LETS FLIP A PAGE AND TALK REALITIES OF LIVING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY

Travel is a privilege. And, most likely a dream to majority of people in the world. We create bucket lists, wishing we could be at a certain place at a certain time. It all fun once you are into it. Travel is indeed fun. But, how often do writers express realities and challenges they may be facing in foreign countries? Not many. With this entry, I intend switching to an open discussion about realities you might face if you intend staying for a long-term in a foreign country.

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I find it distinctive to talk about short and long term stays in foreign countries. When travelling some where for a short period of time you are insusceptible (unaffected by) the routines, ways-of-doing, and the lifestyles at large, of your new surroundings unlike one would if they intended being in a new community for a long term. By long term I mean at least staying away from home 6 months and or more. So basically when you aim staying for a long term, you turn to be driven and sharpened by the intense need to be a part of the culture, language and everything linked to the people which is directly embedded in their society. Meaning, when you stay in a foreign country for a long term, there is often the need to absorbed into the culture and language to understand how everything functions.

Although the process of learning another culture and a new language is often fulfilling, there are factors that either affect your motivation and interest to learn. There are challenges that can change your pace or even perceive everything in the process. These factors are often not considered by those you have found common ground. But generally, there are things that you may find challenging other than being a short-term tourist who often does not concern themselves with setting up utilities  at a place they are staying.

In my view I think challenges one would often face include the following:

  • Language barriers

Foremost, I think it is important to learn basics of a language of a country you intend staying in for a long term. I learned German for two years while I was pursuing my first two degrees with the University of South Africa and University of Johannesburg. Although I had limited time due to my devotions therefore. I particularly learned a lot of vocabulary to help me through basic things like introduction myself, talking about food, house hold things, asking questions, for example, about where the toilet is and so forth. It has been practical to helping me hear the language far better. Although the process of speaking the language can also be another thing. Speaking and trying to learn the vocabulary and grammar can both be acquired differently. The two can actually be learned either simultaneously or either one can be a weakness while the other is a strength. These develop differently depending on people ,countries and the languages. Personally so to say, I found myself to be a good learner through out my life but I have been challenged to learning the German language. The challenge is healthy and I know at times there turns to be excitement with what I can already say and understand so far.

I also think besides the language barrier, there is more than language itself that can hinder one from learning and developing at a good pace. For instance, I think I am improving daily but often think my developing can often be affected by pressure I get from people to speak. I am of the view that, because I myself speak four other South African languages fluently plus English, one can learn a new language by just listening. The practicality can be fully be supported by people´s receptions. I mean, how they make you feel when attempting to speak (positive or negative) and they generally view you as an individual. Another practical example is I find easy to speak broken German with the kids because their receptions is one that is less judgemental and sympathetic. In fact, laugh it off and tell you how to say something correctly.

The need to speak then becomes practical to help you absorb the sentence construction and grammar and not to forget it. But pressure let alone, can shutter you knowledge of what you already know. For example, I can read and write so much German and often join words I know to make sense of what a person is saying but I often cant respond promptly because the spotlight is on me. This can be emotional and mentally tiring.

And, the more intolerant native speakers of a particular language are, not trying their best to step into your shoes, to sympathetic like children would be and also not trying to apply practical things to help you in the process, language can certainly put you on a damper (obstacles) on your day-to-day interactions.

Nonetheless, a solution is finding fun in a new language. For example, I think the German language is not only challenging to learn but it has power in it and when I speak using the power that the words carry, internalising what I say, its fun. Going out with people who are also learning or often want to learn another language from you like English is a good idea. Because not only are you all learning but are imparting knowledge to no other.

  • Loneliness 

This obviously depends on whether you are extroverted or introverted. Thanks to internet for the ability of staying in touch with family and friends back home. Although I would not advice resorting to internet as a good thing, it can also help one communicate with new friends for meet ups or catching up for coffee. The problem of loneliness is that it can either separate you from the real world, constantly influencing you to being a virtual being and not connecting with others in your presence.

The best way to deal with this problem is developing a link of people and developing conversational skills. For example, I have a link of journalists from different parts of Germany whom I can meet depending on which part I am visiting. These are people I can also ask for advises if necessary and ask them to teach me other things in the language. The process of learning is not limited to specific people like at work or home. A network of people can be a group of people who allow you to be just you and to learn whatever way possible.

  • Culture shock 

What is import to note is that you are unlikely to able to change social established customs, no matter how you might have great intentions. Depending on the country or even place, you might find out that people do not greet each other so much. Sometimes even when you have said ´hi´ to them. Or even do not bother to say ´thank you´. Sometimes it might feel like you need to pay a price to acting differently from everyone.

Doing a lot of research before staying in a country can be worth it but much of it can make sense in context. Learning in context more is better because you can observe and understand things from a particular point of view. For example, how do people wear, how do people tip at restaurants, how people treat issues like littering, how people behave on a diner table, etc.

In conclusion, I think what is important is to keep focus on your path despite all challenges. It is through these challenges that you can comprehend people of a specific community and the world at large.

Frohe Weihnachten: Beyond my expectations

It is not always ideal to think Christmas is better spent white. Like depicted on the television with snow all over, puffed jackets playing on snow while awaiting a good meal and all the perks that come with this day. Its is often ideal to spend the day with family, be it rainy or sunny. It is perhaps also ideal to spend Christmas with people you are getting familiarised to and all that is linked to them, like culture and language. This too is a great test, with which you can withhold or not. I have underwent it and have withstood the test.

It is literally three months and 10 days. 100 days to be precise.

Initially, I have been contemplating about how spending Christmas and the coming new year without my family for the first time might be like. Without any hassles, my intuition told me that it is going to be fun, given my independence.

I was wrapped and had been looking forward to spending Christmas in southwest, Stuttgart for some 4 days or so. But, will be back in Berlin to end what was an eye opening, fantastic, full of blessings year for me.

My year 2016 would have not being possible without God whom I thank daily. The year started with a big punch after making decisions to pursue my Masters in Journalism which initially got me into doing some editorial work for the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Circle, a formation together with a news online platform The Journalist in University of Free-State (UFS). This was my highlight of how much I love my career and a revelation of how much I can do so much journalism work without being paid. It had been earning bylines and producing good journalism my priority. I found this space testing. But, I have learned so much in a short period of time. It all paid off at the end, helping me build relationships within the Department of Journalism, Film and Television (JFT) at the University of Johannesburg and of course The Journalist´s newsroom at large.

Along side this, I devoted myself to learning more about civil organisations and activism. I then joined and become a part of Right2Know Campaign from late 2015. What a wonderful space to be and to engage. I have relatively focused on humanitarian work in all my interests, working with NGO´s such as Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP). I feel accomplished!

It seems to have been a productive year after all. Plus, landing myself in Germany to continue on humanitarian work, volunteering at Waldorfpädagogik Havelhöhe e.V has been a cherry put on top. This is were my German language skills are sharpened and improving too. This is were I am also gaining global understand of the world.

Nonetheless, I am not limited to this place I call my external community. With this I mean, where I am known and it feels like home. Like my host family, which I has sort to understand me over the time I have known them, how beautiful has it been for me to know them.

Although I find myself not so expressive but I am conscious of this friendly space I find myself into. This Christmas has been the least expected. I am not one to have a lot of expectations anyway.

And, these are the fantastic gifts I got for Christmas:

A pair of Dr.Martens boots

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I am of the assumption that the people I live with pretty much understand me thus far. I suspect their kindness is a gesture of making me feel home all the time and I have nothing more but appreciation. My intended Dr.Martens collection starts now. This is one of the best gifts I have ever got in my life.

My H&M hoddy and body cosmetics 

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This is courtesy of a nine year old I will call A*, whom together with her mother, a sister of my host mother bought me. They too seem to be paying attention to what I might like for instance they spotted that I like wearing black. They then got me a black hoddy. The sister of my host mother got me body cosmetics. I guess I am sorted for the next coming months on these.

Chocolate for the sweet toothed 

It is a season of good food and candy. Within my presents, I also got plenty of chocolate to get me going. Lindt chocolates, home made chocolates, you name it.

Winter stuff

As some of you may know, it is winter in Germany. Often rainy at times and sometimes dry. I have been blessed once again with a pair of gloves and knitted socks to keep me warm. Not once have I got a pair of gloves. Last month during my birthday I got a very nice pair which I accidentally lost one somewhere at Karlsruhe. My heart still bleeds when I think of this glove. My conclusion yesterday after getting a new pair as one of my gifts, I suggested it would be great if my host mother plug them together on my winter jacket like it is done in kindergartens.  This is of course for security purposes.

Some cultural German utensil: 

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I have since ever been fascinated by the German culture of using these looking like chopping boards. In German it is called a “Brett”. It is used when eating bread. Not only have I been fascinated. I have dived into the culture and find these very practical to use. As a gift, its a cherry on top.

After all, it was not so much of an expected Christmas. I got a lot of gifts, with which I have limited on this list. I enjoyed my Christmas and think experiencing it first hand in country side Stuttgart was an awesome experience.

VOICES: PUTTING VOLUNTEERS ON THE MAP

Yet other perspectives. We are all about a good cause. How many of us have actually devoted ourselves or rather our time to leaving our homes just to serve and not be served, to give a helping hand with whatever necessary and often to do so in spaces that are not even part your career or even your career? Well, I have and I am proud to have went out in my comfort zone, so to say to a volunteer for a year. Alongside, is colleagues who are also on the same cause in different parts of Germany from Colombia, Ecuador, India, Peru, Nicaragua and South Africa. We spend 5 days at Karlsruhe, Germany at a political seminar particularly made for volunteers. Within the safe created space, I got chances to have great chats. Included, I conducted vox pops to get the standpoints about volunteering in Germany thus far.

“So war es mit Reise: eine Stadt gibt dir Geschenke, eine andere raubt dich. Man gibt dir die Zuneigung des Herzens, die andere zerstört deine Seele. Städte und Länder sind so lebendig, wie Gefühl, so unbeständig und unsicher wie die Menschen. Ihre Grade der Liebe und der Hingabe sind so unterschiedlich wie bei jeder menschlichen Beziehung. So wie einer gut ist, ist ein anderer schlecht.”– Roman Payne

“This was how it was with travel: one city gives you gifts, another robs you. One gives you the heart’s affections, the other destroys your soul. Cities and countries are as alive, as feeling, as fickle and uncertain as people. Their degrees of love and devotion are as varying as with any human relation. Just as one is good, another is bad.”― Roman Payne

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Alejandro Giraldo (22) 

Country: Cali, Colombia 

Volunteering at Waldolfpädagogik Havelhöhe e.V in Berlin 

1 English: Why did you choose to volunteer service in Germany?German: Warum hast du dich fafür entschieden, einen Freiwilligendient in Deutschland? Spanish: ¿Por qué decidió ser voluntario en Alemania?  

I am volunteering in Germany because I believe that visiting other countries is good for us. I can be independent and develop new perspectives about the world, to know new people,  to learn new languages, and that is a good for our souls.

2 How do you like Germany? Wie gefält die DE? Te gusta aqui?  

What I like about Germany is that there is so much comfort from work. There are also many people from other countries. So we can learn other cultures.  Also, I think Germany is a country in relatively  good social order. Compared to my home country,  I like it here.

3 Was sind deine Zukunfspläne und welche Erfahungen möthtest du nach hause mitnehmen? Cuáles son sus planes para el futuro y lo que la experiencia que quieren llevar a casa? What are your future plans and what do you hope to gain from this experience?

For my future plans, I would like to go to university to study Biology. I believe to be here [Germany] I will make new experiences which I can then take back in my country and will be able to a lot, as this opportunity will afford me other opportunities.

4 What do you think is the best thing about Germany?  Was ist deiner Meinung nach das Beste an Deutchlsnd? Que te parce que es lo mer jor en Alemania? 

I find Germany financially stable. While people here have different financial abilities, there is not so much poverty and depending on backgrounds some people receive state-related support.

 5 What do you think is not the best best thing about Germany? Was gefällt dir nicht an Deutschland? Qu crees que no es lo mejor en Alemania? 

I sometimes find people here rude. But, not all that I think this is not good. This is not a big problem because not everybody is rude or unfriendly.

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Belkin Soza (28)

Country: Esteli, Nicaragua

Volunteering at Volunteering at Welthaus office in Bielefeld,

1  I was interested to volunteering in Germany to be familiar with Germany and make new experiences in social projects. I find it interesting to work the organisations in Germany, including environmental project.

2 I like here in Germany. The organisational systems in the city, for example. Transport and recycling.

3 My future plans are shared with my experience other people or organisation.

4 Germany supports environmental projects and is a environmental friendly country. Good activities are initiated relating to the environment and that is the best thing I like about this country. It seems to be having a good economy system.

5 The least of the best things about Germany is that there turns to be unfriendly people. Many people live alone. I find this complicated because people then become depressed.

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Bongani Justice Makhubela (27)

Country: Mpumalanga, South Africa

 Volunteering at Welthaus office in Bielefeld 

1 I decided to volunteer in Germany for intercultural exchange, learning a new a language and contributing to international development through the organisation I am volunteering in.
2 So far, everything it is not easy to adapt to a completely new environment so quickly and especially in Germany. In regards to the weather (winter is too cold )but its manageable.  Lets not forget the language. Its not easy to learn but when each and everyday passes it gets better.

3 My future plans are to go back and empower South Africans through the skills and knowledge that I am acquiring here in Germany.

4 The best thing about Germany is the culture, the transport system, educational systems, food and drinks 😉

5 The least best thing about Germany is that most people are not friendly. I also find Germany expensive.

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Debbie Dayana Méndez Vivar (25)

Country: Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Volunteering at a Waldorf kindergarten in Altrip/Mannheim

1 I am volunteering in Germany because I had the opportunity and I took it.  I hope to learn Germany and to know a new culture. I want to be more independent too.

2 Yes, I like Germany. Germany has many beautiful places that you can visit. I always wanted to know the winter and the autumn because I love the cold.

3 After my year of volunteering I would like to study a Master in Finances and to look for a good job.

4 I think that the best thing about Germany is the security. You can walk in the streets peacefully. I love that.

5 I can’t say at the moment if there is something I find the least best. But, the most difficult was in the beginning. The people here are very serious and in Latin America the people are very happy. But that is normal because it is a new culture and all is good.

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Gabriela Sanabria Rodriguez (18) 

Country: Cali, Colombia

Volunteering at CVJM Feriendorf in Herbstein

1 choose to volunteer in Germany because this is a way that open doors for your life. I chose this opportunity because I can gain new experiences with people, find myself, be more independent and improve my German and English.

2 I like Germany so much. Yes sure I miss my country, my family and the food haha [laughing]. But the system here is incredible, trains, supermarkets, the security and the landscapes.

3 My future plans after my volunteer year here are to study and work. I don’t know yet what will I aim studying but with this experience I wanna find this out. I want to travel and know many countries and meet new people so that I can help my family and inspire my brothers that everyone can make their dreams come true.

4 The best thing about Germany is of course the its order. I love this because everything has a place and you can find what you are looking for.

5 I come from another country totally different from Germany. People here are nice and kind but close when you want to know about them. So far, there isn’t a thing I find the worst in Germany but is difficult for me now. But, I am adapting pretty well.

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Dragana Šavrljuga (19)

Country: Derventa Bosnien and Herzegowina

Volunteering at Pax Christi and in Vinzenz-Heim, a facility for people with disabilities in Aachen

1 For several years I have been volunteering in a home for children and young people with disabilities. There I met German volunteers of Pax Christi. I also learned from them about the possibility of making a volunteer service in Germany. To do this was my dream for years. I am always glad when I can help someone.

2 I like Germany very much. When I arrived in Aachen, everything was so familiar to me, even though I had never been here before. I’m always joking about the fact that I’ve lived in Aachen before – but in my previous life. I like Aachen and the people here, and I am very glad that I am here.

3 This year will bring a lot for me. I will not only learn a new language, discover a new culture and a country, get to know new people, make friends and a work experience but this year will be enrich in life experience, which I will never forget.

4 In the future, I would like to work in a facility of people with disabilities. Because I really like that.

5 I like everything here. I’ve never experienced anything bad.

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Jean Olives Age (21)

Country: Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Volunteering at a Waldorf School in Dresden

 1 At first, I choose to volunteer in Germany because I was motivated to learn a new language and to have a new way of thinking. I would like to have a good time. Being a risk taker could be a good way of doing it.

2 One of a kind thing about Germany is the social structure and organising. I find the transport system amazing. I know it is not the best.

3 My future plans including going to the university and at the same time I want to be a business man in the technology sector. I hope to have a good time. I know a lot about it.

4 I am really interested in the beautiful landscape in Germany, the diversity of cultures and dialects in every region. These are the best things about Germany.

5 Sometimes I really got confused how German people handle the relationships in general. I have been in Germany for three (3) now. I always say to myself “I need more time”.

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Jean Paul Zuluaga Campo (19)

Country: Cali, Colombia

Volunteering at Waldorfschule Everswinkel in Münster

1 I choose to volunteer in Germany simply because I wanted to learn a new language and a new culture.

2 Yes I like it here. I do because I find many interesting things that help me to grow up as a person.

3 After a voluntary year in Germany I hope to gain independence and maturity. I am interested to study here.

4 The best think I find about Germany is the punctuality and order.

5 So far, I think that Germany has nothing bad.

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Maria Fernanda Bolaños (19)

Country: Cali, Colombia

Volunteering at a Waldorf School in Mannheim

– I decided to volunteer in Germany because I presented myself to the opportunity and it seemed like a good opportunity to open my mind and to enter into to studying a new language, to know and to learn a little of another culture.

-I like the order. Here you can [go out or explore] without fear of things being stolen or something really happening. I love the order of this country.

-My future plans include studying. I would like to study Chemistry. Out my my experience here, I hope learn and if possible, to implement interesting things that I have seen here and also to possibly study here.

-The best thing I find in German is order.

-I still do not feel covered to say the worst. I’m still in a stage of recognition.

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Mansi Sheth (26)

Country: India

Volunteers at Deutsch-Indische Zusammenarbeit e.V. in Frankfurt am Main

1 When I heard about abroad, I worked as a translator. I wanted to take a break and try something different. I thought a six-month voluntary service would be a good opportunity.

2 I love the country, the people, the life … everything! The people are so helpful and there is so much to see in Germany!

3 To be honest, I am not 100% sure what I plan to do after volunteering but I would like to work in a multicultural environment. In Frankfurt I always have something to do with people at work, and I like that.

4 What I find the best about Germany is the people, the attitude and mindset, the awareness of many different questions and the possibilities in this country.

5 The least best thing in Germany is the food. For me, the food is a bit mild! But German bread is absolutely delicious!

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Nidhi (27)

Country: India

 Deutsch-Indische Zusammenarbeit e.V. Frankfurt am Main

– I am here through an organisation called DIZ (Deutsche Indien Zusammen Arbeite) which works under the Weltwärts Programme. DIZ has many partner Organisation in India and my church is one of its partners. So, basically there is exchange of volunteers from India to Germany and vice versa. I am here as South North volunteer. I have been to DIZ partner workshop once in India so I there I met its employees or managers. Few moths back I came to know that there is a vacant for 1 South-North volunteer and DIZ’s boss mailed me asking if i would like to volunteer or not. I was not sure at that moment but later I thought okay I should take this experience.

– Germany being a developed country is great in terms of its technological advancement, modes of communications, living standards, education etc. But, I think people here lack that social environment and warmth that I feel in my country. It is so cold and calm  in Germany! People seems to be more formal. I don’t want to be judgemental though. They are doing so much at a time. Aren’t they tired!!… Breath people breath!!!… But I have been fortunate enough to meet really really nice people here.

– I don’t know yet what I want to do after this volunteer service. Actually I am in dilemma of whether I should continue with my studies or look for jobs. Or I’ll come back for higher studies here. Perhaps, I’ll soon figure out. I think this volunteer service has provided me with good opportunities to work in a developed country and I mostly now know how the social and economic system works here and also the work culture. When I compare these to my country I feel like there is so much that we need to do and I hope I could bring a little change at places with the experiences I’ll go back with. Personally too, I have become more self dependent & productive when I think how I used to be earlier. But, its not that everything is good here and I often feel that my country is more socialised and we are happy with few things we have. Nevertheless, I’ll take with me the good things.

– I like how everything is so organised systematic here. People abide by the rules and regulations. They know the value of time. Its clean here and mostly people are conscious of proper waste disposal. Its more safer here than it is if I were to loom around in my country. And what I like most is that there is no hierarchy practised. Usually this is so prevalent in my country. Lastly, here they have numerous mode of transport and are in time.

– I hate Germany’s weather! Its so cold, dark and dull. Some of the food I cannot eat. Sometimes I think German people lack taste buds because some of their food is so bland and tasteless. People here should also learn how to be more social and joyful.

William Vásques (33) *

Country: Esteli, Nicaragua

Volunteering at Käse Hof Landolfshausen, in Göttingen 

  • I am volunteering in Germany because through this program of volunteers I can make great contributions to the development of our cultures. It is also an excellent exchange to learn and share knowledge and experiences at work and in daily activities.
  • For me I find it important to make a connection with a new culture and the organic farming. I think after volunteering here I could work in farm related jobs and then start a project or work on other projects.
  • I like the German culture and the people. I like the education for children and teenagers they have good chances.
  • The best thing about Germany for me is the tranquillity and security that it has always.
  • *William argued that he does not have a response regarding what he thinks is least best thing about Germany*.

The last words are from me. One again…

I go by the name of Lebogang Mokoena (25)

Country: Johannesburg, South Africa

Volunteering at Waldolfpädagogik Havelhöhe e.V in Berlin 

  • For the last four year of pursuing my Bachelor and Honour degrees at both University of South Africa and University of Johannesburg studying Communication Science and journalism, I felt the need to volunteer and make contributions to the community I come from in Soweto. I have therefore worked with children at a primary school called Sefika Primary school and also worked for Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP). This became a space to initiate how I can assist and also met young German volunteers and found an interest to volunteer overseas. I found an interested following wanting to learn German, to have a pause after a devotions to study for my degrees, to the need to explore and simply to gain a global perspective.
  • I like Germany mainly because its a new experience, a different feel, and I am learning a lot. So far, so good.
  • Given that I am had already started pursuing my Masters in Journalism, I would like to complete after this year. I am an aspiring investigative journalist and I would like to work as one. Its not easy to find jobs in investigative journalism particularly if you still do not have a lot of experience but I trust that I can work towards. I am also exploring jobs in media related activism work.
  • I find transport here convenient. Other things I find also best is the German bread, less crime, the support of the state to help people who are less affording and the sharing of wealth to help others.
  • The least of the best things is its inconsistent weather. I also find it relatively expensive compared to South Africa.

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Notes:

These interviews where conducted electronically through English, Spanish and German for purposes of clarity. For purposes of this blog, all these interviews where translated and edited.

Special thanks and Photo credit goes to: Gabriela Sanabria Rodriguez; using an iPhone 6 (vox-pops images only)

* Interviewee requested that his photo not be revealed.