For the first part of my year abroad, I’m going to be a language assistant in Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany. Don't worry, not many people (including a German I spoke to!) have heard of it, so it's unsurprising that I didn’t really know much about the town at first. Thanks to the wonders of the internet (and my personal tutor), I now know a lot more about Bayreuth and I am jolly thrilled to have been placed there. Yes, placed. Allow me to explain how it all works:
In order to be an English Language Assistant you have to apply through the British Council. Usually, you have to go to one place for the whole school year, but luckily for me there are a limited number of six-month placements in Germany and Austria. Jolly convenient indeed.
I applied back in November – You can give three area preferences, but there are restrictions. There are always restrictions. For example, if you choose Berlin you can’t also choose Hamburg. Both those two cities are considered areas in themselves, which is quite strange considering Bavaria (which makes up nearly a quarter of Germany!) is also considered just one area. Bizarro.
I went for Bavaria as my first choice, which was quite risky to be honest, considering how huge it is. Berlin was my second choice, but after visiting the city for the first time a few months later, I decided I didn’t actually want to be placed there (read about why here.) Bucking the trend, I know. I'm just edgy like that. Actually, I think I'm distinctly not edgy enough for Berlin. Oh well...
After you make your three area choices, there’s then a sehr lengthy form to fill in, where you talk about your interests, your teaching experience, your motivations and the reasons for your preferences (eg why you want to be in a city or teach older children.)
Then you wait. And wait. And it’s highly annoying when all your friends who’ve opted to study abroad find out where they’ve been placed, and you’re still waiting. You get confirmed on to the scheme (hoorah!), then you wait some more. Eventually, you find out what area you’ve got (Bavaria, YES!) and you’re told you’ll be contacted by either your school directly or by the State who’ll tell you to what school you’ve been allocated, and thus exactly where you’ll be living for a good six months. Gulp. Cue more waiting.
Luckily for me, the state of Bavaria lives up to its stereotype (gotta love German efficiency!) and I was told where I've been placed pretty damn quickly. Last year, some students going to France didn't find out exactly where they were going until August, which is somewhat shocking really.
So, I’m going to Bayreuth. I learnt yesterday it’s pronounced Bye-roight. Ish. Think “reut” as in “Reuters”. I figured it was probably wise to learn the correct pronunciation so people stop thinking I’m going to Beirut, Lebanon. I'm definitely still not saying it correctly though.
It’s a small-ish town in delightfully traditional Bavaria, which is exactly what I wanted. I think a smaller town will actually be a lot better than a huge city, quite frankly. Judging by the results of my Googling, Bayreuth is also absolutely beautiful, which pleases me greatly. My schools (I’m working at two, splitting my time, presumably) look great too.
It’s all getting a bit daunting though. Having started German from scratch at uni last year (well, with a very basic knowledge), I'm really very worried about my German-speaking ability. Or lack thereof. I was sent pages upon pages of documents and information from Bavaria's office of education and whatnot, and quite frankly, I could barely understand a word. Just yesterday I decided to have a browse of some property websites in the hope of finding somewhere to live, but I gave up very quickly after struggling to understand what I was reading. Goodness knows how I'm going to cope when I have to open a German bank account and the like!
I suppose I just have to accept that it's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be a good challenge. I really am excited! I love German culture, and I'm genuinely really interested to learn about how English is taught abroad. The actual teaching business is also a little daunting - sure, I like to think I know a lot about French and German grammar, and I generally know how to use English "correctly", but when it comes to the technicalities of English for foreigners, I reckon that could be slightly more difficult.
Arriving in Bayreuth, by myself, with six-months worth of my life in a suitcase is going to be bloody terrifying. But it will also be so exciting to explore not only a new place, but a new country! I'm going to visit my fellow German student friends wherever they may be (hello, efficient rail service and four-day working week!), immerse myself in German culture, speak German whenever I can, and try and throw myself into a new way of life.
Everyone says that the year abroad really is what you make of it. I'm desperate to improve my German, and I know the only way that's going to happen is if I not only make the effort to speak it all the time by hanging out with Germans, but also by taking the time to keep learning vocab and grammar. I really want to come back to uni in 4th year and no longer be distinctly behind everyone who did German A-level, so I know I've got my work cut out.
It'd be oh-so-easy to spend my six months in Germany hanging out with English students and crying over Skype to my parents. But I'm not going to. I'm determined to have a great time and to get the most out of what is an incredible opportunity. Realistically, I'm a big fan of German cake, Wurst and dirndls, so what can go wrong? Also, three words: German. Christmas. Markets.
Questions: has anyone been to Bayreuth? Does anyone have any experience as a language assistant? I'd love to hear your thoughts so do drop me a comment...
Check out Planning my Third Year Abroad - Part 3: Getting a Job here!