For this post I want to focus on some helpful tips and tricks I have picked for any future employees that may decide to work in a foreign country. Being almost halfway through my European adventure I have a growing list of things that I wish I would have known, and other interesting thoughts.
To start off I wish I did not listen to any stereotypes people had told me about traveling in Europe. First off the myth “Everyone speaks English you will be fine”; is not the case when you are living in a new country for three months. I could see how if you are a tourist most of the people you come into contact with will have a strong grasp of the English language, but when you are living in the city it is inevitable that you will meet people that don’t speak a word of English. In my case I was doing as much preparation as I could for learning German before my trip, but there is a big difference from listening to online lectures and the real deal. My first few days were a trial by fire as I looked like the prototypical American tourist starting most conversations with “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” To my surprise there were quite a few places where their answer was “nein”. Some examples of places are the grocery store, barbershop/hair salon, dry cleaners, or anything outside of the city center.
My first trip to the grocery store was quite exciting as the employee took about five minutes trying to explain to me that I couldn’t pay with a credit card. Back in the US I use my credit card to pay for almost everything no matter how low the price is. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Europe.
In fact, many places do not accept debit or credit cards so be sure that whatever bank you use, get your ATM fees reimbursed when you take out cash in Europe. Going back to my grocery store adventure, one thing I learned quickly was BYOB. Bring your own bag. That’s right, it costs extra (about €1.50) to get a bag to put your groceries in. I am sure everyone around me had a nice laugh watching me struggle to carry two bags of food in just my arms for two blocks. I was wondering why no matter where people went they usually were carrying some sort of bag with them. I found out pretty quickly why. On the plus side I am not spending that much money on food because my back pack can only hold so much.
Now to move on from the culture shock items, and more to how to make the most out of your trip, I have tried to adopt the mind set of saying yes to everything. Anytime I have been invited to anything whether it be a lunch/dinner, sightseeing, drinks, or just to talk I have said yes. I know that the accountant in me wants to be conservative and not do anything too crazy, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily my more adventurous side has beaten out my conservative side, and since I got to Germany there has rarely been a dull moment. I could see how it would be easy to get home sick if you had nothing to do. I have done my best to have something to do every weekend, whether that is traveling, grabbing drinks with a friend or coworker, or just sight seeing on my own. I also have the fortunate pleasure of having a flat mate, Max who has been a lifesaver. I would highly suggest to people doing the exchange in the future to look for a living situation with a local resident. Max has taken very good care of me by being my pseudo translator, personal tour guide, and has given me plenty of entertainment. It turns out that through these experiences I have become much more comfortable being uncomfortable if that makes any sense. I am taking full advantage of my time here by trying, and learning about everything I can from the culture, the food, the beer, and most importantly the people.
Now would there be things I would change if I could start this trip over again? Of course there are plenty of little things some of which mentioned about, but I would not take back any of the experiences from my trip so far. I cannot wait to see what the next months have in store.
In other news the European championship is starting on June 10th. I am pretty sure I will win the company pool even with my limited (very) knowledge of soccer. My parents are also coming into town this weekend so I am excited to show off my tour guide skills to see how much I have picked up over the last few weeks.