Eve from multicoolty.com was asking me for an interview about my own multicultural family. With her kindly permission I’d like to share the interview also here. Enjoy reading!
My name is Mona, I’m 28 years old and I was born in south Germany, Bavaria. Travelling and discovering different cultures and learning new languages was always very central in my life and accompanies me until now. So, after having lived for some time in Japan (1 year), Mexico (7 months) and the UK (1 year), I’m currently living again in Germany – this time in Berlin. For a living I work for a consulting company, where I usually work in different project teams all around Germany to consult companies with their HR and IT issues. There is so much that interest me and which I find inspiring. The world offers just so many wonderful things and moments and I enjoy to experience as much of it as possible. Out of those things the following is what I really like to do: Meeting up with friends, having diverse conversations, writing in many ways, cross-literature reading, traveling and philosophising about cultural identity, migration/integration, diversity and everything that belongs to a multicultural world. What I really love in life: My family! My husband is from Paraguay and together we founded a new life together in (for now) Berlin. This Christmas morning we were given the most wonderful present on earth: Our little daughter, Aramí Zoé! Since then the universe has a new centre for us, existing of diapers, breast feeding, sleepless nights and so many wonderful baby smiles that one just forgets everything at once.
Could you tell us a bit about your blog?
The idea and motivation for the Multiculturalbaby blog arose when I became pregnant. I suddenly realised that apart from raising a child and giving him/her all our love and patience, my husband and I would need to think about our own cultural identities and which parts of our two (sometimes very different) cultural mindsets we want to show our child. So I developed an interest in multicultural families and child raising beside my general interest for cultures. As I love writing it was clear for me that I would like to document and publish my investigations and thoughts. So the idea of a blog was obvious.
So in short, Multiculturalbaby is about the question how to raise your child in a multicultural family but also about how to help your kid to become a so-called “multicultural world citizen”. Topics I write about are for instant (prenatal) bilingualism/multilingualism, comparison of different cultures (e.g. global differences in parental leave) or tips for multicultural child raising. The content is a mix of my investigations, interviews, my own reflections, thoughts and experiences, as well as reviews of things that helped us in our multicultural child raising (e.g. bilingual games, cross-racial children literature). I am also super happy to listen to others’ stories and hear about their experience in raising their children in a multicultural surrounding. Connecting with other family blogs, websites, societies etc. helps me to get new content and learn for my own family.
What does it mean to you to have a binational family? Was it something you always wanted?
I never really thought about having a binational family but what was very clear during my whole growing up was that I love to travel and discover the world. So in a way it didn’t come by surprise that I fell in love with someone from another country and found a family with him. In the first place, having a binational family for me means to really stay curious and face the challenge of learning everyday something new, even if it means that you have to give up some of your own beliefs. I mean, in any relationship one constantly learns from each other and needs to adapt. But having two totally different mindsets, customs, rituals etc. doesn’t make it easier. But for me it makes it richer. Hence, living in a binational family for me means to give from your own and take from the other culture and then form your own cultural mix as a family. The important thing is, that you do it together.
What are the difficulties of raising a child in a multicultural family and a multicultural society?
I think the most difficult thing is to be consistent with your educational style. As my husband and I come from very different cultural backgrounds, we ourselves often need to discuss to find the “way in the middle” that fits to both of us. I guess, this is a normal thing in any family (as in a way every family is made out of multiple cultures, even where both parents come from the same country). Still, there are probably more basic things to discuss in a binational family. Lets take Christmas, for instance. Paraguay is in plain summer at Christmas time, whereas in Germany we snuggle into warm pillows to escape the frosty weather. So Christmas celebrations in both countries are very different. While my husband is Christian, I don’t belong to any religion. Let’s say I was Muslim, how difficult would that be…?
Raising up your kids in a multicultural society is not really a topic for us yet as our kid is still a baby. I guess, this will be a new subject for us when the time comes that she’ll go to Kindergarten. But I think, consistency, tolerance and curiosity are the three magic words. I will try to exemplify these three things to my child and hope that she’ll adopts to it in her own way.
Do you consider yourself German? Does nationality play a role for you?
Yes and no. When I’m in a foreign country I do see a lot of German parts in me. When I am in Germany I don’t really feel German but feel much more connected to the South American culture of my husband. Nationality doesn’t play any role in how I feel.
How important is the concept of nationality in raising your children?
The concept of nationality for me is a pure political and artificial one. Of course it would be great if my children could have as many nationalities as possible but this is only important for traveling comfort and legal rights. To me, nationality doesn’t make any difference in how we raise our children. When my kids will ask me what they are – German or Paraguayan – I will answer: Both and what you make out of it.
Does Germany seem multicultural to you?
There are many different nationalities and cultures represented in Germany but still I wouldn’t say that Germany is represented by a multicultural society. To really settle place in Germany one needs to be “integrated”. But what does “integrated” mean in Germany? I feel that in Germany, integration doesn’t work as in the States. Neither is it a “salad bowl” (all cultures live together but don’t mix), nor a “melting pot” (all cultures get mixed up). In Germany integration rather works like a “dish au gratin”. What do I mean by this? Any culture (“dish”) is accepted and can be lived in Germany as long as it is covered with the German culture (“au gratin”). The most obvious is the German language. If you don’t speak German you are just not integrated. As long as you have a foreign accent people will treat you different. Sometimes better sometimes worse – depends on your accent and from where it comes. I could go very deep into this but this would exceed this article…
How important was integration for you when you were living abroad? What did you do to feel yourself part of the society?
As you can imagine, it was very important for me. I think the most important part was the language. Learning the language helped me to take the first step in understanding the culture and the way people think. For Spanish this worked quite well as I learned it very fast and the Latin American culture also makes it very easy to feel home in the society. In Japan this was slightly different and therefore also much more interesting. I did reflect a lot on what I’ve learned in Japan and I invite German readers to read more in my book “Schonungslos Japanisch: Ein High School-Jahr zwischen Moderne, Tradition, Gastfamilie und Manga” (published in 2012, traveldiary). Although I learned the language (more or less) and lived every day in a pure Japanese environment, I never really felt integrated and comfortable. Maybe one year in Japan was too short to feel part of the society but well, Japan was never famous for making it easy for foreigners to integrate… In the UK on the other hand I felt part of the society from the very moment. This might be because I was already fluent in English and I didn’t perceive the British culture as much different from the German. Here, I felt integration came with learning about the British legal systems and aspects of social life (like famous TV shows, political debates and other things people like to speak about).
Advice to a new expat moving to Germany?
Don’t get disappointed or frustrated by the slightly frosty behaviour of some Germans. In most cases it’s not because they don’t like you but yes, we need a lot of time to feel comfortable with someone. Until we totally feel that we can trust someone, Germans often react a bit shy, which can be misinterpreted as “cold”. Also, try to learn German and don’t feel ashamed to speak it. Without speaking and (obviously) making mistakes, you’ll never learn it! Last but not least: Stay curious, always!