It sounds funny to say that I am taking an “orientation course” after living in Germany for over a year, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s the second-to-last step in my German integration. (The last step is the language exam I’m taking in February.)
My Orientierungskurs started on Monday. Like my language class, it’s around four hours a day, but this one is only four days a week for three weeks. (They couldn’t find a teacher for Wednesdays, and a mid-week break is more than okay with me.) We have two instructors, both German, and the curriculum is pretty much determined by the BAMF (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees).
The course covers three main topics:
- Politics in a Democracy
- History and Responsibility
- People and Society
With one instructor we are learning about people and society. We started with our own ideas about what is typisch Deutsch (typically German) and discussed some of the differences between different parts of Germany. I had a great time listening to the recordings of different dialects: Kölsch, Bairisch, Berlinisch, and Plattdeutsch. We also discussed some of the Öcher Platt (Aachen dialect) that we know.
The other instructor is teaching us German politics. We started by learning the 16 states (Bundesländer) and their capitals. (Some of the students protested having to learn these; I just compared it to learning all 50 US states and their capitals in elementary school.) I also learned that Germany has only been a nation-state since 1871. I didn’t know it was so young from a national perspective.
We also talked about the German political system, specifically federalism, democracy, constitutionalism with separation of powers, and social welfare. I almost fell asleep during the first three explanations (it was like my high school government class all over again), but the last part was fun. The concept of social responsibility is something I really like here. And yes, the teacher did use the US healthcare system as an example of how not everyone agrees that social welfare is an integral part of a democracy.
Ultimately, I think this class is going to be a bit tedious. Because of where and how I grew up, Germany is not such a foreign place for me. And I have been here long enough to get a good sense of how things work. But in any case it’s a good way for me to keep speaking German on a regular basis, and it means I’m pretty close to qualifying for permanent residency. Wow … that sounds weird.