At a Wendepunkt … turning point

As the weather in Hamburg slowly shifts and is now firmly entrenched in fall, so, too, is my life changing, and instead of a supermarket warehouse worker, I’m starting to feel like a student again.

I grew up in Washington, the Evergreen State, so living somewhere with dramatic fall colors never ceases to awe me. If you like my photos, follow me on Instagram: https://instagram.com/alison_haywood/
I grew up in Washington, the Evergreen State, so living somewhere with dramatic fall colors never ceases to awe me. If you like my photos, follow me on Instagram: https://instagram.com/alison_haywood/

I quit my job at the supermarket, which had been bringing me down and taking up a lot of time for a while now, and now have three new jobs – the most exciting of which is definitely teaching German to refugee children.

Shopping cart hits shins, or why I finally quit the supermarket

I quit my job at the supermarket. After two months, I was tired of the monotonous work, low pay, and being exhausted and hungry whenever I came home. The final straw was when our warehouse closed and the employees were moved to a bigger, more impersonal warehouse out in an industrial part of the city. When I found out my commute would be changing from a 10-minute bike ride to a 45-minute bus ride, I started looking for new jobs right away, and as soon as I had an offer, I put in my two weeks’ notice.

Meanwhile, things started rolling in my academic life again. The other students from my program moved to the city one by one, and I offered up my couch a couple of times for friends to stay before they picked up their keys and got situated in their new places. The last day of September was our first class meeting, and we finally received our semester tickets (student-only public transport tickets that are good for half a year and basically free) and university login codes. This week has been full of various orientation events, tours and introductory events.

Time for something new

I have three new jobs now. First, I was offered a job editing our program’s blog by the university administrators, because they liked this blog so much. (Feel free to check it out if you like!) Second, I started a job at a catering service, where I get to dress like a penguin and stand on my feet in uncomfortable shoes for 6+ hours at a time while serving rich people food and cleaning up after them. Third, and definitely most interesting, I got a job teaching German to refugee children.

I had applied for the German teaching job back in July and honestly forgotten about it, when by amazing coincidence the person in charge of hiring contacted me right after I’d decided to quit the supermarket. The language school is for students ages 12-17, they must be asylum seekers, and they must have no parents. I was a bit nervous at first, especially when I heard about students being disrespectful or even violent, but I quickly learned that, although there had been isolated incidents and problematic individuals, the vast majority of the students there were bright, eager to learn, and showed no signs of the trauma they’d gone through to get to Germany.

Most countries with with internal war and instability produces child refugees, and most of the children at our school come from countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Eritrea, Albania, and Egypt.

Tigragna is only spoken in Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia.
Tigragna is only spoken in Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia.

One challenge I wasn’t expecting was that most of the children from Eritrea spoke only Tigrigna, a language spoken only in parts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Because so few people speak it, there aren’t many resources for translating to and from that language, and the only German-Tigrigna dictionary available costs €140.

I taught my first class last Monday, and was extremely nervous because I don’t have much experience with formal teaching or lesson planning. I had exactly one student, a 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan, who knew only a couple of basic phrases in German but wasn’t very comfortable writing yet, so it was actually quite easy and went quite well. I found out he liked rap and hip hop music, so we sang along to an alphabet rap video (which I figured would go over better than the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” alphabet song) and at the end of class we listened to some popular German rap music from Bushido. (If anyone has any suggestions for other German rap, preferably with rather simple and school-appropriate lyrics, I’m all ears!) Although 12 students were on my list, I found out it is sadly quite common for only one or two to show up, although there are hundreds on the waiting list. It’s a long, slow, cumbersome process getting through the bureaucracy and getting the kids enrolled in classes, and often they’ve left Germany or moved to a different city or gotten enrolled in a proper public school long before the bureaucracy catches up and gives their space in the language school to someone else.

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