By August 29, 2013
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Moving to another country can be a daunting experience where an unknown language and unfamiliar customs make even a simple trip to the grocery store a challenge.
Hohenfels' Relocation Readiness Program offers a solution in the form of various classes designed to help Soldiers, civilians and family members feel more confident and comfortable during their stay here.
"Coming here from the States is a huge culture shock," said Rick Iglesias, Relocation Readiness Program manager. "When people come here, they're too scared to go out and explore, they want to stay on post. Our program, we kind of hold their hand, take them off post and show them -- this is Germany!"
The two "staples" of the Relocation Readiness Program are "Culture College" and "Hallo Hohenfels." Culture College is mandatory for all incoming Soldiers, while Hallo Hohenfels is geared more toward family members.
"We have had people who come to both, though, because you learn different things at each one," said Iglesias.
Iglesias describes the two-day Culture College as "a huge crash course" into German culture, with discussions on history, traditions, fests, and shopping, but also more pragmatic concerns such as when to use a voltage convertor rather than an adapter or how to set up a phone.
Hallo Hohenfels is a four-day course which focuses mainly on introducing family member to the Hohenfels Military Community and familiarizes them with the services and sources available on post.
"I would have had no idea how much is available on this post without Hallo Hohenfels," said Capt. Faiza Talybova, Hohenfels Dental Clinic commander. Having arrived only three weeks ago, Talybova said the class prepared her for many of the issues she experienced later.
"It's also peppered with German culture," said Nickayla Myers-Garner, Relocation Readiness contractor.
The class visits a German grocery store, bakery, butcher shop, and even a furniture store and includes instructions on how to use a Value Added Tax relief form.
Both classes feature field trips to Regensburg with special attention paid to using the highly efficient German transit system.
"A lot of people want to get out and see things, but they don't know how. These classes help the family member have the confidence to get out," Myers-Garner said. "We show them how to read the schedules, how to use the two ticket machines -- all the tricks of the trade."
Talybova said the class was a great opportunity for newcomers to experience German culture from the perspective of an American who has been here a while.
"And Nickayla was amazing with her energy. No matter how long or how far, she was always very energetic and passionate about the Hallo Hohenfels idea in general," Talybova added.
Myers-Garner has been in Hohenfels nearly seven years and she remains very passionate about sharing her love for her adopted country. But it wasn't always that way.
She shared a story with her class of her first day in Germany. Having left sunny Georgia the day before, she was now on a bus somewhere between Frankfurt and Hohenfels traveling in a heavy snow storm, when they pulled over for a break at an autobahn rest area.
"I couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet or turn the water on to wash my hands. I couldn't even figure out which bathroom to go in," she said. "I just got back on the bus and started crying."
Knowing what her students are going through makes it easy for Myers-Garner to relate.
"I've been in your shoes. I've had those experiences, so I know what it is that I had questions about when I came here," she said.
For example, Myers-Garner recently added a beauty portion to the class and introduced students to various products available on the German economy designed to combat the hard local water and the resulting dry damage to one's hair.
"So it's sharing different finds and things that have helped me, and also sharing my enthusiasm for the culture," Myers-Garner said.
That enthusiasm bubbles out during her classes, such as during an impromptu singing lesson while on a field trip to a Regensburg restaurant.
"I taught them some fest songs," Myers-Garner laughed. "Everybody in the restaurant was just looking at us as we were singing 'Ein Prosit!' The ladies loved it."
She also taught them how to properly "Prost," or toast, in Bavaria, including not just what to do, but why, and providing a historical component to help people assimilate more and become a part of the German community.
Jenn Lawlor arrived in Hohenfels on July 2 and intended to take the class then, but it was canceled.
"I remarked, jokingly, that by the time August rolled around I wouldn't need the class because I would've been here for a month and a half. Boy was I wrong!" said Lawlor. "I was glad I attended anyway. Not only did I learn a ton, but I made new friendships and it was fun."
The Relocation Readiness Program also offers classes in German language and just this month are premiering a new class on trachten, the traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndls seen at most festivals.
The class will discuss the various pieces comprising the outfits, the history, when and how to wear them, and will include a shopping trip to Regensburg where participants can try on and perhaps purchase their own.
Other classes will take a closer look at various aspects of the German culture, such as "blaskapelle" or "oompah" bands, fest etiquette, brewery tours and "kirwa," the small village festivals centered around the local church.
"And all our classes are free," said Iglesias.
Myers-Garner said she remembers being scared and confused when she arrived in Hohenfels and how much Hallo Hohenfels and Culture College helped give her the courage to explore on her own. Now, she wants to give that gift to others.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for Americans to come to Europe and explore these cities and towns that are older than our nation," she said. "And I want to help people have the confidence to do that."