Having moved overseas myself, now twice, I get asked a lot of questions, mostly about why I decided to move and how I organized the move.
Some people ask me what I miss about my homeland, and they always enjoy hearing what I love about their city and country.
I wish we had had such a class when I was studying basic German – there were so many people from other countries that it would have been a natural way to practice German conversation (many couldn’t speak any English, so German was our only common language).
These conversation prompts are great for mixed classes of students from different countries.
You can do this in pairs or small groups, and shuffle the students around after 10 or 20 minutes so they get to speak to many others in their class.
Pick the questions that best match your students’ ability level and known grammar. These questions practice mostly past tense, question forms, and present tense.
Do encourage students to ask many follow-up questions. I don’t mind where conversations go, so long as everyone is happily talking!
A class-wide teacher-led discussion about culture shock and reverse culture shock is a great warm up. Topics around culture shock are great for increasing vocabulary. You can talk about information overload, language barriers, homesickness, and more.
The InterNations magazine has a short article about culture shock that can be used in upper intermediate and higher classes to start the discussion.
The phases that immigrants go through are very much like adjusting to a new job, or moving in with a partner.
Four phases of culture shock
Honeymoon – when people first move countries, the first few weeks are often filled with fascination about the people, the culture, the food, the city. They are ‘in love’ with their new home, and can’t see anything bad. But this always ends.
Negotiation – after three months or so, most people start to feel frustrated, lonely, and even anxious and sometimes angry. They see the differences between their old and new homes, and they feel the barriers – language and body language, food quality or type, and other things.
Adjustment – after about six to twelve months, the people develop routines, and they get used to the new culture, the language, the food, and they can focus more on daily living, rather than trying to understand their new home.
Adaptation – this is when you can live happily in the new culture, but it’s not complete. Most people keep many traits from their original culture – being early or late, their accent, and body language.
Reverse culture shock happens when someone moves back to their homeland after staying for a long period overseas. They have to readjust to their original culture, and go through the same honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and adaptation phases, although this is usually a faster process.
Some things that still feel weird to me
I’ve been in Germany for five years now, but there are still many things that feel odd.
- The birdsong is completely different – Australia is full of noisy parrots and loud kookaburras and magpies. Every time I hear a pet budgerigar or cockatiel squawk, I feel a pang in my stomach.
- Butter is not salted here.
- There are so many bicycles!
- Cakes use so much cream and butter cream, and whipping cream is so runny and full of gelatin.
- You can’t find soft, dark brown sugar for making Christmas fruit cakes.
- Applause is done by knocking knuckles against the desk, not clapping, and sometimes the students applaud after classes.
- No one is early (or late) for parties here.
- There are no good Asian grocery stores or restaurants. Having lived in Japan for nearly a year, I miss this a lot!
- Public transport runs (mostly) on time, and often.
- You can drive to other cities in less time than it took me to get from my home to the center of Melbourne.
- For a culture that prides itself on following rules, cyclists and pedestrians ignore road rules an awful lot.
- I simply cannot get used to being called Frau Fergusson – please use my first name!
As I circle through the pairs or small groups, I don’t correct grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary in a conversation class, unless the student asks for help – I want students to chat as naturally as possible, with confidence. Although occasionally, I’ll jump in if they say something that means something completely different to what they intended.
- Why did you move?
- When did you decide to move overseas?
- When did you arrive here?
- Had you been here before you moved here?
- Where did you meet your partner? (because my answer to the previous question is always “I moved for love”)
- How did you move your belongings?
- How long did it take for you to pack?
- Did anything break?
- Did you bring pets with you?
- How did you move your pets?
- How long was the journey?
- What did you take with you on the plane?
- When you arrived, where did you stay?
- Did you learn the language before you left your homeland?
- What was the hardest thing about the move?
- Who helped you with the move?
- What did you do with the things you didn’t bring with you?
- How much did the move cost, if you don’t mind me asking?
- If you have children, how did they cope with the move?
- What do you miss about your homeland?
- What do you love about this city and this country? (food, music, buildings, animals, culture, etc.)
- What don’t you like about this city or this country?
- Did you get culture shock?
- What things gave you culture shock?
- How long did it take you to adjust to the new culture?
- Did you get insomnia because our time zone is different?
- What negative feelings did you get because of culture shock?
- Is there anything you wish you could change about this city or this country?
- What things do you find difficult here?
- How did you find your house or flat here?
- What do you like about the food here?
- How long did it take for you to have everything for your new home?
- How long did it take for you to understand the language?
- How long did it take for you to speak comfortably?
- If you have gone back to your country for a long time, did you get reverse culture shock?
- Do you have trouble with the language barrier?
- How did you improve your language skills?
- What surprised you about this city and country?
- What things can’t you get used to in this culture?
- How did you find a job here?
- If you have children, do they like school here? Are they comfortable in the language?
- Can you still vote in your original country’s elections?
- Do you watch or read the local news?
- Do you follow any local sports teams?
Comparisons with the home country
- How do you find the weather here?
- Do you like winter (or summer) here?
- Are the people more helpful here or in your home country?
- Do people normally arrive early or late for appointments?
- When having a party, do people in your home country arrive early to help, or bring food and drinks with them?
- What are parties like in your home country?
- How are the houses and flats different in your home country?
- Was moving house here different?
- How is the fashion different?
- What do you think is interesting about your original culture?
- What is considered rude in your original culture?
- Is anything from this culture considered rude in your original culture?
- If someone just came from your original country to here, what advice would you give them?
- Is the coffee better here or in your home town?
- What are some things you do differently here than in your original country?
- Have you been discriminated against here?
- Is your workplace here different to your previous workplace? What things are different?
What questions have you been asked?
If you live in a country other than where you grew up, what questions do people ask you?