07 January, 2016

Do I Need English Speaking Friends?

I'm struggling with some major homesickness today, something which rarely happens to me. Throughout my time in Germany I've often been surprised by how well I am able to cope and to not get as overwhelmed by missing home as some people do. But today is not one of those days. I miss so many things about my life back in the States. I miss having a group of really good friends, I miss living with people I care about and who care about me, I miss my family, I miss the familiar surroundings. I'm even feeling nostalgic for chain stores that bothered me when I lived there because I knew they were putting small stores out of business.

And at the center of this homesickness, as usual, is language. I miss being able to speak English everywhere I go and not having to think twice about what I want to say. I miss other Americans and talking to native English speakers. At the time when I wrote the post about being fluent in German, one of my main language goals was to have good friends who I spoke German with, but that is proving to be exactly as hard as I imagined it would be (AKA, pretty damn hard). To me speaking German is still mental work, which does not play well with trying to get to know people on a deeper level than acquaintance. Often in the free time I have when I could be hanging out with people, the thought of having to speak German with them just seems like too much work, so I don't bother reaching out to people in the first place. When I socialize with people I don't want it to feel like work, but in German it usually does. And not having the vocabulary I need to talk about certain topics gets in the way of sharing the more personal things that close friends help each other with.

What I really want right now are native English-speaking friends. So far I've avoided hanging out with other Americans or other native English speakers and/or haven't gone out of my way to find them because I wanted to make German friends. I have typically viewed hanging out with other Americans as failing, proof that I'm not integrating myself fully into my new culture and that I'm just hiding among what's comfortable. Now, though, I'm realizing that there is a gap in my life that German friends may not be able to fill (at least not right now).

I really miss the easy conversations I used to have with my friends, where we never had to think about what to say and had amazing conversations for hours without even noticing the time flying by. I've never had that experience in German. I'll be chatting with someone and everything will be going well, but eventually there always comes a moment in the conversation when I don't know how to say what I want or I don't understand something the other person has said, and I get dragged back to reality: this is not your native language! During entire conversations in German there is a lingering fear in the back of my mind that I won't know how to say something, and when I inevitably have trouble expressing myself, I feel insecure, so that I can never completely relax.

For my own sanity, I need to let go of the idea that allowing myself to socialize in English is failing or cheating. I need to stop comparing myself to other people who move to another country and do everything in that country's language. I've met people in the U.S. who speak English as a non-native language all day long, at work, with friends, everywhere, and I need to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be one of those people. I need to give myself credit for the German that I do speak (which is a lot) and allow myself to seek out other native English speakers and English-speaking opportunities. After all, I have the option of finding those opportunities! Not everyone who moves to a new country is so lucky.

That, and I need to start planning my next trip back to the U.S. It can't come soon enough!

4 comments :

  1. Totally related when I lived in Germany! Don't feel guilty about having a variety of different types of friends- you are not failing, you are just diversifying :)

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one with these types of thoughts! I knew I couldn't be, but it's nice to hear anyway ;) Diversifying is a great way to put it.

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  2. Having friends that are American or British or Australian or whatever, isn't failing AT ALL. If you lived in the US or anywhere else, you wouldn't not reach out to people simply because of where they're from. I thought that way when I lived in Korea, that I needed only Korean friends, but then I realized what a silly thing that was. You need ALL KINDS of friends. You need friends who understand what it's like to be an expat, to struggle with the language and who is experiencing the same things you are; you need friends who only speak German so that you can better your language skills; you need them all. Meetup.com is my best friend when I need some new friends...

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    1. Very well said! I'm slowly learning that expat friends are essential. I was friends with a group of other English-speaking expats when I lived in Karlsruhe (2013-14) but now that I've moved away from them I don't have any expat friends near me. It doesn't help that I live in a small city where there aren't many expats, and the small city also makes Meetup.com not so productive (most of the events are in one of two other cities that are about an hour away). I guess if I want to meet other expats I'll just have to make more of an effort!
      Thanks for your comment! :)

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