Sunday, June 01, 2014
I have been gone for a while, after my work visa came through I began working---like crazy---and haven’t had time for much else.
However, I am finding it harder and harder to cope with my work environment and co-workers and need advice or if nothing else empathy.
I work at a kindergarten which should naturally be a supportive and kind workplace but it is nothing but. I didn’t know this until two months of working there but my organization has had about 29 members of staff leave in the last five years. In the almost five months I have been working there three staff members have left, one of which had a clear personal conflict with the boss and was in tears nearly every day of her last week. I have had the unfortunate experience of walking in on another colleague crying in a staff room.
Quality management has been at our location for around a month but seem to be completely oblivious to what the real problem is: gossip, constant one up-man-ship, the often deliberate withholding or refusal of information/training, harassment, lies and an emotionally unstable supervisor.
I am perhaps in the worst spot. I am relatively new and despite my proactive attitude, submitted work and good repoire with the children and their parents am largely regarded by my all but two colleagues (9 total two foreign and one male) as the ‘dumb American.’ I am constantly being called out for petty things such as using the wrong kind of plate for breakfast, my accent, not being ‘quick enough’ or being ‘too observant.’ If I try to express an idea or opinion at a meeting I am rudely cut off by the boss. During a time when it was thought I had gone outside to work, I even heard a group of colleagues including the boss gossiping about me and how ‘stupid’ they think I am. When my colleagues think I have done something wrong they never confront me about it but rather go straight to the boss. I believe they resent me for being non-German and being in a role that is very hard to fill by a German.
I myself have experienced a tremendous amount of sadness, stress and isolation and do my very best to cry away from work. My boss appears to have severe emotional issues and takes her anger out on everyone but especially me. She seems to have limited social skills and cannot even do “small talk.” She never smiles and looks constantly like she might have a breakdown. She has told me that I have ‘done nothing’ good so far. She makes promises (e.g for classroom supplies) and weeks later takes them back---four weeks ago she had an outburst at me in front of a new colleague when I called her out on this. WhiIe would not describe her as a physically aggressive person she even slapped my hand out of the way a few weeks ago when I was apparently in her way.
I have tried to talk to quality management about the struggles I have observed, felt and the gossip I heard but instead of listening they seem to insist that I refuse to ‘adapt to the German way.’ Every time I tried to explain an idea it was met with the sentence: “This is Deutschland!” I have been told to always ask questions but when I do I am met with “You should already know that!” There seems to be an expectation that I should be a mind reader…and obsessive compulsive.
If this wasn’t enough, we have frequent staff absences and others enwrapped in their own self important meetings---so I am left alone with the children. The environment becomes nothing more than maintenance and of course if there are any behaviour management issues it automatically becomes my fault.
I am sure most people reading this would think I am crazy for wanting to keep my job. The sad thing is I need to financially, I just began at the beginning of the year. I also went through the hell of waiting two months for my work visa and I am not sure if I could deal with this again. I am not sure how much more I can take of this bullying, it’s making me ill with toothaches, some weight gain (I workout a lot) and lack of sleep. I no longer look forward to work despite the lovely kids because no one can be certain about the emotional state the supervisor or colleagues.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Deciding to stay and find a new job in Germany after such a dreadful end, even with the ‘high’ of the concert was not an easy path to tread. I began to become very worried about my finances. I was also required within three days of receiving my official severance letter to file as unemployed with the Arbeitsamt or employment office and return to the rude majority of the Auslanderbeorde or foreigners office and ask for an extension on my visa to find new work. All of these appointments of course could only be done in German.
There were days, most days, where I felt strong and applied for many jobs and continued to study German as not to lose my fluency. There were other days where I felt deeply sad about what had occurred, especially because I’ll never know why for sure it all ended (I later found out that our region is broke and will not be taking anymore non-EU English speakers and why they tried to screw me out of my housing allowance a day after I arrived saying they paid too much for my flight!) and yes it did bring back the horribly sad memories of what had happened to me in Turkey two years earlier. Who knows maybe my Kindergarten had the same reasons?
Some of you might remember from all my “waiting for my visa” entries back in July, August and September that I made friends with a colleague at another location M or Manuela. We have a lot in common. She was raised in Australia by Bavarian German parents and I knew from the first moment I spoke to her from Skype that she would be one of my closest friends ever. I cannot begin to tell you what sort of blessing Manuela has been .
During the scary application period she called me almost every day to check in, invited me to her home on the weekends and looked for contacts and connections. I applied to no less than 20 Kindergartens and International Schools, mainly in Bavaria where regulations have been relaxed because of huge demands for teachers and the total lack thereof. I got a call from every single place I applied to!
One place in particular, an international school close to where I live in North Rhine Wesphalia was very lucrative. I really hit it off with the director and co-teacher. They asked to check my references, especially my German reference. I had gotten along with colleagues, at least on the surface so stupidly I thought nothing of this. I got an email one day after I submitted my references saying that they could no longer accept my application. Wow, what in the world had I ever done to that Kindergarten? Even to the last appointment I stayed cool and courteous---super sour grapes or unsubstantiated rumours?
I was disheartened and angry but Manuela told me about the Kindergarten her kindergartens cook ‘s wife works for ---an integrated, bilingual Kindergarten for children with and without special needs. Perfect for me as an English and German speaking Special Education teacher! I applied and got a call within a week. I did a days hospitation and they offered me the job. Given my professional experience and goals where I accepted.
Good right? No, this is Germany where one needs approval and paper for everything. I took my new contract back to the Arbeitsamt and they said they would need to make certain that a German or someone from the EU wasn’t on file---someone who could do my job instead. I was told this could take two to four weeks. It was the middle of December, tired of feeling like I was on an emotional pendulum of powerful-happy vs. dejected-sad I of course decided to go through the bureaucratic nonsense for the thousandth time BUT I would go back to the USA for two weeks over Christmas.
Christmas was wonderful and freezing cold! I hadn’t seen snow or ice and came home to the now famous “Polar Vortex.” I was tense over my situation in Germany over the holiday but hugging my sweet Beagle and nieces helped!
I came back to Germany on January 5th and though that everything must be in order with my new visa by now and I could start working again. Ohhhh NEIN! I was told by my agent at the Foreigner’s office that there had been a “technical error” between the work authority and foreigners office getting paperwork going. In reality, someone was probably “sick” for weeks or on six thousand weeks of holiday. I was now going on three months of unemployment and livid!
My American friend Kelly who worked in Russia while I was there and reluctantly went back this year came to Berlin for a three day escape. Manuela, without asking, slipped me 150.00 Euros and said I needed to go see my friend while I waited for my new visa to come through. GOD BLESS HER, Kelly and I had the time of our lives.
The last week of January I got a notice that a three year visa was awarded and I finally began working again this month!
My new Kindergarten is wonderful. It is smaller and far more diverse than the first one. My colleagues are overall nice (here in the Ruhr it is a simple fact that foreigners are not liked )and very accommodating. I get along particularly well with two colleagues: one from Slovakia who has been living in Germany for 12 years and a woman from the Philippines who has been here for 20 years, unlike anyone else I met in this or the previous Kita they know exactly what I have gone through.
The kids and families are sweet. In my Kindergarten there are a lot of Russian children/families and they adore that I used to live in Russia! The kids love it when I speak to them in Russian for fun and one little girl in particular loves to show me what she learned at Russian school on the weekends.
I still like awake at night and wonder/worry. I can do it but it is very hard to live and pay my obligations on my salary, the attitude of many people can get exhausting (for instance when I am in public and speaking English on my cell phone people have told me to be quiet or given me dirty looks, mind you a group of drunk German speaking kids or soccer fans does not get this treatment) and back in December I got myself into more trouble: I started dating a German guy who treats me like a queen. He has asked me to be his girlfriend and the only thing that stops me is my own sense instability over the last few months, homesickness and time to time anger at how foreigners are treated.
That being said, when I made the choice to stay I promised myself I would give it as much as I could and so I will.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
The Saturday after I got the dreadful letter in the Kindergarten office, I was sitting in my apartment trying not to cry so I surfed the web. In a random google search I saw that Thirty Seconds to Mars was in Berlin that Friday and it occurred to me…I wonder if they would be in Cologne anytime soon, I did a quick search and indeed there would be a concert at Laxness Arena TOMORROW. Now for those of you that are ‘Echelon’ (30SM fans) then you know they tour damn near constantly and always sell out huge arenas. I had been meaning to see Thirty Seconds to Mars for a couple of years but something had always been in the way---usually being broke from being a student! Naturally, all the tickets for the Cologne show had been sold out long ago but like with everything else that had occurred recently I decided to go for it.
I quickly checked German Ebay classifieds and about ten or so people were selling their tickets. Now obviously it is risky to purchase tickets secondhand, especially off the web but I would try to be extra careful if anyone offered to sell theirs to me by speaking with them in person, asking for a picture of both sides of the ticket and triple checking all these things once there. I found one woman , a person a bit younger than myself who had an extra ticket----a standing ticket at that so I offered to pay 10.00 Euros above what she had paid (or probably won!) …She agreed to meet me at the concert venue the next day. I couldn’t believe my luck: a standing ticket at a Thirty Seconds to Mars show!!!
After streaming through thousands of people at the arena I found my vendor, the ticket was indeed quite real so I paid and began to stand in the huge standing place only line---where I would stand with the most fanatical of Echelon for five hours! The anticipation was immense! During the wait some organized fans came around with signs for people standing in the front 25 rows or so, that said “Love,” “Lust,” “Faith,” and “+Dreams” which when read together is the new album title, LOL lucky me I got “Dreams”; these Echelon were so organized that they had written instructions about what to do with the signs in both English and German.
The concert was nothing short of exhilarating. Those of you who know Thirty Seconds to Mars well know their shows are very bright, loud and high energy. After standing in line 5+ hours I found the consistent jumping a bit much but my feet that long ago would have given up obliged! I was in the 13th row out of 14,000 thousand in attendance. I’ve always wanted to see Jared Leto’s beautiful blue eyes up close (LOL this is a wish I’ve had since I’ve been about 10 years old and first saw him on ‘My so Called Life, a show that made high school like super cool haha.) and that was accomplished.
Now I hope I don’t come off as overly emotional here. I am a music lover and have always been and I have bands/singers that I love beyond measure because the amount of emotion thought and talent they put into their music. For instance “Neon Ballroom” or “Diorama” by Silverchair will always remain a favourite, even if I am nowhere near the age or experience now as I was then because of how profound the craft in those albums is and there are of course themes/lyrics that speak to you more in certain times in life than others. The Thirty Seconds to Mars concert could not have come at a better time.
Themes of attack, fight, survival, persistence and courage in the face of cowardice are found in most of their songs, particularly on albums like “This is War.” “Savior” in particular spoke to my experience
9s (“This is War”)
I needed that message. I am sure the the choice to stay and fight was already in me but let’s face it most of the events of the week had left me shell shocked and something had to bring the courage out of me.
I arrived in Germany on September 15th and on November 3rd, sometime between 9:00 PM and 1:00 in the morning in Cologne the choice was made, stay and fight for what I had already put so much effort into.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
It’s been about six months since my last journal entry here at Sparkpeople, and therefore six months since I moved to Germany. I never intended to be more or less absent from this website (though through my bodymedia I did continue to upload exercise/calorie counts.) …But then again, I never ever thought my move here would have such highs and such heartbreaking lows.
A few brief points:
My health is much better, in fact I am in my best shape ever after a full recovery from a serious lung infection and mandatory maintenance period. Shortly after I arrived in Germany and began working at a Kindergarten where parents knowingly sent their very sick kids to attend I came down with what I thought was a cold. As my illness progressed I woke up at nights with an agonizing sore throat and cough; until one day I could not breathe. I asked to go to a doctor and was sent *alone* unable to breathe, wait two hours to be seen, and conduct the appointment barely able to speak and in German. When I asked my so-called ‘mentor’ to help me she said: “No, I have to work.”
I was written off sick by a doctor for two weeks, including my birthday but nonetheless it was a beautiful day because I got a call early in the morning: 65 little German children singing in unison!
At the beginning of 2014 I decided to pursue an 80% vegan diet, increase my water intake greatly and begin taking a prescription strength vitamins and supplements. It shows my skin is glowing again, energy high and figure showing the results of recent efforts. I am back to working out six days a week and as those of you who live in Western Europe know, commuting and walking around three hours a day. It’s quite easy to get 15,000 steps simply going about daily life. According to my Bodymedia I now burn 2700-3000 calories a day. That is crazy for someone who was lucky to burn 2,400 with exercise when still living in the USA.
I could write a book about the ridiculousness and inefficiency of German bureaucracy.
What I experienced applying for and waiting for my first visa is nothing compared to the hell that has been: establishing and reestablishing my mandatory health insurance, dealing with a shady landlady and worst of applying for my new/second German work visa----particularly under the very dark cloud and emotions of what happened to me on October 30th.
A hard story to tell:
I regret and feel silly now for ever calling the employer I came to Germany for my ‘dream job.’ I thought that because they are an international, multiple state established chain of Kindergartens with a very sleek websites and advertisements that I would be welcomed into an organized, friendly learning environment. Instead ,I did my best to integrate into apathetic chaos. A centre where staff were often away for weeks at a time ‘sick’ or on holiday and therefore chronically understaffed and kids were allowed to play and go wild *all day.* Keep in mind in Germany, most people get 6 weeks holiday and sickness is not counting against it! It didn’t take me long to realize that what I was sold is not what I bought but I decided to make the best of the situation and if nothing else enjoy my time with the sweet children and watch as my German language skills went through the roof.
I thought my repoire with the staff was good, nobody seemed to openly dislike or mind my presence but they also didn’t seem to want to have me there to actually begin doing what I was hired to do: teach.
The only time that I felt any hint of animosity was the when I caught the paranoid jealous glance of a co-worker as I spoke to a parent in English. I am half German American, speak German and had been to Germany four times before moving here so I am still surprised and (sad) to write this: people in the region I live in especially (Cologne, Essen, Dusseldorf aka “the Ruhr”) usually cannot speak English, even the young people, and many people seem to have an open dislike of foreigners; so that glance was perhaps was only a surface indication.
Then October 30th happened. I had come to the Kindergarten with a pumpkin for Halloween, the day pervious my boss had asked for a copy of my rental contract and so when I was called into an office I thought it was only for clarification. I was given a piece of paper, not even on company letterhead that said that I would no longer be working for the Kindergarten in two week’s time.
A truly panic inducing WTF moment.
In an angry, confused panic I asked to call corporate headquarters in Berlin and speak with a staff member who had been helping me with my paperwork since I accepted the contract in April. I got her on the phone and could not believe her demeanor. Instead of comforting me in this horrible hour she acted angry and said “you should be happy that we aren’t making you repay your flight.” The whole situation had me feeling like I had been stabbed at the centre of my heart but this unwanted response broke it.
I immediately began asking “why” and demanding to speak with corporate headquarters in Cologne and Berlin. When I asked my boss why this was happening she told me to ask corporate headquarters and when I asked them they told me to ask my boss. It was a complete runaround only further supported by the German notion of a ‘probezeit’ or probationary period where a company can refuse to continue a person’s employment for any reason at all and do not owe an explanation to anybody. The very worst part however: when they requested my housing contract the day previous it was to personally call my landlady and let her know that they were planning to wash their hands of me and therefore erase any housing liability/connection. Could the Kindergarten have been any more tasteless?! My land lady knew what was happening to me even before I did. Disgusting.
I continued to fight and annoy until I was invited personally to go to Cologne to speak with someone at corporate headquarters on November 5th. They refused to state any reason even in person, I honestly wanted to know because if I had done something I wanted to correct myself but it was also at that moment in the shadow of the magnificent Cologne Dom Church that I decided to a.) stop arguing, offering anything to stay with the arrogant morons who felt completely justified in their cowardice and just demand compensation and b.) do whatever I could to find new employment and stay in Germany---I was offered a month and half severance. Those fools actually thought I was just going to accept a note not even on company letterhead, cry and go back to the USA after a year of preparing for their game for over a year and only after two months of employment.
This response was fueled by a very empowering experience I had on the previous Sunday November 3rd.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
It’s been an amazing, overwhelming 24 hours on many news and activity fronts and likely the last entry I will write from the United States. I fly to Essen Germany this Saturday and begin working as an Erzieherin this upcoming Monday!
Yesterday was my last day at my corporate office job. While inevitably there were some ‘haters’ and gossip (that’s the nature of offices) a vast majority of my co-workers were wonderful and I already miss them.
I brought in this cake:
And wore this Dirndl shirt, perfect time of year since its Oktoberfest season (there will be actual Oktoberfest parties in many parts of Wisconsin next week.)
I thought that would be the extent of our celebrations, but no, my lovely colleagues kept asking me ‘Sam when are you going to break?’ They waited for me to go downstairs and get water as I often do….and in a mad rush did this to my work cube! :
I love the wonderful messages left in this card:
I have been working straight since last Tuesday, Monday having been a holiday, straight 12 hour shifts. I love to be at work so this is not an issue and I think will serve me well in Germany but it was so hard to clear my desk and go!
I commute home from work via bus every day and over the last couple of months there’s been a very nice driver that I often speak with. She’s very kind but surprised even me when she came up to me as I waited for my connection last night and said: “Would it be ok if I prayed for you?’ I thought that was fantastic, I said yes but also asked her to pray for the children and adults I’ll be working with
…and then comes what I found out via email. You may remember my soon to be colleague ‘A’ who was denied her German visa not once but twice. Well it doesn’t matter now---appeals canceled---because she has been awarded a fantastic contract in Denmark! With a generalized interest in working in Northern Europe this is a great opportunity for her and we couldn’t be happier!
…the second email. My cousin on the Reuter side just graduated with his degree in secondary education specializing in English. It’s very hard for any teacher to get their first contract, especially in an area with some overfill like high school English in a state that has gone massive education squeezes like Wisconsin. He’s done it and will be starting in his classroom Monday just like I will.
This song ‘Der Letzte Tag’ is stuck in my head...yeah I am a Tokio Hotel fan ha!
I want to thank you again for your love and support I know a lot of what I write is not easy to read at times. It is my pleasure, it seems to finally, be able to write a blog entry that is 100% positive here.
Today I’ll be packing and Beagle hugging, and on Saturday visiting my Brother and Nieces before flying to Zurich and onto Dusseldorf!
I’m (almost!) ready,
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