By Rachel Marazzi,
Social Studies Education
Last January, when I was preparing to leave for a semester abroad to student teach in Cologne, Germany, I would have never guessed that I would be writing an article about my experiences from my own apartment in Frankfurt, Germany.
2012 has been an incredible year for me. I moved to Cologne in January to complete my student teaching at an inner-city public high school and returned to Lexington to finish my studies. I graduated with my Master of Arts and obtained my teaching license in August. That’s a lot to be grateful for, right? Well, my experience living and student teaching in Cologne led me to pursue a career and life in Germany— something I had only ever daydreamed about!! When I moved back to Germany in August, I did so without a job or a place to call home, and now I am gainfully employed and have a wonderful apartment in a little village near Frankfurt.
How did I get here, and why? I have studied German since I was 14 years old. After making friends with people from Germany and having great teachers and professors throughout high school and college, I fell in love with the language, culture, and history of Germany, and I pined for the opportunity to visit. My parents said no to studying abroad while I was in college, but after a lot of begging, they agreed to send me to Germany for a week in 2006.
As an early graduation present, I went and stayed with a friend I had made in high school when he studied abroad in my home state of Indiana. Germany was everything I had hoped it would be, but it was far too quick of a trip, and I longed to return.
In the summer of 2011 before I was to begin the Masters with Initial Certification (MIC) program at UK, I stumbled across information on the UK College of Education website that indicated I could do my student teaching in another country. I could hardly contain my excitement as I immediately thought of Germany as a possibility. Although I’d visited and even lived in other countries, I knew I wanted to return to Germany.
In October 2011 I got my acceptance letter to student teach at Königin-Luise-Schule in Cologne, Germany and was “over the moon” with excitement and happiness. I could not believe I was going back to Germany—specifically to a city I’d only visited for a couple of hours during my 2006 trip. Arriving at the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station in Cologne which overlooks the towering, majestic, and indescribably beautiful Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), I was overwhelmed with joy and felt, in a way, that I was home.
The next four months, while incredibly challenging, were the most personally, educationally, and occupationally rewarding months of my life. I had to use my German again, which I hadn’t spoken for 6 years, adapt to a completely new culture and way of life, commute to school from a suburb via train every day, live in a dorm, and most importantly, teach several different Social Studies and English classes in an educational system completely different from what I knew in the United States—while simultaneously keeping up with my Master’s degree courses. However, all of these challenges and differences soon turned into preferences: I loved working in the middle of a city of a million people; I loved my German students; and I loved the country and culture. I was also fortunate enough to be able to celebrate Carnival in Cologne and visit several other cities and countries during my stay. I realized about halfway through the experience that I was in no way ready to leave. I fell in love with everything about Cologne and knew I was meant to return.
The Social Studies class that I took over at mid-semester had become “my” class. I did activities with the students that I’m sure seemed crazy to them, as teaching styles are quite different in Germany. They seemed hesitant to embrace my more creative approach that required them to come out of their shell a bit and deviated from the lecture-style class they were accustomed to. With that said, I have never been so proud of a group of students in my life, and I cried as I said goodbye to them during our last class together.
I wasn’t ready to leave them or the place I had come to love. I had to return to the US to complete summer courses in order to graduate in August but knew I would find a way to return. It was not an option. I spent the entire summer trying to recover from reverse culture shock and applying for teaching jobs in Germany. When I boarded a plane to return with a one-way ticket on August 6, I did not have a job, but I did have friends there and a visitor’s visa which allowed three months for me to find a job.
About a week after landing back in Germany things came together in a way that I don’t have the space to describe in this article. After three hard summer months of no job offers from all my applications, I received two job offers within six weeks of my arrival in Germany. I am now a teacher at the Europäische Schule RheinMain near Frankfurt. I have a working visa, insurance, and my own apartment. I am essentially living the “German Dream”. I am very happy and grateful to all those at the University of Kentucky and in Germany who helped make this dream a reality!