I left Ghana on the 24th of December, 2012 and arrived in Germany on the 25th. I t was my first international flight and everything was new. When I arrived and was received by my in-laws, I went to bed early as I was tired. I hadn’t slept on the plane.
The next day, I properly met my in-laws and the atmosphere was that of welcoming and curiosity. I didn’t speak any German at this point and they didn’t speak English so you can imagine how difficult and awkward the situation was. Luckily for both parties however, my husband speaks both English and German and became the middleman. But even with that it was sometimes still difficult.
It was my first christmas in Germany and there was so much snow. My mother in-law cooked a delicious dinner and we all ate in the evening of the 25th. Although they had already celebrated christmas on the 24th as it is done here, the Christmas tree with the beautiful decorations were still in the hall and I felt a real christmas tree for the first time. I took so many pictures by the tree as I had only ever seen plastic christmas trees in Ghana. There are no real christmas trees in Ghana because it is too hot and they won’t survive.
A couple of days after arriving in Germany, we went to the registration authority(Die Meldebehoerde) for me to register as an addition to the household. After this registration, I was sent a tax number from the Revenue authority/ tax office (Das Finanzamt) without having to register for it. The German government doesn’t joke when it comes to revenue collection.
We then went shopping for winter clothes for me as I did not have any and so we could go out more often. We went out for walks in the forest and I had my first experience with snow. I was so thrilled to finally touch the snow. Coming from a country where the sun is always bright and the heat is always unbearable, it was such a welcome to get some cold. I had only seen snow in movies on television and had no real concept of how cold it gets when it snows. I fell in love immediately with the snow, everything looked so clean with the snow and the child in me wanted to just get out of the house and play in the snow everyday.
After the new year, we went to the health insurance office to add me to my husband’s insurance as it is a family insurance. You need health insurance before you can register for the residence permit.
The following week, we went to the foreigners’ registration office (Die Auslaenderbehoerde) for me to apply for a residence permit. The visa I came in with was a D visa. The D visa is an immigration visa but it expires after 90 days of being in the country. One is therefore required by law to apply for a residence permit at the foreigners’ registration office within that time.
Once there, we told them why we were there and the process was explained to us. My husband signed a liability document, after which my index finger was scanned to be used on the card. We filled and signed the forms, paid the required fee, and were told to expect a letter in a couple of weeks asking us to come for the temporary residence permit. The whole process took about 45 minutes including waiting outside in a small queue for our turn. The foreigners’ registration office is one of the few places here that you are likely to wait in a queue because other foreigners are also there to register.
While waiting for my residence permit, my husband took me to see the various sites within town. We went to the watch tower, the caves and hiked the mountains. We visited the forests reserves and fed the wild boars that run free in the wild.
We also toured some of the sites out-of-town including the famous Hohenzollern castle and Nebelhoehle and Baerenhoehle (http://www.geopark-alb.de/en/geopark-erleben/infostellen.php?we_objectID=636). A couple of weeks later we received a letter from the foreigners’ registration office , asking us to come for my residence permit. So easy and organised. We did not need to bribe anyone.
After about a month in Germany, I registered for the German A1 course with the Volkshochschule (VHS) http://www.vhs-albstadt.de/ and immediately started attending classes. There are different language schools with different prices and this was one of the cheapest with shortest duration. It cost about 75 Euros and lasts about 3 months. It is just a language course (not an integration course) and classes are offered once every week and last 1 hour 30 minutes for about 3 months.
Most immigrants and refugees attend the integration course which entails a language course as well as an orientation course. This is a broad course and it is better for writing the citizenship test later when you qualify to. It cost more and takes more hours to complete. There are different prices based on where you take it. I would recommend this if you want a detailed course about the language and life in Germany and also if you want to apply for citizenship one day. If you are an African and hope to meet and make friends with other Africans, this platform offers a better opportunity than where I studied. In my class, there were mostly Au pairs from other European countries and I did not meet any other African. I still made friends though.
I chose to take just the language course offered by VHS because it is only thought once a week and at night, giving me enough time to be with my husband. Also, I just wanted to be able to interact with people especially when I go shopping and as I already knew about the culture and legal system through research, I didn’t think I needed the orientation courses offered. At the end of the course, we wrote an assessment test in class and were given certificates to show we had successfully completed.
Contrary to what most people think, in my experience here, English doesn’t get you far and people say they understand English but when you speak, they seem not to understand. Most just let you know they don’t understand English so you have to learn some German to help you get by. It is only the real tourists sites that you may be able to get by with English so if you intend to visit Germany on your own, you might want to learn some German. On the other hand, you can tour with someone who speaks both English and German to translate for you. In my case, my husband played this role and it really helped me.
Normally before coming to Germany on Immigrant visa, you are required to prove you have learnt basic (A1) German at the embassy but there is an exemption for graduates of recognised universities. I asked to be exempted and I was. Most others take the A1 course in their countries and continue with the rest of the language courses here.
I have always wanted to be a lawyer, so I decided to buy books to prepare for the Law School Admissions test (LSAT) . This was to enable me apply for law schools in either America, Britain or Australia. Though I was now living in Germany, I did not speak enough German to enable me study law here. Law is taught and practised only in German here so I couldn’t read law here. Also, the German legal system is different from that of the Ghanaian system and I thought of one day going back to Ghana and practising law, and the other countries offered me that option. I registered online for the LSAT.
About three months later, I found out I was pregnant and things changed for me. I started missing Ghana badly and also craving only Ghanaian food probably a trigger from the pregnancy. Also, I wasn’t used to being mostly indoors which is what we did here especially in winter. I had not yet made friends and as I was used to hanging out with my friends in Ghana most of the time, it was really difficult. I told my husband I was homesick and would like to go back. He was not happy and decided to help me get some African food. He searched online for an African shop around and found one in Tübingen, a town about 50 minutes drive from mine.
When we drove there, I was so excited , like a kid in a candy store, to see all the Ghanaian food. This should tell you how much I had missed my Ghanaian food. You never know what you have until it is gone. I wanted to buy lots of everything, from tubers of yam, plantain, goat meat, okra ,and even ”momoni” (Salted dried fish), but they were too expensive. African food in the African shops is very expensive as compared to buying food in the German shops. So I bought just what I really missed and we still ended up paying above 150 Euros. Just getting something familiar made me so happy. I never thought that food could get me this happy. I remember how my mom used to chastise me about not eating much and being too skinny.
My pregnancy was difficult in the beginning (first three months) but I had to study for the LSAT as I had already registered for the exams. Had I found out I was pregnant before my decision to register for the LSAT exam, I wouldn’t have registered for it at that time. I know different people have different experiences with pregnancy and some are fine writing exams while pregnant. I am not one of those. I honestly doff my hat to such strong women. For me, it did affect everything. I travelled to Munich in June to write the exam , which I must admit, was one of the most difficult exams I have ever written. I normally do not have issues writing exams but this time, it was tough. I barely settled in when the called time to stop work. When the results came, I hadn’t totally failed but I hadn’t also gotten what I knew I could get if I had been faster. My pregnancy brain was slower than the peak of traffic in Accra. Those who have taken the exam know timing is everything. The questions are difficult but solvable. The time given is barely enough and if you cannot work fast, you are likely to fail.
After that performance, I was feeling down and my husband decided we go to Kehl for a short holiday. Kehl is a border town between Germany and Strasbourg in France. When we got there, they were having their African week festival and I was glad to get some jollof rice and other African food. We decided to walk across the border to see the tourists sites in Strasbourg. My husband convinced me that it was very close and we didn’t need a taxi. We ended up walking about 3 miles and I was about 5 months pregnant. He visited there once as a child and had forgotten how far the tourists sites are from Kehl. It was such a funny walk as I kept asking where it is and we kept walking and never reaching there. At the end, he was sorry to have made me walk that distance being pregnant and hungry.
The week in Kehl did me so much good. I finally let go my sadness from not passing the LSAT the way I wanted and was relaxed to enjoy my pregnancy. We came back home, continued with our appointments with the gynaecologist as we waited for our bundle of joy.