And Suddenly, It Was May

May 1st, Labor Day here in Germany. For perhaps the first time since I moved here, I actually feel like I’ve earned the day off this year. I do however, feel guilty about the lack of work I’ve been doing in this space.

To say that the first four months of this year flew by would be a gross understatement. Even having a reduced workload for the last two weeks due to Easter school holidays didn’t offer me much time to spend on the internet. Or at least, not this kind of internetting. But here we are, the third short week in a row and I have a minute to check in.

It also occurred to me that for the past two Mays, I have tried to do some sort of writing challenge. I very briefly entertained the thought of doing that again this month, but there’s just no way I can muster up that kind of energy.

So what’s keeping me so busy? My new gig, aka the first full-time job I’ve had in ten years. Turns out working 40 hours a week plus commuting time doesn’t leave tons of extra time for… anything, really. We’ve been trying to plan meals out a bit better, and BV has taken over more of the weeknight cooking responsibilities. But yoga has been tricky to fit in, baking and more ambitious cooking has to wait for the weekends… you know, all those things that normal adults manage to fit around full-time jobs. I’m still trying to figure all of it out. It’s a good thing, I think, thus far.

I’m still technically freelance because German bureaucracy moves slower than a snail. I thought we’d be able to transition my work permit back in March, but when we went to my appointment, my Beamter was on vacation. Slight miscommunication there. We then spent three weeks trying to get him on the phone (as instructed, by the gal who WAS there that day), before giving up and emailing him yet again. We now have an appointment in two weeks, conveniently right before we leave on vacation. It would be nice if that week off was covered by my shiny-new vacation days, but I don’t know if it’ll work out that easily.

On the plus side, we’ll be in France. So even if it’s not paid, it’ll still be France. I cannot wait.

While everyone else in Germany seemed to be protesting, in a Biergarten, or perhaps both of those things, we had a pretty low-key day. We did some stuff around the house that needed doing, and I went out for a long walk.

Now BV is back in the spare room tinkering with more odds and ends, and I’m about to do some yoga and head to bed early. Thursdays I leave the house at 6am and no matter how disciplined I try to be, making myself go to sleep at a reasonable hour on Wednesday never goes according to plan.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Light work on Labor Day is acceptable, right?

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Ten.

On the night of January 7th, I tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep. The previous day had been my first day back to work after the Christmas break and it had also been the first day of getting into my new job. It was a rather fragmented day, and my mind was spinning.

I needed to sleep… the 8th would be my first really full day. I would leave the house at 7:30am and not get home until 8pm. I had several meetings scheduled, and a mental to-do list to get through in between them. I would start a new class in the evening and was running through my list of introductory activities, trying to decide which one I wanted to use on a new class that I had hardly any information about. What to do? Not sleep, that was for sure.

Alternating with these thoughts was another theme… 10 years ago on this same night, I was also not sleeping much. I was on a plane, and sleeping on planes is not one of my strong points. That was the night I flew from Chicago to Prague with plans to do a TEFL course and… not much else.

10 years ago. My god.

Since I wasn’t sleeping, I mentally drafted all sorts of brilliant things to say in this blog post that would wrap up the last decade. But because I wasn’t sleeping, I also spent the next few days alternately running around, learning way too many new names, trying my best to absorb piles of new information, and failing miserably at getting my body back into some sort of normal rhythm. Needless to say, whatever I mentally drafted has been lost, which is probably for the best… 2:30am brilliance can be pretty weird in the light of day.

My second original plan for this post was to have a picture from my first day in Prague, and one from now. Then, the Facebook “challenge” hit.

Via Giphy

Okay, number 1: posting a picture of yourself from ten years ago and now is not a challenge. It’s clicking things on a computer, not performing surgery while blindfolded. Secondly, posting multiple versions of this “challenge” in an attempt to maximize the ‘ooooh, you haven’t aged a day’ comments is incredibly obnoxious.

It was, however, a neat comparison for me personally on how I have and have not changed. Clearly I haven’t changed much when it comes to saltiness/judgement.

Via Giphy

Not the most flattering self-assessment in the world, but I strive for honesty here. *shrug*

On the other hand, all these years in Germany among people with a healthy distrust of social media immediately made me reach for my tinfoil hat, particularly after reading things like this Wired article. Ten years ago, I probably would’ve been all “fun! Why not?” Now? Hard pass. At least, not on FB. Or Twitter. Or the ‘gram.

But luckily, my blog is none of those places… it’s my own little space, and I still want to do it here. Not because of some viral bs challenge, but because these last ten years have been  A CHALLENGE. Like, a real one.

January 9th, 2009 (no photos from the 8th… which given the long travel day is probably for the best). I was 25. I was in Europe with people I’d never met before, wandering through a city covered in snow.

Petrin Hill with magnificent people.

The next ten years of challenges meant making friends and losing them. They meant missing births and deaths and feeling insanely guilty for my life choices. They meant plane tickets and trips to the foreign police and screwing up on insurances and asking for help and muddling my way through the bureaucratic maze that leads you to start considering yourself an immigrant.

They meant learning to appreciate red wine,  and to celebrate any excuse to see somewhere new. They meant visitors and book exchanges and thousands of pictures that spread across continents. They meant abandoning the flared jean and embracing the legging (at least, in the comfort of my home… I still have limits).

January 8th, 2019. I am 35. I usually wear glasses now and I may still have one pair of flared jeans but those are regulated to garden work.

See? Here I am, enjoying Tchibo’s finest leggings and a hoodie (forever a hoodie person), in a very odd couch pose at the end of an incredibly long day.

The celebration consisted of leftover pasta, Sekt, and a very nice bottle of red from South Tyrol’s Elena Walch. BV even stopped at a bakery on the way home and got us two slices of Sachertorte to mark the occasion. Naturally the only classy viewing option for all of these delicious goodies was the season premier of The Bachelor. Because frankly, some things shouldn’t change.

Ten. Wild.

Two Months on Tour

Considering that we didn’t take an official summer vacation this year, the last two months have been a whole lot of all over the place. BV and I did spend five days in Oberbayern with his parents in July, but that was more like another extended weekend than an actual vacation. I’m hoping we make up for it next year but that all remains to be seen.

So what did I get up to in August and September (besides baking?), click on to find out…

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7 Years

Today marks seven years in Germany.

I happened to have the day off, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve been yearning to do a summer Bahn-venture… something I haven’t done in ages. I decided a few weeks back that on the next nice midweek day when I was off and had nothing to do, I was going to buy myself a Bayern ticket and head down to the Tegernsee. Why there? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve only been once and have wanted to go back ever since. If everything works out perfectly (hear that Deutsche Bahn? Perfectly?), I won’t have more than five or six hours, but that’s enough time to wander around the lake, eat  or drink somewhere with a view, and stick my feet in that bluest of water.

Did I do that today? Nope.

Why? Well, that whole stipulation I had about “nothing to do.” Due to the perfect storm of paperwork nonsense, I had more than enough to do. I have a meeting tomorrow and was woefully behind on my bs paperwork that I’ll need to bring in… not for the meeting itself but generally speaking. So, to celebrate my seventh Germaniversary, I was responsible. That’s the real way to celebrate living here, right?

I did let myself slack a bit. I slept in until almost nine, then went for a joggy walk. A quick yoga video back here, then it was into the shower. While plotting my strategy for today, I had come up with an elaborate system of rewards for myself because I’m basically one of Pavlov’s dogs, and thus also had to run down to the store.

Rose and a bottle of Sekt was in order for the evening, and I also grabbed a bag of peanut M&M’s, a container of blueberries, and a few other odds and ends. My strategy was this: for every piece of stupid paperwork (all 43 that I had to do), I got to have two blueberries, or M&M’s when the blueberries were gone.

This sounds insane, I know. But it worked. Mostly.

I brought the blueberries outside with me, but ended up having to move them into the stairwell when they actually started to cook. A couple of them burst from the heat… not exactly the cool treat I needed. The M&M’s were retrieved from the fridge when the blueberries were gone, but they stayed up at the top of the stairs where it was coolest. Plus I got bonus movement after each accomplished task. This was very satisfying.

Several hours later, with possibly a slight sunburn and innumerable flies killed, I finished. It’s basically a miracle. By this time, BV had gotten home, laden with  groceries for his planned dinner. Since I didn’t know how long today’s nonsense was going to take me, I had told him that dinner was his responsibility. He’s been wanting to make this Vietnamese Spring Roll recipe that he found online for awhile so this was the perfect opportunity.

Tomorrow it’ll be back to class, then off to a meeting. Same on Friday, before a little camping/bonfire party down at the Villagers’ place. We’ve also got World Cup group round fever going on, which will pick up the pace in the next week or so. There’s a lot happening right now, basically.

It feels a little trite to write all this at the moment, given everything that’s dominated the news cycle in the last week. But, honestly, I’m happy to have something to celebrate. I don’t give much of a crap about birthdays, but successfully surviving seven years here without major incident or being thrown out of the country seems like a decent thing to get excited about.

BV asked me earlier how it’s been, and that is so hard to define. There have been bad times, like the first few months of emotional fuckery, the times I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to stay, the months of slow work… those have been hard. But there’s been so. much. good. Finding our way into this relationship… that’s one. Silly things, like successfully making the first phone appointment in German, or becoming regular enough at the farmer’s market to get an extra onion or two thrown in your bag for free. Those are the small, every day victories that make you feel like you can actually belong in a place.

The language is still very much a work in progress, but I’m less hesitant than I was before. Work is work, and there’s a lot that I enjoy and a bit that I could do without. But the classes that I have at the moment will occasionally surprise the hell out of me, or someone will express their relief to have my support at juuuuust the right moment to make it that much more worth it. Those moments keep me going. I’m still on the fence as to if it’s what I want to be doing forever, but as of now, it’s good.

And the possibility. There’s still so much possibility stretched out in front of me. For example, I posted this little travel bingo template the other day on my Instagram stories…

Template via Montgomeryfest

While there’s no problem with Europe, it seems there’s still a lot to cover there and beyond. The small problem is that I’ve been looking at several places in South America and I’m now coming from the super-inconvenient direction. Whoops. It seems like there have been a lot of really good deals from the States this year, because it seems like half of my timeline has been south of the equator. But I’m going to have to wait. *sigh*

Back to German possibilities, here’s hoping that I can get in a good Bahn-venture sometime soon. Summer is in full swing, classes are impossibly unpredictable, it should be within reach. And we’ll be in the vicinity of the Tegernsee in just a few short weeks for a long weekend with BV’s parents, so maybe we can slide that into the itinerary. Let’s see.

Until then, please enjoy this photo of me… not in Germany, but in South Tyrol last month, which is not Italian but not German but not Austrian either. They can’t be pinned down. But I’m in my natural habitat here. Awkwardly smug smile, camera in hand, (low) mountains in back.

Nine Years.

Cheers.

Today marks nine years living in Europe. At this point, it seems a bit silly to mark all these anniversaries… living in Europe, or celebrating living in Germany* specifically… what’s the difference? But I do it. Because these dates are not insignificant to me. I enjoy marking these occasions much more than say, a birthday.

These are the days that marked a shift in my life. These are the days that *I* did something. Something that is difficult, even impossible for some people to fathom. Something that can seem so easy some days, and make you want to tear your hair out on others (hello, Tax Day).

This was my first day back to work after a glorious, but inevitably too short two-and-a-half-week break for Christmas. It’s been a crazy and busy month, at the end of a fairly crazy year, and a wrap-up post is formulating, but not today. Today was sleeping in (still trying to get myself back to a normal schedule), an afternoon class, some yoga, some laundry,  a nice dinner with Sekt while cooking, and a bottle of South Tyrolean Pinot Noir that’s been knocking around the wine cabinet since our visit in May. In short, not that much different than a normal day, but the ribbon on the bottle of Sekt** gave it an air of festivity. And yes, our Christmas tree is still up and the lights are still on. Festivity abounds. Nine.

*See, six years last June..

**Shout-out to the hotel in Stubaital, who gave us the Sekt on our last visit in August. Finally got around to drinking it. 🙂

Expat/Immigrant Qs

When I ran across this Q&A post earlier today on the very enjoyable blogs of Bev and Ami, I thought “that sounds like a good topic for a rainy day.” Turns out, it was a rather lovely day here but I’m home alone and have watched everything new… so there’s no time like the present!

Some people call me an expat, some may call me an immigrant, but either way I’m an American in a place that isn’t the United States. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?

I was born in Menomonee Falls, WI, lived in Milwaukee until I was seven, then we moved to Eagle, WI. Eagle is mostly known for its smiley-faced water tower, and that’s about it. After a stint in Prague, I moved to Nuremberg in 2011, and eventually here to the ze Dorf outside Nuremberg in 2013.

Our village has a castle, and the castle has this cool gateway.

2. WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME COUNTRY

Floating in a sea of “what now?” post-college, I decided that my best bet to travel while still making money was to get a TEFL certification and try to teach English. I had no idea how long I wanted to do it for, and where I would end up going, but nearly nine years on I guess it has worked out okay for me.

3. WHAT TYPE OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE AND TELL THEM WHERE YOU ARE FROM?

This has definitely shifted in the last year and change. It used to be an “okay, cool, where in the U.S.?” and now it’s a decidedly less relaxed conversation, thanks to 45. Germans have been pretty used to an American presence in most places since the end of the Second World War, so we aren’t really anything that new and exciting here. I do find the reactions of military-affiliated Americans funny sometimes, in that they’re confused by what I’m doing here of my own volition.

4. WHAT WAS THE EASIEST/HARDEST PART IN ADJUSTING TO YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

After coming from Prague, a lot of things seemed really easy. The paperwork had some sense of order to it, whether or not everything was being done correctly, was something I wouldn’t get into trouble with for a couple years though. The hardest part was not being surrounded by a group of built-in friends right from the get-go. I’ve found people here but it took some time, and if you’re not the most outgoing, social person in the world (introverts unite! Separately!) making friends here can be tricky. The good news is that once you are friends with someone here, they are sticking around. To me, that’s invaluable.

One of the first girls I met here six years ago got married in June. It was lovely.

5. IMAGES, WORDS OR SOUNDS THAT SUM UP THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD SO FAR.

In Prague it was the sound of the tram. My bedroom window overlooked a stop where six trams stopped during the day and four at night. The drivers ring the bell every time they start so that sound is inextricably linked with Prague in my brain. In Germany, it’s a lot of things… Red trains. Red trains for days. Alpine bells, or the sound of the rooster next door crowing. The smell of roasted almonds at the summer festivals, or that smell mingling with the scent of Glühwein at the Christmas markets.

Red trains > other trains.

6. YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD OR DRINK ITEM IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY

Käsespätzle is life. Not to mention a frosty glass of whatever local beer is on tap (minus Tucher, that is).

Kirchweih libations.

7. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU SAID “YES” TO IN YOUR NEW CITY THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY “YES” TO, BACK HOME?

Probably spending as much time on public transportation as I do here. First of all, where I grew up there was no public transportation. If I wanted to find a public bus, I’d have to drive 30 minutes in Waukesha, and get on a bus there. Doesn’t make much sense, really. I took a Greyhound one time in college and that was enough to freak me out on the Greyhound experience. The only times I can remember taking anything like public transportation was a shuttle bus down to the Milwaukee lakefront for Summerfest, a Brewer game, or some other sort of special event. Otherwise it was all cars, all the time.

8. ARE THERE ANY CULTURAL NORMS/PHRASES IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY WHICH YOU CANNOT STAND?

Sometimes I’m amazed that Germans are able to get anything done when they spend half of their lives shaking hands. I now know that if BV and I have to leave a family gathering, it’s necessary to start that process about an hour before we actually plan to leave, especially if we have to catch a train. Give me an “Irish Exit” any day of the week, because to me, that’s better than demanding people’s attention, interrupting conversations, etc. in order to have a formal goodbye.

Additionally, I’ve found that since a good deal of my classes have taken place in more technically-oriented companies, I’ve had to hear a fair amount of “women be shopping” sort of jokes (or half-jokes) from my mostly male groups. My usual strategy is to laugh it off and give them a bit of shit for that attitude, but I’m really not a fan. I have also tried out the tactic of switching the discussion to their hobbies because guess what? All that specialized sporting equipment, all those electronic toys and gadgets you have at home? Those are not cheap, buddy. Just because you only have two pairs of shoes does not mean you are a supreme example of fiscal responsibility. Most of these guys would say that women and men are equal in their companies, and in Germany as a whole, but they have a long way to go on a lot of things here.*

9. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST DOING IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

Any frequent readers of this blog can answer this one, I think. Get me south to the Alps and I am a happy camper.

Hiking in Austria this August.

10. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE HOME FOR GOOD?

That is a question that I have a hard time answering. Never say never is usually a good philosophy for me, but the chaotic way that things seem to be unraveling at the moment makes me lean towards no way. If something should happen that means I do have to go “home” for a period of time, that’s one thing. But after nearly nine years gone? In those nine years, I think I’ve seen enough of this way of life to make me confident that this is what I want, and what fits the life I want to live best.

The water of the Eibsee is as refreshing as it looks.

 

*Not that the U.S. is doing much better at the moment.

Six Years In

Yesterday marked my 6-year anniversary of living in Germany. I spent the majority of the day teaching in company Zap, which was rather fitting as that was the company that I was originally hired to teach at here. Tuesdays at company Zap are full days, and usually by the time I get home I’m completely bushed. Unfortunately yesterday the workday wasn’t over, as we had a few stops to make on the way home, and when we arrived I had to  get on the phone for two quick phone lessons that I’m doing as part of a multi-facet business course.

But, let’s be honest, none of that is all that exciting for such a momentous occasion as surviving yet another year among the madness of the Deutsch.

Instead, allow me to present some pictures of what’s been going on in just this last week. As I mentioned back in May, June has been pretty jam-packed. I have missed writing more often, honestly, but there’s been so much going on that I haven’t managed to settle myself down at the computer to do anything about it.

So what have I been up to? Well let’s dive into last weekend…

On Friday after I finished work, I met BV at home where he was lounging and enjoying yet another ‘bridge day.’  Since it was beautiful weather and not ungodly hot, we decided to take a long walk to the lovely biergarten on the river about eight kilometers away. While on the way there we spotted this restaurant in a small village, and thought its terrace looked rather inviting. After the biergarten and a salty pretzel or two, we got back to this village and decided our thirst needed another drink to quench it. So we stopped, had a drink, watched the birds swooping in and out of the barn across the street, and I admired the window boxes. Lush window boxes are delightful.

Then we wandered our way back home, and juuuuust so happened to come across the entrance to our village’s Kirchweih, which had just begun. And you bet your ass we stopped off to get some roasted nuts and yes, another beer. It wasn’t the plan, but we managed to turn our nice walk into an impromptu beer hike. Whoops.

The next day we slept later than planned (wonder why), frantically packed our bags, made ourselves presentable and headed off to the chapel…

My very lovely Sprachduo friend E. was marrying her fella of 12 years, and it was quite the occasion. Previously I’ve attended two German weddings, both from friends/colleagues of BV, and they were lovely. But this couple were both village mice, and the events of the day reflected that. For starters, they’re both involved in music groups, so there were several performances by various bands scattered throughout the day. His soccer and Kerwa clubs showed up during the ceremony, and sneakily erected a tiny Kerwabaum* while we were all in the church. Naturally they also brought and tapped a pony keg for the occasion.

Then everyone was off to the reception location, minus us, as we had to make a short detour to the nearest town with a store (any store) that sold shirts because guess who managed to bring two pairs of shorts for Sunday but not a shirt? That would be me. Again, whoops.

Shirt acquired, we joined everyone else at the reception location where everyone was already deep into the Sekt and another couple of kegs. Dishes of appetizers were passed around while everyone mingled and photos were done. Eventually the cake made an appearance, and after everyone snagged a slice or ten (so many cakes at German weddings!), all the men scampered off to another hotel bar up the road. This is fairly common. Sometimes the bride also gets kidnapped but not this time. They just got a little more sauced up while all the ladies organized themselves for more pictures. BV declined the additional sauce, so he even got to play photographer. Good man.

I’m currently in a phase where I actually don’t hate photos of myself, and I wanted to show off my grandma’s ring, which I can finally, somewhat miraculously, now wear. I always planned to get it resized but turns out? My fingers were just chubby.

Please enjoy a rare nice picture of me, especially with svelte fingers and a cocktail ring.

As is typical with German weddings, we made ze all-night party, yah. When the band finally started to break down the equipment, I checked my watch and was shocked to see the time… damn near 3am. We packed it in but rumor has it that the party continued until nearly 7. I don’t know how the couple managed to appear functional at breakfast but they are troopers.

Since the wedding was in the very lovely area close to the Franconian Switzerland, we planned to do a bit of hiking on Sunday. And hike we did, picking a round tour through the area. It promised a stop on top of a nearby hill at a Hütte, which was lovely but closed. The Franconian Switzerland strikes again!

We soldiered on, around a few more villages, admiring the overflowing gardens, and hunting for anyplace that could serve us something liquid. Preferably a yeast-based beverage. Mostly, it was just Fachwerk and flowers though. It’s okay. I do love Fachwerk, regardless of how thirsty I am.

We ended up right back where we started which was good since 1) it was supposed to be a round tour and 2) that’s where the car was. Even better, there were a few restaurants open and they had cold drinks. Sunday was the day when the temperature really started to creep up and we almost knocked over the waitress in our attempts to ensure they were still serving.

The day’s tour over, it was time to head home again and prep for the week ahead. Class papers to sort, grills to be lit, all of that good stuff.

Which brings us back to Tuesday. Six years in. I can’t say that I have any wise words or deep thoughts on what it’s like to have been here for so long. There have been ups, there have been downs. That’s life. But lately, it’s been a lot more ups and I can’t say that I regret anything that has happened along the way.

I love living here. I love the life that BV and I have created for ourselves in our little Franconian nook. I love the friends that I have made here. And I love that I’m still surprised and amused by the oddities of ze Germany. Boredom kills brain cells and I need those little guys. So Prost to that.

 

*See Kirchweih link above for clarification on that one.

31-Day Challenge: Day 13

Technically, I’m an hour late but since I’m still awake this definitely counts as the 13th. It’s my blog and self-imposed challenge, I make my own rules. Plus, post-dating!

Today was a fairly busy Saturday. BV’s good friend, the Gardener, had the Day of the Open Door at his nursery, so our plan was to head over there. They have it every year on the day before Mother’s Day, and quite often, a group of BV’s friends/colleagues come by to stock up on plants and have a chat.

We got up fairly early for a Saturday, and I got to baking. We had offered to bring a cake, and it didn’t get done on Friday afternoon. Good thing we did, too, as we arrived shortly before 2pm and all the sausages were already gone. There were a few random pieces of other cakes still on offer, but the crowd made short work of them.

The weather was fairly nuts today, with thunderstorms rolling in and out, so it seems that many people opted to come by in the morning. That meant it was less busy when BV’s crew made it through, but there was less food available. Luckily, they all had dogs/kids with them, and had brought their own snacks. We went home hungry, because we have no kids and therefore don’t carry provisions.

We had a nice afternoon of chatting with everyone (BV chats, I smile and nod, interjecting basics), and wandering through the nursery. We left the plants behind, since our garden is not prepared yet, and we’re going away for a few days this week. BV has a few more things to fix in the nursery, so he can easily pick up whatever plants we need on his next repair job.

The Gardener’s sister, co-owner of the magnificent hillside in Tuscany, was also in town, and we had a good chance to catch up with her. We’re hoping to make it back down to see them sooner than later, as an Italian farmhouse is almost always a good idea.

After the group slowly dispersed, we made our way home and prepped for dinner and Eurovision. Tonight’s post is late for that very reason, as we were fully consumed in watching the crazy. But, it was enjoyable as always. No dancing grannies this year, unfortunately, but there’s always next year.

***

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 12

Write your job description.

***

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have survived this long in Germany and the Czech Republic by working as an English teacher. When I first set out on this little adventure, I took a TEFL course based in Prague, which taught me valuable skills on how to teach grammar, vocabulary, and how to set up a white board using snazzy colors and time graphs.

Then I started teaching for realsies.

My first job in TEFL was at Berlitz in Prague. This experience had a lot of pros, and a lot of cons. One pro was that it was basically teaching for idiots, in that they have all of their own material and teachers were mostly restricted to using that. This sounds negative (and in my opinion, it is for the students), but for teachers it meant that prep time was nearly nonexistent and it was easy to crank out tons of classes every day without thinking much about them. However, a big con was that often there weren’t that many classes to crank out, and despite their courses being among the most expensive in a town crammed with language schools, their teachers were among the lowest paid.

And all those skills I learned in the TEFL course? Pretty much out. Some tactics I held onto of course, but so many of them that dealt with using different source material, bringing creativity in, and so on, were out the window with the official Method we were supposed to use.

Then I came to Germany and was thrown into the deep end. Right off the bat I had ten classes at one school, with more coming as the year went on. I was supposed to be working freelance, and therefore for more schools, but for a long time I literally did not have free time to work anywhere else. The schedule plus the prep time was far more than I had done in my previous two years of teaching. All of a sudden I had a bunch of different books, vastly different needs, and this time there was no cookie cutter.

I was kept pretty busy that whole first year here and then rough financial times led to a bunch of classes falling off. And, as I’ve noted before here, you can apply to every school in town but if no  one is hiring, you’re out of luck.

With a little persistence and a lot of help, I stuck it out though, and over the last few years have built up a pretty steady business. I’m no longer at the mercy of one school, which is a HUGE relief, and I am much happier when I’ve got a good variety of groups. Sometimes you get one that is a bit of a struggle, but if you have one right afterwards that is peppy and excited and involved, that goes a long way.

I’ve now been doing this for more than eight years, and was chatting to a fellow teacher friend of mine the other week about how neither one of us feel like “real” teachers. He had attended a training session recently, and was so impressed by some of the other people there. They had been in Germany teaching for 10-20 years, were totally settled here, and were Teachers. Capital T. Neither of us feel that way, despite the fact that we’ve both been doing this almost as long as some of those people had. I wonder if they have similar discussions with their friends.

If I don’t feel like a teacher, what do I feel like? I’ve given this a fair amount of thought and there are a few skills that I think are under-emphasized in all those wonderful TEFL training courses. However, I don’t think I would have made it this far if I couldn’t do the following things. Grammar and 3-page lesson plans did not make the list, sorry to disappoint.

  1. Fake it til you make it. I am not a morning person. I would much rather be in bed than on a train at 6:30 or 7am to make an 8:30 start time. Which is actually pretty reasonable. 7am classes also exist, for some ungodly reason. When that group comes in though, the teacher can’t be dragging ass, because someone has to act like they want to be there. Which leads me to…
  2. Acting! In normal social situations, I am also shy. I would never go up to a group of people and just introduce myself unless I absolutely had to. In this case, it’s my job to walk in and act like I’m not completely intimidated by a group of eight professional adults.
  3. Reaction time. I’ve always been quick. Not physically (godawful at sports), but with a comment or a wisecrack. When a question comes up and I can come up with an answer or a definition or an explanation off the top of my head, it’s great. I do get stumped occasionally, but usually I’ll try to look whatever it is up later and shoot them an email. You have to expect the unexpected and react as best as you can. I think that has been extremely beneficial when it comes to unplanned situations in class, which brings me to…
  4. Flexibility. In TEFL, we learned to write out every single thing we planned to do in class, down to how we would say some things. One school I work for requires us to write long form lesson plans and it makes me absolutely crazy. I procrastinate on those things for as long as humanly possible. I never use them in class because 1) I know what I’m going to do, I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me and 2) half the time, something comes up and the whole thing goes off the rails. If a student brings in something they want to look at, or a question comes up that leads the class in a direction that was unplanned but helpful for them, isn’t addressing that so much more important than following the “plan”? Yeah. It is. Do you know what happens when a teacher says, “No, we can’t do that right now, it’s not on our plan. Maybe next week.” The students get annoyed that their needs aren’t being addressed. If you are too rigid, and can’t adapt quickly, you won’t last long.

Possibly my favorite part of this job is getting to talk to so many different people and hear so many different takes on life. I’ve learned so much about so many things, and heard so many stories that I would never in a million years have come across if I had stayed back in Wisconsin. To say that that is invaluable is an understatement.

I think if I had come here and only had the perfunctory interactions with Germans at the supermarket or government offices, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have lasted this long. It always bums me out to hear that some people come here for business or with the military, barely interact with the actual people here, and think Germans are cold or rude or what have you. They are not. They’re a lot of things, some good, and yes, some bad. I think if my job, despite some headaches, has given me anything, it’s given me the chance to see so much more of the good. But they don’t teach you that in the TEFL courses either.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.