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A while ago I read this post and followed it back to the original article about expatriates who have “gone local”. They define it as expats having developed such strong emotional ties to the new country and its people that they admit that they would have a difficult time re-integrating into their home country. This is supposed to happen after 5-7 years. The post kind of stuck with me because I’ve moved around a lot since I finished high school (a good 11 years ago) in Germany. I spent a year in Egypt, went back to Germany to start college, spent 6 months in France for an internship as part of my studies, spent 5 months in Texas as an exchange student, went back to Germany for 1.5 years to finish my degree and moved back to Texas in 2004 for more college and, since two years now, work. That means that I have been here almost 7 years – at the end of the scale when expats are supposed to go local.

Then today I read Laurel’s post about Cultural Assimilation, and started thinking about the whole “going local”/ assimilation thing again. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? And moreover, have I gone local? Have I assimilated enough? Too much?

I feel very German (whatever that may mean) and would never consider myself American. As much as I like it here for the moment, I don’t even want to stay here in the long run. Do I want to go back to Germany? I don’t know. Part of me does (mainly because of my family there), but I also like living in a different country and it would be pretty difficult for my Italian boyfriend whose German is not ready for the workplace (no blame here because neither is my Italian). Plus, I have really come to enjoy the constant sunshine in Texas. And while there are a lot of things in Germany I miss, I don’t particularly miss the absence of the sun throughout the winter (or at least long stretches of it). And in general, I like being in a place where there are a lot of other expats, because you automatically have so much in common.

Assimilation? I think I fit in here in Texas pretty well. In fact, many people don’t know that I am German until I tell them. Would I fit in back in Germany? I’m pretty sure I would. It’s home! And I still go twice a year to visit family and friends and don’t feel like an outsider then either. Would I miss parts of my life here in Texas? Yes, definitely. I would miss the Texan friendliness and, believe it or not, the nice atmosphere created by light small talk with strangers. Would I miss the cashier at Walmart calling me “honey” or “darling”? Probably not so much 😉 Still too much for me! I do enjoy that people are more direct in Germany (dare I say Europe?) and less afraid to tell you what they think. It makes it so much easier to know where you stand, to know if you are actually friends. But at this point I also think that people could be a little friendlier “in the old continent”. Friendly just for the sake of a nice atmosphere. Would it kill you to smile once in a while, my German waitress/cashier/service provider!?

So, I guess, at this point I do feel a little torn. There are things I like about Texas. There are things I like about Germany. There are things I don’t like in Texas or Germany. Honestly, I think I could livein either place and be fine. I also could live in a whole new place – even though I’ve gotten pretty comfortable here and the thought of starting somewhere completely new, not speaking the language well, not knowing the cultural do’s and don’t’s…. I wouldn’t look forward to that.

Anyways, I think I have gone local to a certain extent. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. What do you think? Is it good? Is it bad? And what about you? Gone local yet? 😉

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  • I’ve totally gone local, and I haven’t even hit the five-year mark yet. My husband begs me to move to San Francisco (where I’m from), but I just can’t imagine returning there. Spain has indeed become my home. When I return to the States for even a couple of weeks I go through all sorts of withdrawals. That said, I think I could easily live in another country – I crave to be challenged, to learn new customs, to pick up another language, to try different foods. All I know is that is return to the US would bore me out of my mind! Cheers to going local!

    • Sabrina says:

      How funny that your husband wants to move to your home country and you want to stay in his 🙂 I see a third-country-move in your future, Erin! Could be a fun adventure… Which would you pick?

  • Laurel says:

    Thanks so much for the inclusion in this post, I sincerely appreciate it! It sounds like you’ve done a fantastic job of assimilating into the U.S. without losing your German identity, which is important and key to living happily in another country. I’m still very Canadian, I’m overly polite (according to my German fiance) to cashiers and it sometimes makes them chuckle, but I’m unlikely to change this as I like being polite.

    Like you, there’s things I like better about living in Canada and things I like better about living in Germany. Love your comment about “Would I miss the cashier at Walmart calling me “honey” or “darling”? Probably not so much” this always makes me laugh when I’m in the southern U.S.
    Laurel recently posted..Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump- Canada

    • Sabrina says:

      I really enjoyed your post about assimilation and it made me revisit the whole topic, so thank you instead. And thanks for your kind words also! It is fun to assimilate up to a point I think. But I also am sometimes torn because I do want to make sure that I’m not losing myself (well, my German self I guess) in there somewhere. So far, so good…. I think. And by the way, when I go to Germany now I overtip and smile too much I think 🙂 Oh well! Instead, here in Texas, when I really want to say something at work, but know that most people here wouldn’t because it’s uncomfortable, I pull my “foreigner card” and say it anyways. Muahahaha 🙂 They let me get away with it because Germans are known to be direct. 🙂

  • Andrew says:

    I don’t think I will ever really go local. I still would far rather speak English than German for one. That said, this is my home and I don’t necessarily want to leave it either.
    Is there a third option?
    Andrew recently posted..Peeing in Winter

    • Sabrina says:

      Hmmmm. Good question. Serial expat? Wanderer of the world? Maybe we don’t need to categorize ourselves as anything. But sometimes categories can be that much fun 🙂

  • Curtis says:

    Good question. Maybe you can get that business you alluded to a few posts back to take off, that way you can have enough money to bounce (dare I say skip?) back and forth. Germany in the summer, Texas in the winter? 😉

    • Sabrina says:

      One can dream 🙂 Not a bad idea. But if I had that kind of money, I probably would choose a winter destination close to a nice beach.

  • Annie says:

    I don’t believe that I’ve reached a point in Italy where I could even consider being assimilated yet, seeing as I’ve only been here for one year. That said, I am also not ready to here now. Maybe if my boyfriend and I stay together and he decides this is where he wants to stay (something makes me doubt he would choose here though) I could become assimilated but I don’t think I’ll ever completely lose my American-ness.

    I work with Americans and other English-speakers a lot so it’s difficult for me to get comfortable speaking Italian even though I should be more outgoing about it really after all this time.

    Anyway like you said to Andrew I consider myself something of a serial expat/wanderer. I like living somewhere when I travel so that I can get to know the people and make some money but I also don’t feel like I’m going to want to settle down anytime soon!
    Annie recently posted..I am like soo not THAT girl!

    • Sabrina says:

      I hear you. When I first moved to Texas, I kept hanging out with other foreigners – mainly because we wanted the same things (travelling, going out, having fun) – and that sort of kept me from getting into the culture here. It wasn’t really until year 3 or 4 that things shifted and I started having more American friends. That sort of happened slowly and party because I was staying here so much longer than other foreigners and started getting sick of seeing all my friends leave after 6-12 months. Where in Italy are you? And is your boyfriend Italian?

  • Jen says:

    Funny, my boyfriend said pretty much the same things you do about living in the U.S. – he liked the friendliness and wishes Germany could go more that direction, he likes the weather, he likes the flexibility in American life – but he didn’t like that he couldn’t always trust what Americans say (weren’t as direct) and that they didn’t always follow through with what they said. And he, too, couldn’t stomach the “honey” and “darlin’.” 😉

    But anyway…I’ve only been in Germany for 14 months and I think I would like to and could go local here (but still retain some things from my own culture and identity). Somehow in the U.S. there were vital things missing in life and I felt so rootless. Sometimes I don’t always know who I am as an American. So far in Germany, I feel more at home, like those things that I thought were missing in the U.S. are fulfilled here. I hope that makes sense. Of course I don’t like everything about Germany and I definitely miss English, but it seems even that over time bothers me less and less. I guess time will tell.

    Maybe that’s the beauty of being an expat – you can choose what you want to assimilate from your new culture and what you want to keep from your old one. Sounds perfect to me. 🙂
    Jen recently posted..Rhythm of Life- January

    • Sabrina says:

      I love your last few sentences, Jen. Assimilate what you like from the new culture, keep what you like from the old. And if and when I move again? I’ll keep adding to it 🙂 I’ll end up a weird mix of everything, but oh well. Maybe that’s why I like hanging out with other expats. Most feel the same way in that they keep some, reject the other and keep changing with the cultures they live in.

  • Suzy says:

    I think it can be a balance. It seems like you have done a great job of still keeping your German roots, yet adapting to a new country. I hate being called “Ma’am” and and “honey” in the south too and I’m American ha. I think if you find a balance of a little of you here and a little of you there, you have gone local, especially if you devote the time.
    Suzy recently posted..A Traveler’s Colored Coconut Process

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks for your comment and kind words. Maybe I can be “local” in more than one place… 🙂

      PS: Yes, the “ma’am” thing… makes me feel so old.

  • Carla says:

    I think that “becoming a local” and how fast you do it, is a question of personality and previous experience. I was born in Texas, grew up abroad, but did HS and university in Texas. My process of adaptation to my new home has been quick, and although I’m not fully assimilated yet because I am not completely fluent in the language, I think I’m getting there, faster than most 😀
    Last time that I flew from Texas back to Europe, I thought to myself in the plane: “right now, as I fly across the Atlantic, I miss everything and everyone equally”. This is the bittersweet truth of the expat though: no matter where you are, or even how happy you are, you will always be missing something, someone or someplace else.

    • Sabrina says:

      Isn’t that the truth?! That’s how I feel often as well. When I am in Texas, I miss my family and certain foods and parts of the culture in Germany. When I am in Germany, I miss my friends from Texas and certain foods and parts of the culture in Texas. When I’m in a bad mood, I think that’s a bad thing, but most days I think it’s great that I have family and friends everywhere 🙂 And I think you’re right! The more you move and live in different places, the easier you adapt to each of them. You probably do have an advantage over many expats because you’re used to it from childhood on 😉

  • Andrew says:

    For me this sense of being a local versus being an outsider shifts back and forth based on mood. I speak english any time I can, but slip into german with no problem when I need to. Sometimes I even slip back and forth without noticing.
    I will never fully “become” a local, but I like the idea of being locally known and a part of a community. I have no issue (and probably some pride) in being known as the “English speaker” or the “American that can German”. 😉
    Andrew recently posted..Surprising shoes- Prague

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