Unexpected Loneliness — Learning a New Language in a New Country

When I arrived in Berlin, I was so excited about the prospect of learning a new language. In Sydney, I was taught the very basic rudiments of a second language in the early years of high school — still able to count to 10 in Italian — but this would be the first time experiencing learning language by cultural immersion.

My stay was only for three months, so there were no lofty aspirations of becoming fluent by any means, but being able to pick up conversational German was the goal. I had such high hopes as I switched Duolingo over to German.

Sanssouci Palace (Potsdam)

I found myself a short-stay in Friedrichshain for three months, after a few weeks Airbnb, and I was all set for my short German adventure. By chance my roommate seemed to be the one German I had ever met who could not speak English past very, very, basic conversation — and my German was far worse.

Morning chats in the kitchen consisted of pulling out my phone and perusing Google Translate to awkwardly say pleasant greetings and ask if anything was needed from the store. Conversations that should have taken 30 seconds would take 5 to 10 minutes. I was constantly wracking my brains for the German version of the English word I was thinking of, trying to pronounce sounds unknown to the Australian tongue, and attempting not to spit whilst doing it.

It was exhausting!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Berlin)

During my stay there was an election, so I went down to the Australian consulate to vote. By this time, I had been travelling for over half a year, and hadn’t met another Australian for six months. As I stood in the queue to vote, I heard that familiar accent and I didn’t realise I had missed it so much.

I had loved travelling, I still love travelling. Everywhere I had been, the people I met were so welcoming, and polite, but, they were soooo polite — which is not how one would describe the Australian culture. Over the last six months I had been to Hong Kong, Macau, Belgium and Amsterdam and though I had always tried to pick up a bit of the local language, English usually got me along fine, as everyone seemed to know English as well. But, I had to speak extra slowly and clearly, as Australian English is very different to the UK and US, and we speak faster, and shorten words in odd ways.

Immediately I was fast and instant friends with the other Australians in the queue. They felt the same as I did, instantly we had shared jokes, we had common histories, common popular culture, we got into heated political debates without even bothering to exchange names first, and swearing was not just acceptable it was encouraged. Speaking with them I didn’t get the same blank stares after speaking too quickly or using an Australian-ism — I never knew we had so many phrases unique to Australia!

Berlin Cathedral / Berliner Dom (Berlin)

For the first time in a while, communication was easy. I didn’t have to double check what I said, I didn’t have to wrack my brain for common ground. I got to share my new experiences and surprise at cultural differences with people experiencing the very same disconnect. Talking and bonding was just so very simple and easy. It made me wonder why I hadn’t in the past made an effort to find other Australians during those moments I missed home.

Now, I did plan ahead, and came armed with apps to be able to help myself with arriving in a new city I didn’t know — Duolingo for picking up the language, Meetup to find people with similar interests, Foursquare to find food, and Facebook to find local events. What I have found is there is a gap to be able to search for businesses based on my own diversity, there wasn’t an option to search, for example, hairdressers that spoke English, or where Australians hang out.

View from the Victory Column / Siegessaule (Berlin)

This brings me to zusa. After my travels across Europe I came across this Aussie start-up, which would have been perfect for those times when I experienced those pangs of homesickness. zusa in an app that allows you to search for businesses by the diversity of their customers and staff. If zusa was available in Berlin when I was there, I could have searched for pubs with an Australian expat crowd, rather than wait for a chance encounter with fellow Aussies due to an election.

zusa is only in its early stages, but it’s starting to grow past Sydney and gather information on businesses in every location, from zusa users around the world. It’s free to use, and I know I’ll be using it on my next adventures through Asia to make it easier for other Aussies away from home to find businesses that speak their language, and an Australian crowd for those times they are homesick.

So though I did find my tribe, that’s not to say I never made German friends, mastered how to correctly pronounce Neukölln, or didn’t enjoy my stay — I did, I can, and can’t wait to go back to experience more of Berlin. It did show me the importance, for at least brief moments, of finding your tribe, so you can feel like everything is a bit more normal, whilst enjoying how everything is so very different.

Abandoned Field Station, Teufelsberg (Berlin)

This article was sponsored by zusa. If you liked the article, please favourite by clicking on the heart symbol down below or leaving a comment. Cheers.

About zusa
zusa is the world’s first diversity business search app, free to download and use on iPhone and Android. zusa allows businesses to display their diversity demographics and to be searched by consumers through the use of personal filters and mobile location technology.



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