Working & Living in Germany
German families value an applicant who is hardworking, conscientious (especially about child safety), flexible, sensible, calm in stressful situations, warm, and willing to interact with a child instead of just “watching” the child. An attitude of "how can I help?" is a great asset for an au pair to have.
Most host families live in the metropolitan areas of Germany’s largest cities. Typically, both parents work and have 1- 3 children between the ages of 1 - 8 years. Families are typically open to new ideas, interested in the world and other countries. Many families look forward to having you teach their children your customs and language.
Every Au Pair will be assigned a local representative during the entire stay in Germany. The representative will help you to adjust to your new surroundings and assist you if you have any questions or problems.
Au Pairs are adventurous, curious and interested in learning about new countries and cultures. Most importantly, they love spending time with children. An average day might include taking your host children to the park, playing games, baking cookies with them and helping them clean their room. During your free time, you may use public transportation to explore a nearby city, take a language class to improve your German and meet other young people from around the world, or join your host family for a barbecue.
Life as an Au Pair is busy, fun, challenging and different every day.
Germany will surprise you with the cultural and natural diversity of its 16 different states. Explore the coastlines of the North and Baltic Seas, take a boat trip along the magnificent Rhine River with its famous vineyards or hike the German Alps.
Life in Germany on the Au Pair program offers security of employment, accommodation and advice.
Freedom and Spending Free Time
Your Host Family will expect you to let them know when you are going out and will expect you to return at the designated time. Be sure to telephone to let them know if you are going to be late. Of course, you have the right to go out in your free time and come home when you choose, provided this does not interfere with your ability to care for the children the next day.
While in Germany you will have many opportunities to discover more about the country through daily contact with local people, by exploring all that your area has to offer, and by taking some time to travel to other parts of Germany. You will have to deal with such matters as banking, shopping, postal and telephone services, automobiles and traffic laws, tipping customs, and so on .
Adjusting to Your New Home
When travelling abroad, you have to be ready for extreme or unfamiliar conditions. You might have an upset stomach or other digestive problems in the first few days as your body adapts to the climate and the food. It is even common to catch a cold. You may have trouble adapting to the altitude if you are going to a mountainous area. Even the most seasoned travellers and the fittest athletes have to deal with these problems when they leave home. These discomforts can, however, be controlled.
Here are a few tips to help you adjust:
- Take it easy for the first few days or a week. Your body will need to rest if it is to adapt to local conditions.
- Get enough sleep.
- Wash your hands often and do not rub your eyes to avoid coming in contact and being infected with various viruses.
- Medication for headaches, colds, upset stomach, minor injuries, and other ailments is readily available in Germany. It is not always advisable to take medication from home as some restrictions apply.
- If you are going to a warm area, wear a hat on sunny days to avoid sunstroke, use sunscreen to protect your skin against sunburn, and drink a lot of liquids (non-alcoholic and without caffeine) to prevent dehydration.
Unfortunately, as in everywhere else in the world, there is crime in Germany. You should be especially careful until you are familiar with your local community. Every town has unsafe areas, and you should find out where these are as soon as possible. Basic safety rules include the following:
- In some areas it is not safe to walk alone at night. Always ask someone to accompany you if you are unsure about going somewhere on your own. Ask your host family for local advice
- Do not carry large amounts of cash with you or wear jewellery of great value. Never accept a ride from a stranger. Do not hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers.
- Be careful with your purse or wallet, especially in crowded metropolitan areas where there are purse snatchers and pickpockets. Other attractive personal property, such as cameras, stereos, computers, and bicycles, should be locked in a safe place when you are not around. Be careful with your belongings.
- . If a robber threatens you at home or on the street, try not to resist unless you feel that your life is in danger and you must fight or run away. Do not fight back as this might provoke your attacker to cause you harm. Remain calm and observe as much as possible about the robber. Report this crime to the police right away and give your best description of the attacker.
Adjusting to a New Environment
Going as a tourist to a foreign city or country for a short period of time can be fun, but living and working there for longer than a few months is a completely different experience. You get to know the place and the people on a much deeper level. At the same time, you will have to deal with some physical, mental, and social challenges.
Even though living in a foreign country can sometimes be frustrating, it can also be very rewarding. The majority of people who live and study in Germany for an extended period of time go home feeling positive about their experience and believe that the time spent abroad was beneficial both professionally and personally .
One of the first adjustments you will have to face after your arrival in Germany is “jet lag.” Jet lag is the physical shock of your body adjusting to a new time zone. Its intensity will depend upon how many time zones you have crossed during your travels. While your body is adjusting to a new daily rhythm, you may experience headaches, disorientation, sleeplessness, or sleepiness. Many people find that for every hour of time difference, it takes one day to completely overcome the effects of jet lag. However, you may find that you are through the worst of it in about half that time. After this period of adjustment, you should be able to function normally and follow a regular daily schedule.
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself through the transition:
- Attempt, as much as possible, to follow the normal eating and sleeping patterns of your new time zone. Resist taking naps in the middle of the day since it will make it more difficult to sleep at night and will only serve to prolong your jet lag. Instead, take a walk, exercise, or plan activities with friends during the day when you find you are tired.
- Exposure to sunlight or other light during the day can also help your body’s clock to reset.
Culture shock is the process of adjusting to a new country and a new culture, which may be dramatically different from your own. You no longer see the familiar signs and faces of home. Climate, food, and landscapes, as well as people and their ways all seem strange to you.
If you feel this way, do not panic. Culture shock is a normal reaction. As you become adjusted to German culture and attitudes and begin to know your way around, you will start to adapt to and understand your new surroundings and way of life. Au Pairs experience culture shock in varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others find it very difficult to adapt. There are usually four stages of culture shock that you will experience:
The “Honeymoon” Stage
The first few weeks in your new home will be very exciting. Everything will be new and interesting, and you will likely be so busy getting settled in with your new family and routine that you may hardly notice that you miss home.
Irritability and Hostility
As you begin to realise that you are not on vacation and that this is where you live, you might experience anger and hostility. Sometimes you may feel hostile toward the Germans and their way of doing things, and even trivial irritations may cause hostility to flare.
Understanding and Adjustment
In time you will come to better understand your new environment and will find, maybe even unconsciously, that you are adjusting to your new home. You will experience less frequent feelings of hostility and irritability.
Integration and Acceptance
Finally, you will find that you have come to feel that, at least on some level, you consider your host family and your new town, your home. You will have made friends and will feel that your community accepts you just as you have accepted it. The length and intensity of each stage depends upon the individual, but no one escapes it completely. The important thing to remember is that you are not the only one experiencing these feelings. Many others before you have gone through it, and there are others all around you who are dealing with culture shock.
Below are some of the common symptoms of culture shock and some suggestions to help you get over these hurdles:
You miss your homeland, your family, and your friends. You frequently think of home, call or write letters to your family and friends often, and maybe even cry a lot. It is good to keep in contact with home, but do not let this get in the way of meeting new friends and enjoying your new home. Make an effort to meet new people in your local community. Find one thing with which you are comfortable - for example, music, food, or an activity - and make this the starting point toward making yourself feel at home in Germany.
Minor irritations make you unusually angry, and you feel life in Germany is the cause of your problem. You feel your expectations have not been met. It takes time to get used to life in a foreign country and many things need to be relearned. Be patient and ask questions when you feel you do not understand. Maybe your expectations were too high or too low, and you need to readjust your perception of what it means to live and work in Germany.
You become dependent on fellow Aussies or Kiwis or other close friends and feel you cannot achieve anything by yourself. You are scared of doing things by yourself without somebody else’s help or approval. It is good to have people you can depend on for the first few days. However, at the same time, you should gradually take on the challenges and “do it yourself.” It is all right to make mistakes and to learn from them. You should also try to make various types of friends, not just other English speakers, to fully take advantage of your German experience.
- Loss of self-confidence
You feel everything you do is wrong, that nobody understands you, that you have trouble making friends. You start to question the way you dress and think because you are afraid you won’t fit in. If you feel everything you do is wrong, ask for feedback from someone you can trust, such as a friend or your host family. What may be wrong is not how others perceive you, but how you perceive yourself. You should not be worried about the way you look, act, or think. Germany is a very diverse country and Germans are used to people with different looks or ways of behaving. Most important, do not lose your sense of humour.
- Values shock
You might find yourself facing situations that are not accepted in your culture and have trouble getting accustomed to them. For example, relationships between men and women, the informality of German life, political or religious attitudes, or the social behaviour of German people may seem amoral or unacceptable to you. Look for information on the things that surprise you or make you feel uncomfortable, and try to remain flexible, respectful, and open-minded. This can be a great occasion to learn more about topics that might be less popular or taboo at home. Try to enjoy the new cultural diversity and the various cultural points of view. It might be helpful to talk to someone from Australia or New Zealand who has been living in Germany for a while to discuss how this person has dealt with values shock.
Methods to Avoid Culture Shock
- Stay busy.
When you are bored or lonely, engage in activities, even ones that you may have avoided or considered silly. Call someone from school or another Au Pair to arrange a get-together now. Go to a movie, a concert or just out for coffee.
- Concentrate on the present.
Put away the memories of the way things were done back home. People tend to remember only the good things about their home country, especially when comparing to the host country. There are always good and bad things. Look at your surroundings as interesting and different, not better or worse.
- Talk to your Host Family and friends.
Sometimes talking about how you feel makes the feeling itself less intense. Be sure to be diplomatic. If you are critical and negative you will alienate people and become isolated from them.
- Don’t spend all of your free time with other Au Pairs.
You will only feed on each other’s dissatisfaction if you spend your time complaining and reminiscing about all the good things you left behind.
- Make friends.
The best way to make new friends is to talk to people. Most of the people you meet, especially the students in your classes, will be friendly and interested in meeting you. Just your accent alone will be interesting to them. You may have to make the first move. Don’t wait for others to call you.
- Join clubs and sports teams.
Participate in school and community activities. Join a church youth group or volunteer to teach young people a skill that you know and they are trying to learn. These activities will help you make friends with similar interests.
- Don’t sit in your room corresponding with home.
This solitary activity, whether it be letter writing, calling, faxing or e-mailing, will not help you overcome your depression and your Host Family and friends won’t know how to interpret your behaviour. If you must write your feelings down, let the correspondence sit for a day or more and re-read it before sending (or better yet, try keeping a journal). The world may look totally different by then.
- Au Pair Handbook, EurAupair Intercultural Child Care Programs, 2005
- AYUSA Germany Live-In Childcare brochure, 2009