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Teaching English in Berlin, Germany: Alumni Q&A with Jacob Arthur
Written by: Jacob Arthur
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
South Africa, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, England
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I had traveled a lot before I started teaching English, and I had always wanted to live abroad, but wasn't sure about how to do so. Teaching English seemed like the most feasible way for me to acquire a job relatively easily and make a living in a foreign country.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I wasn't sure if I was going to make enough money to support myself, but after a year and a half, I am still doing alright. Things like health insurance, bank accounts, phone contracts, visa statuses, and apartment registration were all concerns, but with a little research and patience, I was able to manage quite well.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends were extremely supportive, as they knew how much I wanted to move to Berlin and improve my German. My parents had a few concerns, and were a little sad to see me move far away, but were also very supportive of my decision
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I knew that to teach English in a competitive market like Berlin, a TEFL certification was necessary. In my employer's eyes, it seemed that my TEFL certification was more important than my two bachelor's degrees. Also having no experience teaching English, I wanted a good introduction on teaching with material, lesson planning practice, and a hands-on practicum.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
The course was informative and introduced me to a wide range of teaching methodologies, practices, approaches, and provided necessary cultural information. There were lots of nice extra resources, videos, and links as well. The most important parts for me were the lesson-planning tasks.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I learn by doing. The tasks where we had to create lesson plans and activities for different ages and levels were quite thought provoking and useful. I had to think about aspects of a classroom and a lesson that I hadn't thought about before.
A few other points throughout the course have always stayed with me, like thinking about my teacher talking time, and how teaching something is one of the most effective ways to remember something. Having my students teach something is one of my favorite strategies.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Germany in the city of Berlin. I studied abroad in Berlin and fell in love with the city. I also really wanted to improve my German. I thought about a few other places like Vietnam or Thailand, but I knew Berlin was the place for me.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been here for over a year and a half, and I plan to stay indefinitely.
During which months does your school typically hire?
Very irregular. Whenever there are staff vacancies, but there are more classes during the actual school year, and not so many during the summer.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
To acquire a visa to work as an American in Germany as an English teacher, one has to have:
- an Anmeldungbestätigung (a confirmed registered address, where you live). One should get this first, as you will need it to apply for other things. Try to make an appointment online in advance (months), but if you can't, you might have to stand in line for hours to get it. Also, go early in the morning. Bring an official letter from an employer (which is what I had) saying that you need to attain a visa as soon as possible in order to start work, then you will be fast tracked.
- at least TWO job offers. I didn't know that two were required, and I scrambled to find another offer weeks before my appointment. Have official statements from the employers which state that they wish to hire you. Also have the income details from your employers to show how much money you will be making.
- make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) many weeks in advance of going there
- German health insurance. This is quite a topic. It is dubious which health insurances are accepted and which are not. There might not be an official policy, and it could depend on the person who handles your application. The person who did mine told me that I wasn't paying enough for my private health insurance, but still accepted my application.
- German bank account. I have an online bank account with N26, which was very easy and quick to set up and has been quite good.
- a filled out visa application, which you can find online
- bring your TEFL certificate if you can. It helps prove your credibility
- I typed beforehand a little introduction in German about why I want to work here and why I am qualified to do so. I wanted to make sure I didn't make any mistakes while speaking, so I typed it and printed it out
- bring a German friend if your German isn't good enough. I tried it alone and it worked, but there were some things the official told me that I didn't understand
- 60 euros I believe was how much I had to pay for a visa.
My appointment was at 7:00 am and I left at around 7:45 am with my Aufenthaltstitel (residence permit) in my passport. There were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting outside at this time, so it is very important to make an appointment as far in advance as you can.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your job!
I work at two different Helen Doron schools, who are owned by the same person. I teach mostly adults and teenagers, and have taught children as well. My youngest student was 2 and my oldest is 79. The adults mostly come to learn English so they can travel around the world and meet people. There are a few business classes. There are special cases: I've had one music teacher who needed to teach in English, one helicopter engineer who needed to work in an international environment, one eye doctor who gave a lecture in English, and many teenagers who need help with their final exams.
I work between 15 and 20 hours a week depending on many things. The adults often cancel classes because of work, appointments, or vacations. Germany has a lot of public holidays, which also affect our school. This means more free time, but less money. My school pays 20 euros per hour. I am able to save up a little money each month, which I use mostly for travel and for building up and furnishing my apartment. Per month I earn between 1,600 and 1,800 euros, and even sometimes more and sometimes less depending on how many hours I get.
I am able to take off work at any moment for as long as I want, but when I don't work I don't get paid. Last summer I took off three weeks in the summer for travel, a week off for Christmas, and a few days here and there for weekend trips.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
Finding an apartment in Berlin is challenging and long. I stayed with friends for my first month, then stayed with other friends for the second month, and finally found a place to live in the third month. I lived there for eight months before I moved to a permanent place.
In my experience, you have to know someone. At the beginning I sent at least 70 emails to websites like WGgesucht and Immobilienscout, which are websites to find flats. I went to six or seven different viewings, but was never chosen to be the tenant. I finally met a friend of a friend in a club who was looking for a roommate and that's how I found my first apartment. After a few months I wanted to find a bigger, nicer apartment in a better location. I started looking for one with a coworker and friend. One of our students works in real estate, and had two apartments available and one was great for us. I pay close to 600 for my apartment, which includes all utilities and internet, but this is a big apartment in a nicer, hip area. You can find cheaper and smaller ones if you need. Mine is a little more expensive, but I'm happy in it.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Berlin is not quite like the rest of Germany. It is much more multicultural, loud, liberal, and fun, and you never see Lederhosen, mountains, or fairytale castles like you see in other parts of Germany.
The nightlife here is exceptional with tons of bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, art exhibitions and famous clubs with parties going nonstop all weekend.
The history of Berlin is unique, with its Nazi background, the Berlin Wall, which split Berlin into two parts for 28 years, and the past few decades which have made it into a liberal, booming metropolis, and a magnet for many artists, musicians, start-up companies, and many other kinds of people from around the world.
It is hard to find German food in Berlin because there are so many international options, and it is hard to find expensive restaurants here too.
In some parts of the city it is very hard to find a person from Berlin, as most Germans are from other parts and many people are from other countries. Regardless of your origin, you can find a community of ex-pats somewhere. There are tons of young, single people from all different parts of the world in Berlin. You can never stop swiping on Tinder, because there are too many people on it. There are also plenty of fun activities to do for dates.
Germany as a whole is a very pleasant place to live, with a myriad of small cities, and local cultural differences. On the whole, the beer is good and plentiful, the food is hearty, the cities are clean, crime is low, social benefits are high, and the people are bit direct and reserved but friendly once you get to know them.
The public transportation is very good compared to the States. It can be complicated for newcomers, but it's efficient. Berlin's transit runs all night on the weekends, and is very extensive.
Berlin is quite central in Europe. You can reach Poland or the Czech Republic in a few hours by car or bus, and you can reach any European country with a short, affordable flight. It is quite easy to have a vacation for a weekend in another European city.
What are your monthly expenses?
I pay almost close to 600 euros (approx. $720 USD) for my apartment, which includes all utilities and internet, but this is a big apartment in a nicer, hip area. You can find cheaper, smaller ones. My other apartment I only paid 350 euros ($420 USD) for everything, but everything was much smaller, and the location wasn't great.
I generally spend between 300-500 euros a month ($360 - $600 USD) on things like: groceries, going out on weekends, traveling in Germany and around Europe.
Supermarkets are reasonably priced. A typical curry runs about 5-7 euros ($6-$8 USD), a beer (half-liter) is usually 3.50 ($4 USD), a coffee 2-3 euros ($2.50 - $3.50 USD), a döner kebap 3.50 ($4 USD), and most entrees in most restaurants are under 10 euros ($11 USD). You can eat fancy, but I don't.
I have a yearly transportation pass, which cost 720 euros ($860 USD) a year and is valid for all trains, metros, buses, and trams. You can pay it monthly (60 euro a month - $70 USD) or altogether for the year (720 euros). If you just buy a monthly pass it costs 80 euros ($95 USD) . A single ticket is 2.70 ($3.35 USD), a day ticket is 7 ($8 USD), and four single tickets to use whenever you want are 9 euros ($10.50). I use the public transit every day, many times a day. Some people like to bike instead of using public transit, but it's cold in the winter, and sometimes your destination is quite far.
I have a phone contract with 1und1, and I pay 15 euros ($17.50 USD) a month for unlimited calls, and a decent amount of data. I can also use my phone in other countries thanks to a recent no-roaming abroad change.
Travel is easy and quite cheap in Europe. With budget airlines you can go to any major city in Europe for a reasonable price. I flew to Brussels for 20 euros ($25 USD), to Copenhagen for 25 ($31 USD), to Spain for 40 ($45 USD), and buses to other German cities are between 7 and 15 euros ($8 - $17.50 USD).
How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is quite good. It's really quite similar to what it was in America. Everything I need is here.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
I would say you would need to earn at least 1500 euros ($1790 USD) a month to live comfortably, and more if you want to save up.
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Moving to Berlin has changed me in a few ways as a person. I would say I became an adult here, as I was really on my own, having to find work, insurance, and handle responsibilities. My biggest accomplishment is that my German has improved so much from what is was before. I am now at a certain fluency and can handle almost any situation in German, which was one of my main goals. I even have a German girlfriend, and we speak in German all the time.
I teach in East Berlin, and my students are some of the nicest, most genuine people I have met. Because of one of them I have my wonderful apartment, and many students were happy to give me things to fill my apartment including a fridge, a washing machine, a microwave, a kitchen table and chairs, and many more things. In addition, these people used to live on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and I love to listen to their stories of what life was like.
In short, I really love living here and I have no plans to go anywhere else. I would recommend teaching in Berlin to anyone that has a heart for it.
Jacob Arthur is 27 from Lynchburg, Virginia with a BA in history from Virginia Tech University in 2012. He was a waiter in a family-owned restaurant before deciding to get TEFL certified with International TEFL Academy and fly off to Berlin, Germany to teach English.
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