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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2005
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Teaching English in Germany

For More Job Choices Choose Smaller Cities

The people of Hannover, in northern Germany, often joke that the best thing about the city is that it is so easy to leave. True enough, with an international airport connecting to most European cities, a train station with destinations including Paris, Prague, and Vienna, and in the center of the famous German Autobahn, Hannover is as easy to leave as to get to.

As an EFL teacher, my students were amazed I had chosen this city. "There is nothing here, you should be in Hamburg or Munich; those cities have culture," they would tell me.

The secret many EFL teachers overlook is that there is lots of work in Hannover and other smaller German cities. The competition from other teachers is negligible. Within six months of arriving, I had started teaching "Grammar II" in the English department as well as developing my own course at the Fachsprachenzentrum, or General Language Center. These opportunities came because I had my degree and because it looked like I was staying around.

I chose my own working days and hours: about 20 hours Mondays through Thursdays. I taught students from a 70-year-old lawyer to VIPs in big corporations to semi-literate factory workers—sometimes all on the same day.

The downside of smaller places, especially for a non-native speaker, is the lack of other English speakers to talk to. The teachers either have been there for years and have their own support system or want to learn German and only spend time with German speakers.

It took about a year to pick up German to a functional level with an authentic accent. My teaching schedule didn't allow me to take more than one German course, but wanting to understand what people were saying and order my own breakfast drove me to learn.

Hannover isn't the only small city in Germany. By not being stuck in the rut of concentrating on the big cities, teachers find jobs more easily and develop a better feeling of what the country is really like.

Workers from England and the U. S. are lucky in that they usually only need get a job and a letter from their employer to start working legally. Visit the local auslandsamt (foreign office) to get the papers. Canadians can get a work visa but need to return to Canada with a letter from their employer or a contract to wait for the German consulate to sign the papers.

The other hassle is proving you have financial means. This needs to be in a bank account, but it's hard to open a bank account if you don't have the right papers from the Auslandsamt, and this office won't give you the right papers until you prove you have money in a bank account.

Finding information about working in Germany is also difficult. Rules change and people are not knowledgeable about things outside their department. When I got my work visa, I asked about paying taxes. The office worker shrugged and said he had no idea.

After I got my papers together, I enrolled in the University of Hannover and found that it was the best deal to be had in Germany. For 200 euros you get free transit, discounts on all museums and cultural events, and free language and exercise classes. I registered at the foreign student's office, saying I wanted to study English. Normally you would have to show you have some level of German fluency, but because I was studying English they waived this requirement. When the English department found out that I had a B.A. in English, I was asked to lead an English conversation group for a nominal fee.

For more info: University of Hannover; City of Hannover; Hamburg English Language Teachers Association (offers further education and professional workshops for English teachers).

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