How I Became Fluent in German Fast

I’ve been meeting many more expats now that I am living in the heavily populated Rhineland/Ruhr region of Germany. These expats range from old timers/lifers to newbie/temporary assignees. As any expat can relate to, the newbies are grappling with learning the German language: some try private tutelage, others secure places at the local VHS, while others make the deep plunge for the Goethe Institut in Düsseldorf. Most of them ask me about my level of German and how I learned. I admit that it was a quick ascent to fluency for me, and I know that I was fortunate to not have problems with the German language as an expat woe. (I was instead confounded by the local Swabian dialect while living in Swabia.)

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

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Au Pair in Germany – the Hosting How to Guide

Like Sarah did several years ago, I mentioned our foray in having an au pair. We had had one from South Korea last summer, a relationship which ended pretty miserably. Despite our efforts to have fair and adjusted expectations of a young woman, age 20, from a culture with no nanny or babysitting culture, we were disappointed, frustrated, and fertig. Translation: stick a fork in us, DONE.

We naively made the initial compromises because we wanted a native Korean speaker who could teach our children Korean by building a loving relationship through regular contact with them. Unfortunately, unwittingly, we over-compromised as the young woman in question didn’t seem to have any real childcare experience, despite what we were lead (or wanted) to believe. It got to a point where the only expected responsibility she was able to fulfill was tidying the kitchen. Looking after more than one of my three children quickly put her out of her depth and some real safety issues came to surface (e.g., kids playing with her medication and her not telling us immediately about it). And although she was brave enough to become an au pair, she didn’t have enough courage to ride the local bus (which is a loop) to her language class alone. On top of that, even though she was a German major and we had interviewed and corresponded in German, she could only manage if I spoke (my rusty) Korean with her. Believe me, after that exhausting initial first month of Korean only, I switched us to German! No matter what language I spoke with her though, I always had a sinking feeling that we were not on the same page. Continue reading

The Zollamt and What to Expect

This post comes late as I’ve been struggling to regain balance and find spare time during these late summer weeks. Two kids out of my three were recently struck by stomach flu, meanwhile two weeks worth of holiday luggage had to be packed, and the au pair we had been counting on was such a bust that instead of staying a full twelve months with our family as originally planned, she left after two.

The Au Pair story could be a blog post in itself which I may write after I’ve recovered from this recent disastrous experience. Today though I wanted to write about our experience at the local Zollamt or customs agency that I had with this former au pair of ours that screamed, “German Way post!” Continue reading

50 Years of the Korean Diaspora in Germany

There is an interesting anniversary being marked here in Germany right now that means something to me. It’s one of those events that leads you to think about all of the parallel lives you could have led: “What would my life have been like if my parents had never moved to the US from Korea?” “If I hadn’t decided to study in London thirteen years earlier, where exactly would I be living right now?” But I live in Germany right now, and I know exactly why. It’s the 50th year anniversary since the first Korean guest workers arrived in Germany. Like all of the other guest workers of this generation, they weren’t meant to stay. But many did. And for this reason, my young family and I call Germany home. Continue reading

Meet Freude: More Korean Food in Leipzig

I know that you’ve waited over a month for this follow-up post on Korean food in Leipzig so let’s jump right in.

The family and I went to Meet Freude in the Suedvorstadt neighborhood of Leipzig. This part of town is a quick Strassenbahn ride or ten-minute walk from the city center. With universities in close proximity, it has a fun vibe and this stretch of the Karl Liebknecht Strasse boasts a long row of specialty food shops and restaurants such as vegetarian, Italian, Spanish, and Indian.

When we first drove by Meet Freude, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. As mentioned in my previous post, it was a cafe and had a tiny menu. With interior colors of light green and white, this place was cute. Little trees and hearts here and there along with two large stuffed animals sitting in the Ikea high chairs waiting for us as we walked in, it reminded us of a cafe that could be in the university quarter of a Korean city.

The streetview of Meet Freude.

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Korean Food in Leipzig

In pursuit of finding decent food in Germany, my family and I tried out two of the three Korean restaurants in Leipzig during a visit to the city last week. It is a high risk undertaking to try a Korean restaurant in Germany as it can be very hit or miss, with a high probability of a miss. Over the years, I have had traumatizing experiences in Heidelberg and bearable ones in Frankfurt and Duesseldorf. Continue reading

What’s in a Name

As an American, it would never occur to me to make a distinction such as “German” vs. “German national,” but it’s one that I’ve encountered while living in Germany. Not only would I never think to draw such lines, I find them offensive. It’s a debate that hits close to home as my husband and I have lived seemingly parallel lives as second-generation Koreans. The difference though is that I was born and raised in the United States, and he in (then West) Germany. More than geographic though, the greater difference is that I grew up in a culture where I was eventually (in the ‘90s when multiculturalism discussions were de rigueur on college campuses) encouraged to embrace my American identity as both an American citizen and an ethnic Korean. Meanwhile my husband considered himself Korean rather than German for a long time, and he wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t until his late twenties, when he and his family were in fact allowed to become German citizens. While he has since resolved his internal debate comfortably calling himself German, it’s the external one that continues. Continue reading