08 Jan MumAbroad Life: Katrina de Laat of HENhaus in Weisendorf
HENhaus is an all volunteer, non-profit organization designed to welcome English speaking expats to the area, help them meet other expats, and get over the first major “hurdles” adjusting to life in Germany. We do this in several ways, including meeting with newcomers and acting as the “welcome wagon,” and we get them connected to other people with similar interests in their area. We also have a website with an archive of helpful information, and a Facebook forum, which people use religiously to get quick answers to questions, and help in whatever type of situation the expat life in Germany may throw at them. In addition we have something we call “Stork Squads” which operate as “Mommy’s Helpers” when a new mom brings baby home by providing meals to the family for a short period of time. This is particularly helpful considering how far from close friends and doting family we all are!
We work with the relocation agents in our area, and try to make sure that our information is shared with people as they arrive. But since not everyone uses a relocation agent, we also share information with employers directly, the local Rathauses and anyone who will take a flyer or poster, really! And of course there’s our website and word of mouth.
I found it integrating VERY difficult. Which is why I started HENhaus. Even though I had lived abroad, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the adjustment was going to be, especially as a new Mom. When we arrived my eldest was just 11 months, and I had always worked before we left the U.S.. So not only was I adjusting to life in Germany, I was learning how to be a stay-at-home Mom – in a foreign country! And since my daughter was only 11 months old, it was even harder to make friends and learn eth language. When your children are older and attending school or Kindergarten it is easier to have interactions with other people – whether English speaking or German! There is a local women’s group for expats, but I found that they weren’t necessarily focused on helping newcomers adjust. And that is why HENhaus is solely dedicated to helping newcomers, and does not charge fees or dues.
My daughter is definitely more integrated than I am. And her German is probably better, too! She has been attending Kindergarten since she was 2 and a half, so her German is almost as good as the other children’s. I still haven’t managed to find time to perfect my German, but it gets better everyday. As far as life in general, I definitely find that the longer you are here, the less you miss the little stuff that you never thought you could live without!
My impression of education so far has been good, albeit sometimes a bit surprised. We had the option of putting our daughter into the local international school at our employer’s expense, but decided that we wanted her to be fully immersed in the language and culture. It also makes life a great deal easier to send her around the corner, rather than commuting to the international school. My advice to anyone moving here who decides to put their children into the German system would be to be patient, and when things seem different or strange from what you would expect back home to just remember that Germany has of of the best school systems in the world.
There are lots of high quality attractions and activities available, you just have to be ready to accept that they’re different from what you might have at home. If you’re looking for a Chuckey Cheese, or expect to shop for kids clothes at Gymboree or Target you’re going to be disappointed and possibly frustrated! But if you focus on being open-minded you’ll be pleasantly surprised! After all, who thought that the local “beer garden” could be so much fun, especially for the kids! The trick is knowing where to look for things and finding good sources of information about local events. That is definitely one area where HENhaus has been helpful in our community – whether it is by looking at our listed kid friendly locations and activities, or asking questions or sharing information in our Facebook group.
I wish I had been given a really good list of recommended items to bring with us from the states! While you can get everything you absolutely need to survive here, there is always some item which seems to make life more convenient because it’s what we’re accustomed to, or that favorite food item, or what have you. The advantage to buying these items before moving, is that then you can have the movers include them in your shipment of household goods rather than stuffing your suitcases each time you visit home! A great list of recommended items for Americans and Brits can be found at www.germanyexpat.org/p/what-to-bring.html
Be open-minded, be patient with yourself (and your kids) and then sit back, enjoy the ride, and be sure to take advantage of the fabulous travel opportunities!
I could not live without the amazing network of women and friends I have here. I never would have expected it, but some of the closest friends I have ever had have been made here. There is something about being so separated from home that somehow makes us depend on each other so much more. You wouldn’t expect it, but many of my friends who have returned “home” have found that return adjustment just as challenging as coming here. They are back in the creature comforts they know and expect, but often they don’t have the close relationships they had here and find it just as challenging to establish that type of support structure back home.