Back to the stone age: Being in a long-distance relationship with the citizen of a socialist country

Long-distance relationships are difficult enough – even if you have all technological means to make distance shorter it is still pretty damn hard. Now technology is something many of us have learned to take for granted – and I do not exclude myself here. In fact, I think many LDR couples nowadays rely so much on technology that it’s nearly impossible to imagine keeping your relationship running without it.

Ali and I started out our LDR when smartphones, tablets, WhatsApp and even facebook weren’t around. We met each other in an online game called Ragnarok and we communicated via the internal game chat most of the time. Other than that we used MSN or ICQ messenger – and e-mails! At times Ali used those free text messaging websites in order to write to me when I was out (since he did not have a German line) and later when voice and video chats became a thing we starting hanging out on Skype a lot. Hah, it sounds so prehistoric, just like our parents talking about vinyl or recording cassettes…Or maybe we are acrually getting old :P
So the longer our LDR lasted the easier communication became due to technological progress. I can still remember the huge difference it made for us when we both finally owned smartphones. Suddenly I did not have to be stuck in front of my laptop at home anymore in order to talk to Ali: I could even send messages on the run.

I wish it would continue to go on like that for us. But in the past years we have had to learn how to do more and more without technology and that less technology means increased distance. As Ali lives in Venezuela, a socialist country moving closer to economic breakdown every day now, even matter of course things like internet or even electricity have become scarce. Due to little rainfall (that’s not the only reason/problem, but I will let politics aside for now) the Guri dam produces not enough electricity for the grown population so that the government has decided to cut electricity and water for two periods of 4 hours each everyday. For us this means: 2 x 4 hours without internet, charging his phone or computer. Hours without communication. So on top of time difference we also have to coordinate with power cuts now. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. There have been times when I read news about riots, shot protesters or other bad things going on and I was not able to contact him or he me to tell me he is alright. It doesn’t make this LDR thing any easier when you fear the country your SO lives in to go up in flames any time.

Actually just now being in Kenya I have learned how these phases of power cuts must truly feel for him. It also means no TV, no radio, no computer games, no movies. And you better save your battery because you cannot be sure when or if the electricity comes back on. You are damned to boredom and doing nothing, especially if you have nothing to read or no offline hobbies like drawing or writing. It can be really frustrating at times. What I normally do when I’m bored is eat. But even food is too expensive in Venezuela to practice it as a hobby.

Having your SO live in a socialist country also means that they are exposed to any other kind of shortages that might occur.
Your laptop breaks?  Well, my fiancee studied informatics – here in Germany it would be an easy thing for him to buy the component he needs to fix it. But computer parts have – just like pretty much everything else – become unavailable. And if you are lucky enough to find what you are looking for they will charge you horrendous amounts of money that you think not twice but ten times if you want to sacrifice dinner for the rest of the week in order to fix your computer.
Well – just buy a new laptop then? HAH! Of course, with a 700% inflation new latops are barely affordable, too.
Getting sick? Good luck finding those little relief pills costing less than 5€ in Germany – but at least you get a worried girlfriend for free on top of it.
Your car needs a new tire?  Well, I guess trips to the embassy for marriage paperwork will be really tough from now on because there are simply no affordable tires available for the moment and near future.
You want to visit your girlfriend?  Too bad international airlines have almost stopped operating in your country and they won’t sell tickets to anyone who wants to pay in the national currency as they are not allowed to exchange this money into international currencies (which makes it basically worthless as there is nothing to buy within the country). So you will have to travel by road to a neighbouring country to take the flight from there. Because a 14 hours plane travel alone is not stressful enough already. In fact I have had these nightmarish visions of the permanent closure of Venezuelan borders to put an end to our plans to finally close the distance for some time now. I honestly don’t know how I would fare with this. That the borders have in fact been partially closed don’t do my nerves any good. These are the reasons I have stopped visiting him and his family in Venezuela and instead kept paying his tickets to Germany. Maybe this relationship is one reason why I became so interested in the past of socialist eastern Germany – history repeats itself.

By now I have started paying almost everything for Ali And I wish I could cover the needs of his family too as they have always been friendly, very nice hosts and supportive so we could be together. He didn’t like it at first, to say the least. In fact he refused to accept my my financial support until we got into a really big fight where I told him that he keeps delaying closing the distance because of his pride and stubborness. That was when I was fed up from spending ages looking for afforable German courses in Germany and Ali still doing the maths after every offer I presented to him. Basic German needs are only one of the requirements by German authorities in order to get married in Germany and I thought it would be the wisest thing for him to learn the language whereit is spoken and where we could also spend time together in person. Our first arrangement was that I would just pay a part of the fees but as Venezuela’s economy crumbled so did Ali’s income.

But I truly don’t mind. Our relationship is way beyond taking notes on how much we spend for or on each other. This relationship has always been expensive for both of us. We would always save most of our money in order to see each other and have a nice time while we were together. Although we are not going to marry in church I guess we are taking this “in good times and bad times” thing to the next level.

And I am not going to lie: I also see one good thing about this crisis. What always bugged me before was that Ali was determined and willing to give up his family, his friends, his life in order to close the distance – while I would get to keep all these + him. I felt selfish, I was not sure if I could justify his sacrifice in front of myself – especially in case we broke up in some near or distant future. In fact I have been the one to delay closing the distance at some points because of my concerns. Now that Venezuela is in ruins I almost feel like saving someone from a life with no future. I love him so much but even in the unlikely events that our paths should separate in the future I will never regret having succeeded in helping a person to live a better-off life outside Venezuela. My concerns were basically wiped out by socialism at it’s worst. It’s still not fair that he has to give up everything as pretty much everyone below the age of 40 has no future in Venezuela. But like this I can justify “stealing” him from his home country all the way,

*By the way, personally I would describe my political views as left-wing and I think many core goals of socialism are worth achieving. But there has yet to come one socialist system that proves it can truly realize a good and safe life for every member of society.

Advertisements

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