Entries by sandhya matthes

Becoming a British-Indian-German

Today I became a German citizen. Voluntarily taking on a new citizenship as an adult is a big step, so you may ask why I chose to do it.

My personal journey in this country started in the summer of 2005. The country was on the up. Its youth full of hope. Political debate was rife and soon after Angela Merkel became the chancellor of Germany. The following summer brought the European football championships to Germany. From the British perspective, Germany displayed itself as colorful, surprisingly fun-loving, relaxed and of course well-organized but perhaps not that different from us after all.

I was fresh out of university and introduced to the alternative scene in Berlin, the breathtaking harbour in Hamburg, the opera houses of Rhineland and the industrial heritage of the Ruhr district. I got to know its people thanks to their mastery of the English language, all the while pouring over German grammar books back home in England.

I learnt about their inability to form an orderly queue, their obsession with sparkling water, their tendency to dress down and their incomprehensible love of a television show called “Tatort”.

A few years later, when I transferred my career over the channel, I was embraced for my skills and valued in my job. I felt I was offered every chance that my fellow German was offered. My language improved steadily and I found myself reading German novels for fun and passing postgraduate medical exams.

There were days where I recall feeling momentarily alone, lost and simply foreign and out of place in this country and that may never change. But over the years, the foreign has become familiar, the differences less noticeable and the annoyances more predictable and negotiable. I have largely forgotten the way things are done in the UK and am fully equipped to deal even with the height of German beurocracy in a level-headed manner and often in an appropriate tone of voice.

Our children were born, establishing an even deeper connection with the country. Because how they see and learn to identify themselves has as much to do with how I choose to see and identify myself here. I know I will never be a German in the eyes of some. And indeed I feel shy to lay a claim to the title, just as I am sometimes reticent of identifying myself as either British or Indian.

To me nationality is little to do with waving flags and singing anthems loudly. Nor is it a love of a country. I trade-in no part of my British-Indian upbringing to enable me to take this step today. And yet I know that the years in Germany have changed me and offered me a new perspective of Europe and the wider world. No pledge was asked of me, and yet I pledge my allegiance to this state.

Culture is seen, heard, lived and learned. And I feel like I am learning more and more with each year. I fell in love with a German and he has helped me negotiate this unexpected path from occasional weekend visitor to fully-fledged resident with astonishing ease. The unwavering love, support and good German grammar has been indispensable in me finding a place here and slowly beginning to call it home.

It has never been clearer to me just how much politics and policies shape our personal decisions and influence our opportunities. Angela Merkel is on her way out and with her a figure that has helped over many years to hold together Europe today as we know it. There is an unappetizing rise of the far-right and no clear answer from the center ground. Europe is on the cusp of a new era and the position Germany takes is going to be crucial in this.

Without the imminence of Brexit, I perhaps may have not chosen this path at this time. On the other hand, I believe in, commit myself to, and identify myself with this country that has given me the opportunity to unfurl and maximize my potential in my young adult years and to nurture and grow a family.

And because where history defines me as a British Indian, my present and near future is as a European in Germany. And that’s why I chose to become a British-Indian-German today.

Dreaming of spring

An afternoon spent in the pleasant greenhouses at the Munich botanical gardens was an unexpected and lovely remedy to the current cold winter snap.

Just take a seat, breathe in the sweet smelling fragrance and remember that the romance of spring is just around the corner.

And who knew that Camelias were quite so pretty?

Working as a doctor in Germany: things to know before you start

Despite little activity on my blog these days, I’ve noticed that one old text has been getting an increasing amount of attention since I published it some 3 years ago: Surprising things about being a doctor in Germany.

In addition, I’ve been getting a number of personal e-mails from medical students and junior doctors from around the world asking for more information and advice on the subject of potentially starting out as a doctor here in Germany.

So, here are a few of my personal experiences and tips from the perspective of a British-trained doctor who moved over to Germany in 2009. I have a fair bit of information to share, so I plan to write about it over a series of texts. I hope this helps some of you.

Before you start

1. Have I got a good chance of getting a job as a doctor in Germany?

Short answer is yes. Germany does need doctors at the moment. It of course depends on your speciality of interest and your place of interest. The chances of getting a job in smaller or less attractive cities is obviously higher than for example a renowned university teaching hospital. But it’s a big country and there is a lot of choice at the moment.

2. Is my medical training recognized in Germany? What documents do I need?

Before you start actively looking for a job, it would be best to check with the regulating body here what the requirements are for having your medical degree recognised and subsequently obtaining a license to practice.

Each ‚Bundesland‘ has its own governing body (for example ‚Ärztekammer Nordrhein, Bayerische Ärztekammer etc). I suggest you pick your place of interest in Germany and enquire at the local Ärztekammer there, but bear in mind that there may be differences between the states.

Applying from a member state of the EU

In general, applying from within the EU is more straightforward than from outside and incorporates getting high school/university certificates translated, references from bosses, security checks from your home country and assurances from your governing body that your medical degree is in line with the standards set by the EU. The usual occupation health issues such as HIV status, immune status against hepatitis as well as a medical certificate from a doctor assuring a good bill of health is also required. The Ärztekammer I applied to refused to look at any documents until they were officially translated from English into German to tell me if they were the correct ones (despite the fact that they could clearly read and understand English). This is therefore a costly and time-consuming process (both in terms of money and your nerves). In the end I got my registration one day before I was due to start work.

Applying from outside the EU

For those outside of the EU, things can get a little trickier. Depending on the structure of your medical training, it can require extra (un-paid) placements and a medical viva to check your knowledge and skills, in addition to the above paperwork. I would check all of this out before your decision to move here so that you can plan your finances and expectations appropriately. From what I gather, things seem to be decided on a very individual basis.

3. How good does my German have to be to work here?

Germans institutions often ask for the Goethe-certificate level B2. This is a requirement for university entrance and acquiring citizenship for example and is a good rule of thumb before you start work here, regardless of whether it is an official requirement or not. For your own sake. It is a level which just about gets you by in conversation and in reading and writing although far from ensuring an easy start. I found that whilst doctor colleagues and allied healthcare professionals spoke and understood english at varying levels, patients (especially the older ones) generally did not and furthermore expect, quite naturally, to be communicated with in their native language.

Tips for improving your German language skills

Like all languages, your German will only get better through use. If like me at the time, you are starting from scratch, there is nothing like living in the country, reading local newspaper, watching Germany films and making friends to improve your fluency.

I did a one month intensive language course (level B2) before I started work. It was a brilliant way to start my life in Germany and is a September I look back on with immense fondness. I made some great friends from this course from all over the world and went to some great parties. It was the ERASMUS year I never had. Aside from the social side though, it was a good foundation for my language skills.

Throughout the year, I met weekly with a friend from Argentina who had been living in Germany for a few years and wanted to improve her English. We would talk for 30 minutes in English and then 30 minutes in German. Over the years, this turned into wonderful evenings of drinking red wine over bowls of delicious pasta in favorite local restaurants and a lasting friendship. And of course we improved our language. It’s quite easy to find a so-called ‚Stammtisch‘ through Facebook groups days to achieve something similar.

That’s it for today. I will write about the medical training system in Germany and some practical tips about looking for and applying for jobs in further posts!

The last holiday as just the 3 of us

The last holiday as just the 3 of us.

A time to relish our little boy all for ourselves.

To have all our reserve of patience, just for him.

To watch him from afar, sunk happily in play.

Eyes ready to meet his gaze when he raises his to meet ours.

Arms free to welcome him.

Marveling at his increasing curiosity, independence and ingenuity.

Wondering at the words that suddenly form in his mouth, which often have only a meaning to us.

To recognise the baby in him when he suddenly cries.

To look on at him with tenderness as he soundly sleeps.

Unsure just how things will change, for him and for us.

2016

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A year of shock, terror and breaking apart.  Astonishment at the power of democracy to sway towards a world I do not want to know. Where war was at the forefront.
A year of adjustment and finding ourselves as a family. The right way to balance job and family is surely the hardest struggle for all no longer quite so new parents. I complain of no tragedies but many ups and downs.
But through all my grumble and grouse, my most cherished moments came surprisingly in the hectic of everyday life. Not sipping freshly pressed orange juice on the pebble beach of a quiet bay in Crete, not dipping into the sparkling blue waters of the Bayern lakes in the summer sun, not huddling around an outdoor fire with red wine and friends on a cool autumn evening in Tuscany. But my daily breakfast with the 2 most precious people in my world. Sometimes interrupted by tantrums, sometimes shortened by lie-ins (baby and husband are equally capable of this), sometimes surrounded in chaos. But always a moment of peace. Always a bubble of love. Always a source of strength before I face the world outside.

Brexit

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After the shock and disbelief of waking up to Brexit last week, I’m left with a mixture of feelings.

Disappointment, that the country I grew up in has chosen to take this direction. Because I never really thought it would come to this.

Stunned, that the democratic system can leave you feeling so wronged and cheated.

Dismay, when I read of the number of race-related hate attacks which have taken place since the vote. Because I really thought Great Britain was past this.

Dread, when I imagine what sort of a Europe my olive-skinned son will grow up in. Because I had the privilege of never feeling disadvantaged growing up in Britain and assumed the same would be true for him.

Vaguely unsettled, when I think of my status as a UK citizen living in Germany even though I know nothing has changed in my life or is likely to in the very near future.

Luck, that my own move to Germany almost 7 years ago was made so seamless through my status as a European citizen.

Incredulity at the shape of British politics and the slow rise of the right. 

Maybe it’s not all as bad or as dramatic as I imagine. But it certainly feels as if the wheels have been set in motion without anyone really knowing where the journey will take us. 

Boyhood

IMG_6315Having spent plenty of time pondering over the prospect of motherhood, I have given little thought to the other perspective – boyhood. And what a whirlwind that is.

At the end of Erik’s first birthday, we – the exhausted parents and grandparents – landed on the sofa to watch Richard Linklater’s ‚Boyhood‘. We couldn’t have picked a better time to watch this wonderful film.

A life of adventures on bicycles, sibling fights, adults and their constant advice and comments, emotional mothers, upheavals, disappointments, success and failure and a world getting bigger and bigger.

The film reminds you just how fleeting, painful and precious the passage of time is.

As our little one embarks on his boyhood, I pledge to celebrate the joy of all those everyday moments with him, and to take pleasure in his increasing independence as he takes his place in the world.

A year of love

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What can I say? It was the year of love.

Love that came so suddenly and enveloped our lives.

Love that softened me from all sides.

A ringside view of my husband falling just as instantly in love with our child.

A love that seems to grow with every strengthened muscle, each new expression and each turn of the head.

A love that looks on with wonder at the little feet clambering around, and which swells as a tired head seeks its rest against my chest.

Whatever challenges and sorrows in store ahead, it feels like there was enough love this year to last us a lifetime.

Merry Christmas 2015

And just like that, the advent time has come to an end. The neighborhood christmas market which has decorated my doorstep for the last 4 weeks closed its shutters for the last time last night and is packing up to leave this morning.

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The very last envelope of my advent calendar will be opened.

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And the last few Plätzchen will be eaten.

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My German friends will decorating Christmas trees and celebrating  later today and my family and friends in the UK will be eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. Whatever the differences in customs, a lot will be the same across the Channel. A time to sit back, a time to eat, a time for wintry walks, a time for party hats and silly jokes (in the UK anyway), a time for stories by candlelight, a time for old-fashioned games and above all, a time spent with loved ones.

However you are celebrating, Merry Christmas one and all.

A reminder of everyday life in the UK

People often ask me if I miss life in the UK. Well, it’s been such a long time since I had an everyday life there that I can barely answer that question.
But the last couple of trips to the UK have been just about that. No darting about from place to place, no string of parties and bbqs –  just quiet time spent mostly with family and the semblance of an everyday life. At least an everday life of someone on maternity leave.  Far from being dull, there were quite a few highlights:

  • Catching an early screening of the new James Bond (UK release date 1 week earlier than in Germany) and the pleasure of watching it in English (surprisingly, few cinema theatres in Germany show original language showings) and in the company of my dad and brother. It’s worth a watch!
  • Strolling through Birmingham’s busy city centre and becoming familiar with the new commercial face of its main station. And a rainy morning walk over to the hip jewellery quarter area. The city has changed a lot since I lived here 10 years ago. The cafe culture has boomed in the past few years with many independent cafes with lots of charm.

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  • Meeting British mums at a playgroup and getting an insight into the world of maternity leave in the UK.
  • A visit to a pub or two…and a portion of fish and chips or two.
  • Several visits to several parks later, my little niece and nephew – who I sadly don’t get to see as often as I would like – finally got used to me. Is there a nicer feeling than when a 2-year-old suddenly asks to hold your hand? 

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  • The wonderful christening celebration of our little man on a moody, wet, muddy and somewhat typically English autumnal weekend. The perfect family celebration to round up a lovely 2 week stay. 
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