Today's Very Special Friday is by a fellow expat and a friend of mine, Ilze. Ilze and I met together during a research project we were both involved in- check it out if you're interested, it's pretty cool stuff, and I think I still understand some of it. Ilze married a German man whom she met at our wedding, and who played a part in getting me and my husband together. Ilze is an extremely clever person and fun to have around, always full of ideas. I am very happy to have friends like her and grateful that she wrote this great post. In this post, Ilze ponders on her relationship with the German language, considering it attached to one particular culture- as opposed to English, and international language. I think Ilze and Is hare a similar approach to integration. Thank you, Ilze for this great post!
How close is close enough? My ambivalent relationship with Germany and the German language
I have been living in Germany for five and a half years now and in many ways it has become my home. I came here to study in Master’s, stayed on for a PhD, got married with a guy from Hamburg in the process (Olga played a role in introducing us, but that’s a different story, and I am planning to stay in Germany for next few years if not more.
After I landed in the beautiful little Bremen five years ago I acclimatized very easy. The historical streets of the Hanseatic Bremen felt alike those of my hometown, the Hanseatic Riga, the food was not much different and even the weather felt quite alike. I dove into the orientation week events of the university and did not feel homesick for a day.
Now, almost six years down the line and having left the multicultural confines of my super-international university, I sometimes wonder about how integrated in the German society I really am. My closest friends seem to go two ways: there are those who have learned the language and even work towards getting a German citizenship, and then there are those who never felt really at home here and left as soon as they were done with their studies.
I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I have learned to speak German reasonably well and am now confident about taking care of most everyday things from bank appointments to calling service hotlines in German. I am even able to hold my own in a party full of German speaking people. Nevertheless, I feel that there is a glass ceiling to my integration and it is put in place by nobody else but me.
I feel much more at home among other expats, speaking English, and I am reluctant to switch to speaking German with close friends or even my husband. When my mother-in-law asked us when we will start speaking in German to one another my first thought was: why? Do I have to?
Does it make any sense that I feel like I would be giving up a certain part of who I am if I switched to using German in most of my everyday communication? If I have to reflect on the reasons for this fear, they probably lay in the different meanings the English and the German languages have for me.
While the English is my open language of intercultural connections, German is a practically needed language, tied to one particular culture. Accepting this language for my primary communication would also mean accepting the German culture in a much greater extent. And that just does not feel right. At least not yet.
Ilze comes from the small and green country of Latvia by the Baltic Sea but her path of education has brought her to Northern Germany where she now lives and works on her PhD dissertation. At the moment this blog is her respite and gives her space to focus on some of the other things that she's interested in, notably, intercultural communication and all things related to online education. Ilze blogs at Random Ramblings, and you can also check out her other blog on her wedding and honeymoon. if you're interested in research, and especially online research, and even if you're not, you definitely should check out this Facebook page!