MaDaI - Interkulturelles Training

10 Steps to feel at home

The memories of the first few months remain; they were not easy! As Daniela puts it: I was alone in my flat, sitting on a very old fashioned, beige couch (definitively not Italian style !) watching German television, understanding 3 words out of 100 and wondering ..." what am I doing here?"
=> Do you know this feeling? Have you had the same experience?
Even though it was, for both of us, our decision to come to Germany and we can both say we were very excited; the first period was really hard. The pressures on the one hand to be able to succeed at work and on the other to become integrated into the community. After a few days of reflection there comes the decision to do something in order to improve the situation and feel more comfortable as soon as possible.

The first question is: do you want to work abroad and spend the free time in your home country or do you want to socialize, to integrate and get the most of your time abroad? For us the latter was the priority.
Step 1: Before departing for a foreign country do have a thorough check-up at the doctors. Check the important differences in terms of vaccinations and ask your doctor about what medication might be advisable to have with you. After arriving (if you haven’t done this in advance!) find out if there are doctors that speak your language…they might not be the best but trying to explain health problems via a translator or in broken language can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing…just when you don’t need it!
Step 2: Don’t forget a few photos of your loved ones and don’t forget some durable foods that you really love. (Just as an idea: Black pepper, “Ginger nuts” or some Vollkornbrot!) Give the latter a bit of thought along the lines of “what would I miss if I was in a desert island?” and do be careful, especially if you are travelling by air. A foreign country is not a desert but it’s often not easy to find those things that make you feel at home! It might be helpful on the pre-transfer visit to have some of these things in mind and to see if they are easily available.
Step 3: Look for friends but where? Nowadays, there is an organisation; InterNations ( where many expats meet. It is very interesting to meet so many people who are experiencing living abroad and many of them have been in several countries. Unless you would rather be working at home and don’t want to make the most of your stay abroad, we do not recommend typical Expat “clubs”. They do provide a break from the strain but can become a drag on assimilation into the local community.
Our initial emphasis was on colleagues at work and we both were lucky enough to find some colleagues who were willing to introduce us to the local highlights.
• What is important? : - Be the one who makes the first step, don’t be too timid!
Inviting your colleagues to your abode is a good start but if it’s only a bedsit, invite them to a suitable venue for a snack/meal. If you have managed to find one person with whom you can empathise well…ask for help – the same part of the brain is activated by giving and accepting help! Particularly in Asia, be careful to make sure that you don’t have considerably better accommodation than the colleagues you invite…this can cause problems.
Step 4. Especially, if you have your family (wife and perhaps children) with you, make sure that you realise, they are having similar difficulties, perhaps with other priorities, but nevertheless similar. Don’t expect more from them than you are achieving yourself, and don’t demand too much from yourself! Make light of buying washing up liquid instead of shampoo…the soap’s the same any away!! Don’t be reluctant to ask at work for help with the family/non-work problems…school, shopping etc. Finding a colleague who is willing to help, or has a wife who would like to help, helps build relationships.
Step 5: Learn the language. This is most easy in Latin based languages, or even those where the Arabian letters are used. For these countries we recommend…read the local newspaper and watch the news in the local language…4 words a day and for each a sentence…you should be able to get by within six months. But again, don’t be afraid to ask at work for assistance; one or two hours a week can improve your ability to acclimatize considerably!!
Step 6: Shopping. Choose some shops in your neighbourhood and keep to these for as much as they can supply. You may not be buying at the cheapest prices but being known, and getting help is worth more! Make sure you know the opening hours as soon as possible…in Germany the shops had much more restricted opening hours than they have today and being forced to eat what’s left in the freezer is not the best was to improve a damaged spirit.
Step 7: Do make sure your neighbours know who you are. They will probably have been informed by the bush telegraph that “foreigners” have moved in but don’t give them time to develop any preconceived ideas! If you’ve brought a few bottles of wine from home, knock on the door and introduce yourselves! Do make sure you have informed yourself beforehand about the “rules” in the house if you have a flat! If you watch carefully, you will very soon be able to identify the “opinion leader” in the house…make sure you visit her first or give her the best treatment! Don’t leave “introductions” for more than a week after arriving, no one expects you on the first day…but three weeks after moving in is a bit late!
Step 8: Find shops, if you can, where you can buy a newspaper and novels in your own language. Nowadays in internet you can find everything but sometimes is also nice to get up Sunday morning and read a real newspaper while having breakfast (even if it’s two days old!) if you were at home!
Keep your eyes open when shopping for those things you miss (Ginger nuts, Cheddar or Parmesan cheese…). These items will probably be much more expensive than you’re used to…but now and again spoiling yourself is a great idea!!
Step 9: Don’t shy away from trying the snack bars and restaurants near to your new abode. Remember, you are the customer, and even if the language is a problem…the worst that can happen is a surprise or two! You may discover something very delicious or something that has a similar taste like something you know from your country: e.g. in Germany " munzemandeln" have a similar taste to the Italian Tortelli (which is also a carnival specialty in Italy). If you find somewhere you like, this could be a good rendezvous for an invite with your colleagues (They will be very impressed when you are greeted by the personnel!).
Step 10: Give yourself time. The move won’t be a total success within a month. Be prepared for the days (especially the weekends) when you really wish you hadn’t made this move. Take time-out for yourself, relax, do something you always wanted to do or visit one of the local places of interest…perhaps with a colleague or a new acquaintance.

Of course, nothing here is new but a checklist for those embarking on a foreign assignment is useful, even if not complete.

It would be great to have comments/suggestions – do write to us at Facebook / Xing/ email/ or LinkedIn. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Daniela Marchese Stephen Pask
Ma.da.I SteDaPa Consulting

 Marchese Daniela - Ma.Da.I

     Intercultural Management