The Expat Teacher’s Guide to Buying Property

Jim Rogers, an expat fellow teacher, whom I’ve known for about 20 years, has just published his experience on how to buy property while living overseas.

10 Signs You Have Raised Third-Culture-Kids

The life of an expat family does come with extra baggage. I am not talking about the furniture we pick up in Thailand, or the nicknacks from a one-year assignment somewhere else – no, this is about our experience, conceptions, and funny stories which we get to schlepp around.

Our son was born in Japan and  he flew before he could walk. His first flight took him to Seoul/Korea and then to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that automatic doors were not the given thing around Germany in the mid-90s.  Carrying him in my arms, I walked straight into a door at the Frankfurt Airport. We were both howling.

Habits are hard to break, therefore I stood in front of doors waiting for them to open. But at least, I did not run into one anymore.

Our kids are only partial Third-Culture-Kids (TCKs), but I recognize these symptoms in them, nevertheless.

1)  They think nothing of flying somewhere just for the weekend to go to a concert.

Cool. We are going places. The local airport is my second living room.

2)  Flying to Hawaii during spring break seems quite feasible to them – until I tell them they need to pay for it.

Our then second-grade daughter had a friend who flew to Hawaii during spring break and came back with presents for everyone (!) in the class. Sure, if he can do it, we can too.

3)  They usually run into someone they know at any airport in the world.

They most often run into their teachers going or returning from visiting family.

4)  They are hesitant when asked where they are from.

When the interviewer at St. Andrews College in Scotland asked our son where he was from, he started off with a sigh. The interviewer replied then, “Ah, you’re one of them!” ‘Them’ meaning the ones who find it hard to define where they are from.

5)  They think all kids go on to good universities.

Our children were surprised to learn that only 14.1% of the German population has a university degree. On the other hand, most kids attending an international school go on to college.

6) They always take off their shoes when entering a private home.

We started this habit while living in Japan.

7) Seeing well-off friends getting a Gucci bag for a birthday present is normal.

Our son once mentioned a schoolmate who got a 18 million euro race horse for her 18th birthday. Then I felt a bit bad, but just a bit,  for not getting him the latest iPhone for Christmas.

8) Returning from a trip and repacking for another trip the next day is normal.

Our daughter came back from a school trip to Berlin Friday evening. The next morning, she repacked for her trip to London on Saturday afternoon. I would have panicked, she thought it was cool.

9) Asking “When are we going back to Germany?” while we are in Germany.

When the children were younger, we visited my side of the family in the Bavarian dungeons. At least, their Franconian dialect sounded like that to them. Since I had to translate grandfather’s German, we could not be in Germany anymore.

10) Being upset over friends moving away, but not for the “right” reason.

Our 4-grade son came home rather upset one day and when I asked him about it, he said: “Andrew and his family are moving to London”.  He was upset, because most of his friends ended up leaving sooner or later.  “Why are we still here? I want to move to other countries, too”, he said.

I’m a baby boomer and grew up in a very provincial area of Germany, where most people went to Rimini, Italy by car for their annual vacations. Or some, who had a farm like my parents did, never even left.

In 1970, right after the Frankfurt Airport was made open for the public with a visitors platform, my aunt took me on a chartered bus trip to this very cosmopolitan city of Frankfurt. We got to visit the airport, stood on the Besucherterrasse (visitor platform), and put our noses against the big paneled windows and watched the first Boeings take off.

We were in awe then. And when I look at my kids’ lifestyles today, I have the same look in my eyes.

Until they announce their next trip. Then they have that look in their eyes… because someone needs to pay for it.


Market Day in Oberursel, Germany

If you happen to be an expat moving to Oberursel, be prepared for a mostly quiet, beautiful, and regulated surrounding. Germans love their beer and wine fests, they do not shop on Sundays, and there are rules when you can party/make noise and not. You’ll get used to it, I’m sure.

Saturday is a busy day for most shoppers, since everything is closed on Sundays. I managed to get away from work for 40 minutes and took a short trip downtown to the market for a Fischbrötchen (marinated fish on a bread roll).

Oberursel’s market is located right at the market square and it’s a very pretty sight.

Saturday market day in Oberursel

Saturday market day in Oberursel

When I went to order my Fischbrötchen, the lady told me she was out of bread rolls and asked me to get one from one of the other vendors. Once I come back with a bread roll, she could make it for me, she said. This is Germany at its best 🙂

Another view of the market with the ever-so-clean fountain.

Oberursel market and fountain

Next, we went down into the Altstadt, where they got ready to set up for the Seifenkistenrennen (soap box race).

Soap box race, Oberursel

Soap box race, Oberursel

“Yes, it’s spelled correctly”, one of the guys seems to say.

Does this look right to you?

Does this look right to you?

Being a repat, but working expat hours, it is sometimes difficult to match my schedule to the German hours of operation.

But this should be the least of your concerns when living in Germany. It is safe, they have good beer, and are generally honest in business dealings.

How to Smooth Transitions

Moving into new cultural and linguistic terrain is always a daunting enterprise.

For the breadwinner it is often a move from one desk to another. Of course, there are new colleagues to deal with as well as a new environmental language, but the core of your reason for moving will be the same: long hours at your desk and business trips.

Spouses, on the other hand, are responsible for the children’s education, running a smooth household, dealing with neighbors, organising kids’ activities, enrolling in local language courses, etc. All this euphoria lasts for about three months – until culture shock sets in and your initial fun of exploring your host country sometimes turns to frustration.

This is a very crucial turning point, because when things turn a bit sour, you might run the risk of keeping this attitude until you leave your host country. Find an “Ausfahrt”(*1). Don’t feel stuck.

I’ve had to start over a few times, and this is what I’ve learned:

* Don’t feel lonely – volunteer!

Sign up for a volunteer job just to get to know people and establish a certain routine. There are some jobs that are not that time-consuming, such as helping out one afternoon in the international school library, holding an English conversation table once a week, etc.

Volunteering was one of the first things I always did while settling into a new culture. In this way, I got out of the house, talked to other like-minded people, learned more about my host-country and got a better sense of my surroundings.

* Change from a language class to a hobby to practice your language skills

Some companies pay for your initial foreign language course to help you become integrated. Most of it, though, is book study in the classroom. Once you get to a certain level, it’s time to move on– and out of the classroom.

Instead of signing up for another language class, you might consider signing up for a course the locals are taking, e.g., Chinese cooking, yoga, flower arrangement, or whatever your interest is in. Immersing yourself in the local language will improve your speaking and listening comprehension, and also help you make some friends.

After I had taken a part-time course for Japanese and reached a sufficient level of competence, I took a risk and enrolled in a private group lesson for patchwork. My teacher only knew Japanese, and I could practice my speaking and listening comprehension by following instructions. The sewing vocabulary I picked up has stayed with me ever since.

* Get a private teacher

Some of you might shy away from the thought of getting a private teacher out of the desire not to make another commitment. But private lessons can be changed, postponed, and canceled. Find out what the rules are and adhere to them. In some cultures like Korea, there are no cancellation fees (even for a no-show), but here in Germany, private teachers not only sell their knowledge but also their time.

A private teacher will help you with what YOU need and doesn’t have to follow a set curriculum. His/her time is YOUR time. Once you’ve reached a certain level of language skill, you might want to incorporate them into your interests. If you are interested in the local cuisine, you can discuss recipes and cook together.

As a private teacher I’ve had students who reached that level. So I taught them patchwork with the help of the foreign language, in this case German. This enabled the student to talk freely, learn a hobby-related vocabulary and produce a craft at the same time.

Some expats may also have an elderly neighbor willing to converse at a very low rate of tuition.

*From private teacher to mentor

When things get tough in your life and neither your spouse nor your spouse’s secretary is available (or you have used her service too many times already), then your private teacher can help out in settling your foreign language affairs.

As a private teacher and German speaker, I’ve made phone calls to insurance companies, doctor’s offices, hotlines, and translated German bills into English, among many other favors.

My students ask all kinds of cultural questions:

+ My German neighbor always puts her trashcan in front of my house, not hers. What can I do without upsetting her?
+ Why can’t I take a shower in my apartment after 10 p.m. in Germany?
+ Why are shops closed on Sundays? (This is about to change, though)

Get yourself a private teacher, and it will open up another window in your fishbowl community.

*From mentor to friend

Granted, not all relationships like teacher-student end up in a great friendship. But from my experience most of them did and still do. I’ve taken adult students out for a beer, invited them to a local fest, or told them about special cultural activities.

Younger students got to enjoy a campfire in our garden, or they walked around with my children and me on Halloween night.

If there are good vibes, there will also be a fun side to life outside this professional relationship.

*Keep a journal of your stay

This could be a scrapbook for fun or a place where you can dump all your frustrations, adjustment problems and sorrows. This is especially helpful if you have come to this new place without an existing network.

I started keeping a journal 15 years ago when we were in the process of moving from the United States to Japan, and it has proven rather helpful for my “mental hygiene”.

* Be patient

Last, but not least– bad days can happen anywhere. Sometimes it’s so easy to blame it on the host country and its people. Please bear in mind that you must have had bad days in your native country or last place of residence, too.

Enjoy your stay wherever you are!

(*1) Ausfahrt: German for highway exit

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