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What I Learned About Myself From Living & Teaching English in Germany
Written by: Katharine Algeo
Last Updated: January 5, 2021
When I made the decision to move to Germany with the intention of teaching English, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I enrolled in International TEFL Academy’s 11-week online TEFL course, which was to start jut a few weeks after my graduation from college. My bachelor’s degree was in business and completely unrelated, I had no prior teaching experience (other than my practicum for my TEFL course), and had only ever been to Germany once before, which was for a 3-day visit while studying abroad in Europe. What started off in Berlin and eventually led me to Munich was a year full of challenges, adventures and self-growth.
I moved to Germany in August 2019, and had no idea I would eventually end up changing cities, take a different direction in regard to my plans for teaching, get two different visas, and then experience a worldwide pandemic. However, when I look back on my experience as a whole, I realize how much I’ve learned about myself and what I’m capable of as a person because of everything I went through during my time in Germany.
I had originally moved to Berlin with the intention of teaching adults as a freelancer, but learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t the city for me, and being more of a shy person, teaching intimidating adults wasn’t really what I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, Berlin’s an amazing place with interesting people from all over and plenty of opportunities for those wanting to build a life there as an expat, but I struggled to feel at home in such a huge city, and it also didn’t have the quintessential “European feeling” I had in mind and hoped for. I’m a head-strong person who always tries to make things work and hates “giving up” on anything, but after a few months of trying to make things work there, I knew I had to make a change and that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
It was this realization that taught me one of my first lessons I learned during my time in Germany, which is that it’s okay to try something new and realize it isn’t for you, and that you can always figure things out and take a different path. I don’t regret the time I spent there, because despite deciding it wasn’t the place for me in the end, I made a best friend there that I’m still in touch with and had a lot of great times together there with, and it’ll always be a special place to me. I was so eager to just set roots somewhere and begin building my new life, but I knew I couldn’t successfully do that in a city where I was struggling so much and ultimately just wasn’t happy.
After doing a lot of research and weighing my options, I decided to move down to Munich instead, and began looking for work in bilingual kindergartens so that I could work with children. I had obtained a freelance visa while I was in Berlin, but by working as an employee in a kindergarten, I knew I could have a bit more stability with a full-time schedule (and salary, of course), paid vacation days, and could ditch my pricey private health insurance and switch into the German public system. I applied to as many schools I could find, got an offer, followed my heart, took a leap of faith and left for Munich.
Even though I had a pretty good job offer and my school was knowledgeable with the work sponsorship process, I still had to go to the foreigner’s office in Munich on my own to apply for my work visa (like I said previously, I had a freelance visa, but had to switch to a regular work visa as I now had a full-time job offer). Despite requiring a lot of paperwork and an early morning wake-up call to line up outside and get a walk-in appointment, getting my freelance visa in Berlin wasn’t too much of a hassle, and I was able to leave with my visa in my passport the same day. Unfortunately, getting my work visa in Munich was a completely different story, and included many different trips to and from the office just to check on the status of my application, waiting hours in long lines for several days in a row, getting turned away by moody employees for my lack of German skills, and a lot of tears (and yes, I can completely vouch for the office’s 2.0-star rating on Google). Despite all of this, with a lot of persistence, I eventually secured my approved (yay!) visa, left the office happy instead of in tears, and was now able to start my new job. The whole ordeal taught me that I can handle the challenges that come along with bureaucracy in another country and the daunting processes of applying for visas, which I think will serve me well in the future, being that I plan on moving to Europe again.
I also learned a ton about myself and what I’m capable of from my new job in the kindergarten. I hadn’t studied early childhood education or had much of any experience working with young children, so I knew I had my work cut out for me and had a lot to learn... and boy, was I right. On top of having to learn the ropes of working with children, I also faced many challenges due to cultural differences with my colleagues, as well as from the language barriers. From all of this, I came to learn that I’m capable of working well with others from different cultures and backgrounds, and found it to be very enriching. I also realized that I picked up most of my German language skills just from my workplace, despite using various apps and taking evening courses, so now I know how useful everyday immersion is when trying to learn a new language.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown in Germany. Similarly to everyone else around the world, life as I knew it came to a complete halt. Bavaria was the first state in Germany to go into official lockdown in March, and the restrictions we were under were some of the tightest in the whole country. Just like in most countries, our schools and daycare centers were closed, and I didn’t end up going back to work until mid-June. Despite sticking it out as long as I could, I ended up returning to the US at the end of October 2020, and plan to move somewhere else in Europe when things with the pandemic hopefully improve and Americans are permitted to travel again.
Even though Germany wasn’t the experience I hoped for and wasn’t the place for me in the end, I don’t regret taking the leap and am so grateful for everything I learned in my year of living there. I now realize that it was meant to be a detour and temporary chapter in my life to teach me lessons that will help me reach where I am meant to be; it wasn’t meant to be my forever, and that’s okay. If you’re wanting to make a big change in your life and dream of living abroad but have fear holding you back, take my word for it; just go for it. Even if it doesn’t go the way you expect it to, what you’ll gain just from having the courage to try will be way more than anything you could lose.
Katharine fell in love with Europe and traveling since studying abroad in the Netherlands in 2018, where she spent 6 months as an exchange student. She received her TEFL certification from ITA upon graduating from college and moved to Germany right after to teach English. She is currently back in the US after spending over a year in Germany and is planning her next move back to Europe. You can follow her adventures and contact her on Instagram @katalgeo.
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