I attended a dinner party the other night, at a comfy apartment in a suburb outside of Hamburg. Guests included Canadian (both French and English-speaking), American, and German teammates from my husband’s hockey team, and their spouses. It was a fun, casual evening of burgers and wine. A new woman joined our group that night, having just arrived from Canada a couple of days prior to spend the rest of the hockey season with her husband. It is to be her first time living overseas, and I could see it all over her face. Not only was she still suffering the ill effects of jetlag, she appeared bewildered, confused by the different languages swirling around her, overwhelmed with meeting new people, and uncomfortable in what, for the rest of us, was such an easy setting.
I knew just how she felt.
The new woman reminded me so much of myself five years ago. Since first moving to Germany, I have evolved so much and often times forgot about all the work it took to get to the level of comfort I now enjoy. I have honed an ability to adapt quickly to new environments, and have gained the confidence necessary to navigate what can be very intimating, daily tasks. I felt for the new woman and so badly wanted to tell her that this scary new place would eventually become exciting; that the German language would somehow, eventually start to make sense; and that everything would be ok. I decided to wait until our next gathering however, when the jetlag was no longer her obvious main concern.
Watching the new woman that day gave me a great opportunity not only to reflect on how far I’ve come, but also to appreciate those who have aided me along the way, those who have brought me up from that same fragile state to where I am today.
I am part of a wonderful, ever-changing group of women known amongst ourselves as “expat hockey-wives”. We are a varying group of females made up of young, twenty-something girlfriends, to wives in their late-thirties. We are mothers, students, professionals, Canadians, Americans, and Europeans. Each year this group changes as team rosters change, but we all tend to succeed in the role wherever we are, who ever we are with. We don’t all know each other well, and many of us will never see each other again after perhaps just one hockey season, but we fill in for lacking best-friends, sisters, and moms, for babysitters, workout partners, and travel buddies. We throw each other bachelorette parties and wedding showers, visit the hospital when babies are born, organize birthday parties for each others’ kids, comfort each other in times of grief, and laugh in times of inevitable public embarrassment. We are friends for survival, because as any expat knows, this life isn’t always easy.
I wish to thank those fellow hockey wives, both expats and locals, who have been my best friends, if even for just moments or months, and those who I’ve now known for years. Culture shock is very real and meeting the new woman that day reminded me just how much people need people in times of such vulnerability and uncertainty. I would also like to encourage you savvy expats out there to keep your eyes and minds open for the newbies in your expat world, and the next time you see someone struggling to figure out the train system, order meat at the deli, read a traffic sign, or integrate into a social setting, recall your first experiences and offer them your support, patience, humor, and friendship.