Insecurity and LDR double standards

So, I am sorry I haven’t been writing in some time. My new semester at university has started and classes, group works and tasks have already taken its toll again (it’s been two weeks since the semester started – what the heck?!). Oh, and I’m also massively working overtime.

And to be honest – I was also a little clueless on what to write about. Until I haven’t signed a contract that will ensure my employment for after June and guarantee me the chance to move to Berlin with my employer I feel a little insecure to make plans on precisely how, where and when to get Ali to Germany. I hope to have news about this within the next two or three weeks…Plan A is still a language course for him.

Meanwhile the Aliens Department in my hometown (get the joke with my blog title now?) surprised me by answering my question about the so called “Verpflichtungserklärung” (which is basically a commitement by a German citizen to cover the costs for living  for a foreign visitor, student, tourist or such) within one day via e-mail. I was a little confused because in the form I found on their website it said the maximum duration for the visit can be three months, which is way too short for the language courses we had in mind. So I wasn’t sure if I had actually found the right form. They told me to just state the number of the months he actually wants to stay here anyway, regardless of the remark in the form. So much about self-explanatory bureaucracy.

And because university, my job and my long-distance relationship isn’t enough already I had the brilliant idea to sign up for three voluntary teams in a club that helps to promote my degree program to possible future employers.

So I met with some of the other volunteers in a bar on Thursday to talk about how we divide the work that has to be done. And as it always is and because there actually wasn’t that much work to divide we also chatted about a lot of other stuff. I don’t quite remember how we got there but one of my class mates told another girl from a different semester about her boyfriend who studies in Latvia – so obviously a long-distance relationship (LDR). I was just beginning to feel sympathetic towards her when the girl she talked to mentioned someone she knows from Greece who is in a long-distance relationship with someone from Latin America. She also mentioned how difficult it is for them to see each other frequently because of how expensive plane tickets are. My classmate replied: “This sounds mean – but it won’t last between them for long.” This somehow hit me hard – and I don’t know why, because I have heard people disencourage LDR couples so often. But how dare you judge another LDR couple you know nothing about not to make it if you are in a LDR yourself. Well, sure it’s so much easier to visit each other if it’s “just” 1.000 kilometers separating you instead of 8.000+ but LDR remains LDR. And if you are in a LDR yourself why would you be so judgemental about other couples who are in pretty much the same situation as you are. I guess I’ll have to try hard not to let this influence me in how I interact with her in the future because hearing her say that made me kind of sad, to be honest. Are those double standards already? I don’t know.

Have you had negative experience with people judging your or someone else’s LDR? I’d be curious to hear about them.

Learning German: Goethe Institut

So, as I promised yesterday I will start highlighting different German language schools in Germany and I would like with the Goethe Institut. On their website they claim to be the “world-wide market leader for teaching German” and well, that is probably true. They were my first guess when we were thinking about the right German course for Ali. Their schools have a very high reputation among employers in Germany and abroad and offer a great variety of different German course concepts, such as courses especially for children and teenagers, professionals and intensive courses. I took a closer look at the “intensive 4” course because it is easier to compare a 4-week/one-month course with offers from other schools. Here is a list of what the course includes:

  • max. class size: 16
  • intensive language training from Monday to Friday
  • all levels
  • placement test at the beginning of the course
  • systematic advice on your learning path, including a learning portfolio
  • opportunity to take an examination at the end of the course
  • all course materials
  • self-directed and supported learning in the media resource center
  • extensive cultural and leisure program

In the follwing I will point out the main advantages and disadvantages of this school. I have also read many reviews to come up with a more reliable judgement since we haven’t decided for any school, yet.

The pro’s

  • The website: This might sound silly but for me nothing is worse than a website where you don’t find the information you’re looking for almost immediately. Their website is clearly structured and arranged and you find the information you’re looking for in the place you would naturally look for it – probably even in your first language. Sounds self-evident but sadly it’s not. It’s unthinkable how many horrible websites are still out there – what year is it?
  • Variety of cities: There are schools all over Germany so you are free to choose what part of Germany you would like to get to know when you’re not in class. The locations for the 4-weeks intensive course are Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Freiburg, Göttingen, Hamburg, Mannheim, Munich and Schwäbisch Hall.
  • Language course + internship: Goethe Institut isn’t the only school to offer a language course in combination with a subsequent internship but I think it’s a great opportunity to gain professional experience for anyone who plans on working in Germany in the future.
  • High reputation among employers: As I mentioned above the courses at Goethe Institut are highly recognized among employers. Here is a quote that struck me while reading about people’s experience with Goethe Institute: “People all over the world recognize the Goethe Institut. As an example, a friend of mine passed the DAF [German as foreign language test] and ZOP [C2 level] examinations last year. Both of those are state sponsored examinations. When he showed them to his American employer, he was asked whether he could provide a Goethe-Zertifikat instead!” – To be fair, the ZOP has been integrated into the C2-Goethe certificate in 2012, but it’s still speaking for the reputation of Goethe Institut.
  • Employees seem to know what they’re talking about: When I called at Goethe Institute to get personal consultation and more information about the visa procedure the woman on the phone really seemed to know what she was talking about. This is something I would have naturally expected but when I called at InLingua in Hannover for example they told me different things than what they had on their website – that’s always odd. I can’t say anything about the teachers
  • Help to find accomodation: Not everyone might be in need of help to find a place to stay but especially when you come from another continent it would give me a good feeling to rely on the school to help me a room instead of ending up with obscure private offers. These are the rooms in Schwäbisch Hall for example (click on the slideshow at the top of the page).
  • Easy online booking form

The con

  • The prices: Uff, I had to swallow hard when I first read those numbers. The basic 4-weeks intensive course costs about 1045€ (varying a little depending on which city you choose), 1195€ in the summer months of July and August. And that’s just the course, accomodation will add with additional 300-700€ per month (also varying on the location – bigger cities such as Hamburg or Munich are usually more expensive). I mean, that’s a lot of money – for one month only. Compared to other schools this is really expensive and I am not sure if they can always make up to the expectations connected to such high fees. As anywhere else the experience gained and progress made depends highly on the teachers you end up with, I have read as many recommendations of Goethe as of people saying it was horrible.

So although I only named one con for German class at Goethe Institut it’s a pretty strong one. I encourage you to find reports of people who have taken a course at Goethe in the location you would like to stay. Only that way you can estimate how good the teachers are. Keep in mind, though, that in the end experience is always subjective.

Have you studied at Goethe Institut and are able to give some insights? I’m looking forward to your comments!

Learning German online and for free: Deutsche Welle

For all those of you who want to learn German but cannot afford or bring themselves to spend money on professional courses, here comes a free alternative that I discovered when Ali’s old German teacher abandonded him and he could not find a new one that quickly.

The Deutsche Welle is a German broadcasting organisation that features well researched articles and information about events all over the world in 30 languages. It is definitely a good source when it comes to accessing news about events in Germany in your native language as well but what is even better is the free German self-learning lessons they offer. It includes a free placement test, articles and texts to improve your comprehension as well as audio files and slowly read recent news to train your hearing – everything matching the different levels of your language skills. Another plus is that the news part is being constantly updated so there is always new content to learn with. As far as I can tell there aren’t any better websites to learn German for free. If I should stumble across one, anyway, I will definitely let you know.

It does take some self-motivation and time to learn German (or any language) this way, of course. I used to give Ali homework that I would control to build up a little pressure that he needs to get things done. If you do not know any native speaker who has the time to be your “teacher” then try setting yourself repeating reminders on your phone or save yourself one specific evening a week to spend an hour or so on this website – excercising or reading whatever you feel like in that moment because there is no point in killing your motivation by doing things you don’t like.

This site is less suitable to practice your speech but definitely helpful in getting to a point where you  feel more comfortable speaking when it comes to vocabulary and grammar. Hope you can make good use of it!

>> www.dw.de/learn-german/s-2469 

The Options

As the economic situation in Venezuela is becoming really grave (I will explain the situation there in another post) Ali and I are looking for ways that make it possible for him to leave as soon as possible. Well, to be precise, we have found and thought about different options in the past, of course, and I would like to highlight those that seem to be the best in our case. This post is only to give an overview – I plan to write about the various options more in-depth in the future.

Marriage
Although marriage always seems to be the first thought when it comes to foreign couples moving together it is definitely not my favoured option. It would enable Ali to stay in Germany and give him the oportunity to work here. But although I can definitely see myself marrying Ali in the future I would like to marry him because the timing feels right – not because laws leave us no other option. This might sound foolish and even selfish but especially for a person like me who has never really been the marriage type of girl it is crucial. Another important reason is that I am still going to university and the financial aspect of marrying. Getting all the necessary documents, fees and plane ticket(s) will cost a lot of money. I am only working part-time and Ali will probably not find a job immediately after moving here while our living expenses would continue. I have saved a small amount of money to cover the marriage itself but I would not know how or if we would make ends meet afterwards. Many people I have gotten to know who are in the same situation as us have the support of their families to bridge the first time after marriage. Sadly, this is not be possible in our case. So marriage was our option for the time after my graduation – that is in 1,5 years. But Ali wants to leave as soon as possible and therefore we are evaluating other options at the moment.

Finding a job
Finding a job – that sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, sadly it is not – at least if you are from outside the EU. Ali has studied informatics in Venezuela and two masters in economics and logistics in Spain. German companies are desperately looking for IT professionals – or so it is said. But Ali has applied for numerous jobs at internationally operating  companies in Germany (which would maybe tolerate his not so perfect German at the beginning) and only a few have bothered to interview him via Skype. I can even understand them a little. I mean who would bother to go through a lot of trouble including communication problems, visa issues and other paperwork when it is so much easier to keep looking for potential candidates from Germany or the EU.

There is the “jobseeker’s visa“, though: “University graduates with a German or other recognised university degree, or a foreign degree comparable to a German degree, are allowed to enter Germany and seek a job once here. They get a jobseeker’s visa for their job search and are allowed to stay in Germany for up to six months to find employment. They need to prove that they have enough money to live on during their time here. While trying to find a job, they may not work at all, because the job-seeking visa does not permit them to work, whether on a self-employed basis or otherwise” (bluecard-eu.de). Sadly, this is no option for us as well because the problem about covering Ali’s living expenses remains the same as if we were getting married. But to anyone who has the money it would greatly improve the chance to be invited for a job interview and therefore being hired, I’m sure of that. Finding a German company willing to give you a chance is the best thing that could happen to anyone looking to stay in Germany and for Ali and me, anyway. You get the chance to work on you German in Germany (which is the only efficient way to learn German if you ask me), earn money and can start settling in – that’s pretty much all you ask anyway, right?

Studying
Studying at a German university even with medium German language skills is though but not impossible. The advantage of studying here is that you keep educating yourself further and gain a certificate that is acknowledged by German companies for sure. Furthermore you keep learning German, study with Germans and therefore make friends and/or get to know people that might be helpful in finding a job later on. You even have the possibility to work while you study although the number of (full) days is limited to 120 per year. As the bigger part of the fees charged by German universities and colleges per semester has been abolished in most federal states, studying in Germany is now cheaper than some years ago. You will still have living expenses, of course. Depending on where in Germany you live and study you can get by with about 500-700 Euro. Many science, IT and engineering programs do not have any restrictions on entry as long as you are able to fulfill the necessary paperwork from abroad and meet general criteria for foreign students. But of course any person who has already invested many years in education in their home country would much rather like work than begin anew.

Language courses
Language courses are only a temporary option, of course. A visa for a language course grants you the possibility to stay in Germany up to two years although the visa will only be granted for a period of 6 months beforehand before you have renew it – at least that is what they told me at Inlingua in Hannover. Their main purpose is for you to improve your German language skills. You are not allowed to work during your stay, though.

Bundesfreiwilligendienst
bluecard-eu.de and bundes-freiwilligendienst.de state that it is possible for citizens from outside the EU to to get to know the life in Germany by serving a voluntary service (“Bundesfreiwilligendienst”, BFD – you gotta love German word chains, right? ;). There is no English version of the official BFD website, though, and I did not find any information regarding foreign volunteers on their website, either. I  have written an e-mail to them to verify if this is a genuine option for people from outside the EU.

As mentioned above I will write about these alternatives more in-depth in the future but I hope this gave you a good overview over the most common options.