Tag Archives: education

Why Do You Want to Live in Germany???!!

bw fountain

She tossed my file on the desk, and glaring at me through heavily-framed glasses, she asked me a simple question:

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I didn’t know I was being interviewed by immigration at the time (I thought she was some kind of social worker, benevolently helping me with paperwork). If I had known, I would’ve learned phrases like “mass shootings” and “frenetic pace of life” to help explain.

I had been warned by the experts that when I had my immigration “interview” (which for me conjures business suits rather than blue jeans), I should ALWAYS answer this question in any variation of the following ways:

  • I want to work.
  • I want to learn better German.
  • I want to work.

And unless you are an M.D. or Ph.D.,  answers involving the words “healthcare” or “education” are verboten.

I have two character flaws that make me both charming and dangerous:

  • I always believe the best in people
  • I try to look on the bright side of things

I’m not ignorant of the world. I mean, I did walk by a man bleeding to death from a stab wound on my way home one evening, but my first (and correct) assumption was: Nothing to fear. It was just a bar fight. 

Even though I do try to remember distinguishing features of people’s faces as I walk down the street, in case I need to identify them later, I’m not fearful about it–just aware.

While dealing with German bureaucracy has been a fairly consistent stress headache for the past eight months, I have learned that some things just can’t be translated.

I know by all the memes on facebook rife with logical fallacies, that political words are being grossly mistreated by people who don’t know how to handle them. These abusive wranglers hold the words ‘social democracy’ by the throat out of ignorance.

With all of these issues burning on the minds of people back home, I’ve been asked that simple question repeatedly, not by empire builders in their little cubicles, but by people who loved me before I was born.

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I know that many people want me to dissect the inner workings of the ‘ideal’ society, but the answer isn’t as simple as cutting the beast open and looking at its organs.

Germany and America are altogether different creatures; they have evolved differently, with different temperaments and motivations. And for those who think Germany is some sort of valhalla where schnitzel falls from trees and rivers run with Riesling, think again. Not all Germans are happy with their political system (my god, they have more political parties than beer varieties).

Yes, I like the Education and Healthcare here.

I admit it: I like that my kids can burn themselves with welding tools at school, rather than participate in mass shooter drills. I love that they are becoming fluent in another language, which will give them better opportunities. I love that they learn about the reformation by visiting historical sights in Nürnberg. I love that Catholics, Protestants and Atheists have their own religion classes in school. I love that if you get cancer here, you won’t have to sell your house to pay medical bills.

Now, some wise-ass is going to ask: Do you love the taxes?

My answer: Who the hell loves taxes?

You pay them according to your tax bracket; and unless I’m mistaken, everyone hates taxes equally. And incredibly enough, some people here still have money for Michael Kors bags and Hugo Boss jeans. Germany is not a prison block, where we all wear the same jumpsuits and dig ditches under the prying eyes of the tax man.

Frankly, I hate talk of politics: taxes, healthcare, education, war. These are important, but they create a vicious vortex of negativity, and, as your Emancipated Pollyanna, I don’t want to dive headlong into those things.

So, why do I choose this expat life?

I walk my dog in the park at five A.M, and give him a toy, so he doesn’t growl at the newspaper lady. The old man with his funny Franconian hat, smoking cigarettes in front of the nursing home says good morning to me, even though it’s still too dark to see his eyes. I walk the kids to school, not out of fear from attack, but because it’s our time to talk.

The sun shines through the windows of my apartment in the morning, making it brighter and warmer with its white walls and wood floors gleaming. I have a closet in the hallway that reminds me of my grandma’s.

I can’t walk to the cobbled corner of Neustadt and Rosenbad without greeting someone I know.

The kids come home from school, and when I haven’t spent the entire morning at the Ausländeramt, I have lunch ready, and we sit at the table on our fold-out chairs and talk about TV and music and good teachers and bad teachers and true love and sex and what the hell is the dog eating over there?

In the evenings, I meet the people who help me to be a better version of myself; and we lift heavy weights and sling kettle bells and run and jump and sweat and complain and laugh and complain again.

Sometimes, I Skype my son in New York, and his energy encourages me to keep working to live my dreams.

I sit on a quiet sofa in my meditative place, eating raspberries, while I churn out pages upon pages of my novel.

I know it's not a satisfactory answer, 

but the reason I live in Germany is because

it's my home.

That’s all.

I don’t have a magic pill to single-handedly ‘save’ America. I don’t hate America, in fact, I love my American-ness. It makes me who I am. But Germany is also a part of my identity now–and that German-ness can’t be pried away.

This is where I skinned my knees on bureaucracy. This is where I got my first job to require a masters degree. This is where I learned to drive the autobahn. My key fits in the door here. I grew up here. This is home.

 

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Raising the Artists

Noah Louvre

When my oldest was about eight years-old, he wanted to be an astronaut.

“Yes!” I agreed enthusiastically, “You can be anything you want!”

Thus, he went several weeks wearing a NASA costume and having adventures with his stuffed animals in ships made of cardboard boxes and fuzzy blankets.

I was pleased. How AMAZING to raise a person who not only wanted to pursue science but also had the adventurous spirit to be blasted into the galaxy on an engine of fire.

 I would keep the tissues handy for the moment he said, “I owe it all to you Mom,” from the space station on Mother’s Day.  

Homeschooling Mom triumph.

Mission accomplished.

Phenomenal social media potential.

So when the space fervor died down, and this same child (upon whom the fate of many future Facebook posts rested) started sketching ghoulish creatures and writing stories involving ninja mice and robotic dinosaurs, an alarm went off in my head. And when he later expressed interest in a career as a *gasp* filmmaker; I thought to myself, “Well, at least I have three other kids who can pursue something ‘practical,’ ” while handing him a camera.

When you have four kids, odds are one of them will turn out “well.”

But now that two of my other children have gone over to the art side, it leaves me with the hope that the one careerishly undecided child might do something for a living that will fund a winter condo on Santorini.

This same child attends a German school, and interestingly enough, when he was tested for a possible career, the experts said that while he has all the makings of a good engineer, they noticed he thinks outside the box and could pursue a more creative field.

The shock! The horror! What did I do wrong? When the most practical, logical people on earth are against me? 

I suppose my kids never had a chance with a Mother who, as stated on her Kindergarten report card, has her head in the clouds. This same mom with a Masters degree in English Literature (nominally more practical than a creative writing degree) and a passion for fiction writing, not only permitted, but encouraged a multitude of creative endeavors.

The real shock is not that my kids have turned to their artistic sides, but the shock is that it took me by surprise.

How could I NOT see it coming? What, with all the puppet shows and frenzied writing marathons during NaNoWriMo. Maybe if I’d forced them into science boot camp (if there is such a thing) they would’ve chosen careers that would pay for our future family reunions in San Tropez.

No. I have raised artists.

kate sus bw

*Parents Beware: When you allow children to spend time plucking stringed instruments, dancing in full costume, writing books, and performing home-grown scripts, you increase the chance that they will WANT to follow their dreams as adults.

Holy hell, what was I thinking, building that puppet theater in the basement?!

The bare-bones fact is that our own insecurities force expectations on our kids that fit them like straight jackets.

Can you imagine a world without Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or Hogwarts or R2D2?

Why are we so damned afraid to raise artists?

Life would have the depth of a mud-puddle, without art to reflect precious intangibles, such as beauty, spirit and love.

I have slowly made peace with the idea that there is a place for artists in the world. It is a gamble, but maybe it’s okay for my kids to eat ramen noodles and work two jobs while they happily pursue their passions.

If I, as a parent, can live simply yet contentedly doing what I love, then maybe the young artists under my roof can also be satisfied in the richness and beauty of the lives they create for themselves. And when they share a higher ideal with someone else; when their art moves another person towards an emotion; then life becomes that much richer.

I don’t want to button up my kids with my fears. Though my motives might be “practical” and though they might make more “money” as bankers or dog psychologists; I would rather have them live free; and breathe; and make beautiful things.

There is too much ugliness in the world already.

It’s time to boldly raise the artists.


Student Teachers

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Someday this will be in German!

 

 

All teachers should be students.

It could be learning Chinese or basket weaving or handstand push-ups; it doesn’t matter, as long as you are acquiring information that has never before popped your neurons.

As teachers, we can forget things such as that deer-in-the-headlights reaction when your name is called or the maddening frustration of failure.

As students, particularly as students of a foreign language, we magically go from educated to illiterate when the bell chimes 08:00.

We make a thousand little mistakes that pelt us like freezing rain. It is hard and humbling; and it is perhaps the best lesson a teacher can learn: the art of failure.

Slowly, too slowly it seems, this gelatinous mass of information begins to take shape. Soon, we find ourselves making new errors, and so the learning continues.

As a teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than to see a student use knowledge you helped him acquire. To watch a student go from stuttering to eloquent in a matter of weeks or months, is perhaps one of the reasons many teachers love their profession and put up with the unpaid hours of work that go into it.

Students, quite often, are too steeped in their studies to be objective about their own learning. As students, we tend to see only our failures and not our triumphs. We look to the next area we can improve, rather than looking back to where we began.

Being a student has helped me to be a better teacher because I know exactly how my student feels when he uses the wrong preposition or gets hung up on finding the ‘perfect’ word, which he suddenly can’t remember.

Likewise, the best coaches are the ones who also train. Maybe they have years of knowledge and experience, but unless a coach is also in the trenches, respect is a little difficult for me to muster.

When I lived in the country, the village hunter would drive his little car along the dirt road, his dog running alongside. This was also the hunter who recommended I bite my dog’s ear, to get him to submit. These are not the teaching methods that inspire me.

I am not learning advanced chemistry or particle science here–it’s only German. I think millions of people probably speak it, and in time, I will too.

But as long as I’m a teacher, I want to be learning too. I never want to forget what it’s like to be illiterate or to be the person doing push-ups against the wall (yes…that’s what I did 2 years ago).

I feel like the universe is smiling at me when I make the same mistakes in  German that my students make in English. It’s amusing and frustrating, but it gives me a new way of understanding how I can help my students achieve their goals.

And now, my time is up.

I have to go to school!