Three Years of Slackerdom Culminate

Today’s post falls into the introspective and slightly whiny category. I wrote it about three weeks ago, but because of visitors, etc., I haven’t had time to post it until now. I was kind of on the fence about it, but it’s honesty, right? Having said that, I’m sending it off after the jump…

In my recent posts, I’ve focused on the enjoyable German activities in the last few weeks. What I didn’t mention before, was that I also had my third anniversary of living here back in June. In a way, I guess it was only fitting to engage in all of the super-fun Deutsch-ness to celebrate my time here so far. Because that is something to celebrate.

While I am happy to be here, and I do feel like I’ve accomplished something in making it this far, lately I’ve found myself more and more frustrated.

Something I’ve realized over the last few years, is that teaching English can allow you to live in a society, but at the same time provide an easy excuse for not entirely assimilating.  Of course, it’s more true for some people than others, but I feel like I fall into the slacker category on this one. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve said, “well, I don’t need German at work, and so it’s easy to get by without it.” And so it is.

In Prague it was even easier to make the excuses, especially since I didn’t plan to stay there forever. Attempting to decipher the seven cases they use in Czech seemed to be a waste of time when surrounded by expats and cheap beer. Three years ago when I arrived here, I was in the midst of a major personal crisis, and I had no idea how long I’d actually last here.

But now?

I’m settled. I have a wunderbar German Gentleman. We have a kleine Katze. My excuses are stretching thinner and thinner by the day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my attempt to find another job. At the time, I absolutely knew that I was aiming too high, but that didn’t lessen the disappointment in how it went. And chances are, it won’t be the last time. I have a feeling that more disappointments will follow as I look for a way to make a transition.

The fact is, I like it here. I like the quality of life, I like the German mindset, with all its quirks. I like the sense of a place for everything, and everything in its place. Including people. I like the idea that they identify people’s strengths, and guide them into a career that will work for them. I’m tired of the constant worries of freelancing, especially  now when the amount of work has drastically decreased. Two weeks ago, I lost 50% of my workload, yet again, and I have no idea what to do about it. At this point, I’m working one day a week. At least it’s in summer, and sure it’s good for the mental health, but on the wallet? Not so much. I’ve felt like this a lot lately…

Have I reached out to other schools? Sure…. The thing is, you can be in the pool of freelancers at all the language schools in town, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get any classes from them. And honestly, if one more German (or anyone else), asks me why I don’t look for something else, I might throw something at them. Do you think I haven’t, Captain Obvious? Danke for the tip! (Beats head against wall.)

Perhaps it’s their elaborate system of schooling with apprenticeships, internships and the like. Perhaps it’s the fact that they have the job security that comes with unlimited contracts and unions that still have a say. Perhaps it’s the low unemployment rate. Or perhaps it’s just their infinite pragmatism, but they don’t seem to understand how difficult it can be. If you don’t speak the language well, and you haven’t gone through that whole elaborate schooling system… it’s tricky. Some days I feel like Charlie in that episode of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ I may just keep this video cued up on my phone to whip out when the need arises…

You said it, Charlie.

And yes, I do live in an area with major international corporations. Siemens is here, Puma is here, Adidas is here, and those are just three of the big ones. And they do have jobs on offer, but thus far I haven’t found anything that I would be qualified for, either because of my crappy German, or because of my lack of business background. Internships are on offer, but they usually they’re looking for enrolled students, which I am not. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know where other people find these magical, mystical, non-German requiring, international jobs. Personally, I don’t think they really exist. So now what?

At this point, something has to change. I have so much here that is good, but this one area is just causing overwhelming frustration. BV and I have discussed moving, and neither of us have a problem with the idea, but we won’t do anything about it until he’s done with his university program. Who knows if and when we will actually go somewhere, and that’s not what he needs to worry about right now. I want him to focus on his studying, and not worry about my lack of career. Even if we do move, any major changes are at least a year and a half away, and I don’t want to wait that long to come up with a plan.

I was talking about this with a friend the other day, and the fact that it’s such a first-world problem to have. Like, ‘oh, poor me, I’m not working enough and it’s stressful.’ I feel almost stupid for whining about being stressed when I have a place to live, food in the fridge, and I can deal with the stress by jogging and painting picture frames. Sadly, no one is paying me to nap, jog, paint, or do any of my other pseudo-Hausfrau activities.

Yes, there are much bigger problems in the world. Yes, I struggled with even writing about this here in this space, but since I’m here to share my reality, here it is. This space has been my writing therapy for the last years, because life isn’t Pinterest-perfect. Not every day is a fest, and while I have been out enjoying the gorgeous spring and summer we’ve had, the worry has been constant whether I’m indoors or out.

I wrote this while sitting on a bench during my Wednesday break. I was surrounded by the town’s old city  center, with its Fachwerk houses, young and old zipping past on bikes, people eating ice cream for lunch, and the tinkling of water. There were fountains in every direction I looked; the sound of the water neatly lessened the noise of cars parallel parking a few meters away.

Although I got some odd looks – perhaps people aren’t used to seeing someone madly writing with pen and paper anymore – I felt comfortable. I feel comfortable here most of the time. On the surface, I fit in. Generally, people don’t know I’m a foreigner until I open my mouth, when it becomes oh-so-clear.

I’d like to get to the point where I don’t panic when asked a question spontaneously. To where I can follow the dinner conversation of BV’s friends, and to where they don’t need a drink to break out their (perfectly fine and no need to be nervous) English skills. Honestly, these are two of my biggest hurdles right now, and crossing them might take longer than I’d like to admit. Following the conversation of seven to nine other people in your native language can be exhausting. Add to that the German factor and the fact that they’re almost all engineers, with a dentist and a Ph.D. thrown into the mix and… yeah. It’s a bit like being a kid at the grown-up’s table. They have all been nothing but nice to me, but I spend a lot of time listening with my head going back and forth like I’m at a tennis match. It’d be nice to get the punch lines without poor BV translating the finer points. He’s good at it, very good in fact, but it wears him out too.

Do I ever think I’ll stop being a foreigner? No, no I don’t, and I don’t want to lose that part of my identity either. What I would like to do, is to be able to use my words. My words are one of my better assets, and if I could use them to articulate myself the way I want to in German, and not just to order a pretzel, then… well then I would really feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s been three years, and it’s time to buck up. Less English rambling, more butchering of ze Deutsch. On that note, I’m off to my books.

Got any advice on free language improvement techniques? Send ’em my way!

Mountains, because they don't ask questions about grammar.

Mountains, because they don’t ask questions about grammar. Neither do the marmots.

33 thoughts on “Three Years of Slackerdom Culminate

  1. Aw, don’t poo-poo your crisis – it’s a crisis alright! But you’ve got to get to that point in order to make changes. I should know…

    I don’t know whether you’ve looked at my blog or not, I’ve got two sections (Language Matters and Language Learning), which deal with a lot of what you’re describing here. Including the frustrations, so I understand what you’re talking about on a practical and emotional level. It’s draining. But it’s not impossible to get on top of πŸ™‚

    The intricacies of the German schooling/training systems are a nightmare for ‘outsiders’, you’re quite right. I might do a post on this one day. Well, more of a rant…

    • Thanks for the support… and you’re absolutely right. A point has to come that forces you to make a change.

      I’ve poked around a bit, but I will be taking a more thorough look (yay archives!) for sure. If you can think of any particularly helpful posts, let me know!

      And oh God, yes. Please rant away. I’ve thought about doing something similar a few times, but every class explains things slightly differently and then I get confused about which school does what and I’m sure I’d make a huge muck of everything. Overall I think the system is pretty good, but if you haven’t gone through it yourself, it’s rough to get in somewhere. But…. I gotta figure something out.

      • That’s the problem… the inflexibility of it. I know quite a lot of Spanish people who are thinking of looking for work in Germany or who have gone there for that purpose. But there’s no work in Berlin, where most of them end up. The work is in SMEs in semi-rural areas and small towns, but to get it, they want to see a completed apprenticeship certificate, and you need to be competent in German. You know all this…

        Well, the amusing stuff is here:

        The more ‘serious’ posts are here:

        What kind of work are you looking for, btw?

      • Thanks for the links… looks like I’ve got some more reading material! πŸ™‚

        The inflexibility is so frustrating, and it’s so hard for people who have only known that system to understand. The interview that I wrote about a few weeks ago was at a photography studio. I studied photo in college, but (as is typical of liberal arts degrees in the States), have never done anything with it. I’d like to get back to it, but I know that is a long, long, long road to actually get a job doing it here. I’m still looking for more freelance English teaching, and a friend suggested I look into tech. writing/editing, but so far I haven’t found anything along those lines in the Nuremberg area. So for now, teaching it is.

      • You’ve got to max out on your advantage as a native English speaker, definitely. You may want to think about embarking on the ‘long road’ for the photography thing, if it’s something you really want to do. I re-trained when I hit 30, and it took a good few years, but it worked out for me – although not quite in the way I had originally intended πŸ˜‰

      • The English speaker thing is actually what prompted me to even apply to the photo studio. Their ad said that they had a lot of international clients so an English speaker was a must. That kind of bit me in the ass though when the whole bizarre interview unfolded. We have a studio here in town, and I’m thinking about sending them a letter to see if they offer apprenticeships, but this time only in English, just to be honest. The letter that my boyfriend and I wrote auf Deutsch was lovely, but when I couldn’t formulate a thought in person…. not so good!

      • Aw, yes, I can see how that might have backfired 😦

        Doing an apprenticeship would certainly make you progress rapidly with your German, as long as it’s ‘serviceable’ enough for you to get started. So, there you’ve got a double incentive πŸ™‚ After three years of that, you’ll be good to go – in terms of qualifications and language ability.

  2. Great post. And don’t feel like you can’t be real or complain about things – job searching is really difficult! Why don’t you use some of your free time to do a German course? If you do an integration course it might even be paid for. Or do you feel like you’ve already done enough German classes? Do you have a tandem partner? That can be a fun way to improve your German. Also I used to watch shows I liked in German with english subtitles on πŸ™‚

    • Thanks DG! Job searching is rough no matter where you are, and I’m trying to take comfort in that. Even if I were back in the States I’m not convinced it would be any easier.
      To date, I’ve done zero German classes. It’s always been either a problem of my teaching schedule, or funds. Now I have lots of time, but no extra cash. Unfortunately the integration course is more expensive, and as far as I can tell, I can’t have it paid for because I’m freelance (if I’m wrong, anyone can feel free to correct me, please!). When I first got here, I signed up for tandem, and had more people writing me than I had time to meet with. I figured out pretty quickly though that 1) some use it as a free dating service and 2) not everyone wants to start a tandem with a total beginner, which I was. I met with a few great girls consistently, but one moved, one started working full-time, and one just had a baby, so we don’t meet as much anymore. The boyfriend and I speak together a fair amount, and we watch some shows in German
      online, but I think we need to kick it up a notch. Considering the fact that I knew 5 words when I came here, I feel good, but it’s not going to get me a job anytime soon. Hence the post…. but you’re right, sometimes you have to complain a bit.
      Thanks for writing!

  3. I guess this is all ahead of me! I’ve been very slack in my learning as well – good intentions… Planning on doing an intensive course when I get there in the hopes that that kick starts things! Best of luck with it all!

    • Do it! It sounds from your posts like you’ve got a bit of a head start though… have you been taking classes, or books, or self-teaching?
      I’m all about good intentions, I just fail in the execution. But thanks for the thoughts!

      • Self-teaching πŸ™‚ Very hard to motivate myself though. I have a head full of Latvian and now I’m giving beginners’ French lessons so it’s just too much to add German to the mix right now!

  4. Lol, that used to happen to me almost every year. I’d lose all my classes for a month or two in Summer. It is a serious problem, I mean, how can a person live if they most of their income in Summer and over Christmas? One of the biggest problems for expats is that it’s really hard to make a sustainable long term career out of teaching English and unless you have some special skill like IT or are college level fluent in German you can’t break into the job market. Even Germans have a hard time switching careers. I struggled with this for a long time. My answer was to move to the US when my husband’s work contract is finished. I do like Germany but it WAY easier for my German husband to get a job in the US than it is for me to get a job in Germany. Plus Americans make almost twice as much money for the same work.

    • The vacations can really kill you, that’s for sure. This year so far hasn’t been too bad in that regard, but the school that I work for has lost a lot of clients due to cutbacks. They say that they’ve been looking for other work for us, but no one has gotten new classes from them in over a year, and we’re down to 3 English teachers, from 7 or 8 when I started. And I don’t think it’s a long-term career path for me. Some days it’s great, and other days I want to throw myself out a window. Maybe it’s just the 5-year itch, but it’s really been rough lately.
      I’m sure BV would be able to get a job in the States, but I have no idea if the pay/benefits would be commensurate. I’m doubtful on the benefits part, that’s for sure. I know he looked into jobs in Scotland and Italy before, but the pay wasn’t what he got here. And if we went back to the States, I’d probably be disappointed in what I could do there too. A liberal arts Bachelor’s degree isn’t what it used to be, and I’d probably have to look at a Master’s. That’s something I’d like to do anyway at some point, but for now, we’ll be here.

  5. I should also point out that for the average person it can take months or years of full time to become fluent in German. I took a whole year when I first moved here, part time classes in the evenings and weekends after that and have lived in many places where people didn’t speak English so I use German on a daily basis and I am still only about a B1 level with terrible, terrible grammar. My cases is a little bit special because I learn languages slower than other people but still, it takes a lot of time and money to really become fluent. I only know a handful of people who reached the gold standard of C1. They were able to get jobs but they put in a lot of work to get there.

    • Absolutely. and hey, at least you’ve done classes! You should probably give yourself bonus points for going through the whole pregnancy/childbirth thing here too… that thought scares the bejeezus out of me (well, that’s generally, not just language-related). πŸ™‚ I’m no great shakes at languages either, so I know the feeling. It’s so frustrating though when everyone knows someone who magically became fluent in a year or two and can’t understand why you aren’t yet. Gah.

  6. When my family moved to Germany my father decided one day, that the only language we were going to use as a family would be German. Maybe not the most recommendable approach, but we were all fuent in some years.
    Learning a laguage is hard, brutal and painful work. But similar to work, the more you do, the more accomplished you get. The questian is, what do you want and how much work are you willing to invest.
    What about exluding English for some weeks, like only having an English day once a week. Only german books, TV, Internet, ect. Is there a public library where you can start with childrens books? Is there a Verein, that you can join to be surrounded by german spreakers without the option for someone to translate? Is there a way for you to be brutally exposed to geman without the refuge to your English comfort zone?
    Sorry, if my comment sound rude.Definitly not my intention. I know firsthand how hard it is to learn a language. Still, by my experience it its the exposure that makes the difference. So much of a language just can’t be translated and thats exactly what has to be learned.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ina. Not rude, and I appreciate the honesty! That was a very committed approach that your family had, and it seems that it worked out well for you. It’s uncomfortable, that’s right, but if it works… why not?
      As for your suggestions… at the moment my boyfriend and I do speak German together, but it’s not on any sort of schedule. English once a week is a good idea, but my German is far too basic for that. I’ve only self-taught and had some tandems at this point. I can make myself understood okay, but it’s not very pretty. He’s great about correcting me and trying to explain things but there are a lot of rules that he doesn’t even know, just like any native speaker about their native language. πŸ™‚ I listen to the German radio, we watch some shows in German, but have no TV so it’s only what we can watch online. I’m currently reading the first Harry Potter book in German, and usually do it out loud to my boyfriend, so he can correct my pronunciation. I have few apps for German (see my posts on DuoLingo), and listen to a ‘learning German’ podcast. Plus I have some self-teaching books that I’m working through. I’ve thought about a Verein, but I’m not a “joiner” and don’t really like clubs/team sports. I was hoping to take a class at our local Volkshochschule this fall (I’m teaching an English class there, and usually you can take a class for free then), and they don’t offer German! I guess I’m the only non-German in town. I may try to take one in Nuremberg, but it will depend on my teaching schedule this fall. πŸ™‚
      Exposure is absolutely the key, and that’s what I’m working on now. Thanks again for the comment!

  7. Same boat(ish) I really need to work on my German now we are staying longer. I’ve put loads of the free resources I use on The Erlangen Expat, there are some great free ways to improve your German out there! I’m trying to look at it as a positive turning point and be happy about it without beating myself up for having not done it earlier, life happens and I’ve had a great time so far, crappy German did not get in the way (too much) πŸ™‚

    • Well, yay for staying longer, even if it’s not in Erlangen. πŸ™‚ I’ve seen your posts on that and I’ve been using some of the same resources. I usually feel the same, like, ‘hey, so far, no one’s thrown things at my head for bumbling though a transaction,’ and it’s been a good time. I let it roll off my back for a good long while, until the guilt got to me. But if I’m going to be here long term, it’s time to get serious. Or seriousish, anyway.

  8. On the surface, I fit in. Generally, people don’t know I’m a foreigner until I open my mouth, when it becomes oh-so-clear.

    This has been my experience as well. And you articulated this very well- the feeling of being a kid at the grown-up’s table and barely being able to follow the conversation- you’re right, it’s absolutely exhausting.

    As for the job hunting- looking for a job sucks badly enough when it’s all in your mother tongue. I can barely imagine how horrible it would be with German in the mix. Sometimes you get lucky though- we’re hiring for my replacement as I return to the US, and one of the job requirements is fluency in English. What is *not* required for the job is fluency in German, because everyone in my department besides me or my replacement is actually back in the US. Maybe something like that will turn up.

    Either way, good luck!

    • Thanks Steven. Usually I do alright with it, but things have come to a head lately. It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t in the situation, but that’s the beauty of the expat blog world… we all know what’s up.

      Job hunting is absolutely the suck. And that’s what I said in some of the other comment threads… even if we were back in the States, I don’t think it would be any better, honestly. There’s a world of difference between getting a job, and getting a job you actually want to do, and who knows what I could get with my trusty Lib. Arts Bachelor’s. So, we’ll see what we can find here. Sadly I think I’m a *touch* under qualified for your gig, but hopefully something will turn up. Thanks!

      • P’shaw. I can teach *anyone* to do my job, as long as you can think logically and make good deductions. I’m basically just a trained monkey who drinks far too much Coke.

        That being said, I think you would *hate* my job. You seem less inclined to put up with bullshit than most…

  9. I just wanted to add that as I’m in the same boat, what has helped is to leave an ad on Kijiji (local ebay Kleineinzeigen) to find someone, similar age and interests to trade German for English lessons. It’s free and fun and you get to meet people that are a bit more open than the average German. Good luck.

  10. Complain all you like. That’s what blogs are there for! I absolutely HATED job hunting. I’m so glad I only ended up being unemployed for 3 months!

    Have you thought about doing private English lessons? Nachhilfe for high school students? You probably have but I just thought I’d throw the idea out there.

    As for language learning… I assume you’re on Duolingo? (I’m carnelian in case you want to be friends. Haven’t logged on in forever though). Also, I advise reading children’s books. That’s what I did waaaay back on my year abroad. Jan’s mum kept buying me them for Christmas and I felt a real sense of achievement every time I understood one (now I’m almost fluent and even read adult books – obviously I had an unfair advantage though since my degree was in German).

    • Huh… thought I replied to this before, but apparently not… sorry!

      Darn right, that’s what blogs are for. And job hunting is absolutely the suck, and it doesn’t matter when or where or in what language. Suckiness all around for sure.

      I do some private lessons, right now only for one person. I put out an ad, but got no responses except for scam ones. So if anyone knows anyone looking for lessons or Nachhilfe or whatever in the greater Nuremberg area, send them my way!

      I do the Duolingo, partly just for the amusement factor… I think I posted a few months ago about some of the absurdities that I ran across. At the moment, the boyfriend and I are reading Harry Potter 1 together. It’s going fairly well, but I know that book back and forth already, so it’s not too hard. I definitely get the gist of everything, but every word? No way. It’s helping the pronunciation a lot though, or so my boyfriend says. I think after this I’m going to try some other books, we just unearthed a bunch of his old books in the attic, and a friend lent me another one that sounds interesting. You do have a bit of an advantage with the degree, but don’t worry, the rest of us won’t hold it against you. πŸ™‚

      • My degree was great if you wanted to talk about classic literature or politics, but when I first came to Germany I couldn’t have told you the word for breakfast cereal… or turkey for that matter (chicken we at least learned in secondary school).

        I need to get back to Duolingo. It’s been a while since my last “insane Duolingo sentences” post πŸ˜‰

      • Haha, that sounds familiar. I run into that with my students all the time. We can have conversations about all sorts of things, but then they get stumped on things like ‘pants’ or ‘fork.’

        Added you. I’ve been slacking off lately too, don’t worry.

  11. Just wondering how you made out on the job front. I really enjoyed your blog and musings and miss reading new updates. I hope you will consider returning to the blog. Thanks!

  12. Pingback: Five. | Heather Goes to Deutschland

  13. Bevchen shared your post with me because I’ve just posted a similar blog. She had me read year 5 first and then year 3. Obviously things have improved for you which is great! I go through bouts of ups and downs. It fluctuates all the time but currently I’m celebrating year 4 today and I’m down. And reading your post just now brought me to the brink of tears because I FEEL the same way about not being able to articulate myself in German like I can in English. I’ve studied German since I was 14, you’d think I’d be good at it by now. It’s been a passion but I suck at languages no matter how hard I try. I speak good every day German, but get thrown off when someone spontaneously says something to me and Im not prepared. And Im just at a point where I don’t feel like speaking German anymore, despite the fact that my fiance is German and we live here in Germany. I’m realizing that theres a chance I might have to speak German for the rest of my life but no one will know English-Lori. They’ll only know quite, listening German-Lori. Im also in the same bucket as you, teaching English but wanting a normal 9-5 job, preferably where I can speak English but don’t know where to find those jobs. Nonetheless, you give me hope that things could perk up again.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lori! When you live this life, ups and downs are inevitable. It’s good to hear that my post could give you a little bit of hope, and I hope that you and your fiance can figure out a compromise that will make you both happy. I totally get the feeling that people will never really know you, and that’s a scary thought for sure. Sometimes you need some neutral ground to decide what’s going to work best. πŸ™‚

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