Guest post: Life after graduation

Today’s guest post is from Ben Young, an Aston graduate who now lives in Munich.

 

Hawidere and Grüße aus München!

My name is Benjamin Young, I’m a 25 year-old Aston graduate who is currently living and working in Munich, southern Germany. I studied on the International Business & Modern Languages (IBML) BSc between 2008-2012 and moved back out shortly after graduating.

After initially moving to Munich in May 2012, I started working for the British Government at the Consulate General in May 2014. My day to day work is with the commercial arm of the Government, working for UK Trade & Investment, helping German firms invest into the UK and providing a route into (and through!) Government from a local perspective. My remit covers advanced engineering & manufacturing with a heavy focus on the railways, so I am often working with large German companies such as Siemens, Deutsche Bahn and BMW. The skills that I learned at Aston, and vitally the combination between applied business subjects and language skills, was really key to me hitting the ground running in this job.

The Ambassador’s Residence in Vienna – there is still always time for tea, even in Austria!
The Ambassador’s Residence in Vienna – there is still always time for tea, even in Austria!

Outside of my main duties there is more general, Consular work to be done to show off the UK to the Germans, widen our network and organize visits from British delegations. I was part of the organizing group for the HM Queen Elizabeth Royal State Visit earlier this year, and was fortunate enough to be with the delegation on the Frankfurt leg of the trip to the Roemer and historic city hall, and garnering a surprising amount of camera time! As well as this, we still organize a Queen’s Birthday Party each year (she is yet to attend), and I am often asked to represent the UK at interesting events such as the maiden voyage of the National Express trains linking Cologne, Bonn and …, from which I am writing this blog post- it’s a far shout from the old National Express coach station in Digbeth!

I feel very fortunate to have studied at Aston and there’s no doubt in my mind that it has helped me greatly so far in my career. Although I do occasionally feel the pangs of homesickness (as a season ticket holder at West Bromwich Albion, it has been particularly tough), I have at least been able to switch the Birmingham Christmas Markets for the real thing – and there is of course Oktoberfest!

I’m happy to speak with any prospective or current students or indeed upcoming graduates should you have any questions about working for the British Government overseas, moving countries or my course studies – please do feel free to get in touch.

Guest Blogger: German@Aston student Marcus Begley on the many things you get out of a Year Abroad

img_5871I remember looking around Aston University on an open day, hearing about the compulsory Third Year Abroad and being terrified at the idea of spending up to a whole year in a foreign country. Yet before I knew it, as I was squeezing piles of clothes into a suitcase far too small, this prospect had become very real.

The Year Abroad experience begins early in second year, almost a whole year before actually beginning it. The fact that there are several options of how to spend a Year Abroad means that you really can build a Year Abroad around you – I was given the option of studying at a university, working for a German company or teaching English in a German school. After a little research I opted for the latter – I wanted to ‘test the water’ in terms of teaching and see if it was something I would like to do as a career and coupled with, not only the pay, but also the hours worked, this seemed the best option for me. Next up was to select where I would like to be placed. I chose my preferred three ‘Bundesländer’ and I was fortunate to receive my first choice – Bavaria.

bayernFollowing completion of second year, things started to feel very real. With only a few months before I literally moved country for nine months, I was feeling apprehensive. Over the summer I began searching for accommodation whilst also keeping in close contact with the schools I was to work at. My Year Abroad began early in September 2013 and safe to say, I was very nervous as I left England knowing I wouldn’t be returning until Christmas. My immediate impressions of Germany were very positive. Despite being initially overwhelmed by the language, and my lack of ability in speaking it, the culture is very similar to England and the people were, in total contrast to the largely upheld stereotype, really quite friendly.

Within a few months I felt I was beginning to find my feet in this new country and I was enjoying my work in the school(s!). As a native English speaker, I proved to be pretty popular with teachers and students alike and this made me feel very welcome. I was very surprised at just how high the standard of English is in Germany, considering it’s learnt as a second language. Many young students had better second language skills than I did! One great thing about my role as a British Council English Teaching Assistant was the amount of free time I got. I was able to use this time well and spent almost every weekend visiting somewhere new, whether that be a German city or a neighbouring country. I began to appreciate just how many amazing places and attractions Germany has to offer, whilst also really enjoying constantly improving my knowledge of German culture, history and lifestyle. Christmas time brought with it the opportunity to sample ‘real’ German Christmas markets for the first time, and this was just one particular highlight for me.

As I returned to Germany following the Christmas break, I felt easier knowing where I was going and what to expect. The second half of my Year Abroad just flew by, but once again, I feel I really made the most of it. Although I spoke a lot of English during my Year Abroad (which could be perhaps considered a disadvantage of the role of a Teaching Assistant), in the final few months before coming home, I really began to notice an improvement in my German language. In any European country, because of the high standard of English, for native English speakers it becomes fairly easy to get by without speaking a word of that countrys’ language. I really had to make an effort to ensure I did indeed speak German at every available opportunity but also found that simple things like reading newspapers and listening to radio, activities which require a little more effort back home in England, were good ways of practising.

At the end of the Year Abroad, without sounding too clichéd, I really did feel I was returning to the UK, a different person. A more mature, grown up, wiser person. Whilst the Year Abroad isn’t always easy, isn’t always fun (in fact at times it can be very lonely and challenging), it offers something that can’t be matched. From my Year Abroad, I’ve learnt that there is a lot more to teaching than meets the eye and it’s unlikely that I will be becoming a teacher anytime soon, but I’ve also learnt so much about people and cultures – And perhaps most reassuringly, my love for Germany has grown.

11.07.13-mjs_ft_study-abroad-3_23945506_586_366_80_s_c1The Third Year Abroad is something that Aston prides itself upon, especially in the language department. Yet it is only after doing a Year Abroad, having these wonderful experiences, developing and learning the way I have done, that I understand why the Year Abroad receives so much focus and emphasis. I’ve learnt that it is a vital part of a degree, and not just for language students. Obviously the development of language skills is a massive part of the Year Abroad for a language student and it is common knowledge that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country that speaks it as you are constantly surrounded by it and immersed in the culture of the language. But the independence, the confidence, the personal development and new skills that one learns through spending time abroad cannot be underestimated. Not only that, but the Year Abroad offers the chance to appreciate not only another culture, but equally, your own culture, in a way that is impossible without spending time surrounded by another.

Aston on tour – Das Auslandsjahr

 

As you might know, Aston University offers a wide range of opportunities to go abroad. This provides you with an excellent chance to get to know other cultures, improve your language skills, earn valuable work experiences and last but not least gain friends for life.

A stay abroad further offers you the chance to get an insight into the working culture of other countries. By doing a placement year in a German company, you will, for example, be able to tell whether German punctuality is reality or just a myth. You will also learn about work ethics and typical work environments. As an Erasmus student or as a teaching assistant you will get to know the German educational system and you will be  able to meet a lot of people your own age.

If you are an Aston student who is living in another country right now and writing a blog, feel free to send us the web address so that others can read about what you are doing and how you experience life in your new ‘Heimat’.

Some students already sent us a link to their blog, so take a look at what a placement year can be like:

http://marcusbegley.blogspot.co.uk/

http://miriamtwentythirteen.wordpress.com/

Guest Blogger: John Rogerson

Personal Profile

Welcome to my guest blog entry avid blog readers! My name is John Rogerson and I am on my year abroad year as part of the International Business and Modern Languages (German) programme at Aston! I am currently pursuing a 1-year internship at E.ON IT working in the “Strategy and Change” function of the organisation.

Life @ E.ON IT

Back in August, I began my internship at E.ON IT in the Group Wide Planning & Solutions unit located in Düsseldorf. The purpose of this department is to support the IT system within E.ON, checking the performance of the IT system on a daily basis thorough Key Performance Indicators as well as making the necessary adjustments to deliver the best IT system possible to employees. A large proportion of my tasks were working with the computer software SAP. Though very technical, there was definite steep learning curve working in this department:

  • Speaking German all day every day – eventually starting to dream in German!
  • Learning the technical concepts within SAP – This was tough going, in both English and German.

Around November time, I decided that I wanted to see more of the E.ON business. I have always had a real enthusiasm for strategy during my studies at Aston and therefore wanted to experience this side of E.ON during my year abroad. After clarifying this with the relevant persons, I moved to Hannover in January and now work in Strategy & Change of the energy conglomerate. After 8 weeks in this department, I can safely say this is an area in which I would look to pursue a future career. Within my role, I am responsible for the communication of the IT strategy of E.ON as well as the roll out of the E.ON ITs Dragons Den concept in Eastern Europe. The E.ON ITs Dragons Den, based on the television programme featuring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in order to secure investment finance from a panel of venture capitalists, enables employees to transform any innovative ideas which will benefit the firm into a tangible reality.

When I compare the differences between E.ON IT in Düsseldorf and E.ON IT in Hannover, I would say there is a somewhat laissez faire approach in Hannover. The dress code is more relaxed and there is a stronger emphasis on networking with colleagues.  I would summarise that E.ON IT Düsseldorf is closer to the delineation of what one would call “the corporate culture” which has a strong emphasis on results compared to that of the more “collaborative culture” here in Hannover.

Life Outside of E.ON IT

One real advantage of the working world compared to studying is once you finish work at 6pm the evenings are yours!

With Germanys’ central location in Europe, I real wanted to use this year to see as much of Europe as possible. During my year abroad, I have visited places such as Vienna, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Munich (for the famous Oktoberfest) to name just a few. With the explosion of low cost budget airlines, it makes trips like this affordable. Before I leave for England in August, Zurich, Brussels & Dresden are on my places to see list!

At E.ON IT in Hannover, there is a large emphasis on the recruitment of Duale Studenten. These are basically students who are studying for a bachelor who spend half of their time between working at E.ON and studying at a university near to Hannover. During my time at E.ON, I have been able to meet and get to know lots of the students which has been great, not only to form friendships, but also speak German in a more informal setting outside of the working environment. When I am in Hannover at the weekends, there tends to be some form of a social event with the students which is always good fun.

If I had to name the best thing about Germany, besides the beer, it would have to the food! The more time I spend in Germany, the more attention I have to pay to my growing waistline. From the well known Bretzels and Schweinehaxe to the Christmas specialty Gänsekeule, Germany is a Carnivores’ paradise!

Closing Comments

In order to summarise my blog, I wanted to in a few bullet points explain what is to gain from a year abroad.

  • Deepens your language capabilities – As you speak the language and live the culture day in, day out, this can do nothing but bring positive results for your competency in the target language.
  • Builds your confidence – Being immersed in a new culture, forming new friendships and speaking a foreign language helps strengthen confidence and builds your self esteem.
  • Improves future job prospects – The integral year abroad is highly valued by many employees. And with that bilingual edge, the world is your oyster!

Guest blog: A comment about the likely end of the British Council Assistantship programme

In addition to sending us a report about his first weeks as a teaching assistant in Saxony (see previous post), Eliot – an LSS student currently on placement in Germany – also has a comment to make about the current suspension of recruitment of candidates in England and Wales for the Language Assistants programme (recruitment is suspended for now and students across the country are awaiting a decision from the Department for Education). Here’s what he has to say:

 

“When I am asked ‘why do you study a language?’, I reply with the answer that it’s an opportunity to learn another culture and do something I would otherwise be incapable of doing. Although this is slightly cliché, the general gist of it is accurate. The Assistantship is a brilliant way of doing this for a number of reasons: 1) you experience language at first hand in a lively social environment; 2) you are working in an environment where you are in direct contact with native speakers; and 3) you get the opportunity to live in ‘obscure’ places, where you may otherwise never find an opportunity of employment. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

So why am I listing these reasons? Because I was alarmed at the news that I could be part of the last group of students to be offered this opportunity. The CSR’s cutting of 30% of the British Council’s annual budget resulted in the subsequent suspension of this programme (as posted in an earlier blog and on the Independent website). I see this as not just an issue in relation to economic cuts but as a cultural incision which could critically hinder the development of language students in England and Wales.

The worst part is that this cut is not even the beginning of the problems facing modern languages in the UK. The problem is too many people, and that by no means means everybody, seem to think that, because we in the UK speak the lingua franca of the twenty first century, we have no need to speak foreign languages. However, I am ardently opposed to this viewpoint and see the decision by the chancellor, George Osbourne, to cut the British Council Assistantship programme, something on which I am enrolled, as a serious threat to the existence of language learning in the UK more generally. I am going to briefly talk about my experience of language learning in the UK and about my reasons for doing an assistantship and then discuss why I think it is simply vital that this cut is fought to the bitter end. It may not be housing or work benefits, but it is a mainstay for language students.

As a secondary school pupil I was amongst the first year group to have the chance to drop modern language learning altogether before GCSE, something I, even then, could appreciate as a slightly degenerative move. I was by no stretch of the imagination the most talented linguist in my class, but I always knew I wanted to keep languages up. I was denied the chance to take French at GCSE because of a lack of numbers but still had German, so I wasn’t particularly bothered. The style of teaching and the lack of knowledge of the benefits of languages, however, failed to stimulate interest and this, in turn, resulted in me being just one of 4 students in my entire year of 300 to take a modern language at A-level. Of us 4, only 2 completed the course and of us 2 I was only one to achieve a grade at C or above.

 Learning languages is about interaction, something I craved as a pupil at GCSE and A-level, and assistants are a massive part of that as they (we) provide a link to the culture as well as the language. The lack of such a presence motivated me personally to want to make it onto a language course at university and, more notably, to become a teaching assistant. The contrast between this gloomy situation (which I’m aware was extreme, yet not isolated) and the German schools, where everyone learns English to varying degrees and ‘in practice’ is only allowed to speak English in the classroom, startled me and I feel something has to change! After all, we Brits are Europeans even if the Sun would lead us to believe the sun never sets on our now defunct empire and that World War Two ended yesterday. This is not just a matter of economic cuts, and I realise that we can’t all avoid the Tory axe, but it is a matter of stepping further in the wrong direction! It is a crying shame.

So, the point I am making is that this is the tip of the iceberg and, all emotive language aside, I would hope other assistants, past and present, would feel a similar level of disappointment at this news. I truly hope this programme can be rescued… It really is worth it!”

Guest blog: “Ich kann Deutsch!”

We have asked our students who are on their year abroad now or have just returned to tell us about their experiences in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. Today’s new guest blogger is Eliot, an LSS student who is currently on work placement in a school in Saxony. Here’s what he has to say:

 

 “Ich kann Deutsch!”

 I am a teaching assistant in the vogtländisch “Spitze Stadt” of Plauen. It is one of Saxony’s most westerly towns, and is less than 30km from the Bavarian border. Before coming here I had never heard of the town but it really suits me! I’m going to talk about my general experiences thus far and try and give an impression of what it’s like to live in the former DDR.

After a long summer of anticipation and waiting I departed for Germany on the 31st of August full of expectation and excitement. In spite of the location of “my” town in the east of the country, I was invited to an introductory course on the outskirts of Cologne arranged by the Padagögische Austauchdienst (PAD). This involved assistants from numerous Bundesländer. It was two days of useful information but very little actual German; it was almost as though the plane had landed in a tiny English-speaking exclave! It was the calm before the storm, the anti-climax before the twist!

My initial fear of an anglicised Germany seemed to be true in the hustle bustle of the Großstadt, where my nationality was often sussed out, seemingly, before I’d opened my mouth to reveal my very English sounding version of Hochdeutsch to order a coffee or buy a newspaper. So when I arrived in Plauen after a 7-hour train journey and was greeted at the station by a teacher who had little or no knowledge of English I was overcome with relief! This was what I was here for; the chance to try out and develop my language skills. Although my “brief” is to speak English at all times when in a classroom environment, there has been no shortage of chances to speak German. I play sport twice a week, have a few friends in the town who speak very little English, and my school, a vocational college, involves teaching people of all abilities. Realistically I have to, therefore, switch from English to German at will.

However, two things have seemed to happen time and time again. Firstly, there is the initial look on people’s faces when I am introduced. It is a combination of curiosity and surprise, partly because I’m in Plauen and partly because I can actually speak German. It is the culmination of all those hours of learning and years of frustration to be able to say “Ich kann Deutsch reden”. Secondly, people over the age of, say, forty are overtly apologetic about their lack of English due to the pre-eminence of Russian in the DDR. It’s as if they feel in some way ashamed or responsible when really they were just subject to circumstance. Sometimes I think people either have no idea why I would want to speak German, or that they feel obliged to have some grasp of English. So what do I say when they ask: Why do you speak German? I tell them the truth: “Ein Bier, bitte!” just isn’t enough, you’ve got to know how to go back for a second! Fighting the tide of English is something you learn to live with so it is hugely rewarding being able to converse in a foreign language! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Guest blog: ‘Seehofer – „Multikulti ist tot“’

We have asked our students who are on their year abroad now or have just returned to tell us about their experiences in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. Today’s entry comes from Vikki, currently on placement near Frankfurt, who has blogged in the past about experiencing “culture shock” in Germany. This time, she is commenting on the current debate about multiculturalism in Germany:

“In his welcoming speech during the Young CDU/CSU National Conference, the Bavarian Ministerpräsident and CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany to be dead. This announcement has come at quite a critical time: the place of immigrants in German society is being hotly debated. On the one hand we have Thilo Sarrazin, who recently caused controversy with his book and Horst Seehofer who is currently being criticised for his snake-bite comments; whilst on the other we have Bundespräsident Christian Wulff being congratulated for his efforts by the leader of the Green party, Cem Özdemir.

This situation, I suspect, could be likened to the children’s song ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor?’ – ‘What shall we do with the Immigrants?’ The question has been raised by certain groups who are concerned that immigrant communities have in some cases started to build up their own, separate communities which deviate from the main German culture (Leitkultur). Sarrazin’s book claims that Muslims are responsible for a high amount of crime and high rates of benefit claims. I could start a debate about culture at this point, and whether some views of ‘Leitkultur’ are outdated – after all, society is a constantly changing concept, so whilst Islam may not have been a part of German culture in the past, it isn’t true that now, or indeed in the future, it cannot be part of the culture. However, I’ve deviated and that isn’t a debate I’m willing to go into now.

As a foreign ‘resident’ in Germany, I can say that I don’t feel sidelined and inclined to ghettoise myself; I think the situation is okay. However, coming from a European background, I may not be faced with the same problems as someone coming from a totally different culture experience. However, a couple of days ago I came home to find a voting card for the upcoming foreign representation vote. Now that I’ve had time to calm down and think about what this actually means, I’m still trying to make a decision: is this an example of positive discrimination or negative discrimination?  On one side, by having these votes, it means the foreign community of Frankfurt gets to safeguard its rights by knowing that this council will be watching over decisions to ensure discrimination doesn’t take place. However, I’m more inclined to believe that this kind of vote should not have to happen, and that the politicians should be able to make these decisions for themselves, taking into account the views of the people they represent. Is being a foreigner in Germany such a problem that we need to make sure that we are protected by a specific council?! Moreover, a good number of the parties on the list are representing certain minorities to which I do not belong. How am I meant to vote for a party which doesn’t represent my views?! The SPD are the only mainstream party on the list. It seems crazy to me that this kind of vote should have to take place, majority or multicultural society; everyone should be represented by the mainstream vote that everyone participates in. I won’t even start on the fact that I have 37 possible votes and can vote for each person up to 3 times: this system seems a complete and utter shambles.

It is widely said that immigrants must do more to integrate into German culture and the government has been talking about punishing those who do not wish to integrate more harshly; talks of more language classes, integration courses and of course, trying to get around the ideological problems that can originate from certain sections of the Muslim faith, for example forced marriage and the role of women in society. The problem in my eyes is that whilst the CDU/CSU keep saying that Muslims/immigrants are still welcome in Germany, they are making a lot of noise and doing nothing about it. Government-funded language classes are underfunded and therefore aren’t as effective as they could be; after all, charities can only do a certain amount.

So why don’t the government invest more money in the problem? Certainly, they would be able to save money on the benefits they’re paying out, if they instead spent it on integration. Or maybe it isn’t as simple as that: Merkel and Co are all trying to remain popular amongst their party and voters ahead of elections next year, so the budget and reforms all need to be dealt with to the taste of voters; after all, they could already be in trouble regarding Stuttgart 21 in Baden-Württemberg.”

To learn more about the controvercy surrounding Thilo Sarrazin, go to this Guardian article or to this collection of articles in Der Spiegel.

To read more about Seehofer’s speech and its implications, read this article in Die Zeit.