I know I ended my last blog post on a bit of a cliffhanger (and I’m sure you’ve been waiting on the edge of your seat for the next installment), but I have to tell you that when I said “nothing in the world could have possibly prepared me for what was to come”, that was actually a straight up lie. There was in fact something that could have prepared me for what was to come, namely my teachers getting in contact and telling me what they expected from me on the first day. At this point, having asked twice about what I should prepare for my first day and been told “Nothing” and “Maybe something about yourself and England” respectively, I was still feeling over-prepared with my geeky powerpoint. Ignorance is bliss.
The scene is this: as the sun is rising over the hill, I leave the house at the ungodly hour of 7:30 to walk to school which, albeit on the opposite side of Rohrbach, is a mere 13 minute walk away. I arrive at the school building with the simple instructions, ‘Come to the staffroom.’ Cue me wandering around the school for another 13 minutes trying to find said room on no further directions. On stumbling across it, I manage to explain in broken German that I am the language assistant. My mentor teacher is nowhere to be seen. School begins at 7:55am (I know. I know.) and I’m whisked off to my first lesson of the day. On the way to the classroom, I begin explaining to the teacher as best I can that I’ve prepared a 15-minute presentation about myself that I could do if she wanted, or I could just watch her class and see how she did things if she preferred. To which she replies, “You haven’t prepared a whole lesson? Maybe think of some games you can play with them after your presentation.”
Which is roughly how I found myself standing in front of a class of 30 expectant 17-year-olds at 8am on a random Monday morning in October.
I just about made it through that lesson and the successive three in a kind of panicked daze. I whacked out ‘two truths and a lie’, a game I hate with a vengeance but that was the only one I could think of in my time of need.
I was too bewildered to find it funny that one of the classes had a ‘Dicks out for Harambe’ poster pinned to the wall and that one of the teachers I was chatting to in the staffroom over lunch a) told me I have a Dutch accent when I speak German, b) asked me directly how much money I make and c) showed me his Instagram page where he had over 15k followers. My teacher from the morning told me she wasn’t going to be in school the next day and asked me to teach a class the following day entirely on my own ‘as you did so well this morning’, and, not knowing how say politely in German ‘Are you out of your mind I am not a trained teacher please don’t leave me alone with them dear God are you trying to kill me who do you think I am’, I reluctantly accepted.
When you start living in a new country, even small tasks become huge challenges that need a few days of mental preparation. When you don’t speak the language or know the customs, the simplest situations present countless opportunities for misunderstandings, offence and embarrassment. It was for this reason that I had been dreading registering at the town hall, food shopping, opening a bank account and so on.
After my first day at school, however, I realised that nothing could be more difficult or stressful than what I’d just faced. It was 2pm and I marched to the town hall and registered without even bothering to look up my vocabulary first. It took a while, but I eventually managed to register myself as a resident of Rohrbach and was even presented with a keyring by the lady in the office as a kind of trophy.
Normally I’d need at least a few days of recovery and a strong drink before attempting to open a bank account. Not Annie 2.0. I headed straight to the bank with an attitude of grim determination and opened a bank account in the most surprisingly smooth encounter I have ever had with any bank, ever – although I did have to sign a document saying that I am not, am not related to, and am not associated with a ‘politically exposed person’. Then I posted a letter at the post office, again without any misunderstandings or embarrassment. Finally, I bought an Austrian SIM card and a wifi router before heading home, triumphant.
I was very proud of myself at this point, although I should admit that the fact that this all happened relatively painlessly is not thanks to my German prowess or assertive manner, mainly because I don’t have either of those things. It is more due to the fact that stereotypes really do exist for a reason, and all these boring administrative tasks were much easier and more efficiently dealt with than they were in France and Italy (and, it goes without saying, involved about 80% less paperwork).
I wanted to update my introductory presentation to make it longer and plan some more games to pad out my next lessons, but the wifi router I’d just bought wasn’t working… so again it was mum to the rescue, who got on the phone and started Googling games I could play to keep the class entertained the following day. What would we do without mums!?
What I’m now hoping is my default setting of ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ continued into Tuesday, where I taught a lesson entirely on my own and then another three. After school, I went back to the shop where I’d bought my wifi router and in a very un-British fashion complained that it wasn’t working and I either needed a replacement or a refund. The man in the shop fixed it for me and, lo and behold, on the fourth day God bestoweth the wifi.
Before I go, I would also like to give a shoutout to Eva and Willig who will never see this but who have been adorable to me and keep bringing me cake and telling me off for not wearing enough jumpers and catching a cold.
Until next time, auf Wiederschauen!