Teaching English in Paderborn, Germany: Alumni Q&A with Deena Benkey

Teaching English in Germany


What is your citizenship?


United States

What city and state are you from?

Sandusky, Ohio

How old are you?

25

What is your education level and background?

Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc. 

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?

Prior to teaching English abroad, I did an AESU post-graduation trip to Europe in the summer of 2015. During this trip, we visited eight countries. This included England, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

My interest to teach English abroad came directly after my post-graduation trip to Europe that I had taken. I unfortunately never had the opportunity to study abroad during college, so I had made the decision to go to Europe after my graduation to fulfill my desire to travel and gain experience. After I explored eight countries in Europe for one month, I came home and I immediately knew that I had to return soon. I had fallen in love with travel, Europe especially, and I knew I had to figure out a way to return. I researched "ways to live and work abroad for Americans" and teaching English was the first option that appeared. This is when I decided to investigate this idea and I became interesting in the concept of teaching English abroad.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

I surprisingly did not have so many concerns before traveling abroad. I think this was because of my previous traveling (even with a large group) 10 months prior of me moving abroad. I have always been a very independent, spontaneous, free-spirited person, so for me, this was another thrilling adventure I was seeking out. A move, however, is indeed much different than a month trip, so of course I had a few worries. The biggest worry I had was the language barrier. Although English is the international language, I always had a respect for speaking the native language in any country and I wished to do so. Other concerns were making friends, the visa process, and really creating a life I truly would enjoy for myself.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
    
I started my "move" to Europe as a three month internship with a language school. I came abroad from the beginning of June to the end of August in 2016 planning to return to the U.S. However, the internship turned into a full-time job offer and that is when I made the decision to move abroad for good.

Almost all of my family and friends were 100% supportive, many of them had even bet that I wouldn't return home after three months, and indeed they were right. My grandparents and older family members were the only ones concerned, mainly because of their age and how much they would miss me. I come from an extremely close family so it was very hard on them to know I just wasn't moving states but continents! Overall, I don't think my move surprised anyone and everyone important in my life just wanted to see me happy, so I thankfully had much support and many positive vibes in my move.

Teaching English in Germany

TEFL CLASS INFORMATION

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?

I decided to get TEFL certified because I have always enjoyed the English language as I studied Journalism, taking many writing and grammar courses throughout college. I also studied Marketing, so being able to teach English as a foreign language to Business English professionals captured my attention. This paired with my love for travel and wanting to continue to travel, live, and work abroad made teaching English and getting TEFL certified the perfect combination. I did much research on different TEFL certified courses until I found International TEFL Academy. Their webpage, intensive information and organization, and feeling I got from their brand is really what kept me interested in their course. After reviewing their website, requesting a brochure, and speaking with my advisor, Doug Waxman, I knew that this was the course for me and my ticket back to Europe. I enrolled without hesitation and it was the best decision I could have possibly made!

Which TEFL certification course did you take?

Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?

I thoroughly enjoyed the online TEFL course. I was working full time and trying to save as much money as possible for my move abroad, so the online course was the best option for me. The course itself was extremely helpful and informative. I read the entire book that was assigned to us and I think it was extremely helpful in preparing myself on how to teach and prepare lesson plans.

During the three month course, each week my instructor would assign a reading and then three to four tasks. Usually one task was a question with a personal response that we would have to post in the class forum, then a few more task, perhaps writing a paragraph on a topic in the chapter we read, or answering a few questions, and then preparing an in-depth lesson plan. I think this was the most beneficial thing we learned. I create much of my own content and I enjoy creativity in my lesson plans.

The practicum (live practice teaching) was my favorite requirement for the course and I enjoyed it so much that I actually completed more than the 20 hours that were required. I taught to an international group at my local library where I met twice weekly for two hours each morning. I worked with my student(s) out of English books, games, and activities that my mentor provided for me. I sort of was just placed in the position where I had to teach and figure out how to on my own. The best thing this course gave me was practice and experience. My professor was extremely knowledgeable, laid back, and always responsive. I had a great experience with the online course and would recommend it to others that were in my type of situation.


How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

My TEFL training has helped me immensely in my current teaching position. The practicum was the most beneficial requirement I personally believe. Learning how to prepare lesson plans, be creative with your content, and different ways and perspectives to teach was very beneficial. In my practicum experience, I worked individually with the same Chinese women two hour sessions twice a week, and I learned so much from her and our time together.

As an international group from all over the world, we had art sessions, played games, and did different activities together and even had a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and cultural festival. We became a family and I completed more than the 20 required hours because I enjoyed the experience so much. Receiving real-life experiences really helped in preparing me for my teaching and improved my skills. I also read the entire book and took notes and related each chapter to my weekly assignments. I think a high-level of information and training is all given to you and what you decide to do with it and the amount of effort you put in depends on how rewarding the course is.

 
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?

I chose to teach English in Germany in the city of Paderborn.  I always have said that Paderborn, Germany, chose me. I say this because of a unique connection and experience I was offered to do in this location. I had been offered a three month internship teaching English to business professionals and working with large, well-known German companies. I immediately took advantage of this offer and interned for three months. After being offered a full-time position and asked to stay, I had decided to continue my teaching abroad. Although Paderborn is not a large city like Berlin, Hamburg, or Munich, it offers a very real, local, and culture experience living in a smaller city with an authentic German lifestyle.

Teaching English in GermanyHow long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?

I have been in Germany since the beginning of June 2016 and I plan to stay at least until December 2018...maybe longer!

During which months does your school typically hire?

Year-round, more so June or summer months.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

Yes

How did you interview for this position?

Skype/Phone Interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?

Freelance visa (special to Germany)

Please explain the visa process that you went through.

The visa process is no doubt a lot of work and time consumption. However, I was very lucky to have my company support me in this process. First and foremost, I had to become a resident of my specific city. This is solely done by renting a flat or some type of housing with an address.

Next, I had to get a German bank account, international health insurance, and a personal identification number. The most important thing to have (at least in my city) is two or more letters of intent, stating that two companies have the "intent" of hiring you. They have to agree and provide documentation that they will pay you a certain amount as a freelancer and provide about the number of hours you will work for them. You then must get proper head shots. It was extremely helpful and to my advantage to have a native German speaker and someone with the company be with my through the entire process.

In the end I was given a one-year visa with optional renewal for a cost of 100 euros. I think I was in the foreign office almost every day for one month last summer, waking up at 8 am to be first in line. I had many times where I didn't have the proper information or something was missing. You definitely see failure before success but that shouldn't discourage you and your goals. I received word that my visa request was accepted and would be processed one day before I had to return home. The process took some time, but was definitely worth every second! The most important thing to remember is that every city, every foreign officer, and every decision maker is extremely different in this process. Pay attention to what you need and want and give them directly that and you should have no problem getting accepted!

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply

- Bachelor's degree
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker

What is the best way to apply?

Email

Tell us about your English teaching job!

"My main job position is an English language coach. I also help with marketing campaigns, some administrative work, and run the company's social media platforms of Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest as well as writing blogs and editing English content."

This language school is a small start-up school that offers multiple languages of English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese and also translations. The company also hosts programs for Refugees that are in need of language and integration courses through the government. Since the school is a start-up with low costs, I am paid 12,50 Euro per hour ($14.75 USD) teaching with additional pay for research and development hours at a higher rate. I usually work 20 hours a week, sometimes more depending on the month and the clients. The clients I usually teach are business professionals working for large companies in the area. I teach them individually and also create and hold seminars for groups. I occasionally teach young children for English Bootcamps or after school help.

I receive two to three weeks of holiday in August, however, holiday time is very flexible within the company. For example, when my parents wanted to come see me or when I wanted to meet with my brother while he was touring Europe, it was absolutely no problem for me to request and be allowed some time off. Being a freelancer allows me to be very flexible with work I choose to take or decide to not. I am not able to save much for these holidays working specifically for this company, however, my pay alone from this company allows me to pay my rent, bills, gym membership, and go out for some cocktails, movies, etc. and have a social life. I also freelance for other companies in the area and find other opportunities to increase my monthly income. I saved for 10 months before I came to Germany and for that I am able to travel about twice a month and have a savings fund for backup money if needed.


How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?

My situation with finding my language school is just as unique as my apartment. I was very lucky to have had my flat 'passed down' to me after a former colleague of the language school moved back to her homeland. I did have to speak with the land woman, agree, and sign the paperwork, but I did not have to find a flat on my own. There are multiple apps and websites that you are able to search to easily find vacant places to live. However, in a university city like mine, it is extremely difficult to find somewhere with a good location to live. Once again, I was very lucky to find a flat and live directly in the heart of the city center. I live alone but do have five other flatmates within my building.

COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!

Teaching English in Germany

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Cultural aspects: Germany is a lovely country with so many wonderful places to enjoy and experience. There is a strong cultural history here in Germany, especially Berlin alone. Not long ago, Germany was divided into Eastern and Western territories with the Berlin Wall which just came down in 1989. There is so much more rich history in Germany than what most other cultures are taught. The language is a beautiful one, once you get the rough, harsh stereotype out of your mind.

Traditions are fun and lively - yes of course I am talking about Oktoberfest but also, Karnival, Weihnachtsmaerkte (Christmas Markets), and many of their public holidays. Germany is an economically strong country where you will find work, many beautiful castles, and the best beer, cake, and coffee around! I have traveled to many cities all over the country and each one is different and special in their own way - the environment, atmosphere, people, and language and cultural differences. Germany is a gem and one that I hold close to my heart!

Public transportation: I cannot say enough about public transportation here in Germany and all over Europe. I rely on this every single day. The bus, trains, metros are so helpful, strategic, and cheap that you cannot go wrong! I use many of these when I have to travel out of town for work and when I travel for pleasure on the weekends. FlixBus, Eurolines, and BlaBlaCar are all great! Get the DB Navigator App and do yourself a favour and get a Bahn Card 50 (27 and under) and you will not regret it if you travel a lot like myself on weekends!

Nightlife is one of a kind here. You can find absolutely anything and everything you are looking for. Something special that I have found here is the EDM scene, particularly in Berlin, which I am sure many can agree on. German DJs really know what's going on and the clubs are world famous- have you heard of the Berghain?! Beer is cheap and GOOD! Hamburg has the Reeperbahn and Duesseldorf an amazing Altstadt. There is so much to offer in different cities that you are bound to find something that fits your personality and what you like.

Social Activities: There are many social actives in every city. Particularly in mine, I enjoy going to the movies, a cafe for some great coffee and cake with friends, rock climbing, to Fussball games (GO BVB!) or going on my running route through the stunning Waldsportpfad Fischteiche. I've also attended the city's Spring festival, food truck festival, Christmas Markets, and most famous Libori Festival. There are also fabulous summer festivals all over Germany in different cities.

Food: The food here is much more than sausage, schnitzel, meats, beer, and bread. The actual "German" must have dish is the Doener Kabab! At the Christmas markets they always have hot wine, spiked eggnog, and amazing speciality beer. The bakeries here are unreal, so you don't be afraid to try something new and different! The meats and vegetables are fresh, and you can find the best cheeses and authentic foods from different countries in the super markets. My favorites are Lidl and Aldi. Did I mention food here is extremely inexpensive!? I pay at most 35 euro a week for a good amount of food that includes vegetables, fruits, chicken, and multiple Bio products. Wine can be as cheap as 2 Euro ($2.35 USD). Make sure to save your plastic bottles and glass cans to turn in for a fund! There is also every other type of food/restaurants available here - you name it!

Expat community: The Expat community is not so strong in my city as it is a smaller, mostly German city. However, I have been able to meet international friends within my German course as well as connect with many online and be able to meet up. The university here offers many young people in my age group that allows for me to meet new, young, professionals and students. There is a British Military base where I am located so that is also nice to meet with other native English speakers.

Dating scene: The dating scene is similar to what I've experienced in my home country. I have been lucky to meet some really great guys and friends that I was able to connect with and have nice conversation. Many find it interesting to meet with a native English speaker from a different country and it opens up interest and conversation to talk about your life experiences and cultural differences. I have really enjoy the dating scene here.

Travel opportunities: Germany is in central Europe, so travel opportunities are endless! I try and travel as much as I can but on a budget. The train, bus (FlixBus), and airports nearby offer low prices if you know how to search and wait for them. I have traveled to over 15 countries here and different cities within in country. Hostels and Airbnb's are great as well as Skyscanner and Google Flights.

Germany is so special in so many ways. Take the time to do some research, buy the ticket, land here, and I can guarantee you will not regret it!

COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY

What are your monthly expenses?

My monthly expenses are as follows:

Rent for a flat in the heart of the city centre: 460 Euro ($535 USD)
Health Insurance: 40-50 Euro per month ($50-$60 USD)
Internet: 30 Euro ($35) Electricity: 35 Euro Internet ($40)
Food per month: 120-140 Euro ($140 - $165 USD)
Social Activities: Average 75-100 Euro  - ($87.50 USD - $115 USD) depending on what you do 
Transportation: 45-60 Euro ($52.50 - $70 USD) only on weekends I travel to the nearby airport
Phone/communication: 15 Euro ($17.50 USD)
Travel: 250- ? Euro ($290 USD+) depending where you go and how you holiday 
Gym monthly membership: 28 Euro ($32.75 USD)


How would you describe your standard of living?

I would consider my standard of living very average and low maintenance. I only have what I need and rarely surge on things for my flat, shopping, or excessive eating and going out. I save all my money for travels and still do that at a low cost. I live a very good life based on my income, where I live, and the travels I make.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

To live comfortably, being different in each city, I would say you would need at least 1,000 Euro ($1,175 USD) per month. If you're wanting to travel on weekends, go to concerts/festivals/sporting events, etc. I would say 1,250-1,500 Euro (($1,460 - $1,750 USD) would be on a higher end and standard of living.
Teaching English in Germany

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

I would 100% recommend teaching in my country! Germany is perhaps how you would think - organized, structured, honest, beautiful, and strong! For being a carefree, non-structured, and chaotic individual, I actually love all these things about Germany. Just be prepared for many rules and to follow them! ;) However, the rules make sense and makes people lives easier.

My advice for someone that is planning to considering to teach abroad is DO IT! Don't think too much, buy the ticket and go!! Even if it is only for one year, the professional experience you'll get as well as personal growth and development is one of a kind. The travel experiences will be moments you will forever cherish and the people you meet will be life long friends. Save money, a nice amount of money, before you come and enjoy life. Don't take yourself to seriously and be brave, the outcome will be life changing!

For more on Deena's adventures, check out her Instagram.

 

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