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.