Many of you are probably wondering what exactly I’ve been doing in Germany for the last year… no, I was not studying. I was also not teaching English. I also was not working at a stable, although I still have the opportunity to ride a few times a week. Instead, I stepped out of my box to work at an international boarding school in Germany, Die Loburg, and not as a teacher, but rather working alongside the residential advisors. Die Loburg is a boarding school for German and international students, as well as a Gymnasium (highest level of high school in Germany). The international students come from China, Russia, Mexico, Iran, Czech Republic, and the list goes on and on… This opportunity came about through the recommendation from a friend. He told me about a federal volunteer service called Bundesfreiwilligendienst that I could do at this boarding school. This year has brought many new challenging, yet exciting experiences, but more importantly, it helped me take a step back and reflect about what I really want to do with my life. I was quite lost after finishing my bachelor’s degree and had no clue where to go from there, and I know I’m not alone in saying that, and having the opportunity to do this program was more than I could have hoped for.
Life at the Loburg
My days usually start somewhere between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM and my shifts end sometime between 8:00 PM and midnight. At the beginning of the year, myself and the other “Bufdis” (that’s what the volunteers are called) and interns were divided among the 4 houses at the boarding school. There are 2 houses for girls (1 for 5th-9th grade and the other for 10th-12th) as well as 2 houses for the boys. I was assigned to work during the school year with the 10th-12th grade girls and am there with them from Monday-Friday after school. My duties include doing extracurricular activities with all of the students (Tuesdays we go to the fitness studio in town and Thursdays we play basketball), keeping our kitchen stocked with snacks and milk, tutoring in English, driving them to appointments, and just being there for the girls whenever they need something. I think of myself as sort of a big sister to them. I also work on the weekends where the German students go home and the international students stay on campus. I work with a team of residential advisors that work specifically on the international weekends, and there is another team that works on the weekends when all of the students stay. The weekends are pretty relaxing, but we always try to offer a program for the students, such as going to the zoo, the shopping mall, a train trip to the Netherlands for the day, theme parties, etc. We even spent 5 days camping with the international students! Most of the students enjoy their weekends in our “Pinte” which is our pub on campus. They are allowed to drink beer, wine, and prosecco/champagne at age 16 in Germany, but of course we make sure it’s consumed in moderation.
Don’t be a afraid by how long the word is, a lot of compound words in German are just as long if not longer. But literally translated, it means Federal Volunteer Service. Until 2011, German men could be drafted for compulsory military service (Wehrpflicht) but they were allowed to do civil service (Zivildienst) instead. For German women there was a voluntary civil service (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr). When the Wehrpflicht was suspended in 2011, the Bundesfreiwilligendienst was created. The great part about this program, is that it is open to EVERYONE who has completed compulsory school (age 16, or 15 in some German states), regardless of their age, gender, the type of school they’ve attended (there are different kinds of high schools in Germany), or nationality. That means, as a foreigner, I was allowed to partake in this program and once I had a work contract, receive a temporary residence permit to do so. I am completing my BFD at a school, but the possibilities are endless as to where one can do a volunteer year. (Side note: the length of the volunteer service can be from 6 to 24 months). Service can be done in the social sphere (hospitals, senior residences, orphanages), environmental (national parks, animal rescues, agriculture), cultural (community theater, museums, archaeological excavations) and in sports (sports clubs). The job is full time (approximately 35 hours per week) but we also receive a minimum of 24 days vacation, public health insurance provided by the job site, and a pocket money salary of about 380 Euro per month. In some cases, like mine, food is included and one can also arrange to live on site or in housing provided by the place of assignment. The language spoken at work is German and a basic level of German is compulsory, although there is usually no need to pass a standardized test. There are plenty of opportunities for intensive language courses here, and the cost of an additional course done within the first 3 months of the service can be covered (fully or partially) by the BFD Program. I had a decent foundation before starting work, but I learned a lot of German on the job.
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Looking back on the year and into the future…
Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my life. I would absolutely recommend it for anyone interested in living for a year abroad. What especially struck me about this program is that we do not have something like this in the U.S. Many places are understaffed, especially in elderly, handicapped, and child care services. This results in the workers being unable to fulfill their daily tasks or they spread themselves too thin and cannot properly tend to the needs of their clients. When such a program would exist in the U.S., these understaffed fields would benefit from the extra help, and at the same time, the volunteer service workers would gain practical, valuable experience, as well as a good reference for their resume. A win-win. Personally, I find it more valuable to gain work experience in a field that one may be interested in pursuing, even when the salary is not outstanding. Also, the fact that foreigners can participate in the program, would possibly be one good solution to the current immigration discussion in the U.S. Workers would be legally working under the U.S. government and be doing a service to people in America, while getting to experience living in the country and learning the language. Obviously, it would have to be all ironed out to figure out how the program would be financed. In Germany, the salaries and benefits are financed either fully or partially from the federal government depending on the institution the volunteers are working for. Just some of my thoughts…
But like I said, I am so incredibly grateful for this experience. I got to learn a new language, and the work I did helped me confirm that I want to do some type of social work or counseling with teenagers. Starting in August, I will be doing a one year training program to become a certified child care worker and then hopefully going for Masters after!
So if you or someone you know has just finished high school, a bachelor’s degree, or just looking for a life change and something new to experience, all while being able to explore Europe and learn a new language, and having a good part of your personal expenses covered, then a Bundesfreiwilligendienst could be a great opportunity for you! Should you have any questions or if you are interested in learning how to apply, please reach out to me. 🙂
In 3 weeks, I will be moving to Hannover and starting my next chapter. I know I haven’t kept up with my blog so well, but I hope to write some new posts about what’s in store for me!
Bis dann! (until then)