Culture Shock - How to cope with it + strategies to prepare yourself before you move abroad

Today I want to talk about a topic, which is very important but often overlooked.
So you made the decision to move abroad or to study in another country for a couple of semesters. Congratulations!

The tickets are booked, the bags are packed, you are more than ready to begin a new chapter in your life.

But are you really prepared for this important step in your life?

Many people think that moving abroad is just about packing your belongings, hopping on the next plane and start living your new life. But that is not true. Do you really know the country you want to live in the next couple of years? Do you know the country's history? Do you know about the social customs, religions and even political structures? If not, now is the best time to prepare yourself for it.

Now, what is "culture shock" exactly?

Culture shock is defined as "the feeling of confusion, doubt or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to."¹ Or you also could say a "mismatch of cultural attitudes."

So, how can you prevent this feeling of confusion, doubt or nervousness? You might think it is impossible to prepare yourself or you might even think that you won't suffer from a culture shock. This not entirely true. Keep on reading.
In order to overcome this emotional rollercoaster (emotions can vary from excitement in the beginning to a depression while you are adjusting yourself in a new country), you should start way before you even think about buying plane tickets. Try to read as much as you can about this country. Google pictures, try to get to know people from there (there are usually communities from different countries in bigger cities), go to a restaurant and try the food. There are a lot of different options for you to explore.

You have to try to change your attitude towards other cultures and way of lives. If you are not willing to do that, you certainly won't "survive" in a different country. And don't forget that preparing yourself for this big step in your life will broaden your horizon and you will have an experience, no one will never be able to take away from you. If you are not willing to prepare yourself or change your attitude you should probably reconsider your wish to live in another country.

If you are going to another country it is easy to judge the culture or anything that is different than what we are used to. You need to be open-minded. Try to get rid of certain stereotypes. But you should know that no matter how well prepared you think you are, it is almost inevitable that you experience at least one symptom of culture shock. But that is okay.

What are the phases of culture shock?

You are probably thinking to yourself why there are different stages of culture shock. Isn't it just one stage (being homesick for example). The answer is no. Everyone who experiences culture shock goes through 6 different stages. The first stage starts way before you are even leaving to plane in your new country.

Preliminary stage: you are learning things about the country you want to live in. Preparation is important at this stage. This also includes preparing your family and friends for the day of your departure.

Initial euphoria: this stage begins when you arrive in your new country and usually ends after a couple of weeks.

Irritability: during this stage, you are acclimating to your surroundings. You will most likely have some feelings of frustration. This is due to the fact that you are still getting used to the everyday life. It is usually because most things will be still foreign to you. You will focus on the differences between your home and the new country. Even the smallest things can be challenging and frustrating. If you don't want to lengthen the process of getting used to a new culture you should not avoid meeting locals.

Gradual adjustment: The new culture will become more and more familiar with you. You will begin to orient yourself and frustration won't be a major part of your daily life anymore.

Adaptation and biculturalism: at this stage, you will feel more and more part of the new culture. You will also feel less foreign and your ability to function well in your daily life increases significantly.

Re-entry phase: this is for the people who do not want to immigrate to another country. But students or people who work and travel fall in this category. The re-entry phase begins as soon as you enter your home country. Once you are there, you can't wait to share your experiences with your family and friends. Your stay in another country has changed you. You gained an amazing experience no one will ever be able to take away from you.

You should keep in mind that the above-mentioned stages of culture shock don't have a specific timeframe. Some people might have a shorter time of adjustment than others. But that is okay. We are all different and there is no need to panic if you have difficulties adjusting to another culture.

What can I do to cope with culture shock?

Here are my 8 tips for you how to survive a culture shock

1. Make friends with a local. Yes. This is very important. Someone who knows the city/culture/country is a great help for your first days after your arrival and who knows, maybe he/she will be a life-long friend?

2. Find someone from your country. Or if you can't find someone, try to find someone who speaks your language. It can ease your anxiety. People who are going through the same are a great support.

3. Be a tourist. This sounds so cheesy but how do you want to get to know a different culture if you don't go out there and explore? Try the food, visit famous sites, get a haircut. Anything that brings you closer to the citizens is a good way to get to know your new country.

4. Challenge yourself. You can cooperate this step with step #3. Like I mentioned earlier, especially in the beginning, even the smallest tasks can seem pretty overwhelming. Go to the grocery store, a museum, a gym. Everything that seems normal at home might be tricky in another country. But if you mastered these steps, you can tap yourself on the shoulder and be proud of yourself.

5. Do something you already can or know. Do familiar things like cooking your favorite meal, reading your favorite book or something as simple as playing a music instrument.

6. Write a journal, make youtube videos or start a blog. Everything that helps you keep memories alive is worth a lot. And who knows. Maybe you'll get many followers who are going through the same like you did a couple of months ago?

7. Care packages from home. I can't stretch this enough. Isn't is nice to receive a package from your loved ones back home? Receiving candy you love, or a magazine? Ask your family or friends to send you a care package (and you can send them one in return as well)

8. Learn the language! Even if you are already pretty fluent in the language, it doesn't hurt to idioms and phrases. If you can master these, you are pretty close to being just as good as a native speaker. Plus, speaking a language fluently helps you to communicate with the locals and you won't have any problems if there is an emergency. You never know what could happen!

It took me about 5 months to reach stage 4&5. Right now I would say I am in a transition from stage 4 to 5. I think a major part of this is because I just got my drivers license. I now have the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want. I am not as dependent on my husband as I was before. And I already "challenged" myself. I went to my first trip to Walmart, alone! I was very proud of myself and it definitely made me feel like a part of this culture (even though I have to admit that except for a couple of things the German and North American culture are pretty much alike).

I really hope that this post was helpful and that you are now ready to conquer the world (or at least the country you are going to ;) ).

Source: ¹ www. shock

I passed my road test!

After almost 5 months in America, I finally got my drivers license!

I wanted to get my drivers license before I moved here, but unfortunately I failed my road test in Germany, which, is a lot more expensive than here in America. A drivers license in Germany costs around 1100 € - 2000 € and up. It all depends on how fast you can learn and your driving skills in general. You also have to go to a driving school, no matter how old you are (you can get your german drivers license with 16 but with certain restrictions).

So, before I could even think about driving here we had to go to the DMV. If you want to learn how to drive, you need a Learner's Permit. So you go to your nearest DMV, pay a small fee and then you take the written exam (obviously you should get the drivers manual before you take the written test and study, study, study). They will also take a picture and test your vision (which is pretty easy).

After you passed the vision screening and the written test, you get a temporary Learner's Permit and you should get your Learner's Permit (plastic card) within 10 days.

I had to wait 60 days until I could take the actual road test. But I needed this time to get used to the american streets.

I was very nervous before I took the road test. I didn't know that it was going to be sooooo easy. I mean, I knew that it was easier than in Germany (road tests are 45 minutes in Germany, sometimes up to 60 minutes).

First, I had to fill out some paperwork and then wait for the DMV representative. These were the most nerve-wrecking minutes of my life.

I had a pretty nice lady. First, she asked me to show me roll down my window, then I had to show her some of the cars lights, blinkers, wipers, the emergency blinker etc.

The time we spent on the road was ridiculously short: 5 minutes (remember...the road test in Germany is min. 45 minutes long?)

So I had to turn left a couple of times, then right and park.

I am so happy that I finally have more freedom and don't have to wait for my husband to come home.

It is a necessity to have a drivers license here in America, especially if you don't live in a bigger city, let alone a major city like New York City.

 When did you get your drivers license and what was your experience?

How to get rid of ants the natural way DIY recipe

I don't know about you, I don't mind ants but if there are like a billion ants in your house or around your house, then they are pretty annoying.

So after using sprays I thought that there must be an easier way to get rid of those little beasts.

Here is what worked for me:

Yes, it is that simple. All you need is:

1 tablespoon Baking Soda
1 tablespoon Honey
1 lid
1 tablespoon

You want to make sure that you mix the honey and baking soda very well. Ants know the difference! Not only are they annoying, but they are also super smart.

This mixture works so great because the honey attracts the ants and the baking soda kills them.
But you need to be patient. It doesn't kill them instantly, but you should be able to see results within the next 2-3 days. You should also make sure to replace the old mixture with a new one after 2-3 days.

I was so happy that our kitchen was finally ant free. I highly recommend this ant bait. Not only is it non-toxic, but it is also cheap(er) than most sprays.

How I scored 85 points on the TOEFL ibT

If you know what the TOEFL ibT is, then you probably had to take it.
For those of you who don't know what the TOEFL, here is a quick explanation.

If you are a student and you want to study in an English-speaking country, you have to take the TOEFL ibT (TOEFL internet based Test). This test measures your ability to communicate in an academic environment.

It is not optional, it is necessary. Most Universities and Colleges here in the USA require a score of at least 80-100. Some Universities even require lower scores like 70 or even 61. The University I want to attend requires 61.

The TOEFL test has 4 tasks: reading, listening, speaking and writing.
In each section, you can score 30 points. Makes 120 points total.

The test is about 4 hours long with a 10-minute break between the first 2 tasks and the last two tasks.

The TOEFL test is not cheap. My husband paid $ 190. Even more pressure to get a good score.

Now I highly recommend to plan and study in advance. The test is pretty hard because you don't have a lot of time to answer questions, read or write. Every task is timed. I didn't know much about the TOEFL before I booked the appointment. I had 2 weeks preparation time, which wasn't enough, in my opinion.

Before I started studying, we went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book with 2 CD's.
There are a lot of good tips and tricks in there. But I wasn't completely satisfied. A book with more tests would have been better. However, it was very helpful and gave me a good feeling of what might be helpful for me and what not. If you want to check it out, click on the link below (link to amazon).

As I mentioned earlier, I started studying 2 weeks before the test. At first I thought that this was going to be a breeze. Oh boy, I was wrong. The more time passed, the more I realized that I needed more than 2 weeks. And it doesn't necessarily mean that your English is bad and whatnot. No, trust me when I say: the TOEFL can be mastered with a score higher than 100 (if requested by the University you want to attend). But even if your score is lower than 100, so what?!

You see, there is no good or bad TOEFL score. It all depends on the requirements of the Universities.
My online University requires a score of 61. My TOEFL score is 85. See? I can definitely enroll now.
If your school wants you to score 90 and your acutal TOEFL score is 95, congratulations, you made it! And if you are still not satisfied with your score, you can still retake the test and maybe get a better score. But be aware: you have to pay the full amount again. And you can always score lower than before. If you don't want that to happen, make sure to plan well in advance and take the test if you feel ready.

Now, how did I score 85/120? 

To be honest, my gut feeling wasn't very good at the end of the test. The clock was ticking and the speaking part was the hardest. I really thought I had to retake the test and was mentally preparing for the worst.

Like I said before, all I used for the "Outsmart the TOEFL" book and some Youtube videos. There are a lot of good videos out there. I especially focused on the videos that explain how to take notes if you have to listen and take notes simultaneously.

What worked best for me was to repeat a lot of things.
To be quite honest, I didn't really study for the speaking part, because it felt just stupid, talking to the computer. And who would correct me if my answers were wrong? In the end I think, I could have scored better in the speaking section, if there would have been more time.

I didn't practise for the writing section either. I knew how to write essays, so that wasn't really the problem. The only thing that I didn't like probably guessed it...the time.

All in all I would say that it depends on how you study and how often. If you don't study, you might get a lower score (but this could also happen if you study regulary).

To summarize what you need to do:

  • you should plan to study at least 4-6 months before you take the test (depending on your English-level)
  • find as many ressources as possible (books, name it)
  • don't take the test if you don't feel ready (you can reschedule but have to pay for it)
  • repeat, repeat, repeat!
  • time yourself while you take tests at home! Very important!
  • don't panic..if you are nervous, you will stutter and maybe even forgot what to say/to do
  • and last but not least: don't stress yourself over the score. It is not important to score the best score. It is important to get a score a bit higher than what your dream University/College requires! Your academic English will improve over time anyway
If you don't know what the TOEFL requirements for yourUniversity are, click the link below. You'll find a list of Universities here in the USA and their requirements. Some Universities even have requirements for the 4 sections (e.g in all four sections of the TOEFL ibT you have to have at least 20 points).

I really hope that this post was helpful for you! If you have any questions about the TOEFL ibT, don't hesitate to ask me, I'll be glad to help you answer your questions.

Backyard makeover success story

After a little over a month we can finally say: yes, this is our backyard and we like it. But we are not done yet.
I still have to start my garden project with lots of yummy veggies and we are planning on a DIY grill area next to the barn.


Roadtrip Massachusetts pictures

A fun and exciting week in Massachusetts is over and we are back in Virginia.
Today I don't want to write a full post about our trip to Massachusetts but I want to show you a couple of pictures.

Tomorrows post is going to be a full report ;)

Husband and his co pilot

As you can see, the co pilot has everything under control...

Husband and I playing Bingo at the Casino in Foxwoods

There he is pilot. He takes his position very seriously

Me and giant black jack cars // Foxwoods

Foxwoods entrance. Very pretty

New Bedford Beach. Beautiful.

New York "skyline"

Breakfast at Table 8 in New Bedford. Food was delicious and service was good :)

World War 2 Tank in New Bedford

1. Roadtrip USA

YAAAY, germangirlintheusa is going on her first roadtrip :D

Tomorrow my husband and I are going to visit his family in Massachusetts.
I am very excited because 1. I will meet the rest of his family 2. it is my first roadtrip.

I love being in the car. I don't know why but it just relaxes me. 
It's a 9-10 hour drive so I have enough time to relax while my poor husband has to drive (I need my drivers license ---- but we are still waiting for my Social security number)

We are taking the dogs with us. This is going to be interesting. 

I'll try to record videos and take a lot of pictures.