Our First Year in Germany: The Newcomer’s Survival Guide
Here’s some highlight photos from our first year in Germany!
Year one in Germany is gone- two to go! I feel like it’s been one big blur that flew by my face. Ever feel like that? It was a year ago that the Army had me and my husband pick up our nomadic lives once more and move not only to a new home, but to a new continent. Pretty extreme for our first duty station and this is the longest we’ve lived anywhere! We’ve been making the most of our time here by traveling; in one year we’ve traveled to 19 cities in 6 different countries. We are all settled here now, but it wasn’t that way in the beginning!
To say I had culture shock, would be an understatement. For the first half of my year here Germany and I had a love/(mostly) hate relationship, this slowly grew into like, then at 8 months I finally accepted and began to truly love Germany. It wasn’t an easy process, but I got there and made it work. This article is to hopefully help ease your transition as a newcomer to good ‘ol Deutschland. Here’s 8 things you need to know to get you out of the love/ (mostly) hate stage and thrive during your time here in Germany:
1. Patience is a virtue
I would love to say I arrived here and started making friends immediately or fearlessly walked into a German grocery store by myself…NOPE. I thought these things would happen overnight, but just like with anything else, establishing my life here took time. I know it’s frustrating; you can’t even read signs or menus anymore! Not only is there a new language all around you, but there’s a new culture, new people, and a huge learning curve. Expect normal things to take more time than they normally do like getting gas, getting through the grocery store, getting your mail, etc. Give yourself some grace and don’t expect to take on the world all at once. Bonus Travel Tip: Ask the restaurant if they have an English menu. You’d be surprised how many of them do!
2. Get uncomfortable
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to do something that scares the crap out of you every day. Bottom line- you need to try to get uncomfortable. When I first got to Germany, I didn’t put myself out there enough and ultimately felt isolated. Put yourself out there! I didn’t start feeling more established here until I got involved with my FRG (Family Readiness Group) and joined a soccer team. Volunteer, get a job, or join a club or a sports team! If you feel like you can’t find any of these things, ask around and people will help you! Grafenwoehr and Vilseck both have tons of opportunities, you just have to look for them and take a chance.
3. Go with the flow
Germans are different than Americans. Their laws, customs, personalities, etc. are all different. Traveling in general, will force you to be flexible. The grocery stores close earlier, the supplies are more limited, and even something as simple as coffee, will require you to be flexible. Europeans like their coffee thicker/stronger and don’t usually have things like half and half or your favorite sweetener on hand. Bonus Travel Tip: try new drinks that you know will always be in a European coffee shop. Cappuccinos with a little sugar are usually my go-to!
Another thing to be flexible about is your soldier’s training schedule, which will be seemingly ever changing. My husband and I never book any flights, hotels, etc., until the leave pass is signed and approved. The one time we didn’t wait, we had to bite the bullet on a non-refundable flight because my husband needed to work. Let’s be honest: it’s their job and shit happens. The Army is first; so give yourself (and your wallet) a little protection by waiting to book that flight to Spain.
4. Find your positive tribe
Okay it took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure this one out. The operation tempo here can get a little crazy and your solider will be gone often, some units more than others, but regardless it’s important that you find good friends to lean on and spend time with. You know that old saying that says you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with? It’s true. When you hang out with successful people, you tend to become more successful, when you hang out with negative people; you tend to become more stagnant and negative.
When I got here I noticed there were a lot of negative people around here that stayed home alone and complained about everything. I myself chose to only hang out with one negative person like that. It’s easy to get sucked in, I know you’re lonely right now, but don’t settle for just anyone to be your friend. The kind of energy you are putting out (positive or negative) is directly related to whom you attract and how well you do in this difficult environment. The second I started being more positive and dropped the negative person- I found my tribe. I got involved in my community, joined a soccer team, and started hanging out with a group of positive and intelligent women. Be patient, don’t settle, your tribe is waiting; you just haven’t found them yet. Bonus Travel Tip: Find girlfriends who aspire to travel, they will push you to go to new places, even when your soldier is gone!
5. Girl, get out of your house!
I love yoga pants and fuzzy socks as much as the next girl, but you need to go outside your front door and give isolation the ‘ol heave ho. So many spouses get depressed because they stay indoors and away from the rest of the world, especially families with one car. The good thing about Grafenwoehr and Vilseck is that they have a bus system that connects the two bases. There’s also a bus that goes to Netzaberg. If you live in a German town… um hello you live in a German town, go explore your town and walk around! Still not working? Make friends with someone who has a car and do things together! STILL not working? Wake up early, drop off your husband at work and keep the car during the day. I did that for quite awhile, it was a pain but we made it work! At bare minimum, go on a walk every day.
6. Budget like a boss
You’ve probably found this out by now, but living in Europe is expensive AF. It’s important to become skilled with your finances and be able to live off of one income. ACS offers free finance/budget classes, so make sure you take advantage of that resource! Sit down with your soldier and go over your finances together. How much are the paychecks? When are they coming in? What bills are due and when (especially with your German phone bill)? If you have just enough money to cover your bills and bare necessities, consider looking for a job and putting away your paychecks into a travel fund.
One way to save money is to shop in the German grocery stores. It’s a little tricky at first, but it’s usually cheaper than the commissary and PX. The downside is that their stores are usually closed on Sundays and the supply isn’t as diverse as an American grocery store. Again, be flexible. A huge upside for my wine lovers is that wine is a lot cheaper on the economy than on post. I get about 5 bottles for under 20 euros! Bonus Travel Tip: Bottled water is expensive in European restaurants and bars. If you’re planning a vacation or a big night out, find the local grocery store and stock up on large liter bottles. They’re cheaper in a store and you’ll stay hydrated without breaking the bank. This has been a life saver for me countless times!
7. Travel your heart out
Take advantage of those 3-day and 4-day weekends and travel. You live in the center of Europe now! Make a list of places with your spouse and travel to all of them while you’re stationed here. When else will you get the opportunity to live in Europe and be close to so many beautiful destinations? Some people go their whole lives without seeing what you’re about to see! The people who hate living here are usually the people who haven’t traveled. Even if you don’t have the money to travel every long weekend, definitely go when your soldier gets block leave. Additionally, there are a ton of festivals and markets in Germany year round. Bonus Travel Tip: Get your family unique holiday gifts at any of the local Christmas markets this winter. Make sure you try Gluwein and fresh gingerbread while you’re there too!
8. Find your happiness
The only one who can make you happy is you. As I mentioned before, the op. tempo here can get a little crazy and your solider will be gone often, some units more than others, so it’s important to be independent. It’s more than “staying busy” it’s building a life that doesn’t revolve around your husband; it’s finding the freedom in this, at times, restrictive lifestyle. Finding your way in this nomadic lifestyle can be difficult, but it’s possible. I love my husband to death, but I wasn’t made to be a housewife or wait for him to get home. Find a hobby (not Netflix), get a job, develop a skill, go back to school, do something that lights your heart on fire! Finding your passion doesn’t mean you love your family any less. You can still support your soldier and be a good spouse, while doing things that make you happy. Find something you love and run with it. Working or not, there are ways to make your heart happy in both. Independence is bliss, my friends. Get out into the world!
Thank you for reading! Make sure to share this article with someone who needs it!