22 October 2008

Life as an ex-pat, SAHM, and functional illiterate.

I was reading Erin's blog, Uberall: Live, Eat, Travel (please note that she actually has an umlaut, as compared to me- I haven't figured out where it is yet;)) post commemorating her first year as an ex-pat and it made me want to think about my own experience in relating to hers.

The last year has been interesting in many ways as well as tough.

I have had to adjust to being a stay at home mom, to being in a foreign country, and to being in a country where I knew only how to say "Ja", "Nein" and "Wo sind die Toilettes?". When we arrived here, lugging our cat, two kids, 6 suitcases, two car seats and two strollers, we arrived in the rain. It then rained for the next 135 days. It wasn't easy.

The biggest struggle hasn't been my inability to read or write German, or even that I speak it at a 2-3 year old level: it has been getting used to staying home with children, and more so, with no car. The attempt to do things with the kids in a constantly raining climate has been a struggle. I am so grateful for Kita and for the teachers there and the other children who help my girls get their ya-yas out that I can't adequately express it. The State-subsidized and controlled system of child care and education has allowed me to take German classes and to begin to be able to manage life in Germany. It has given my 5 year old fluency in German (and a vocabulary that surpasses my own) and given my younger both German as her first language and a great deal of self-confidence.

Without a car and without either an adequate refrigerator or freezer, I need to shop on average every other day. I am finally able to find the different food stuffs that I need, although I wind up visiting 4-5 separate locations in a week to do so. Note: Arab and Asian markets are the place to find non-pork and spicy foodstuffs.

We are finally settled in a permanent apartment and although we aren't quite finished (no art or paint colors on the walls, missing 2 lights) we are basically moved in.

After we decided to stay in Berlin, I started to look for a "social scene" and I'm in the process of finding a place to fit in and meet people with similar interests: book clubs, blogs, Mom's groups and women's groups.

We are deep in school options for my oldest and German class starts again next week.

So the worst of it is over. At least the kids are settled and we are familiar with the area. I do envy those childless ex-pats who can travel and visit all the places so easily accessible in Europe, but we will be around for a while. Hopefully we will have a chance to get around a bit. And it is amazing to see how well a functional illiterate (who does not need a job) can survive in a foreign society. Although I do miss reading a local paper.

(Amusingly enough I also haven't figured out my handy voicemail, and like all the other ex-pats I know, can only see "voicemail" if sent by SMS. It's an oddly amusing theme, speaking to the general level of German customer service as well as, in particular, the level of its communications corporations.)


Lynda said...

Sounds like you are doing really well - the first year is tough and Germany without German is super tough. I am approaching my first year in Cairo, and somedays I hate it so much I don't leave the house... I remember feeling similar in my early days in Munich... and now I am fluent in German and feel much love for the country - it is like going home... 20 years can change a lot.

J said...

The biggest adjustment for me was the awful climate. This is the first place I've lived that doesn't really have a summer and annoys the heck out of me.

LOL on the rained for the next 135 days. I moved here in June 2002 and it rained until Feb 2003.

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Functional illiterate...yep, I hear ya. I can read more German than I can speak. One year in and I have failed to learn the language as I thought I would. My 4 yr old is picking it up faster than I am :)

Anonymous said...

This had me going, um yep, I identify with that and.. that and that!

Expat sahm mom life, frankly, sucks sometimes. But it seems to me you are working to get over the sticky bits and move towards finding your own groove in this insane place.

You're doing far better than me - I'm doing anti-social as a survival technique :)