An Unexpectedly Awkward Monday Afternoon.


What Happens When You Dive in and Totally Smoke the Bottom of the Pool With Your Head

*Spoiler Alert*: It hurts.

In the last few months I’ve become increasingly irritated with what I’m doing here. Not Germany as a whole, and not my life in Germany, but what is paying for me to be here. Teaching English is absolutely a great way to go abroad and see a bit of the world. I have no arguments there. My issue is what happens when you’ve decided that you want to stick around somewhere for a while. Or forever… it remains to be seen.

Some people have a love and a passion for teaching. That is a wonderful thing, God bless you, and the world needs more of you. I am not one of those people. There are some things that I have considered teaching on a more permanent basis, but English is not one of them. Some days it’s fun, and some days it makes me want to tear my hair out. Students hate grammar, I hate grammar, everyone hates grammar. It’s a necessary evil but I’m damn sick and tired of it.

A few weeks ago I had a mini-meltdown over all of this when I was deep into procrastination mode over lesson plans. It happens every 6-8 weeks like clockwork, but I never seem to learn not to put them all off until the last minute, aka right before I have to go in for a meeting with the bosses. It’s not just the paperwork though, it’s a lot of things that I don’t really want to get into at this point in time. Suffice it to say, I’m realizing that if Germany is where I want to be for the foreseeable future, it’s time to look into other options.

This is easier said than done though. Even here in the Nürnberg area, home to Siemens, Adidas, and Puma, there aren’t that many options for me. If I had a better grasp of a second language, or more business-related education I would have a better shot at a job in one of those companies. But I don’t, and I have never wanted to be an office bee. I tolerate going in and out of offices now, but it’s just not something I ever saw for myself. Additionally, if you haven’t gone through the German system of schoolings, trainings, apprenticeships, etc., it’s hard to get your foot in the door (their school system is fairly different from ours, and a topic for another day).

So what to do?

Back when I had the mini-meltdown, I started trolling German job websites looking for something, anything that I might have a shot at. Even better, I found something. I found something that lined up with what I studied, and what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I debated for a week or so, checking the listing every day to see if it was still there, and then I sat down and wrote one of the more earnest letters that I’ve ever written. I enlisted BV, who was kind enough to translate it into “nice” German for me. Nice German meaning German that didn’t sound like it was written by a 5-year old; “Das Auto ist blau,” etc. We did put a disclaimer on the bottom stating that I had significant help writing it, since my German is a work in progress. We sent it off and I waited.

Waiting sucks, incidentally. It should probably be banned.

I heard back from them eventually, and they requested a sample of work. They also asked if I would be interested in doing a two month internship, as I’ve never actually worked in the field.  I spent the weekend analyzing, over-analyzing, and trying to put something acceptable together. I sent it off and waited again. Waiting still sucked, and this time was even worse, as anyone who is being judged on their creative work could tell you.

A week or two later, I got a response, and they asked if I would still be interested in an internship. I responded that I most certainly would be interested, and we scheduled an interview for two weeks time. That was yesterday.

To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting as far this interview went, but it was a very confusing experience for me. Not only was it my first interview for a job abroad that was not conducted entirely in English, but it was just kind of odd overall.

I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment time, and was directed to take a seat at a table in the studio. At the table was a jug of water, some Easter chocolates, and seven places neatly set with water glasses, blank sheets of paper, and pens. My mind immediately jumped back to the first days in drawing class in university, where we were directed to draw the people sitting across from us, and then we all got to critique together. What fun, am I right? I sat down very gingerly, and tried to not break the skirt that I had repaired for the occasion. Over the next ten minutes, four other girls trickled in. The oldest was 28, and the others were all in the 21-24 range. They were dressed fairly casually, three in jeans and one in black outdoor pants of some kind. My American self was feeling very over-dressed, out-of-place, and out of my damn mind already. I briefly considered just leaving then and there, but sucked it up.

The studio owner came in, greeted us all, and first asked me (in German) if I understood her. I said yes, and she continued on. She said that we were the last five chosen out of 18 applicants. Or 80. I was a little fuzzy on that. Damn numbers. Either way though, that felt pretty good. She first introduced herself, and explained that she liked to have these little sort of “meetings” in interviews, to ease people’s nerves, and also keep her from having to repeat herself multiple times. That’s understandable, right? She then asked us to introduce ourselves.

Fuck. Me.

Two of the girls went before me, giving the usual information: names, ages, school/training, experience, and why they were there. Then it was my turn.

I’m pretty sure I blacked out at this point. Whatever German I know completely left my brain and I muddled through an introduction in a shitstorm of grammatical chaos. Wonderful.

The next two girls went, and I couldn’t tell you anything they said because I was having an internal meltdown and wondering just how purple my face was. I’m guessing it was somewhere between Barney the Dinosaur and those grapes on the Fruit of the Loom logo.

Thankfully, the introductions were over then, and the owner started talking again. She kept talking for at least the next hour, with my either understanding everything perfectly, or being very confused. Some things were perfectly clear, and others were much fuzzier. For example: I thought the position I was there about was a 2-month internship, which was what had been discussed via email. However, she was talking at one point about a 3-year position, with three weeks of the month in the studio, and one week in school studying various subject. I know that is a normal step in the German school system that a lot of students do, but I didn’t really think that was on the table in this case. I’m still not sure if that is an option that we could take, or what the deal was there. Like I said, there was a lot of confusion, especially compounded by the fact that you miss so much when you’re trying to puzzle out what someone just said.

After she wrapped up her talk, she asked each of the girls a few questions. each time telling me that she’d talk to me on my own later. Fiiiiiine with me. When they had finished with all the questions, she asked me and another girl to stay. She thanked the others for coming, and told them that if they got the position, they’d hear something from the studio in the next few days. If they didn’t hear anything, no dice. I was confused again here, as I thought at the beginning she said that she’d be speaking to each of us individually, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

The other girl was invited into the second part of the studio, and the owner gave me a book to look though. I flipped somewhat absentmindedly, trying to decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I was still there. After a few minutes she came back in, and invited me into the other room.

Now, on their website it says that she spent some time in the States, and they do have English-speaking clients. A lot of people don’t get the chance to use English in their daily lives and get really excited to break it out. This was not one of those times. Again, I can’t be upset about this because obviously if I want to work in Germany at an actual company that is not a language school, it’s not unreasonable to want me to speak German, and for a foreigner, this was a test as much as anything else in an interview. So yes, the remainder of the interview was conducted in German.

To be clear, at no point was she rude to me. She was just very direct, one of the things I appreciate the most here. She told me that I was in the same boat as the other girl, and we were really both being let down easy. She said that some of my work was good, but for their purposes, it was not where it needed to be. She also said my German was not up to par to work there. This was not a surprise to me, or anyone else I daresay. I tried to explain that for my work now, it’s not necessary, so I understand that it’s not where you might expect it to be, especially after three years. However, when I came here I spoke about five words; now I can make myself understood (albeit awkwardly), have a conversation, read and understand fairly well. I consider that pretty darn good for not having had a single lesson. For this situation? No, not good enough.

She told me that I should work on what I need to work on, if I’m serious about this, and I can always try again next year. I did appreciate the constructive criticism, and I’m afraid that I came off badly because I couldn’t really express that to her. I also tried to explain that I just wanted to take the chance, even if it seemed silly with my current language level, because this is something I really want to do. Not sure if I got that one across either… plus her baby farted really loudly and that distracted both of us. This may be a ‘thank-you’ note situation. We shall see.

I went back out into the sunlight, and took a long walk to the Bio-market to buy fancy cheese and a decent wine; two things scientifically proven to dull humiliation. Was it as bad as it could have been? Definitely not. But it was the most foreign situation I’ve found myself in for a looooong while. It’s horribly uncomfortable to not be able to put together a coherent thought in an interview, when normally selling yourself is something you are darn good at.

If I want to be here in the long run, and I want a job here that falls more into line with how I want my life to be, this had to happen. I had to take a leap into the pool, and yes this time I definitely thwonked my head on the bottom. It sucked, but now it’s out of the way. I got some decent advice on what I need to work on, and I have every intention of following through on that.

Has anyone else braved the German job market? Got any tips for the rest of us?

That was a lot of words, so here's a mountain.

That was a lot of words, so here’s a mountain.


19 thoughts on “An Unexpectedly Awkward Monday Afternoon.

  1. Keep trying! I have a friend who is on her third real German job in one year. The transition is difficult. I think you have to keep trying. Germans are direct but they don’t always say what they mean. I have had people offer me jobs that don’t materialize or work out. It’s very frustrating. I think that if you keep working on your German and don’t give up you will break into the job market eventually. All it takes is one initial in and then after that I think it’s easier to switch if you don’t like it. And I totally agree, I wouldn’t want to teach English forever. It’s emotionally draining and sort of mind numbing after a couple years.

    • Thanks Sara. You’re absolutely right, you just have to keep trying. I’ve had the same thing happen as far as the jobs that never seem to come about, and it’s so frustrating, especially working freelance and being so dependent on every single class. Couple that with the draining factor and… well, I guess I don’t have to tell you because you’ve been there. I even thought about going your route, and checked out Master’s programs in the area. Sadly there wasn’t anything that appealed to me in English, but there were some in German. So I guess that means I’m going to have to go Deutsch, one way or the other. Gah!

  2. I’ve been there lady, only the troubling part was that I got the job. And you remember the terrible time I had there. That aside, what Sara said is true. Keep working on German, and keep trying. You’ll break through, and if all else fails, you and I can teach cooking/photography classes together!

    • Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your stories! They were high on my list of concerns just going into this whole thing. Here’s hoping we both break through. 🙂

  3. My first job interview in Germany was awkward. And I am German :-).

    Here is an advice someone gave me a long time ago and it helped.
    – Prepare how you want to introduce yourself.
    – Prepare the answer to the question, why you applied for the job (and be creative on that one, do not speak about salary, security or something like that in order to answer the question)
    – Prepare a few questions YOU want to aks THEM. That gives you a chance to give the interview a direction you want it to have.
    – Be not be (too) private in an interview, even if the situation seems very easy going and “chatty”, stay focused on presenting yourself professionally.

    I hope this advice does not sound to simple and silly. These are important things to do even if you are a native German speaker and I imagine preparation can help a lot if you do not dominate the interview language to full extend. I would even recommend that you practice the interview situation beforehand, e.g. with your boyfriend. This might be akward, too but it will help you later on in the real situation.

    Good luck!

    • Whew, I’m glad to hear that the Germans have issues as well! And thanks for the tips. I did try to prepare of course, but like I said in the post, everything seemed to leave as soon as I got there. Plus the whole “group situation” thing just completely threw me for a loop. I have a few friends that work in HR and I’m dying to talk to them about it because it was just such an odd situation. The good news is that it’s out of the way, and I will be much more prepared next time… at least I hope so! 🙂
      Thanks so much for the advice and the comment!

  4. Good luck with your job search. I also had a similar experience about six months ago with a really prestigous German company after working the last three years in a low-level administrative job at a German company. I went to this interview after spending a 6 week vacation in the U.S. When I came back to Germany after the vacation, I even struggled to order something at the bakery because I had been exposed to nothing but English for nearly two months. The president of the company actually left the interview half-way through and I had the impression that he left because he thought I wasn’t worth his time. His last question was (in German of course) You wrote on your resume that your German is fluent? Can you tell me something about this please? Wow, I wanted to leave. Couldn’t get any words out and didn’t want to switch to English. Then, I met the guy that they hired instead of me at a seminar in Berlin last week. He told me that we could collaborate on some projects and that I would be very useful to him, being a native english speaker. I didn’t know what to say, because I was so envious that he had gotten that job! The world is so small. I think we will both get there, somehow, someway!!!

    • Thanks, Lynn. It’s somewhat comforting (in an awkward sort of a way), to hear that other people have had these sort of horribly uncomfortable situations too. That’s very cool though that you might have an opportunity to get a foot in the door though. I certainly hope that you’re right, and we’ll get there at some point! Good luck and thanks again for writing!

  5. that’s awesome you are starting the process! Your interview sounds reminiscent of the first one I went to in Iceland. Overdressed American in a room full of eager Icelanders that know the social code. Super fun.

    what are the job options like on linkedin in your area? There are quite a few good ones here in Norway at least. Hope we get a chance to talk about this in person next week!

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    • Damn… just that list of possibilities is longer than anything I’ve seen down here! I keep hearing about people who find “real” jobs, but it seems to be a situation where you have to know someone who knows someone. My level of hermitude will not help me in that, unfortunately.
      But thanks… it was a swing and a miss for sure, but who knows. I stuck it out and that was the main thing. And I knew enough this year to not apply for the apprenticeship again because my deutsch is still scheisse. 🙂

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