Learning to Teach English in Germany
A Semester of Studying, Living, and Traveling while Studying for a TEFL Degree
Article and photos by Noemi Hayslett
|Dresden, Germany at Night.
“This,”said my co-teacher pointing to a pen she was holding. She pointed at a pen I was holding, “That.”
“Zis!” repeated the beginner’s class enthusiastically. “Zat!”
My fellow teacher and I exchanged smiles and proceeded to stick our tongue between our teeth and pointed to our mouth while making an odd “ttthhhhh” sound. This, we explained, was the only way possible to make the dreaded “th” sound.
Our students shook their heads in dismay and tried again, “Zis! Zat!”
The TEFL program
The year before, as a sophomore in college, I somehow decided that I wanted to make study abroad a reality. When my roommate randomly sent me a link for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate program through Kent State University, I began to research in earnest. I had just recently switched my major to sociology, but was also very interested in English teaching overseas. While there are many programs that offer TEFL certificates in record time, I wanted something that would give me college credit and be more comprehensive than what a four-week program could ever promise. As it turned out, the website my roommate sent to me proved the best option:
- Eighteen credit hours I could easily transfer back to my college
- A patient contact person to answer my countless questions
- Relatively low cost for study abroad (Kent State tuition price)
- Hands-on experience observing and teaching
- A certificate at program completion that would enable me to teach English in any country where English is not the first language
And all of this while living in Germany for the whole spring semester! It was almost too good to be true.
After attending an informational meeting at Kent State University where I met a few other students and the director, I was sold on the idea. I completed the application process, and proceeded to figure out some details about studying abroad. I learned that the following questions should be answered before going abroad. They are applicable regardless of country or program.
- Is my passport valid? It is a good idea to make sure your passport is valid up to six months after you return. For information about getting or renewing your passport visit: www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html
- Do I need a visa? Each country has different regulations. Check the “International Travel” tab at www.travel.state.gov for particular countries. It could be free, but it could also cost as much as $200. For study in Germany, U.S. citizens can wait until they are there to get a visa costing about 50 Euros.
- How do I get insurance? It is a must to have insurance while abroad. Kent State already provided an insurance package, as many programs do. If you need to obtain your own, you may want to check CMI Insurance. They offer affordable insurance to students going abroad (www.cmi-insurance.com). Getting an International Student Identity Card can also provide limited insurance coverage (www.myisic.com).
- Do I need to fill out forms for my home college/university? Like most universities, mine had their own study abroad application and informational sheets I needed to fill out. You may also need to fill out forms for transferring credit before you leave. Check with the study abroad office at your university for information.
- How much will it cost? Before you go, you should have at least a rough idea of how much money you will end up spending. This includes the following costs:
- Program fees
- Accommodation (if not provided for)
- Transportation while there
- Books and class supplies
- Spending money
Also check with your bank or credit card company to find out about extra charges that may apply while you are abroad. Obviously the Euro does not have the same value as the U.S. dollars, so you may run out of money if you think that way you do not take currency conversions into consideration, as well as the local cost of living.
Wilkommen in Dresden!
After reading the above, you may think that the process leading up to a semester abroad is far too complicated to even attempt. I could not disagree more with that conclusion. Nothing can quite compare to being immersed in a new culture. It may challenge you, but it will broaden your horizons, provide lasting friendships, and experiences and stories to last a lifetime.
“All passengers should have now boarded Flight 706 to Munich, Germany,” said the loudspeaker in the Philadelphia airport.
My nice thick sweater and warm winter boots were a curse as I ran frantically through the terminal. Completely breathless and red-faced, I finally reached gate A23 and handed the bemused ticket agent my boarding pass. It was 6:25 p.m. The flight was to leave in 10 minutes. I had just made it!
There was another passenger right behind me. He was not breathless or red-faced. Apparently he was not too concerned about missing the flight. The ticket agent thought we were together and asked if he too would be staying in Germany until May. I glanced back and decided for him: “No.”
Thus began my 4-month adventure in Dresden, Germany. Thankfully, the rest of my time was not quite as intense as the first 24 hours.
Once I finally made it to Germany after some rather tight connecting flights, the program director was waiting to bring me to my new “home” – a room at the International Guesthouse. The room was in a high-rise apartment building just across from Technische Universitat Dresden (TUD), it was perfectly situated within walking distance to my classes, the tram stop, and even a grocery store.
The director made sure we got a preliminary tour of Dresden which includes both the old and new sections which are separated by the river Elbe. Filled with images of history and culture, we were awestruck by the variety of music and art venues. If you happen to be in Dresden, you should check out www.dresden.de or Google “Dresden events” for specific dates and events.
Getting to know the culture in which you will be staying long-term requires more than just acting the part of a tourist. The personal connection is what makes the difference. We met some local German students through a language partner program, but also through going out to the local bars, cafes or even churches. Since our TEFL program was separate from the local university, it was up to us to make contact.
It was through these local contacts that we found out about the student discount to the opera (four performances for 20 Euro), the huge Grosser Garten where everyone would go to hang out, the bakery discounts an hour before they close, and music bars like Blue Note Jazz Club.
The program itself proved to be a great experience for me. I loved learning about linguistics and grammar (ok, so I I’m a nerd) and learned much from the local English teachers we observed. We also had to teach a community English class to some local Germans. One of my fellow classmates created an insightful blog complete with some video footage of us teaching and sharing tips for other students planning a semester abroad. If you are at all interested, it is a resource well worth your time: www.sfa.kent.edu/blog/ .
Traveling on a Budget in Germany
If you are like me and would rather spend money on a train ticket than an expensive meal, here are some tips you might find helpful.
Germans prides themselves in their train system. If you visit their official trains website you can type in any city combination to see times and prices. Unlike some of their neighbors to the south, German trains run like clockwork and I have rarely faced a problem. The ICE is the fastest train but also costs more. Regional trains (RE) are the cheap and slower alternative. A personal favorite is to buy a weekend-only “Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket.” For around 35 Euros, you can buy a ticket for five people to travel anywhere on the RE trains. The tickets are valid for either all day Saturday or all day Sunday. German regions also have their special offers. For example, we used the “Saxon Ticket” to travel anywhere in the state of Saxony – even up to the Polish and Czech borders. Speaking of borders, since the EU, there is no such thing as border crossing. In Dresden, Polish pierogis and Czech beer were only an hour away.
If you would like to travel west toward France by train, besides the German train system, you may want to check out www.tgv.com, the official French train site. They often have special deals from major German cities to Paris.
Perhaps trains are not your thing and you would rather use that precious time sightseeing or exploring. If you like meeting new people, you may consider another German novelty: an upscale version of carpooling in German known as “mitfahrgelegenheit.” At the website www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de you can type in your intended destination and see if anyone else happens to be going your way. People will post when and where they are going along with how many seats they have available. Usually costing a fraction of other transportation options, this is a time and money saving option. If the timing works out, I say, give it a try!
Also popular for traveling around Europe are cheap flights. Sites like www.ryanair.com and www.easyjet.com will offer you endless possibilities for venturing outside Germany. The closest airport to Dresden is Berlin Schonefeld airport, but there is bus line that travels directly to the airport several times a day. And if you do not mind paying a bit more, Dresden has its own airport as well.
More Tips for Traveling and Living in Germany
If you decide you would like to have a cell phone while in Germany, there are some very cheap options. Most European cell phones run on pre-paid cards that you insert in the back of the phone. You can buy these at almost any convenience or grocery store. So all you need to do is find a cheap phone. Be forewarned that they may have you show your passport and proof of housing before they sell you the phone. What I did was go to the local electronic store and find the cheapest cell phone possible. Granted, the phone was in pretty bad shape, but I was only planning on using it for a few months. Mine even came with a 10-Euro pre-paid card for free.
Skype is a wonderful way to communicate with friends and family back home. Once you have downloaded the free program at www.skype.com you can chat or talk to others who have the program with absolutely no cost. Skype also offers amazing rates for calling cell and land-lines. Just check on the website for specific offers.
Be sure to check the weather before you go. It can be annoying to be stuck with clothing that does not match the temperature. Regardless of where you go, it is a good idea to bring either an umbrella or a waterproof jacket.
Do not even bother bringing things like hair dryers or curling irons. They will generally “die” while trying to function with the increased voltage…even with a converter. Laptops, however, work fine. Most of them have a built-in converter and only need an adapter for plugging in to the wall. You can purchase these in the U.S., but I just waited until I got there and went to local electronics store. Check out sites like goeurope.about.com/cs/electricity/l/bl_electricity.htm or just Google “european adaptors” for more information.
Finally, do not be afraid to get lost. Seriously. It adds to the whole experience. Most locals are more than glad to help you out and show you around. And who knows, you just might meet a new friend in the process.