Challenging Times, But Not All Bad

Despite my lack of posting, I am still alive. Still chugging along at this crazy thing called life. You might think that I’ve been outside enjoying summer but in Hamburg, summer is it being 36C one day and 16C and raining the next so, no, I’m definitely not outside in either one of those temperatures. Instead I’m about to start my third week of yet another intensive German course, this time C1 (advanced). I would like to say that I’m really enjoying it, but I’m not. Remember this post is about challenging stuff. I’m finding the class really hard going, which if I was looking on the bright side, I would say that this is a good thing as it means I’m learning lots of new stuff. However, I feel like a total idiot the vast majority of the time. Also, unlike my previous German classes, I’m really not gelling with any of my fellow German learners this time around. The class is decidedly un-fun.

The reason I’m taking this class is because of my next big challenge. I have a new job which I will be starting at the beginning of August (in 2 weeks, yikes!). This new job will be completely in German. Cue me freaking out, big time. It’s also a job that I’ve never done before, so not only will I be learning all new things, I’ll be doing it in a foreign language. I’m finding it somewhat mind-blowing that I will be doing a job in a language that I didn’t even speak 4 years ago and that fact is just adding to my panic. I know logically that they would not have hired me if my German was that bad and that working in German all day is going to really propel me to fluency, but the first couple of months are going to be really tough. Also, I will be working in a massive agency that has 4 floors’ worth of staff, which is going to be a huge change from working in an office with just one other person. In fact, my team alone has 12 people on it. This will not be an office where I can blast my music when I’m having a bad day. I will need to invest in some decent headphones, cause let’s face it, there will be bad days, probably quite a few of them.

I know these challenges will lead to good things, which is why I’m refusing to categorise them as bad, however, I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed right now. I’m not always that great with change, even change that I know will be good for me in the long run. For those of you who have made the transition from working in English to working in German, please tell me that it wasn’t that bad or at the very least it resulted in some great stories. I need some positive vibes over here.

 

Do You Call Yourself An Expat Or An Immigrant – And What Is Really The Difference Between The Two?

Words are powerful, especially the words we choose to describe ourselves with. Therefore, I’m especially interested in what words people living outside of their home country choose to use to describe themselves. There is a whole range of them, but the two most commonly used are Expat and Immigrant – and they are used in very different ways. Here is how I choose to define them, the way you do may be completely different. An Expat is someone who for work reasons moves to a new country for a fixed period of time, usually between 1-3 years, before returning to their home country. An Immigrant is someone who for economical reasons or because their wife/husband is from a different country moves to a new country but there is no plan to return to their home country. The word Expat is viewed favourably and is mostly used by reasonably well-off people (usually white) coming from Western countries. People will call themselves an Expat, even though they have lived in a foreign country for 10 or more years and have no desire to return to their home country. Immigrant is a word that is viewed quite negatively, particularly in the media. It is a word used to describe poor white people and all coloured people, regardless of their situation. To be quite frank, this pisses me off, especially in the racist world we currently live in.

After making the decision to become a permanent resident in Germany, I stopped referring to myself as an Expat and started referring to myself as an Immigrant, as that is precisely what I am now. I have no intention of moving back to Australia. I had, for all intent and purposes, ‘taken’ a job away from a German (and hope to ‘take’ another job away from them asap) and whilst my German is improving, it is obvious to all who speak to me that I am a foreigner. For me to continue to use the word Expat is, in my opinion, exercising my white privilege and that’s just bullshit. If an Arab woman who is in the exact same position as I am can’t call herself or be referred to as an Expat, then why should I? Anyway, when did Immigrant become a dirty word? My guess is sometime around the 1970s, maybe earlier.

I would like to see more people in the ‘Expat’ community – those who have moved here because their wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is German and those who have chosen to make Germany their home, at least for the medium term, to start referring to themselves as Immigrants. If we want to stop the media from bashing Immigrants daily more of us ‘privileged’ folk need to start identifying as one. Most people, especially here in Germany, don’t consider white Westerners as Immigrants. I have on numerous occasions had Germans bitching about Immigrants to me and as soon I pointed out that I was one, they replied that no, I wasn’t because I’m not Turkish or Arab. I was an Expat. No, I’m fucking not. My time in Germany is not limited to a 3 year work contract and I have no plans to return to Australia. I am every bit as much of an Immigrant as the woman from Turkey who is also making her life here. Hell, at the moment, I’m also an Immigrant who has come over here and is stealing ‘our’ benefits (I’m on unemployment benefits at the moment). I just don’t get criticised for it because I’m white and from a well-off Western country. That is not fair and it is not right.

Perhaps referring to myself as an Immigrant and asking others in the same position as I am to do the same is not going to change anything on this matter. However, I like to think that every German I inform that when they bitch about Immigrants, they are bitching about me too might go away and think just a little longer before they do so again in the future and every person who reads this post might think a little harder about who they class as Immigrants and who they class as Expats and why or about how they choose to self-identify. Perhaps if more people in the same circumstances as I am in did this too, then just maybe we might be able to bring about a tiny change in the words we use to describe people and the reasons why.

FEATS 2015

Over the Pfingsten/Whitsun long weekend, otherwise known as last weekend, my theatre group hosted FEATS. FEATS stands for the Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies and is a 4 day long competition where 12 theatre groups based in European countries where English is not the official language each present a one act play in English and battle it out for Best Play as well as Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Original Script. As my theatre group was hosting it, I found myself with the position of Festival Sound Technician and my job for the 4 days was to help the groups during their 2 hour rehearsal period set up their sound equipment and, if needed, teach them how to use the sound mixer board and then be on stand-by during the performance in case of technical problems.  Since 3 groups perform each night and each get a 2 hour rehearsal period during the day, my day ran from 8am til 12am (& sometimes beyond) for all four days. It was an exercise in functioning on very little sleep. Fortunately, we were aided by the awesome technical crew of the Altonaer Theatre, which we rented for FEATS, who were extremely generous with their time and knowledge and forgiving of my ever decreasing grip on German grammar as the festival progressed and I became more and more sleep deprived.

What I found most interesting is that every group ran their sound differently – some used CDs and others their iPods whilst some even built their own software to run their sound effects from their laptops. Also, their experience ranged from very experience to never having done sound before. Some got their sound plans into us by the deadline so I knew what to expect and could plan accordingly whilst some never bothered to tell us and one group got a little aggressive in their demands for microphones that I had no idea they needed and thus required some time to get it organised. As this was a competition everything was assessed and given a mark, including how they ran their rehearsal, communicated with us and in between themselves and how organised they were. You can bet I gave the aggressive group a low score.

Our view from the tech box plus the lighting & sound boards

I also loved being back in a theatre. For some reason a theatre feels like home to me and I’m very comfortable there. Also, I love the humor that exists amongst the members of the tech team and were on full display up in our tech box where the lighting and sound is run from. These included;

The Play Acceleration Knob to ‘fast-forward’ through the boring bits.

 

The ‘Fall’ wall full of German words containing the word ‘fall’

 

Something for before & after the performance (alcohol & relaxing bath oil)

 

plus a myriad of other things scattered around the place.

 

I compiled a list of stats that I feel shows the huge amount of work that goes into running FEATS:

24 hours of rehearsals

18 hours of performances

15 hours of sleep

all in four days

 

Now, I get a couple of days rest before going into a three day tech set-up for our next play The 39 Steps. It’s a good thing that I’m currently unemployed because, at the moment, I would have no time to actually go to work.

 

Your Friday German Music Break

I apologise for the radio silence, but I’m currently insanely busy being an unpaid sound designer/technician (yes, this is what I do in my spare time). However, I wanted to share with you all a song to celebrate it being a Friday, a song that I have on high rotation on my iPod which has the added bonus of being in German. I definitely recommend wearing headphone for this, if only to hear the great bass in this song. Enjoy!

Have a great weekend!

 

The Results of the B2 German Exam Are In…

…. and I passed!! I’m so excited. The exam was so difficult that I was sure that I didn’t have a hope in hell of passing.

Ok, so for the breakdown, here’s what I received.

Reading: 64% – as the most difficult section of the exam, I’m surprised I did that well

Listening: 74% –  given that the first part of this section was ridiculously hard, I have to assume I aced the second part.

Writing:  72% – given my writing skills, this is amazing.

Speaking: 90% – What?? Speaking is my worst skill and what I get criticized the most about by my teachers. How did I get 90%??

Total Score: 75%

Happy doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel at the moment.

Crunching The Numbers: Final Edition Plus The Dreaded B2 Exam

Goethe-Institut logo

Photo credit: Wikipedia

This month was my final month of my Intensive German course. Since January I have been doing 5 hours of German class every day and I’ve now reached a point where I am comfortable in German. My German is nowhere near fluent and I still make lots of mistakes, but I can function pretty well in German in my daily life.

This month’s class was the worst experience I have had to date. We were assigned a teacher who normally teaches at the Goethe Institute in Amsterdam. To be blunt, she was dreadful and we ended up playing more theatre games than actually learning German. Things reached a breaking point a week before our exam. The teacher was removed and my awesome German teacher from January and March took over the class to get us ready for the exam. The final week was great but gruelling and we finished up the week fully prepared to sit our exam. Because of the problems with the teachers, I did received a final grade, but only based on my final week of work. However, I feel it was an accurate assessment, especially since it was made by a teacher that I have had for two previous months.

The grades were:

Reading: 2

Listening: 2

Structure: 3

Speaking: 3

Writing: 3

Yes, they are identical to last month’s grades. The skills I am the weakest in have not changed.

The night before my B2 exam I was feeling nervous but quietly confident. We had done a practice exam in class two days previous and the entire class passed. I felt sure I could handle the real thing. What none of us counted on was that the real thing would be way more difficult than anything we encountered in class, especially in reading comprehension, which normally is my strongest skill. The only reassuring thing is that the entire 3 classrooms of people sitting the exam all walked out feeling rather shell-shocked. No one was expecting anything as difficult as what we encountered. However, the pass mark still sits at 60%. I am not sure that I was able to achieve that. I am not going to beat myself up about that though. The only thing on the line here is my pride. I was sitting this exam mainly for myself and partly also because B2 would look better on my resume than B1. If I failed, I can always re-sit the exam.

I now have two months off from classes. Whether I go back in July will depend on whether or not I have found a job by then. The hardest part will be to keep working on my German during May and June. I have plans, but I also know that I am a chronic procrastinator. The good thing is that my German has now reached a stage where I really enjoy watching TV and movies in German (strange, but true), so at least I will keep that side of it up.

 

Crunching The Numbers: Month 3 of German Class

Goethe-Institut logo

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Just like I did in January and February, I’m going to share with you how I did this month in my intensive German course at the Goethe Institut. This month I had the amazing teacher I had back in January and once again I learnt so much, especially about how much I don’t know and can not do in German. Still, tiny steps – and I feel like I did make some progress. As much as we joke around and laugh with our teacher she is strict and doesn’t let a single mistake get past her. Those of us in her January class received the most criticism as she knows and believes that we are capable of pushing ourselves and doing better. To be honest, I thrive under these conditions. I respond well to someone pushing me, although it does need to be balanced out with fun and lots of laughter which in this class it was.

So, how did I do this month?

Reading: 2

Listening: 2

Structure: 3

Writing: 3

Speaking: 3

On the surface, these grades look like the worst I’ve done so far, but given that our teacher warned us that she grades hard, I am surprised I did so well. Also her comments were really encouraging. I’m no longer accidentally slipping into English, although my native language is heavily influencing how I pronounce some words. Also, I really struggle with relative sentences where the verb needs to go on the end, because let’s face it, keeping the verb in your head whilst you simultaneously try to remember the words you want to say and then trying to remember how they all go together is like performing mental gymnastics every time you open your mouth. My brain is not as young as it once was. I believe I will get there, but the road will not easy.

Next month is my final month at the Goethe Institut (for now) and I will sit my B2 exam at the end of it. This month we did quite a lot of exam preparation which was great in showing me where my weaknesses are. I now need to work on those areas to get them up to exam standards. Here’s hoping that I can do so.