Before I talk about my experience, the best advice I can give you is to put some work into research when learning about your host country. I personally didn’t do so much research and while I learned quickly, it would have been even better if I knew my stuff beforehand. Of course during your research, you may come across generalizations as I did. Just be prepared for those to be challenged and most importantly, be open-minded and observant. Luckily for me, Mannheim is a very international area and also shares many western culture characteristics such as monochromatic time organization and similar protocols in communication etiquette. Of course the main cultural challenge is the language. You can get away with being passive in your German language skills but I do not recommend it. It will limit your experience and make you feel more detached from the environment you find yourself immersed in. Making an active effort will not only increase the immersiveness of the experience but also make it more fun. As you see you effort slowly paying off, you will feel rewarded when viewing signs and hearing conversation that you understand, if only bits and pieces. But like I said, Germany is not so different to us as might be the case in an eastern European country or in Asia. Of course there are small particularities. Small ways I adjusted were in daily tasks such as crossing the street or checking out at the grocery line. The German grocery stores are very fast paced in the check-out line and I found that I was expected to bag my groceries as they were being scanned. This all happens very fast and was quite overwhelming at first – a small adaptation but one nonetheless. Also I perceived the Germans to be a bit straighter to the point in getting what they want. If you don’t assert yourself and what you need, you will be left in the dust. Getting in line is an example and also even when eating. I noticed at the dinner table, no one has a second thought at taking the last piece, something that we Americans have trouble with. So in adaptation to this I try to be more straight-forward when it comes to asserting myself.
Benjamin Saff: Adapting to Culture Challenges in Germany