On a scale of 1-10, how much of a bad decision would this be?
March 21, 2015 6:36 AM   Subscribe

My two best options for completing an extended trip to Germany for career development purposes have not panned out. How ridiculous would it be to consider trying to make it there on my own?

I'm so sorry about the length. I wanted to provide enough background.

I'm 26 and I have a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in German Studies from a university in Australia. I've been learning German for over a decade now and have spent roughly a year there over the years, getting my German up to a level C1 (the second highest level) at one point, though it has since gotten rusty. I have put so much into learning German and studying German Studies but have yet to establish a career with it. The market for jobs that involve German is just so small, and I simply cannot compete with native German speakers and people who have been able to live there for longer. I have several years of work experience in everything from food service to accounts to reception, but nothing that looks very solid on paper. Right now I am just so bummed that I tried to follow my dreams and have made such a mess of it, because I don't really have anything to show for it at all.

So, I decided several months ago to apply for a scholarship to study in Germany for a year, hoping that I could at least get back there to get my German skills back properly. Around the same time, a friend also put me in touch with a consultant who arranges internships in Germany. I was sure that between these two options, something would work out. I'd either finally gain work experience in Germany, or I could spent a significant amount of time studying in Germany. But the consultant kept changing his mind about where to place me and his leads kept going nowhere. Meanwhile, I was still waiting to hear about the scholarship.

I found out earlier this month that I have been accepted in the Masters program (German Studies) that I applied for. It's in a beautiful city, I'd be able to start in Spring, and I even managed to organise a relatively affordable room in student accommodation. I figured also that if I was going to try to find any kind of part-time work, Summer would be the best time to do that.

After several days of thinking I thought, "Stuff it, I'll go even if I don't get the scholarship and come back after six months if I need to". I booked my flights, signed the contract for student accommodation, and I have organised most of the logistics of the trip. But I found out this morning that I didn't get the scholarship. As much as I tried not to be hopeful that I would get it, I'm completely heartbroken. I'm second guessing my decision to go for six months, because even that would wipe out all or most of my savings.

I'm so worried that in addition to having a work history that looks flaky on paper, and a useless degree, that I'm just going to end up coming back with no savings and nothing to show for my time away. Yet, I don't have much keeping me here at the moment. I live at home, I barely make $200 a week and I wouldn't be able to look into any kind of further studies until later in the year. And maybe being there would help me find a way to make use of my degree. If any kind of leads on internships come up, I'll be able to look into them properly.

The worst case scenario might be that I refresh my German, come home in October, temp over the Summer and do a certificate in accounting or translation early next year.

Would it be completely crazy to go and spend all my savings for something so un-concrete?
posted by kinddieserzeit to Education (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you let me know the city (you can PM me!) I can give you a guess about how difficult it will be for you to find a part-time job and afford life in general.
posted by susoka at 6:47 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go, you may regret it, but you will always regret not going.
posted by 724A at 6:51 AM on March 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

The part I would suggest you reevaluate is what you plan to do after you finish your Masters program in German Studies in Germany. I know that it sounds like a natural transition from your previous experience with German studies, but I don't think the situation applicable to your already attained degrees ("The market for jobs that involve German is just so small") changes significantly.

Do you have a concrete idea of what your career aspects would be like after you get your Masters, and what you would be doing ideally? I would spend a significant amount of time making contacts in the fields that you're interested in that small job market, and see if having the masters allows you to break into the field.
posted by Karaage at 6:52 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to be clear: without the scholarship, I don't think I'll be able to complete the full Masters degree. But at this point in time, enrolling in and starting the program would be the simplest way to spend six months in Germany. It would make it simpler to get a residence permit for the time there, I'd be allowed to work part-time, and I would have a concrete thing to work on during my time in Germany, so that I wasn't just hanging out.

My plan would be to eventually either try to find an internship or entry level job in Germany, or to return to Australia and complete a small amount of training in either translation or bookkeeping (I really love account reconciliation!).
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:01 AM on March 21, 2015

People on askmefi are always "Go for your dreams, blah blah blah". So I'm going to inject some more realistic thinking.

What doors will a master's open that your bachelor's doesn't? I don't want you to use wishful thinking but actually research it. After getting a useless bachelor's, I took several years to decide where I was taking my life.

It's not that going would be a bad decision but speaking as another 26 year old, you don't want to graduate and find yourself in the exact same situation you're in now. So what's your plan?
posted by Aranquis at 7:03 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi, Extremely traveled and done the whole move to a new country bit within Europe from from outside the continent.

At 26 I was in your position without the language skills. If you are going to survive and thrive there a couple of things that are priority.

First, do you have a visa for work/travel or an EU passport? That is the single most important thing - you need to have the ability to work in order to support yourself. Otherwise you won´t be able to survive and thrive. Companies won´t touch you unless you can meet that minimum requirement.

If you can work/live in Germany then your scorecard approach puts you at an 8 out of 10. Language comes back quickly. What matters more is your determination to actually join the society and have a do whatever it takes type of attitude. For myself and many others, we had to suffer through temp jobs or bar work just to get a lay of land and build future plans. The shittiest work you can find will show that you are capable of a lot more. This is even more so true when you don´t have a trust fund or a lot of income on your own to make it.

Personally speaking, with your age and already holding a C2 it shouldn´t be a problem. The first year will be a struggle - but something strange happens when people see you are serious and really want to be somewhere. Opportunities will start to flow in and your social network will build. Within year 2 in Germany you should be able to find something comfortable that will enable you to build a career.

Just be aware your 20s go quick. You will quickly find after a few years pining away for home if you haven´t fully integrated and settled down. Just go and find your path - it doesn´t sound like that you have much to lose if it doesn´t work out.

Lastly, always remember those first few people you meet after you take the leap will be a lifeline for the rest of your time in Germany. Be nice and embracing to everyone. Karma will come back in spades.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 7:11 AM on March 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

Hi. Former Germanic linguistics student here. I understand you have spent a lot of time and energy studying German culture, but what do you want the outcome to be? A job in Germany? What kind of job?

Do you know what graduates from this masters degree program do after they get the degree? Would there be any assistance with finding positions? Perhaps I'm too much of a pragmatist, but I tend to see masters degrees as a means to an end. If this program can get your for in the door with German companies, then take advantage of the opportunity. The problem I see from this question is that I can't tell what sort of work you want to do, except for this bit about accounting at the end. Is that something you could pursue?
posted by kendrak at 7:15 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you want to end up with a job, any job, in Germany? Or do you want to end up with a job, anywhere, that uses your German language skills?

If the latter, have you given any thought to doing translation work at home? As a hobby, if necessary, with a paid job doing something else. Or are there jobs teaching German where you live? Can you create a job for yourself doing German tutoring?
posted by J. Wilson at 8:12 AM on March 21, 2015

Half a Masters degree is nothing. It's even less than nothing, it costs money to study even in Germany and takes time away from working and often student visas don't let you work anyway, so it's a time and money suck for still no benefit.

I think you're better off using your savings to come for either a three month tourist permit or, if eligible, a 12 month working holiday visa. Then spend the time doing an immersive language course or conversation class or whatever works best to bump up your already-good language skills as fast as possible, then spend your time networking and figuring out opportunities and looking for a job so that you can either stay or come back or whatever as soon as you can. Exactly how that works best will depend on your work permit situation, you need to be aware of what you are allowed to do on your specific permit and how to change if/when you get a job offer. Also there may be other/better options available to you. So research this part first starting here. Note that most work permits require you to have the job offer, then you get the permit. So as long as you know what you'd be eligible to apply for once you had an offer and as long as you're never go outside of what you're currently legally allowed (because then you'll be kicked out), not having a permit in hand immediately doesn't need to be a barrier.

There are job opportunities in Germany (I live here) and the language thing is often a key barrier, so you're in a good position. It's always easier to look for a job locally for so many reasons, not least of which is that job search strategies vary by country so local advice can be invaluable. Worst case scenario, the time here will improve your language skills in the way you hope thus improving your chances back home. And you won't be out the time and money spent on half a degree. Do the future study thing when you have a really clear end goal in sight for enrolling and you know you'll be able to complete it.
posted by shelleycat at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2015

Oh also, talk with the international students office at your potential University about funding options. Make sure there really isn't any other way of getting support for your time, thus allowing you to finish the degree. They can also give advice on the likelihood of finding a job etc and may be able to put you in contact with a students association or other group of current/recent students who can also give advice on what it's really like. If there is a way you can make it work then go, do the degree. But if there isn't then go anyway (potentially for less time), just don't waste your time on pointless study, use it to make the transition stick.
posted by shelleycat at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2015

I lived in Berlin for a couple of years, and I met several Australians who were there on a 1-year work holiday visa. I think that would be a better option than going for 6 months on a student visa, because I believe you are not allowed to work at all during the first year of a student visa, and even then you are only allowed to do "student jobs" the following years, which are all part-time.
posted by colfax at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2015

Best answer: You might have won the scholarship and perfected your German to the very highest level and yet still wound up unable to monetize the skill and found yourself doing something unrelated, grudgingly at first but eventually finding great success. And then had your cat die. But then fall in love. And then get cancer. But then be cured. Etc etc. Life's like a stock chart; interpretation's entirely a matter of where you set the start and end points for the examination.

So the only thing to do is to simply enjoy the ride, regardless of the ups and downs of your dramatic arc and the failures of your dramatic visualizations to faithfully pan out.

Enjoying the ride requires less time spent with decision trees and visualization. You'd previously set a course for yourself in the event that you missed the scholarship, but discovered that reality feels different from projected reality. There's a lesson there, yet you're still trying to project reality. The only thing you can project with certainty is a forecast of storms followed by sun followed by storms followed by sun, regardless of the shifting particulars of your circumstances or the varying wisdom of your decisions.

I recently answered a question from someone sweating a life decision, suggesting he "choose with playful zeal, as you'd choose a chocolate from a box of truffles."

You could probably use more playful zeal, and less effort to steer the ship to the perfect result, because 1. our steering powers are limited, and 2. there's no perfect result, just a series of ever-shifting rich life experiences to be traversed - zealously or trepidatiously, your choice (and that's the only choice wherein you truly do have bona fide steering powers!).

Your ten years of failing to get the work you'd envisioned were not spent in blind purgatory. You were still alive the whole time. And you'll continue to be alive. That aliveness is where life is lived, not in your position along some cinematic plot arc. That's artificial and contrived. It's not real.
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:52 PM on March 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Shorter version than the above: be more like a GPS. At a given point where an actual, real decision is to be made, "recalculate", without stress or neediness. Choose like you'd choose a chocolate. Pay no heed to stale, canned conclusions. Your previous self is not the boss of you.

Other than that, don't mire in pre-deciding. If you do, you'll miss the richness of life - plus the infinite array of serendipitous opportunities rarely noticed by those rigidly locked into courses of action.
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2015

Would it be completely crazy to go and spend all my savings for something so un-concrete?


Not diagnosably so, but regrettably so.

If languages didn't exist, what would your passion be? If you could plan out the next ten years with no barriers, where would you live?

In my experience, language competency is often a key competitive advantage in acquiring projects or positions. But in itself, it's not a core skill. So, what kind of work do you want to do?

Living with parents and working for low wage sounds stifling, or at least lacking in Quisp Lover's playful zeal. What would help you to snap out of that situation and breathe fresh winds? What about going really "crazy" and opting for low-cost travel to and within Germany, without programmed plans? Many things are possible when you're present, that can't be lined up from abroad.
posted by wonton endangerment at 7:46 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If working with the German language is your goal there are a lot simpler ways to achieve that. A friend of mine from the UK put his German to use as a translator (Gto E). He set up as free lance translator, he printed a bunch of business cards, travelled to Germany and spent some time going from agency to agency, doing some test work for some and work started to come in. When he got too busy he started to sub contract to me. Now that was at the end of the 1990s and translation tools have improved but there is still a market for well translated information, as opposed to the gobbledygook online tools spit out. Also, tutoring. Or finding a business that is German owned or does a lot of business with German companies. Sure Germans often speak English well but it can ease things no end, if you speak the language and can pick up on the subtleties.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:25 AM on March 22, 2015

I've lived and traveled extensively through Europe, including Germany. One thing I recommend doing is figure out where you could work and would want to work now. Find out what these places are looking for and what would make you stand out. For instance, a lot of Americans go to Germany and try to teach English. But if you get a certain certificate you will definitely stand out. It's even taught in Germany. I think it's this one. Even if you don't want to do this permanently, it's a great back up plan.

You could also translate German to English or give tours in English or German at a museum or historical site. Again think about how you can stand out. Maybe just a special class in some topic that you take over the summer would allow you to position yourself as a sort of 'expert' in that area and make you more attractive to an historical museum.

Realize a company may need to attest to the fact that the job you are applying for requires your special expertise and can't be fulfilled by a German. I'm pretty sure that's one thing they--the people who will approve your visa--look for. So find out this stuff in advance so that when an opportunity comes your way you can recognize it and jump on it.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 8:55 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Living with parents and working for low wage sounds stifling, or at least lacking in Quisp Lover's playful zeal

Playful zeal doesn't come from external circumstance, it's a choice you make in your internal reaction to external circumstance. If externals could make you playfully zealous, every rich person would be a bundle of delight.

E.g. every one of us. To the 99% of historical humanity who'd view the likes of us as unimaginably wealthy and fortunate (with our overabundance of food and entertainment, discretionary free time, indoor plumbing, central heating, automobile and highway system, nearly-assured personal safety and broadband Internet) it would be dumbfounding to hear that we imagine ourselves to have any problems at all, least of all the soul-crushing indignity of living with our parents and failure to make tons and tons of money in our reliable, steady, non-back-breaking 40 hrs/week jobs. "What the fuck", they'd ask, red-faced with indignation, "does it take to make you happy?!?"
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

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