My thoughts are with Venezuela

Solidary demonstration for the Venezuelan opposition in Berlin, Germany (Credit by venezuela-europa.blogspot.com)

I am so sorry I have not been updating as fequently as I wanted to. When starting this blog about two weeks ago little did I know how the situation in Venezuela would develop. At the moment I spend most of my spare time reading blogs (such as caracaschronicles.com) and Twitter posts, watching videos and news. With the situation in Ucraine seemingly more or less resolved and the Winter Olympics of Sochi being over the international media has finally begun focussing on events in Venezuela. Although it still gives me shivers to watch masked protesters throwing tear gas canisters back at the security forces I am happy to open Facebook in the morning and see big online newspapers like Spiegel Online and Die Welt report.

There have been a few solidary demonstrations for the Venezuelan opposition in Germany the past weekend, and although I only know of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Heidelberg this is more than I expected. It gives me hope, though, because I feel like I am not the only one sitting in her safe and comfortable German home thinking of dear ones in Venezuela who have to go through such a time of insecurity. I have looked for demonstrations somewhere near my hometown but did not find any. Maybe joining a demonstration (without the fear of getting shot) and screaming out the frustration that has been slowly building inside of me would give me some kind of relief.

Anyhow, kudos to those who organized the demonstrations and produced some really nice images to share on the web as well!


Update:
Looks like there have also been actions in Regensburg and Hamburg (boo, and I didn’t know!)

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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!

Making decisions

Ali has had a hard time deciding for a way to leave Venezuela. “Escape” would be a better fitting word, though. He is afraid of making the wrong decision and although I can understand him the waiting is straining my nerves. I don’t know when I have become this way but I wish I could just start organizing stuff. Papers, agreements, making phone calls, getting informations, whatever. He is afraid to leave Venezuela not fast enough but on the other hand he also does not want to waste more time with things that he won’t benefit from when it comes to moving to Germany.

In this post I highlighted the main options we consider. Many Venezuelans think about leaving to Ireland to take English classes at the moment. The reason is that there are very few and low restrictions to leave – this a strong pro because Venezuelans have complicated visa conditions for most countries and difficulties to exchange the needed amount of foreign currency due to the governmental restrictions on exchangable money per year. As long as you can afford your living expenses in Ireland and the course fees you’re good to go, though. You can to stay up to one year and even allowed to work meanwhile which is not allowed in Germany for example. If you are lucky to get a permanent contract you are allowed to stay even longer. Anyhow, the more Venezuelans arrive the lower the chances of finding a job get and good language skills are crucial.

And although I would love to have Ali finally by my side I force myself to be rational about this. Actually, I am pretty good at being rational. But even being rational: since Ali’s ultimate plan is to live in Germany (with me) we focus on the possibilities that will get him here instead of looking for an over-night escape plan. Because I have a pretty secure job in sight we will sooner or later get married, anyway, but for some reason (maybe pride) Ali still wants to make it on his own somehow. It took him long enough to come up to me and ask for help. A German course would be a good way to bridge the gap until I finish my master degree and we could marry while studying would equip him with a valuable degree and increase his chances to find a good job.

Decisions, decisions…Hope he makes one soon.

Upcoming: Highlighting different language schools in Germany and things you need to know about visa regulations for language courses!

Good news: A job? As in “a real job”?

So, Berlin it is. One year to say good-bye to my hometown.

The situation in Venezuela during the last days had me so worried that I was barely able to process what a blessing happened to me and what it would mean for Ali and me.

As a student I have been working for a development organisation for more than two year and in November they offered me a terminated part-time job to cover up for another employee who was quitting for another job. My contract would expire in June 2014 – after that the organisation’s office in Hannover, my hometown, would be closed and the remaining employees would have to choose from moving to Berlin, where the new German HQ would be, or quit. Anyhow, this was of no concern to me since my contract would terminate at the end of June, anyway. But this week my supervisor asked me if I could imagine to keep working for them after June. And even though I will not be able to move to Berlin until February 2015 because of my master degree they want to keep me. I would be working from home for about 7 months and then move to Berlin in my final master semester when I won’t have any classes but will only write my thesis.

Wow – this is so awesome. I mean, although the German economy is running well the competition for jobs is tough in the field of communications and public relations. I can see that when I talk to my ex fellow students from my bachelor degree. Finding a real job right after graduation is difficult and payment is low. This had me worried for a long time because I knew it would probably depend on me and my success on finding a job how fast Ali and I would be able to get married and therefore move together. So this is lifted off my shoulders for now – and it feels just great!


Silly me started following blogs about Berlin and looking for flats in Berlin immediately. There are a few downsides, of course: My family and friends live in Hannover and although Hannover is rather infamous amongst Germans I love my hometown (seriously, it’s actually quite pretty!). I will also not be able to study a semester abroad as I had planned or be able to gain experience in the free economy by an internship during my final master semester. I am a little afraid that I my vitae will be too dominated by experience in the non-profit sector to be able to work in the free economy afterwards. But I’m sure I’ll make things work as I always have – independent strong woman right here ;)

The only bitter taste about all of this is: Marrying in combination with financial security is the safest way to immigrate to Germany. It really should not be that way.

Not the Valentine’s type of girl

Okay, so all the long-distance relationship (LDR) blogs I’m following have been overflowing with ideas for LDR presents on Valentines Day. Not that I am especially creative, anyway, but I have never been a fan of commercialized holidays – it’s what I have been hating about christmas most of my life and Valentine’s Day is certainly no different. All the pressure to give something because it is expected and not because you feel like it is just killing all the joy about it for me. It would be a day like any other to me, although it is hard to escape the omnipresent romance starting two weeks before the actual date or all the “forever alone” posts on the internet. Fellow blogger Trang has pretty much caught my feelings about Valentine’s Day in words when she writes “you don’t have to be in a relationship to feel special and happy on V-Day! And don’t use this day to make up for what you should have done for the people you love” each and every day all year long.

However, with the violent protests in Venezuela going on it does make me feel awkwardly sentimental and makes me miss Ali more than usual. Probably it doesn’t have much to do with Valentine’s Day itself but the coincidence that these two events match. I know his safety is not an issue (yet) but strangely, today I find it hard to ignore Valentine’s Day and pretend it just another day like any other.

I must admit that listening to sad songs foremost people in long-distance relationship can relate to just too well doesn’t help my mood much, either. But, oh well, here is one of my favourites (although I didn’t like the movie much):

“I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from A to where you’d ‘B’
It’s only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I’d find your face
My fingers in creases of distant dark places”

(I promise there will be less sentimental posts on here in the future – it’s really not my usual way – and more actual advice and help posts)

Dead and wounded after street riots in Venezuela

A few days ago I started working on a post for this blog trying the explain to situation in Venezuela for people who are not familiar with the politicial and economic situation there and help you understand why Ali wants to leave so badly and why moving to Venezuela is no option for me. Well, events in Venezuela have forestalled my post in planning.

For a few days now there have been demonstrations against Venezuelan president Maduro, initiated and encouraged by the dire economic situation in Venezuela und recent bottlenecks in supplies. Just the other day Ali was jokingly saying that it was good I am not there right now to put up with his body odor because he ran out of deodorant and was unable to get any new in the stores. Many basic products like wheat or toilet paper are hardly availabel. To get a better idea of the shortsfalls you may watch the video by Skynews below, this video or this feature by German ARD Weltspiegel.


According to Agence France Press and other sources cited by Yahoo News two demonstrators died on Wednesday, apparentaly another person died in the meantime (see Reuters below). It is quite difficult to find reliable and neutral sources. Press freedom is a difficult topic in Venezuela and I would go almost as far as to say it does not exist. While private media mainly reports onesided against the government, state media reports onesided for the government. Both does not help press freedom. Reporters without borders has published their map of press freedom 2013 just a few days ago and has classified Venezuela as country with “noticable problems”. Ali said there were mainly soap operas and movies on state TV on wednesday all day, only features of pro-government demonstrations were broadcasted and there have been reports of the Colombian cable TV channel NTN24’s live coverage having been censored by the Venezuelan government. I am not sure what to believe and I think many Venezuelans feel the same.

Many of the anti-government demonstrators are students, Ali’s brother is one of them and although I am not especially religious I can only pray for his safety. This video by news agency Reuters gives a short but good overview over the recent events.

All this does extremely worry me, of course. If you have a look at the video from Barquisimeto (Ali’s hometown) below, you somehow feel yourself reminded of news coverage from the Arab Spring. Ali himself says he hasn’t been this afraid for civil war in years and that worries me even more. It has always been my nightmare that Venezuela will sink in chaos overnight and there will be hardly any way out for him. I know there is no point in worrying because all I can do is sit here, hope and wait but the feeling of helplessness is killing me. It does show me quite plainly how urgent it is for Ali to finally leave Venezuela. I keep my fingers crossed that we work something out soon and will keep you updated.

Until then…

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.

This is it.

So this is it. I am seriously beginning  to blog.

For years now I had been looking for a topic that would prove interesting enough to keep writing about over a long span of time. And for years I had been thinking: “There is nothing that interesting in your life, nothing that is worth sharing, nothing that would bear news for too long.”

Well, but just a few days ago I discovered I might have been wrong all this time.
This blog is about my boyfriend Ali and me, Judith, a 23-year old communication management student from Germany. Well, admittedly this does not sound too exciting, does it? What is unsual about us is that we have been in a long-distance relationship for almost 8 years now. Internet has made possible what many of our friends and family members have described with words like crazy, impossible, hopeless, naive or a phase in the past. Well, apparently our relationship has proved to be anything but that.

Ali is from  and lives in Venezuela, a part of his family being Colombian. He will turn 30 this year – a number that has always been our deadline to finally live “together” – as in: at least in the same country. But at the moment it looks like we won’t make it. Just the same continent seems to be difficult enough to achieve. We had to experience ourselves that the German Fachkräftemangel (skilled worker shortage) proclaimed by German politics and media does not mean that it is easy for people from outside the European Union to move to Germany to work.

So this blog is not about our relationship itself but about Ali’s way to Germany. We want to share our experience, our mistakes, advice and tips with people all over the world who might find themselves in the same or a similar situation and of course anyone else who is interested. Cheers!

(Please bare in mind that neither Ali nor me are native English speakers. Of course, we try to write as correctly as possible but the main purpose of this blog is not to prove our proficiency in the English language but to offer useful information about making it to Germany. Thank you :)