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A Post Card from Germany

Updated: Aug 27


This Post Card focuses on my time visiting, living and working in Germany. Living in Germany was also my first real opportunity to spend a significant period of time immersed in another culture. This was part of my study of German at school and later at University. German has about 100 million native speakers and a further 100 million who use it as a second language in other countries in Europe and further afield in Namibia, the US, Argentina and Brazil. German is part of the Germanic branch of Indo-European Languages.


I first visited Germany in 1989 as part of a homestay experience with my friend Jenny. The visit was arranged by Karin, the Language Assistant who was teaching at my secondary school at that time. We stayed in a town called Mosbach which was in Baden Württenberg, not far from the city of Heidelberg, one of the most visited tourist destinations in Germany.


Heidelberg, Baden Württemberg

Whist participating in the visit, my accommodation was provided through a homestay with a friend of Karin’s family who lived nearby. During the stay, we visited Heidelberg and different towns in Bavaria, including Würzburg, known for lavish baroque and rococo architecture and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, renowned for its medieval buildings.


Würzberg, Baden Württemberg

In 1991, only two years after the fall of the Reunification, I also had the chance to visit Berlin as part of an organised visit, while I was a student at Lancaster University. During the visit, we saw the sights of Berlin including Check Point Charlie and the former Stasi buildings. The Stasi headquarters was in East Berlin. After the German reunification of 1989-1991, a number of Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes, and the classified files that the Stasi had kept on millions of East German citizens were made available on request. It felt like a privilege to be able to visit such historic sights so soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Checkpoint Charlie, The Berlin Wall and Stasi Buildings, Berlin, 1991

In 1992, I worked in a secondary school in Wipperfürth, in Nordrhein-Westfalen, near Cologne.  The programme I was on was administered by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits & Exchanges (CBEVE) which was later integrated into the British Council. As well as being my first time living overseas, my time in Wipperfürth was also my first real experience of the professional world of education, from the perspective of the teacher rather than the student, although of course, I was still a student myself. I remember feeling extremely nervous the night before I set off to live in Germany for a year, from the Isle of Man. I wasn't sure how I would cope or what the school where I was placed would make of me.  When I arrived in Germany, the experience started with an intensive induction session at Haus Altenberg in Odenthal, near Cologne; we learnt the basics of being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and practised teaching each other through micro-teaching techniques.


Haus Altenberg, Odenthal

Being at Altenberg was an important transition phase which also helped me to build a network of other ALTs. When I arrived at my school in Wipperfürth, the teachers in the school were very generous in their support for my development as an educator and a number of them also invited me for dinner and showed me around the local area. Being an ALT also gave me access to a large network of other students from the UK who were working in other areas of Germany, which was great for meeting up at the weekends and after work.


In an annual British Council survey of the benefits of Language Assistants in the classroom and curriculum, involving more than 150 UK schools, Mentor Teachers regularly identify notable impacts from working with language assistants in the areas described below:

Benefits of Language Assistants, British Council

The People I met and worked with


My experiences in Germany have taught me a lot, from my first time taking part in an educational exchange when I was still at school to this first opportunity to live in another country while I was at University. In all cases, the people I met have been generous and extremely welcoming.


Wipperfürth Town Centre, Nordrhein Westfalen

What I learned


Working as an ALT with teachers from across the school gave me my first experiences of lesson planning and team-teaching with other teachers of English. During the year, I started to develop my teaching style and began to learn how to tailor teaching sessions according to the requirements of students with different needs. Once again, being in a new educational environment with other international teachers who were working on the same scheme as me taught me a lot. I also had a big challenge with finding the right kind of living accommodation in Wipperfürth which I had to overcome and manage entirely by myself. The biggest lessons I learned were to be self-resourceful and to make the best use of my spare time. Undeniably, it was probably this first experience of teaching which inspired me to travel further afield and explore a career in education in the longer term.


Hermann Voss Realschule, Wipperfürth

Memories


What I remember most is how valuable the experience of living in Germany was for developing my language skills and how rewarding it was to be taken seriously in the classroom by the other teachers at the school. The challenges of finding the right kind of accommodation also showed me that I could find my own way out of challenging situations when necessary.


Impact on life afterwards


I certainly hope that the students that I worked with in Wipperfürth benefitted from my approach in the classroom. Admittedly, this was a time for me to develop my skills in teaching and so I'm sure that the students and colleagues saw both the best and worst of my teaching skills. For me, the biggest impact of being in Germany was how it inspired me to work in education in an international context. Having had such a successful time in Germany is what ultimately encouraged me to travel more broadly and to teach in other countries around the world.

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