Newest Review: ... the company offered to help me find accommodation. This is the usual thing for all students coming from abroad, and makes life easier. Leav... more
"Don't Mention That War....Or This One"
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Date: 20/06/03, updated on 20/06/03 (226 review reads)
Advantages: Great experience, Excellent addition to a CV, Good pay if you're lucky
Disadvantages: Problems you cannot predict. I.e. most of them
I didn’t take a post-A Level Gap year, preferring instead to progress straight from school to university. However, I chose a course that insisted on my 3rd year being spent somewhere else. A lot of universities will tell you that you have to study, or that you have to work. That you have to stay in the UK or that you have to go abroad, but my course gave me 3 options – work placement in the UK, work placement abroad or studying at a university abroad. I suspected right from the start that I would be wanting to do the middle one, and I was right. I’m coming to the end of my year now, and as of September I will be back studying in Manchester. This is a reflection on the last 18 months or so, from when my year abroad plans first started to take shape.
We started talking about what we would do and where we would do it at the start of second year. I made it known that I fancied going abroad (meaning a German speaking country since this is my language of choice) and that I did not, under any circumstances, want to study. The reasons for this were 3 fold: firstly, my written German would not have been good enough for me to maintain reasonable grades. I never did A Level and at GCSE they care more about sentence structure than correct genders and case. My spoken German is fine, and I knew I would have no problems getting by, but I didn’t want to be in an environment where I had to write essays in a foreign language on a weekly basis. Secondly, I was fed up with being poor. I worked through my first two years of uni, but the pay went on things like rent and groceries. I wanted to start living properly, and for that I needed a salary. Lastly, I felt that working abroad would give me more of an insight into the way my degree is relevant to the “real world” – something I didn’t think would come from being a student here. So, it was settled. Now all I needed was a job. r>
The head of my uni department went to a meeting and happened to bump into someone who is the head of the department here at work. He got a business card and passed it on to me as a lead to follow up. I promptly sent off my CV with a speculative email, and a few days later received a reply. They were interested. I was more than qualified. It looked like I was sorted. All they wanted was a few written references and a photo (standard practice for employment abroad). These were sent off in January, and a month or so later I had a contract to be an intern, working there for one year starting in September. I had not expected everything to go so well, or so quickly. I’d thought there would be numerous applications to be sent. Perhaps telephone interviews. Rejection letters. This was the only job I applied for, and when I was offered it, and saw the salary (which I mustn’t state here, but is way more than a student working in the UK would get), I had no problems in accepting.
Seeing as I was based in the UK and Spain for the 6 months preceding the start of my employment, the company offered to help me find accommodation. This is the usual thing for all students coming from abroad, and makes life easier. Leaving my mother strict instructions on what I was after (somewhere cheap, with good transport links, and preferably fully furnished) I took off to the med for a summer of repping. I came back to find details of a great sounding flat I would be taking over for a year. I get paid an accommodation allowance here, and the flat costs just more than this, including all bills, cable TV and so on. It is also fully furnished. The set up is unusual – the girl whose flat it is is a student here, currently on placement in America for a year – but it’s worked out fine, and I’ve even met and partied with some of her friends who are spending this year here as usual.
I flew out a few days before I started, and was met by a shut
tle service, arranged by the company, who, well, shuttled me to the firm’s HQ. There I was met by one of my colleagues (my boss herself being on holiday at this point) who had the keys to my flat, and drove me there. After checking I’d be ok she left me to it, with instructions of what to do on Monday before coming in to work (sorting a work and residence permit, a tax card and a bank account). The first weekend passed quickly enough – I found the shops and bought everything I would need to get me through the first few months. I only spent about 100 Euros though – the flat was so well stocked that I needed little else.
Monday morning was spent at the town hall begging them to give me my permits. Forget the whole “Eu-ers can live anywhere without problems” thingumie – I was fighting for my rights alongside a bunch of other nationals, many of whom had just as much success, and in less time. Legal alien status sorted, I was off to the bank where I, literally, batted my eyelashes and obtained a fee free student account even though officially I wasn’t eligible. All this done, I was off to work.
From a one year contract, I spent less than 11 months in the office, due to a combination of a generous number of days annual leave (30, even for interns) and a ludicrous amount of public holidays. First things to get used to – here these very rarely fall on a Monday, the usual choice being a Thursday. The work was fine and, most importantly, I could do it. Not only that, I understood why we were doing what we were doing. I was onto a winner. My colleagues were fun and wonderfully international. I think out whole department has only 5 real live Germans. In my small office, we had two French types and an American. Even more surprising, 3 other members of out team are graduates from not only the same university as I soon will be, but also the same course. Old Language Engineering students never die, they just e
nd up here. One, a girl who left only a few years ago, and who I’d already heard about from a mutual friend, invited me out that night, and my social life was up and running. A fortnight later, though no fault of my own, I somehow ended up at a beer fest with a group containing another opinion writer. It’s a long story involving a sister of mine, a primary school 20 years ago, friends of friends and various other factors I’ve yet to work out, but it just goes to show – those Ciaoers and Dooyooers really do get everywhere.
Germany was not a new country to me: I’d been here many, many times before, and we had family friends spread throughout the land. I’d worked here 4 years before, and knew about day to day life here, so the main transition period for me involved starting a new job with a new firm, rather than, y’know, packing up and moving abroad. I’m lucky in that I’ve done this lots of times before, often to countries where I don’t speak the language, so this was a piece of cake.
It wasn’t so much as case of learning things, as getting used to them again. The weather, for example. The summers might be scorching hot, but the biting cold winters make you grateful for having grown up in tepid, if a little wet, Britain. Not being old enough to rent, or rich enough to buy a car, I was dependant on public transport. German trains don’t really suck – I was just in a bit of a mood the day I wrote the Savlon op with the same name – but they are far from perfect. Shops shutting from 4pm Saturday until 9am on Monday was a pain (though this is now a thing of the past, since a new ruling allows them to open until 8 on Saturdays now). Having to sort out health care was new to me. I had an E128 (long term version of an E111) but this alone was not enough to ensure I’d get treatment if I suddenly collapsed unconscious. Instead I had to find my local branch of A-OK (one of t
he health firms), find out when it was open (answer: very rarely) and get them to sort me out. They kindly took my form off me and organized for a plastic “look at me I’m insured” card to wing its way to me a few days later. The service was so quick that I was willing to overlook the fact that they’d assumed I couldn’t spell my own name – “oe” here is sometimes used for “÷”, and they decided to ignore the fact that I’d said I was called “ZoŰ”, deciding instead that I had obviously meant “Z÷”.
The new things I did have to learn mainly came from experiences that could happen anywhere, and were affecting me now as someone living completely on their own for the first time. What to do if you manage to lose all electricity 2 hours into a long (and unusual!) bank holiday weekend. How to mend broken washing machines without getting so near that you toes get soggy in the ever increasing puddle that’s appearing beneath it. The answer to those “You’re British so you must be a Bush and Blair fan, huh?” questions. The “Don’t mention the war” comment has been taken to a whole new level now thanks to the circumstances in Iraq. Heidelberg has a very large American Army base, and the very large American population that goes along with it. Germany is full of Germans who, while maybe disliking Schr÷der, prefer his stance on the matter to that of their English-speaking counterparts. Living here for these last few months has been an experience to say the least.
Despite the obvious language and, to some extent, lifestyle differences, life in Germany is not as far removed from the UK as you might imagine, and the things I get up to here mirror those I would at home in a lot of respects. I get up, and come to work. We mess around in the office, do some work, mess around a bit more, and leave. I go to the gym, chat to the others there, and do
a workout. I go home, cook some tea and either watch TV or read. At weekends I go shopping. If I want a book, I can go to the library. If I’m after culture, I can head for a museum. There are some differences – I start work at 7.15am every day, last week I left work at 4pm and went swimming for 4 hours in the open air pool complex across the road, something I cannot imagine doing given the UK climate – but these just add to the experience.
The best thing about the job is the money, or rather the opportunities it allows. In recent months I’ve been to Italy and France several times, not to mention the weekend in Luxembourg and trips within Germany. I haven’t felt the need to increase my UK stay quota (5 days since last June) as yet, though the lure of presents is dragging me back for a whopping 40 hours in a few weeks. After that I’ve a week in Poland, followed by another in the Balearics. The only downside to being abroad is that you’re well away from your usual friends. Though I have many new ones here, those from uni and school are currently spread out throughout the UK and Europe / the US, so getting them together for a party wouldn’t be too practical. Luckily my birthday’s in August, so I can flit off to Ibiza to do some turning 21 at the time, and celebrate again in September when term restarts.
The year hasn’t all been plain sailing, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I cannot put into words how glad I am that this worked out, and how much I feel I’ve gained from the whole experience. It’s been an amazing 10 months and, of course, will look splendid on my CV when the graduate job search starts in, oh, about 12 weeks. School is supposed to be the best years of your life, but I despised most of my time there. If enough people took the opportunity to do placements abroad, though, this experience could soon be a rival for the saying. Don’t worry about th
e language skills – if you’ve studied anything at uni you’ll be fine. I spent my first summer working abroad aged 16 with a little more than a GCSE to my name, and survived. If you come at it with an open mind and a willingness to try new things, I guarantee that, with a little effort, you will have an awesome time.