When I first met my husband, I was studying abroad in Munich during my junior year of college. Everything about Germany was fun and new and I was working hard to learn the language. Of course I noticed that there were cultural differences, but they didn’t bother me.
After my study abroad year came to a close, I returned to the US for my senior year at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. For the first time in my life, I was in a long-distance relationship. It was difficult, but it also allowed my partner and me to learn more about each other while we were each immersed in our home country’s culture. My mind was already made up, though. As soon as I graduated, I moved right back to Munich.
Somewhat to my surprise, this time around I experienced quite a bit of culture shock. It was the little differences that started to really get to me. In my daily conversations with my partner, I often would get frustrated about “his country” and how “strange” and different it was. I found myself constantly comparing the two cultures, looking for ways that mine was better or “more normal”.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was experiencing the classic stages of culture shock. The “honeymoon stage” of my year abroad had given way to the rejection and alienation I was now experiencing. I found that the extent to which cultural differences came into play in my relationship with my partner had a lot to do with how far I’d come in discovering the German culture and feeling at home here.
Now I’ve been back living here “for good” for about seven years and Germany feels like home. Of course there are still some things that strike me as “so German”, but they don’t have an alienating effect on me anymore, in fact I take a strange pride in how familiar they feel. Like anywhere, there are some things I love and some things I’m not so crazy about.
In terms of my relationship with my husband, I think our cross-cultural perspectives just make life more interesting. I definitely see them as more of a strength than a weakness. As we learn more and more about each other’s cultures and mindsets, we can take what we like best from both to build our life together here.
Mine is just one story of falling in love and living abroad, though. How happy are other expats with their relationship? In the InterNations Expat Insider 2014 survey, expats living in the Philippines (82%) and Colombia (80%) were the most likely to answer that they are very or even completely happy with their relationships, followed by Ireland (77%), New Zealand (76%), and South Korea (76%).
It seems that many expats living in Germany were unfortunately not feeling very lucky in love at the time of last year’s survey, with only 62% saying they were very or completely satisfied with their relationship. Maybe some of these expats were still experiencing the culture shock I felt at the beginning. I can say from personal experience (and from the survey results), that settling into life in Germany, making friends (especially local ones), and learning the language aren’t always easy. Hopefully once they start feeling more at home and discover all the wonderful things German culture has to offer, these expats will also start feeling more satisfied with their relationship as well.
Taking a look at nationalities, it seems that many of my fellow American expats around the world are also happy in their relationship, be it with another expat or with someone from another country. Almost three-quarters of the American respondents (72%) reported that they are very or completely satisfied with their relationship.
Americans don’t have the highest percentage of participants who are very or completely happy with their relationship, though. That distinction goes to the Dutch (79%), followed by the Swiss (78%), and the Brazilians (75%).
The survey also sheds light on which types of couples are happiest. For example, there are the couples where both partners come from the same country and are living together in a foreign country. In this case, both partners are expats and can experience the new culture through the same cultural lens, perhaps being struck by the same differences that seem peculiar to them.
Then there are couples where one partner is an expat and the other one is from the couple’s current country of residence, like in my case. In the third group, both partners are expats, but they are living in a third country (e.g. a French-Japanese couple living in Ecuador).
The survey showed no striking differences in the satisfaction level among these groups, although slightly more expats (79%) with a partner from their current country of residence were very or completely satisfied with their relationship. For expat couples from the same home country, this percentage was 73% and for expat couples living in a third country it was 72%. Many factors influence relationship satisfaction, but it seems that whether your partner comes from your home country or a different one is not the determining one.
Lenore Bartko works for InterNations as a Content & Communications Manager. An American expat born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, she now lives in Munich with her German husband.
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