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.

Adventures of German a placement student

Our placement student Marcus is currently working as a British Council teaching assistant in Regensburg, Germany, and has been blogging about his experiences in the southern wilds of Germany for the past year. His latest post lists “50 things we’ve learned about the Germans” and covers a wide range of topics, from bikes to yoghurt, from Glühwein to Lederhosen. Here’s a taste of his post, to read more, simply follow the link at the bottom:

50 things we’ve learnt about the Germans

So after spending over 9 months here in Germany we feel qualified to share a few observations that we’ve made about Germans. Whilst Germany is really very similar to England, there are lots of cultural differences that struck us as noteworthy. We managed to narrow these differences down to 50 observations and below are a list of things we have noticed during our time here – things that we find good, bad, maybe just strange. We (Lois and I) hope you enjoy this post. (Obviously this post shouldn’t be taken too seriously and is a light hearted look at certain parts of German society and different behaviours. Some of these observations are sweeping generalisations and unfair stereotypes and we understand this – please don’t be offended!)

1.       Germans love ‘kaffee und kuchen’

‘Kaffee und kuchen’ or ‘Coffee and cake’ is an important part of the day for many Germans. No matter what day of the week, if you walk past a German café you are sure to see some people enjoying this traditional German pastime. Moreover, it is often the case that people enjoy ‘kaffee und kuchen’ several times a week, if not every day! We’re aware coffee and cake is also popular in the UK, but here you can’t walk down a high-street without passing several signs advertising this popular German afternoon affair. (We’ve come to understand why this is so popular – German cake is delicious!)

To find out more, click here!

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.

Guest blog: Ohne Arbeit wär‘ das Leben öde…an die Arbeit!

guest-blogger2

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 Hannah, an LSS student who spent her work placement in a Bavarian translation agency. Here’s what she has to say:

 

Hannah_Blog 1The year abroad – the challenging and exciting year where modern foreign languages students are faced with the prospect of living in another country such as France, Germany or Spain. At Aston University, students are given the option of completing a teaching assistantship at a school, studying at a partner university or completing a work placement. The last option however, strangely appears to have been one of the least popular options, at least during the current academic year and the academic year 2009-2010 when I completed my year abroad at a translation agency in Bavaria, Germany, from July 2009-July 2010. This decline was something that greatly intrigued me upon my return to the UK as I had had the time of my life, made some amazing friends and secured a job all in one year. So, hoping to get honest opinions from languages students in the UK who either had completed or who were in the process of completing a year abroad as a part of their degree programme, I created a survey during September 2010. This survey asked them detailed questions about their attitudes to work placements in a foreign country, their preferences, thoughts and concerns.

The start of the survey showed that although 68.4% of students said they had or would consider completing a work related placement, it was not the most popular option when the respondents were asked to rate the three options of a teaching assistantship, studying at a foreign university and a work placement in the order of preference as the highest percentage for 1st choice was the teaching assistantship at 47.4%, nearly half of the respondents. This clearly shows that the concept of a work placement, be it working for a large enterprise such as Deutsche Bank or Siemens, or completing an internship at a translation agency like I did, is something that students are still clearly interested in, but there are factors which must be holding them back.

The next step of the survey was to find out any concerns which students had about completing a work placement abroad. To find out these concerns, I asked the participants to rank the three options in the order which they thought would be the easiest to complete and then to give their reasons for this in a separate comments box. Once again, the teaching assistantship was rated by over half of the participants as moderately easy, in contrast to the work placement which was the complete opposite at extremely hard. The reason for this was that the majority of students believed that more is expected of you with a work placement, you have to carry out the job efficiently in the foreign language and to do that, students believed that a high level of language competency was required. Whilst it’s true that a high level of fluency allows an intern to carry out their job to the best of their ability, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all if you don’t have this skill as you’re there to learn after all and what better place to improve spoken language skills than a company? At the start of my internship, where I worked from Monday to Friday for 40 hours a week, I felt like a clumsy clown with my language skills, even though I’d achieved a 2.1 for both years of my degree. If I’d had had a penny (or should that be a cent?) for every “err…” and grammatical error that came out of my mouth, I would’ve been rich. Just a mere few months later, I’d soon improved though and at the end of the placement, my boss said during my last week that she felt I could “understand everything which was being said”. Mostly this was due to the fact that I was mainly working with Bavarians who spoke standard German. Additionally, I’d had no choice but to adapt by refusing to speak English, something which is an easy trap to fall into if you’re teaching English or studying with other Erasmus students.

Another worry raised by 68.4% was that they would or have felt isolated in a working environment compared to studying with others. This was certainly true for me to start with as our little group (affectionately known later on as Haus 1), would only spend the odd 10 minutes making small talk. Like any job though, you just have to make an effort to socialise and speak up if you feel lonely. In my first week, I met a lovely lady called Regina who would go round every week asking people to go to the cinema with her. From this, a group of us formed the Wohanka Film Club and we’d go out every Wednesday night to watch an English or German film (another opportunity to improve listening skills) followed by a drink. Another excellent excursion was when some of my friends at work and I went to the Christmas market at Nuremberg. It certainly brought us closer together as I still talk to Regina every week on Skype after moving back to England.

Not surprisingly, many of the respondents also stated that a work placement would be scary and hard work. Furthermore, only 5 of the respondents said that a work placement would be fun. The same can be said about any job though, regardless of what language you’ll be working in. Think back to any of the previous jobs you’ve had and I’m sure you’ll share this view- the butterflies, the voice in your head telling you to make a good impression and not to do anything wrong. As the youngest translator at Wohanka at 21, I was particularly worried about not fulfilling their expectations of me and translating too slow. What I learnt though is that Germans are very upfront and that it’s better to speak up if you’re finding things scary and difficult. By doing this, I was able to start slow and on simpler translations such as correspondence, marketing and newspaper articles. By the end of my 13 months, I’d completed translations such as an academic paper on osteoarthritis and various legal documents (including one bulk translation which amounted to 60 odd pages and which had needed to be done in a week), not forgetting one about rectal surgery (yes, you did read that correctly!), which was hilarious. I was also combining this with proofreading and acting as a tandem partner to one of the other interns. This all earned me the promise of a job there when I graduate next year.

Completing a work placement abroad puts you at an advantage over other students by giving you that vital experience in the world of work earlier on, showing prospective employers that you’ve understood how not only how to carry out a job efficiently, but that you’ve gained all of the necessary skills such as time management, leadership and reliability- and all of this whilst constantly communicating in a foreign language as well.

In conclusion, it appears that although the work placement option is chosen by fewer modern foreign languages students for the year abroad, it is still an option which students still deeply consider completing. The problem is that students are just a bit apprehensive about completing this option as they’re worried that they may feel isolated, not have a high enough level of competency in the foreign language and that it may be too difficult. This is a problem which could be tackled better by universities, for example, by putting 2nd year students in touch with others who are working as an intern during the placement process, by tackling students worries and by emphasizing the advantages that a work placement has. Students who completed the survey were also of this opinion, giving comments such as “I wish more universities pushed their students to go on work placements” and, “It would have been good if my university had given us some details about the companies that students had previously worked for during their work placements, or if they had pushed the idea a bit more, although ultimately it was my responsibility.” My personal message to students who are uncertain or worried about the idea of a work placement would be to seize the opportunity of doing one – you might find it hard at first, but it gives you the chance to get experience in a particular area, you can learn interesting new things every day (a friend of mine learnt how to play poker properly from translating) and form new friendships.

Hannah_Blog2

Guest blog: Vikki’s “Cultureshock!”

guest-blogger2

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 Vikki, an LSS student who is currently on placement near Frankfurt. Here’s what she has to say:

 

“Hi, my name’s Vikki and I’m another Third-year Placement Student working near Frankfurt am Main and living in the financial capital of Europe. I’ve been here since the middle of June, and here’s one of the observations I quickly made after the move. I’ve called it “Cultureshock!” because Sundays in the UK are very different to German Sundays.

So, on my first Sunday in Germany, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was already aware that the shops weren’t open, so there were two options: do nothing in my room, or do nothing elsewhere; I opted for the latter. I headed down the road to try and find a bakery that was open. It took me 15 minutes to find one that was open, and I exited triumphantly holding my vier brotchen in a paper bag. I now wanted a newspaper. This again proved to be a difficult task, despite seeing several people with freshly bought newspapers. I walked all the way up the Leipziger Straße and back before I found an open stall, at the Bockenheimer Warte. I opted for the biggest newspaper I could find and headed off in the direction of Grüneburg Park, getting slightly lost, and going via the Botanic Gardens, which incidentally were nowhere near where I started my journey! I settled down in the park near some fathers and sons playing football. I began to read my newspaper, hoping it would take a while to finish, thus relieving my boredom slightly. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and I finished it in an hour and a half. I tucked into the Brötchen and headed off in the direction of the botanic gardens, only to find that they’d closed at 1pm; it was now 2. I shook my head in despair; the shops are closed and now even something relaxing/ fitting for a sunday was shut! I couldn’t believe it – surely this would be a fitting activity for a sunday?! Seemingly not. So I decided to head home, via the Palmengarten to check out the prices but I didn’t go in – The incredible heat radiating from the conservatories in this heat made it a no-no!”

 

Want to find out more about Vikki’s year in Frankfurt? Go to her own personal blog “Letters From A Foreign Place“!