Saturday, January 31, 2009

More of Me in Print

I almost forgot to mention that The Local, an English-language website about Germany, published my article about the German Integration Course.

Are you thinking, "What is the Integration Course?"?

Well, it is a government-mandated course for immigrants to Germany. Germany does not have a long history of immigration, so there was not an official framework for creating new citizens. Until very recently, a German citizen was someone who was born in Germany of German parents.

In the 1950s, Germany needed help rebuilding the nation, so it invited the world to come work. Turkish people heeded the call. Instead of assimilation, they made their own communities within the country. Many people who have been there for decades maintain the same lifestyle they had in Turkey. Of course, some pretty bad inequalities surfaced. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement knows that separate is not equal. Turkish people have high rates of dropping out of school, crime rates, etc., etc. etc. All the gangsta rappers in Germany are Turkish. They are pretty angry people.

To ease some tensions, the government created a framework that required new immigrants to be officially integrated into the country. All foreign-born people, regardless of how long they have been in Germany, can take the course. The newer ones must take it if they want to get a settlement visa.

So I sit in a classroom from 8:50 am until 1 pm every weekday learning Germany language and culture. This lasts for six months. At the end of the course, there is a test. I must pass the test to get a settlement visa.

The diverse buffet created by students who hail from countries around the world. I brought the American-style Pringles chips and Doritos. I worked the night before class and did not have time to cook anything. Of course, a few people made fun of me.

The course is all in German and moves pretty fast. The European Union has a classification of language understanding that goes A1 for beginners to A2, then B1, B2, and then C1 and C2. C2 means you talk like a native speaker. I need to be at B1 at the end of six months. There are tests about twice a week and our progress is monitored. People who are not doing well are asked to leave. Three people disappeared from my class. I don't mind learning German. I want to learn German. I just wish it wasn't so regimented. Things could much faster if there was a class for people who understand some English. Because the class is filled with people from all over the world, it is taught only in German. So there is lots of drawing, exaggerated acting and pointing. I have done two months. I have four months to go.

I also wish a few people would leave. There was a man who stank. There were the two women who always called out answers. There was another guy who liked to criticize me. A whole group of people snickered if you gave a wrong answer or pronounced a word incorrectly. I have found that many people lack the grace that America instills in its people. I was silent at first [See. I am graceful.], then I had to tell people to back off [Although, I never told H that he needed deodorant. More evidence of my grace.].

I missed a month of class while living in London. I cannot join the third module of the course until March. I will not miss my rude, pushy classmates but I will miss their constant company. As immigrants, we are all in the same second-class boat.

Free at Last!

It has been a busy month. I did the job search thing in the midst of a super-recession. I have been rejected for writing jobs, editing jobs, and, best of all, internships. Your ego takes a beating when you cannot get an interview to work as an intern. I assume that I am over-qualified but I have been a fan of that term. It is an internship. Of course, you are bored and too qualified to make coffee and photocopies. Anyone over the age of 12 is over-qualified to make copies. But damn it still stings.

It hasn't been all pain. I voluntarily [Read: work for free.] edit the food, health and culture pages for Pride magazine. Pride is a British Essence.

I work for free as an incentive for cash-strapped editors to consider me. When the Pride editors allowed me to work with them, I get British experience to put on the resume, more clips, connections in the British industry, and more people to use as recommendations. Plus, I like the work. I got a rush coming up with the story ideas and finding this sources. My work is in in the February issue of Pride . I am in even in the staff box.

So run out and get a copy of Pride. I am pretty proud that I made flossing interesting and I love my blurb about the new production of Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Pride is available in large bookstores in America. Better yet, why not subscribe to Pride.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Living my dream

I am in the midst of a dream. An actual dream come true.

I spent my last semester of college in Londo
n. I remember being restless in early 1993. I wanted to do Something. I am not sure what was wrong but something needed to be done. It struck me like lightning – I needed to go somewhere.

I did not come from a family of travelers. My parents grew up poor and were quite satisfied with the middle-class life they had acquired through hard work and gritting of teeth. Between paying for private school for me and my two sisters and no urge to leave the house they bought, there was
little travel. Twice my family visited my father’s hometown of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

I remember the excitement of waking up early and hopping the Amtrak train at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station (the name does not do justice to the station’s grandeur) for a faraway land. We stayed with my father’s second cousin in a small town and I loved it. I just li
ked seeing hearing the accents, eating barbecue pork sandwiches instead cheesesteaks, and sleeping in a different bed.

My grandfather would take us to Atlantic City occasionally and except for a senior trip to Florida with my high school best friend Elisa that was it for my travels.

Pompano Beach, Florida, the destination of my first flight

When my mother graduated from nurs
ing school when I was about to enter high school and my older sister, Lorie, was set to enter 11th grade, she asked us if we planned to go to Temple University. Children of university employees could go to school for free. Mom considered getting a nursing job at Temple University Hospital. Lorie and I said we would never attend Temple. I was going “away” for college. After a one year at Rutgers University, the lack of tuition money found me enrolled at Temple University and sleeping in my childhood bedroom.

I am surprised that I lasted until junior year before needing to bust out. I was carrying my normal courseload and working at the college newspaper. I was catching the bus and subway to and from school and getting home at insane hours. I did this all while my sisters complained about my refusal to wash dishes on a regular basis and sharing a bedroom with my younger sister. Everything was the same and yet too much. I had to get out. I decided to get way out. I had to go to Rome.

Why Rome? Because I studied Latin for four years in high school and had segments in elementary school. It would great to see the places I learned about in person. Plus, Temple had a campus in Rome. I had to fill out a one-page form and I would be in. I soon found a wrinkle in my plan – the language requirement. Participants needed to take an Italian language course before they go or while they are in Rome. I don’t know why but I just didn’t want to learn anything. I just wanted to Go. So my dream switched from Rome to London. I speak English, Londoners speak English. It was a match.

I got into the program. Then I had to ma
ke sure that I fulfilled all the requirements of my education minor and history major before I left. I made some crazy machinations and dropped the minor (and my safety net of being a teacher. I was officially set on being a journalist. Scary.) I had two required classes that had a half hour between them but were on campuses that were 45 minutes apart. I missed half the classes for both courses. I needed a C in both and I am pretty sure that I was on the southern end of the C in each. With my degree safe, I bought a plane ticket.


Exactly 15 years ago, I arrived in London. I flew over with my roommate, Sarah. Before taking off, a British Airways flight attendant said we should arrive at Heathrow on “Shedule” and we both grabbed each other and squealed with excitement. I was a ball of excitement. I don’t know why. Before I left, people were giving my mother what some would call advice but I would call fear. She relayed their tips about plane crashes, bombings and the British hating Black people. For some reason, those things did not bother me. I was going to London. I would stare at my passport over and over again when it first arrived.

When we arrived in London, I took a deep breath and felt at home. There was no period of adjustment or homesickness. I felt normal. The difficult part was adjusting to the six roommates but the city was great. It was alive and I felt alive. We would go to pubs and just meet people. Television sucked, so we all spent a lot of time in pubs. Much of my life was spent at the Black Lion and De Hems. I made friends and lovers (not Lovers but Makeouters). I went to the movies. I was disappointed by the commercials but I loved reserving a seat. I went to one of the Curzon theaters and my chair was a massive easy chair. I liked the cheap plays that allowed you to bring drinks into the auditorium. I liked the noise of the city. I was awed by the speed of the Tube and the escalator that lead to them. I liked saying, Cheers, all the time. I was so damn sad to leave. When I returned, I was graduating the next day and I was start working at a Philadelphia weekly a week later. My jet set life would be over.

My life hasn’t been that boring. Life immediately after London was boring, teetering on dreary. I was back to the childhood bedroom and washing dishes. I would slowly make my life the adventure I always wanted it to be. Today, I am back in London. This time with a partner, Asmus. We spend almost all our time together. I can’t tell you why but we don’t annoy each other. After living in Germany, London is so welcome. First, I know what people are saying. My German lessons are progressing but I don’t have a good ear. I can say things but I can’t understand things. If I could walk around just telling people what I think, my life would be fine. But people are always asking me something or replying. I must admit that they are gracious. Quite often when people detect an American accent under the broken German, they switch to English. But I miss being able to just talk to someone. One day, I forgot my watch and I could not ask any for the time. I know how (Wie spät ist es? That is pronounced, “Vee spayt ist es.” See.) but I know they will reply in their normal speed and I will be lost. In London, I can ask the time AND understand the response. Plus, people react in the way I am used to. They say, Good morning. They say Cheers. They say, Excuse me. No one pushes me so they can get onto the train ahead of me. I say something obviously funny and people laugh. I am eating Hellman’s mayonnaise, drinking Twinning’s Earl Grey tea, eating pork chops, using pre-chopped mushrooms, drinking Tropicana orange juice, and chomping chicken wings. Despite the push by the European Union to go metric, much of life is measured in standard units. I don’t have to convert meters into feet and kilograms into pounds.

Now I can watch television anytime I want. I haven’t watched much television since September. In Germany, I watched MTV during the weekend because those shows are in English with German subtitles but that is it. Here, I come home from a long day of nothing and I turn on the television and there is communication. In London I go to the movies all the time. In Hamburg there are two movie theaters for me to see movies in English or with English subtitles.

I dragged Asmus to two of my haunts – the
Black Lion and De Hems.

Black Lion

De Hems

When I got the idea to visit them, I was prepared for them not to exist or not match my memories. Fortunately, both places exist but, unsurprisingly, they are nothing like they were 15 years ago. The Black Lion was this massive bar in Kilburn, an area that was brimming with Irish and Jamaicans. The Black Lion was filled with Irish people; the average age was 35. Today, the Black Lion is cut into two parts – a bar and the restaurant. The restaurant serves Irish food with a twist. We had a pot pie with Guinness and steak followed by crème brulee with Cointreau served to us by an Italian. In place of lively conversation, there was loud pop music. Despite these changes, the Black Lion retained its friendly feel. De Hems served a majority of Dutch beers but dance music thumped. People came in groups and left in the same group. It is impossible to meet new people with Song 2 blasting. I regretted the inability to be gregarious. My friend Mary and I would meet the most interesting people. Mary met her boyfriend at De Hems. We had interesting conversations with a bunch of cameramen we bumped to at this pub.

Even though De Hems and the Black Lion are not exactly as they were in 1994, I am warmed that they still stand. Enough people had an attachment to them that owners decided to keep them alive.

If Asmus and I do not find work, all of this will end in three weeks. I am trying to enjoy life now and not obsess about how gray life will become.

I am in my favorite town with my favorite person. I am living my dream.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Us in London (by Asmus)

A new year, time of hope.

Monica (your normal host of the previous entries) and I have definitely our hopes up. At Boxing Day we moved to London to test if we can live here.

How hard can it be to find work here in the middle of a giga-, mega- or super-recession? You never know the answer until you really tried. And that's what we decided to do. We really want to try before we may resort to some vague, ominous plan B.

Here in an old (no telephone line old) appartment in Dalston in the Borough of Hackney, London truly seems to
be the capital of the world. The streets here are filled with immigrants from all ends of the world trying to make a living here. It is comforting and intimidating at the same time to be part of these masses.

Of course nobody in this city waited for us to show up or to give us jobs, but maybe we will have just this little bit of luck that is necessary. If not we just have to make it with hard work, skills and stubbornness.

Dear reader, Wish us luck.

P.S. If somebody has, by chance, a job in the UK to offer to an experienced Journalist or a VBA / MS Access developer, please don't hesitate to contact us.