In the last part of this series, I took you through a few of my initial experiences regarding the behavioral/ cultural differences that I encountered in my first month in Germany. Having now more or less settled in Frankfurt, I started the process of trying to learn the language. I enrolled myself in an intensive course in Volkshochshule (essentially a school for adults in Germany) for the A1 level of German.
I was not only hoping for fast-paced German lessons but also for some good classmates since I really didn’t have any friends in the foreign land. Not exactly wanting my own version of English Vinglish ;-)…but yes something on those lines wouldn’t hurt.
I bought my books, stationery (even shopping for these items after almost 20 years was invigorating!), and a backpack and was all set, giddy with excitement on my first day of German school!!
On the first day of school, the teacher asked us to write down and display our names along with our nationalities on a blank paper. A quick glance around the class made me realize (much to my delight), that I was surrounded by sixteen nationalities in a class of eighteen!! Even though I come from Mumbai; and so, essentially exposed to a very multi-cultural Indian cosmopolitan crowd since childhood, there is still a common thread of being Indian. But this was very new and interesting – being amidst such a diverse class full of people; many of whom didn’t even understand or speak English. I knew then that I was about to embark on a fascinating ride for the next couple of months!
So to give an idea – we had a Syrian, a Mexican, a Brazilian, two Serbians, two Indians (including me), an Iranian, a Greek, a Spaniard, two Ethiopians, a Nigerian, an American, a Macedonian, a Ukrainian, an Albanian and a Turk. Extraordinary, right?
On the first day, we mainly learned everyone’s nationalities and the region/ city they belonged to and thus begun my journey of discovering about all the diverse cultures around me (and also learning Deutsch in the meanwhile!)
As is common, most of the bonding and chit-chats amongst the classmates happened outside the classroom. In our break-time and sometimes before the classes began (most of us arrived before time – unlike our teacher!), we slowly began to talk to and getting to know one another. The initial couple of days were mostly along the lines of “So what brings you to Frankfurt?”, “Are you married/ single?”, “How long are you planning to stay here?”, “What is your profession?” etc. Since a few of them spoke almost nil to bare minimum English, the conversations were interestingly limited to just words, stronger enunciations and/ or hand gestures. Which, trust me, is also a fun way to communicate sometimes – as this makes you learn how to communicate out of your comfort zone.Advertisement
By the end of the week, I had learnt some really interesting things like: how a semi-retired American soldier had found his soul mate whilst vacationing in Miami at the age of 47, and had now moved to Frankfurt to be with his new German bride (all the girls in the class were gushing and going “awwww” when he narrated us his story); how an Albanian girl had moved to Italy at a young age of 18 to pursue her dreams of becoming a lawyer and working through law college with the aid of scholarships, thus landing in Frankfurt; how a Ukrainian mother and journalist, at the age of 56, had moved to Frankfurt leaving her teen daughter and a bad divorce behind and was looking forward to learning German and trying to move on; how a Nigerian car mechanic was struggling in a foreign country not only because of his lack of language skills but also because of his heritage but still holding on to his half-German family; and how rich spoiled brats is a universal concept and the Iranian chap was basically only interested in flirting with the girls in the class!!
I was also learning the concept of human equality – which is a given in the western culture I think, but we Indians are still quite warped. Whereas back home I might have turned my snooty back on, here my closest friend within a month, was the lovely Serbian girl who was saving up to join nursing school by cleaning houses in her free time and I was hanging out in the evenings with two guys – the Spaniard who was a personal trainer in hotel gyms and the Greek who was soon going to be a delivery boy for Deutsche Post. I am ashamed to admit, but I don’t know the last time I had befriended anyone who was not a CA/MBA or similar.
Within the completion of the first fortnight of school, we had started going for drinks, bowling, enjoying the break of spring along the Main River and much more. We had become friends in the true sense of the word – we loved each other’s company, loved having a laugh at the others’ expense (sometimes!), had each others’ back in class and most importantly added one another on Facebook! Now that the school has broken for Easter Holidays, I cannot wait for us to get together again and take off from we left. I even have a huge grin on my face just writing about all this!
I found friendship and companionship where I least expected to, but hey that is life and I am thankful for its uncertainty! So even though I did not have a life-changing experience like Sridevi in English Vinglish (nor did I unfortunately have a hot Italian classmate!), but still I would look back on this month of my German classes as one of the most enriching experiences so far – both in terms of knowledge as well as friends gained!
Hope you liked reading this, and see you soon with my next edition around Getting around Frankfurt – the non-tourist guide!!