Darn Immigrants! – What I Have to Deal with in my German Integration Course – Part 1

I go to an immigrant integration course here in Berlin – a mix of all different kinds of people from different backgrounds – all of us mixed together for 4 hours every day trying to learn one of the most difficult languages out there: GERMAN.  This leads to a lot of tense/interesting/funny/strange moments and comments that I thought I would capture here because it is truly a unique experience I am going through.  It’s not every day that so many different backgrounds, ages, cultures, social upbringings, education levels, etc. are mixed in one room and forced to try to get along!

My background: I’m Canadian, ethnically Afghan and a lawyer in Canada.  I have two university degrees and have lived in a few different countries.  I speak English, Farsi, Spanish, a bit of French and now German. Generally, we Canadians are polite, non-confrontational and respectful of others’ opinions and personal space.

My classmates’ background:

  • Number of students: 18
  • Ages 24 – 65
  • Countries represented: Cameroon, Afghanistan, Philippines, Iran, Bangladesh, Sweden, Iraq, China, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Chile, France, United Arab Emirates
  • Professions represented: Tailor, Waitress, Housewife (6), Mechanic, Salesperson, Student, Consultant, IT

Something new happens every day so I will just start writing about the interesting ones on here as they happen so you can have a taste of what I go through every day!  Some incidents are funny, some are astonishing, some are racist, some are just silly…but this is real life…

This is a course that is pretty much required for anyone wanting to live permanently in Germany (except for certain citizens – Canadians, Americans, Australians, etc.)  I’m taking it because I want to learn German and the German government subsidizes half of the cost so it is really affordable. Most of the rest of my class though is not paying for the course; most are on on welfare so the course is paid for by welfare.  They are required to attend school every day in order to legally be able to stay in Germany.

Incident 1: The Russian and his Windows

Every day, we have two breaks during our class.  These are short 10 minute breaks for us to get a coffee, have a bathroom break or go smoke (as most people in Germany still do).  As I was coming back to the classroom during one of these breaks, I noticed that both windows in the class (large windows) were open even though it was freezing outside (remember we are in Berlin).  I noticed the Iranian girl and the Cameroon girl were shivering so I asked them if they would like me to close the windows.  They said, “Yes, please!” so I went to shut the windows, when suddenly the Russian (a man around 50 years) yelled at me not to shut them and that the room was really stuffy.  He yelled that we needed to air out the room and how important that was for our health.  I looked at the shivering girls and noticed the Chilean, the Kosovo woman and the other Russian woman were also cold.  I told the Russian man calmly that the girls were cold and that I was going to close the window.  I also mentioned that if he needed some more fresh air that he could go downstairs and go outside.  The Cameroon girl took my comment as a lead to start criticizing the Russian for opening the windows in the first place.  The Russian started yelling back at her that if she didn’t like the cold that she should go back to Africa where it was hot.  I just went back to my seat and wondered why the heck this was such a big deal.  Normally people ask others if they don’t mind if the windows are opened.  How could the Russian be so blind and ignore that half the people in the room were freezing?  He proceeded to play a French song loud on his phone’s speakers in the class while others were trying to have conversations. *sigh*  This was “break” time.

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2 thoughts on “Darn Immigrants! – What I Have to Deal with in my German Integration Course – Part 1

  1. Leigh Majer says:

    Hi – it’s me again! Your newest blog follower and Canadian friend. So I mentioned in my other comment that today was particularly hard for me and it was related to these integration courses. I guess my visa says I have to do it but I am so confused because my understanding is that most people taking it do not have degrees and I have not seen Canadians or Americans in the mix everytime I have been at the VHS class to take the test or sign up etc. I was excited at the outset because I want to learn German and I want to function in society but the schedule is cramping my style for my job this year substitute teaching at an English International School (my first class is supposed to start at the end of January) and it is also cramping my style for the travel and experiences I was planning in addition to helping my husband with his job. Most of all – the bureaucracy I have dealt with in the last few days combined with the confusion of what I am really supposed to be doing is demoralizing and I am struggling to stay positive.
    So did you come here as a working lawyer who chose to take the class on your own or did you come here on a spouse visa and wanted to take it to be fluent in society and you were not working or planning to work after becoming fluent. Basically my visa says that after two years if I don’t have the B1 they will only renew on a 1 year basis which honestly at this point I don’t care because we are only supposed to be here for 3 years anyways – but I always like to be diligent and do what is required of me but I am wondering if there was a different visa I could have applied for.

    I am a teacher with 16+ years experience and am looking at/hoping to get hired at an English international school next year – and none of those teachers have to do the integration course but I imagine that is because they were hired with that specific visa that exempts them or something. I just wonder if maybe when we applied for our visas if there was a way I could have gotten one that didn’t REQUIRE the integration courses. It just seems (and I really seriously don’t mean this in a bad way) that most of the people there as mandatory are unemployed and without university degrees – but maybe I am wrong.

    I am not trying to be lazy in wanting an exemption but rather would like to have some sort of freedom to learn the language at my own pace and have the freedom to travel and work as I was planning on before coming here. Perhaps part of it is that it is just ALL a total shock to me and I was unaware they could force 645 hours on you – I understand learning the language and the benefits of doing the course but the time commitment is huge and I feel it is going to limit the potential I have with the international school to get a full time job as when you work as a sub at a school it is like a daily interview where they get to see you in action.

    Anyways – any thoughts? Any hope you know of that I could somehow be exempt from the classes?

    I feel so bad writing while in a funky mood because I seriously am really a super happy person normally – just have had a bad 2 days where I could literally pack one suitcase head to the airport and book a one way flight home. We have been here since July and gone through the whole process of buying a kitchen and 11 light fixtures and 13 curtains and all with cash since we didn’t know about the Germans and the no credit cards – we have tried to remain flexible and positive and have been doing a great job but just last week I found out that I had overlooked a letter written in German that apparently said the integration courses were mandatory and I was obliged to show up by October 31 with proof that I was enrolled in classes. We got so much mail when we first moved and always get it translated but as luck would have it that was the ONE SINGLE LETTER I did not get translated – and you know why I didn’t – because it was from the immigration guy I had just spoken to a few days prior to it coming in the mail and he made no mention of deadlines or anything – just told me I had to be at B1 within 2 years so when I saw a letter that said “integration course” in German I “knew” what it was saying because of what he had personally told me in his office. Clearly that was a BAD ASSUMPTION on my part and now they have said that they are reviewing my visa – ARGH!!!

    • HelloBonjour says:

      Hi again! Ok, so now I see that you are somehow required to do the integration course. According to http://www.make-it-in-germany.com/en/for-qualified-professionals/working/guide/opportunities-for-family-members, if you have a university degree then you shouldn’t have to do the course. I think it really depends on what kind of visa your husband has. Do you have any friends who are fluent in German? As strict as the Germans are, they also listen to common sense, but you need to be able to speak to them in German (I mean the people who work in the immigration offices). Do you have anyone that can speak fluent German, that you can explain your situation to and then take them with you to talk to the immigration people? I would suggest making an appointment first so you don’t have to wait forever. I came here because of my husband and immediately got a 3 year visa as I am his wife and he is German. I actually wanted to do the integration course so I specifically asked for the papers to be allowed to do one. For me, it was very helpful and I was actually conversational after the course. I took one more course afterwards and now I am fairly fluent in German. It was a time investment but WOW, it makes a big difference to be able to speak the language here. There are obviously cultural differences (some things German think are funny where I think they are rude) but being able to speak the language just helps so much. It’s made my whole experience here much more enjoyable. Like I said in my other reply, it is a lot nicer in Stuttgart. The people are very friendly compared to Berlin and they are excited to see someone who is Canadian…not like in Berlin! :)

      Anyways, in your situation, I would really take a look at your husband’s visa and see what kind of visa he is on. Then I would find someone who can speak fluent German and take them with you to talk to an immigration officer and explain your situation….and hope that they are nice and let you have an exemption! Best of luck to you!!!

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