I woke up a little restless to catch breakfast with a half hour to spare. I would soon have my interview later this morning, I thought. Hanging my suit in the spare closet, I set down to go eat breakfast.
I was nervous, anxious, and worried. I had never taught before. I can’t really even speak German that well. What if they didn’t hire me?
I walked in and saw Aron sitting down at a table in the dining room. He mentioned that he would be leaving that day to go back to Cologne. Even though I had only met him two days ago, the onset of loneliness began to take hold of me. My first friend in Halle would leave to go back home for a whole two months.
After eating all the bread, mueslix, cheese, yogurt, and drinking all the coffee I could muster, I went upstairs to the room and got dressed. I never know if it’s a universal thing for everyone to feel nervous before an interview, but I sure do struggle with it. Especially considering that this time, I didn’t have the most preferable ‘teaching’ acumen built into my resume. No, only a few community service things here that required a little translating of English to Spanish, a volunteer ESL program, and an after-school tutoring program at a bilingual school while in high school. My five years of Marketing or Public Relations and all that other ‘business’ experience would not matter.
Or so I thought.
As I checked my map to find the address, I knew I had to reserve enough time to head down to the school. Now, when I mention ‘school’, one usually thinks about classrooms, older teachers, lined desks with chalkboards in the front of the room. No, instead this school is called a Sprachschule (literally translating to “Speak school”). I set aside an hour to give myself to walk there. I decided the buses, trams, and everything else were too complicated. If I knew I could get there on foot, that was all that mattered. As long as I had a map and my feet, I could get anywhere, just not in the most reasonable amount of time. Besides, I was from San Francisco…one of the most ‘walkable’ cities in America!
I straightened my hair, brushed my teeth, shaved and trimmed my beard, and posed in the mirror to make sure I looked professional. I was ready to work hard, I thought. After having suffered long stints without work, it was time. The prospect of having steady employment was exciting again. I would no longer suffer the self-defeating feeling of being one of society’s ‘slackers’.
I paced down through the streets near the marketplace, catching a few gazes as I strutted down towards the school. I was fully clad in a business suit, not your typical attire for a day out in Halle. The sun was out, it was a little warm, and already I could feel myself starting to sweat a little bit. It couldn’t be too much further I thought, I’ve been walking for twenty minutes.
I then crossed one major intersection just south of the marketplace, and then looked at my map to make sure I was about to turn down the right street.
Hmm…I can’t seem to find the street to turn on. Not only this, but I can’t seem to tell if I went too far on along this main stretch. I knew I must turn right, but I couldn’t find where. All the streets here wind and bend around, sometimes turning slightly one direction or the other. It’s all so unpredictable.
I started to panic. There was no one else walking around I could ask. I only had twenty more minutes to get there. What if I was late? What if I had taken the plane flight out here, left everything behind at home, done everything right up until this point, but messed up on this day and this day alone? I figured Germans had a thing for being ‘punctual’, and if I didn’t measure up to that, it might ruin my chances at teaching.
I continued walking, panicking more and more. I needed to find Philipp Müller Strasse.
I eventually walked towards another major street that headed north and south. Well, it couldn’t be further past this, so I decided to head south. Within a minute or two of walking I had found it. Philipp Müller Strasse! I had twelve more minutes to make it. Plenty of time!
I turned on to the street and looked around. I needed to find Philipp Müller Strasse 84. I looked over and found 50. I kept walking. Then 40. I started to think that maybe I didn’t see the first number correctly. It had to be this way, my map said so. Then I saw 30.
It didn’t make sense. I started to wonder if maybe they had just flipped the addresses around, or if there was some unusual ‘German’ thing as to why the addresses were lowering when they should instead be going higher. I knew the school was in this direction, I knew it from looking at the map. It had to be this way. Then I saw 20.
I started to run in the same direction. Maybe all the addresses will ‘reset’ or something that way? I tried to stay positive, but knew that being late to an interview would not only be disrespectful, but it would hurt my chances and opportunity here. And if it did, I would feel like a complete failure. I’d have to return home, as surely there would be no other job in Germany for someone who can barely even ask where a bathroom is.
Ok, only a few more buildings to go before I would reach the end. With only seven more minutes, I had to be right or else I would have to explain why I was late. They would question my dedication to the job, they would paint me as a ‘slacker’ who thought teaching English in a foreign country was ‘cool’ because you get to ‘travel’ around and you don’t have to work as much and so on. They would think about me as ‘that’ guy.
As I got to 18, I looked at the other side of the street. Number 80, phew! I continued walking briskly. Number 81. 82. 83…and then 84.
I made it. With only three minutes to spare. Though it was warm out, and I was sweating. Great.
I walked in and turned to the left at the first door. The place was smaller than I had imagined. I knew it was small, but this was tiny. The receptionist asked me a question in German, of which I couldn’t understand. I didn’t know how to respond as I was still a little stressed out from having barely made it here on time, and having just five minutes ago started to panic about whether I would be able to even find the place. I gave her my name and told her I was here to see the woman who runs the school. She then had me sit down and offered me some water.
I took off my jacket, and tried to walk around to ‘air’ myself out a bit. I was sweaty. Not such a great way to introduce yourself to someone who is considering you to work for them.
After a few minutes, I was taken to the main office, and sat down and talked with the woman who ran the school. She was an American. She asked me questions about my experiences with teaching, and I answered honestly. I cited a few things that I had learned from the online class I had taken, intending to express my interest in ESL teaching, and demonstrate that I had given a lot of thought to coming out here. Some people talk about doing things like this, I thought, of whisking oneself away to another country and mixing it up with the locals and getting some decent traveling in. But they never follow through, and cower at the first obstacle they come across. I wouldn’t be like that, I thought, and so I tried to make it as expressly clear as possible that I was willing to learn, willing to teach, and wanted to help people learn.
While the interview went alright, the woman mentioned that she had concerns for me. My experience was not so great, which would impact my ability to obtain hours for classes. I told her I knew there would be a learning curve, and I understood that it would take time for me to ramp up. She then asked me about my grammar, and asked me to explain the Present Continuous.
Uh oh, here I would have to teach on command. I knew what Present Continuous was, but I didn’t know how to teach it. I didn’t know about when to use it. All I could think of was that I could recognize it. I knew it had to do with the very present moment.
I am running.
That is Present Continuous, I thought. It’s “What is happening right now?”
So, I stood up, wrote “I am running” on the flip board, and explained that it involves what is happening right now. I gave other examples: thinking, eating, sleeping.
She looked at me a little perplexed. I thought to myself: Isn’t this right? I’m pretty sure it is…I hadn’t done a whole month’s worth of grammar work for nothing!
She stared at me and let out a long “Ok…” and had me sit down. She knew I was ‘new’ to this. There was no hiding it. I sat back down and we continued to talk. She asked me about Marketing—as I was a Marketing graduate—and if I had experience.
Marketing experence? I explained that I had worked in Public Relations, Advertising, Publicity for a Non-profit, Event Coordination and so on. All the things I had omitted from my resume! She looked at me and said “Ah, cool! We teach a lot of business professionals here as well as at companies in Halle, so having that experience definitely helps.”
Yes. I was in. My hundreds of thousands of dollars of Business school education would somehow pay off here. I could teach telephone training, emailing, business writing, expressions, and so on. I hadn’t even thought for a minute about how ‘applicable’ all this was! And here I was thinking that my ‘business’ experience would instead amount to nothing of any significant importance at all.
After a little more conversation about my business experience, she then mentioned to me that they would be having a grammar cramming session next week, and that I was invited to join. In the meantime, she said that they would keep me apprised of any work they felt that could be suitable for me.
I felt elated. I was on cloud nine. I found a place that would grant me work.
After meeting some of the other teachers and talking more with the woman who runs the school, I gathered my things and headed back to the hostel. “Ok,” I thought, “I now have a job.”
I walked back to the hostel with some extra spring in my step. I savored walking around thinking to myself and about my surroundings that I will soon indeed become more acquainted with them. The buildings, the people, the tram, the churches, the museums, the University, everything. It may take a while, but Halle would become like home.
For the first time, I didn’t feel like I completely missed back home. I would have one more night in the hostel, and then I would meet Matthias, a friend of a friend who would allow me accommodation for a while until I found an apartment. And then I would have another interview with another school in a few days.
Big things were ahead, but I knew I had to savor today and enjoy myself.