided, new place, new country, so we did the whole costume, party thing. I spent a couple weeks making us Fred and Wilma Flintstone (or Feuerstein, if we’re being German) costumes, and we went to the party. Just to be 2 of 4 people in costume. We didn’t get the memo that Germans don’t really dress up for Halloween, and if they do, it’s typically as a zombie or witch or other ‘’scary’’ costume. Ours would have been a better fit for Karneval. Later in the night, the party moved to the local Irish pub where we attempted to sing German karaoke, in our costumes, with a bunch of Germans. Needless to say, it was quite the night for us.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Germany?
- Keep an open mind. There will be differences and times when you shake your head and wonder, ‘’what the…?’’ Just go with it, especially if there is music, beer or wine involved!
- The ‘Vacation Phase’ will eventually wear off. This is the phase where you still feel like you’re visiting, passing through, only there for a couple of days or weeks. In general, this is a good thing. You no longer look at Germany as somewhere new and exotic, but rather as home and comfortable. This doesn’t mean you will stop traveling and exploring, but it does mean that you know where the closest grocery store is and won’t have to search the aisles as much, or debate over which laundry detergent you need to buy. You will recognize what you need, and grab it.
- Seek out new experiences - in your new city, in Germany, in Europe - and do them! It will make for a richer, more satisfying experience and hey, you may find you don’t mind being naked in front of strangers anymore!
How is the expat community in Germany? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a fairly large network of expats in Germany. We belong to a local Meet Up group that gets together fairly often and our company has a large number of expats. Through work, we have been able to meet expats not only from the US, but from all over the world.
How would you summarize your expat life in Germany in a single, catchy sentence?
Harder than we expected, but more amazing than we could have ever imagined!