Emma in Euroland

Tea, Cake and Travel: a year abroad in Germany

Culture shock and early mornings

What do you do when culture shock hits you smack in the face? How do you deal with the fact that your home securities are gone and you have to find new ways to be safe? A lovely girl fell ill in class yesterday. She collapsed at the front of the class and had an epileptic seizure. I was right at the front and along with a few others, immediately went over to help. All of her classmates reacted and did everything they could. We turned to the teacher for guidance but he just came over and asked,

“Do you think we need a doctor?”

Er, yes. What do you think? He then left the room and rushed to call an ambulance. Would that have happened in the UK? Would the responsible adult have left the room whilst a student was fitting on the floor in front of them? Granted, an ambulance needed to be called but somebody else could have been tasked with that. The head of the course then arrived to inform us that an ambulance was on it’s way but he didn’t have any suggestions about what we should be doing. We had put her in the recovery position, checked her airway, checked she hadn’t bitten her tongue. We didn’t know what else to do and nobody seemed to have any other ideas. It was her classmates who got her a pillow and a glass of water. It was her classmates who told her every time she asked what had happened. It was her classmates who comforted her and made her comfortable. It was her classmates who moved the tables back to make room for the paramedics and who conversed with them when they had questions.

The ambulance arrived quickly and not only that, but the fire service arrived quickly too. As this is a rural part of Germany, both services are dispatched in the event that the ambulance is unable to arrive quickly. The feuerwehr are the first responders in this case. This was very confusing at the time though and with seven people from the emergency services there, most were left just standing around.

In truth, their reaction is not something to worry about. We were dealing with things and adding another person to the mix might not have helped things. Furthermore, we were all girls and the male teachers may have felt that it was more appropriate that she rest her head on our laps and hold our hands than theirs. They did react quickly and the professionals were there quickly too, it just wasn’t the reaction we had expected. It’s not what we’re used to and that was scary. We are used to first aiders on every corner. Would anything more have happened if that had been the case? Most probably not. I am still not aware of anything more we could have done to help her while she was fitting. We weren’t quite sure after she had finished. She insisted that she wanted to sit up and we let her but we supported her as she wasn’t quite steady yet. I don’t know if that was the wrong thing to do but she was scared and disorientated and it seemed wrong to force her to lie down against her will. One of us accompanied her to the hospital, a boy she already knew from university. He negotiated his way through her insurance with the man clutching forms and what she had to do, all in German. Well done him.

She has been kept at the hospital overnight and Gisela and the rest of the PAD team are organising her onward journey as she won’t be able to travel with us tomorrow and they are moving her luggage so that she doesn’t have to negotiate travelling with it. Gisela has also been at the hospital with her and I’m sure that she will be up there often until she is discharged. We are looked after here. I have no doubts about it, it’s just a different way of doing things. Learning these new systems is hard. There are more challenges with moving to a new country than just the language barrier. It is easy to assume that a country so close to our own will do things in the same way that we do, with similar infrastructure and processes. Put simply: they don’t. Even insignificant, little things seem strange. They make their beds differently, folding the duvet in half on top so that you can see the sheet. They have massive (rubbish) square pillows too. But hey, maybe I’m being fussy. I am very picky about pillows. They wear different clothes and they speak in an entirely different way and I’m not just talking about language. Us British are very polite, too polite sometimes. We beat around the bush and don’t say what we really think about things unless we are with our loved ones. We are much more reserved than the ole’ Germans who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. It’s hard to get used to. Once the cushion of being surrounded by Britons is gone, I’m sure the differences will become much more apparent.

Culture shock isn’t always a bad thing though. There is something exhilarating about feeling like everything’s new, like there is so much to learn. It’s like having that childhood awe that we all lost so many years ago when we reached an age where we thought we knew everything and forgot to open our minds. We are all so eager to learn about the culture and customs of this new place. So much of what a language entails is all these things. I can’t wait to truly feel a part of it.


Now we are all waiting at Koeln Hauptbahnhof waiting for our onward trains. We seem to have taken over Starbucks and it’s free WiFi and I have finally got hold of a Bahncard 25 which will give me discounted travel on all the trains I use. We have a long journey ahead of us, some longer than others, but at least I don’t have to change. We are all that bit closer to reality now, with most people going into their schools tomorrow. I have been spared from this for a few more days which I am grateful for but hopefully I shall get into the swing of speaking German soon too. I conversed with the Deutsche Bahn man in German and he was surprised to see my Student Card was English. Hopefully that’s because he thought I was German and not because I had such an odd accent that he couldn’t place it.

A German dig.

I shall miss Altenberg and it’s relative luxuries. Being able to speak English might be something I crave in a few weeks time. Who knows, I might be so comfortable in German by then that it doesn’t occur to me to mind. Yeah, I wish. Either way, being in such a beautiful and historic and inherently German place was exciting. The were eccentric archeologists on site every day digging up 14th Century ruins and remains. The person in charge wore a trilby with an exotic feather sticking out the top and was a delight to watch as he speculated over things and ordered the younger ones around. He never spoke to us, just enjoyed our interest.

Guenter and the Assistants. Sounds like some cool urban band doesn’t it?! (I’m on the right had side sitting on the floor!)


PS, more pictures to come later, the internet is too slow here!


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