Friday, September 23, 2011

Visa Success!

I have finally gotten my visa! My appointment wasn't until October 4th, so I decided to brave the Ausländerbehörde before that because my job needed me to start working sooner (and money is always nice). I woke up at 4:30am on September 12th and made the trek over there. By 5:45am I was waiting outside the doors, an hour and 15 minutes to go before they opened. There were already 6 or so people in front of me and 30 minutes later the line was curving down the pathway. For those not in the know, the Ausländerbehörde is the immigration office in Germany. Berlin apparently has the biggest one in the country, which isn't surprising. In Berlin, all of the language schools (except one that I know of) hire people on a freelance basis. This means you can apply for a freelance visa and are then responsible for buying your own health insurance, paying your taxes, etc. and don't ever work for just one school. On the bright side, you don't owe any taxes until you've earned 8000 EUR and can then deduct all your expenses (i.e. health insurance, transportation, books, etc.) from that. Doing my German taxes sounds terrifying, but luckily I don't have to think about it just yet!

In any case, the Ausländerbehörde is definitely a humbling experience. I am really happy my German is okay because you would be lost there without it. First you have to go stand by the right door, which is decided by which country you're from. When the doors open, everyone RUNS inside to try and grab a number to be seen for a visa. I have heard from terrible storing about people on crutches getting shoved over, etc. but my experience thankfully wasn't so bad. I ran to the second floor, which is where it said I should go as an American on the sign and found the area for my section of the alphabet. Luckily, I got the third number. Then begins the waiting. About an hour and a half later I'm called in and give the woman my documents. These include my application forms, proof of my health insurance, my Anmeldung (proof that you have registered your living place) bank account statements to prove I can support myself,  letters from 2+ schools saying they're interested in hiring me, a monthly budget I created to show I can afford to live there, a letter from one school saying I'd make a certain amount each month, copies of my TEFL certificate, diploma, etc. plus probably 5000 other things. I had researched and obsessed about it all year, so felt pretty prepared when I got there. When the person behind the counter looked through my documents and said, "Na, super!" I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe I will be able to stay in Berlin after all!

Another hour and a half of waiting and they call me back in, give me a card and tell me to go downstairs and pay 50 euros to a machine. When I come up, they hand me back my passport with a shiny visa inside! In less than 5 hours! Success!

Since then I've been teaching a couple Nachhilfe classes, which is basically homework help for kids having problems in English. They're pretty laid back and chill, so I really like them. On Sunday, I'm moving to Rostock in eastern Germany by the Ostsee for 6 weeks to teach an intensive English course. I am pretty nervous about this, as I'll be teaching 8 or so hours a day, from Monday to Friday, which I've never done before. Also, I still haven't found a place to live during this time, so I may just end up in a hostel for six whole weeks. Luckily, my job is paying me a little stipend for living expenses since they really needed a native speaker for this course. I should be a pro by the end of it and will get a lot more practice speaking German, as I don't think there are as many English speakers there. I just have to think of it as facing my fears. I'll be teaching some employees from Deutsche Bahn English for dealing with customers and their jobs. Even the textbook I'm using is written by Deutsche Bahn, which is kind of funny.

I've recently been reunited with all my TEFL Worldwide books and notes, which is perfect timing. When I moved away from Prague, I left them with a friend because I didn't have space. Last January when I was visiting Germany from America, I transported them from Prague to Berlin and just picked them up again here last week. After 2ish years off teaching (except for my volunteer position as a teaching assistant), I feel a little rusty. I forgot how much I did during the TEFL course in Prague! Pretty sure all my notes are going to come in very useful for finding ways to add to my lessons in Germany and refreshing my brain!

Perhaps a post about my job interviews next. Or maybe about how I ordered "vegan almond shits" instead of "vegan almond cookie".  Awkward!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Au-Pair Drop-Out

(credit ukaaa)
Now that I am safely sitting far away in my sublet, I can write about this on the internet. Basically, my au-pair experience sucked. The 5-year old basically had free reign and was allowed to hit me, spit in my face, call me an asshole, hit me in the eye with a foam sword, etc. with very little consequence. I felt the family wanted another older, more responsible child instead of an adult employed by them. They didn't respect my time and though I asked several times and sat down with them to explain that I'd like some kind of schedule so I could make plans and have friends, they just assumed I would stop whatever I was doing for them and generally only told me my hours the day before or the morning of, which just made me really anxious.

Honestly, except for joking around with their oldest son and playing with the cute dog, I started to hate everything about my au-pair job. The first time I visually appeared upset in front of the family was after I cut up some fruit for their 5 year-old and his friend and brought it upstairs. I told them they needed to wash their hands first and they refused and spit in my face. Now I'm not talking cute stick-your-tongue-out whatever, they literally covered me with spit. I herded them to the bathroom, where they still refused to wash their hands and when I went to go help, I got the door slammed in my face. Meanwhile, the Mom was downstairs, doing god knows what, while I was getting completely disrespected by her child. Eventually I just told them, "Alright, if you treat me badly, you're not getting any fruit and I'm going downstairs now". I stormed downstairs, put the plate on the table in front of the Mom and asked, "I don't know what you want me to do! They spit in my face and refuse to listen." Her reply was just, "Do you like kids? They're just being 5 year-olds."

This was the general response. Now let me tell you, if I had ever spit in a babysitter's face when I was a kid, hit someone or was generally as bratty as her kid, my parents would've grounded me for a week, taking away any TV privileges, no friends over, no phone, etc. My parents rarely ever touched us, but when we were bad we generally had to write a LOT of apology letters to whoever we wronged and had a stern talking-to. I said to the Mom, "I know I need to learn how to better deal with him, but what are the consequences when he acts like that?" The answer was nothing. No consequences. Apparently this behavior was completely acceptable and didn't warrant any punishment.

Fuck. That.

I got yelled at for such things as putting the tea cup on the wrong side of the place mat and they made me mow the entire backyard lawn, which is definitely not an au-pair job. When they asked me at a later date if I would mow the front lawn, and I inferred that I would not care to, the mother made it seem like that was preposterous and asked me, "Well, what DO you want to do?!". The last straw occurred as I was attempting to get the lawn mower to work, crying hysterically in their front yard. I think my exact thought was something like "Fuck this shit, I'm leaving." I almost texted the host Mom "I quit" right then and there, but realized I probably needed somewhere to sleep first.

We had a date to talk last Sunday, where it was decided that it was not a good fit and I was leaving. They said I could have until mid-September, which they later revoked this past Wednesday when they told me I had to be out Friday (2 days later). Now, I am a relatively independent person, but there are plenty of 18 year-old au-pairs who don't know anyone in the country, don't speak any German and who have never lived abroad before. The fact that they would just shove someone off like that is absolutely ridiculous.

To add insult to injury, yesterday before I moved out I asked about getting paid. They said they would only pay me for 2 of the 3 weeks I worked, because the last week I was in-and-out looking for jobs and flats. When I explained,  "Well, what am I supposed to do? You told me to get out so I needed time to find somewhere to go!" Her response was that the chores and errands I did for them were payment for being able to sleep there. Honestly lady? You people are fucking rich. I'm pretty sure 70 euro extra for the week would not have broken the bank. My general thought is that them choosing an au-pair that didn't "fit" is mostly their responsibility. They brought a woman over an ocean from America. If they are so particular, they should have asked me more questions about myself, actually taken the time to Skype with me, etc. They fucked up and made a wrong decision and I was left in a shitty position in a foreign country, so I definitely should have been paid for the last week.

Anyway, I'm now happily sitting in a sublet in Kreuzberg, far away from them. After a few interviews, I have a job as a freelance English teacher and am making my first attempt at the visa on Monday morning, so wish me luck! I will be going to Rostock in East Germany for 6 weeks starting September 26th to teach an intensive English course and then coming back to Berlin November 10th, after which I'm staying forever! I'm sure I'll be back some weekends as well. Now I just need to find an awesome flat for November!

I wish I could just find a long-term flat now and stay here, so I could finish getting settled and make some friends, etc. but it will be an adventure, right? And earning a paycheck will definitely be nice.

So get ready for some hopefully less emo posts, now than I have escaped from indentured servitude and am no longer quite as prone to random fits of hysterics! Yes!