Irina Cepeda Romero (30) from Granada, Spain, came to Germany four years ago because she didn’t have any job opportunities in her home country. She brought a Spanish bachelor’s degree in special needs education. Irina interrupted her master’s degree course in nutritional science in Granada to start working as a volunteer in a kindergarten at Diakonie Neuendettelsau. She is one of many professionals from foreign countries who get a second chance at Diakonie.
Irina, how did you make it in Germany?
The organization A.G.E. y R. helped me getting started with my adventure. After eleven months of volunteering in the kindergarten I worked as an assistant in a special needs school for ten more months. During that time I was waiting for my university degree from Spain to be approved here in Germany. It was an expensive two-year process with a lot of bureaucracy, translations and seminars. Then I was officially a remedial teacher in Germany. I was able to take the next career step and finally work in the job I was trained for. I work in a special needs nursery at Diakonie Neuendettelsau now.
How did you feel during your first years in Germany?
By now I feel very well integrated and more comfortable than ever. I am happy to be working in a nice team and in the profession I was trained for. I met my boyfriend here in Germany, my parents like him very much. But it was a long and exhausting journey full of doubts and problems – especially in the first year. The foreign language, the foreign culture – in the beginning, everything was new. Like many other people I had to find out that the German language is really very hard. My family was suddenly very far away. I felt lonely. I had left my comfort zone. To deal with the different climate was difficult – it is quite a change from Andalusia to Bavaria! By now, I have gotten used to it. Well, almost… A step into the unknown like I took really takes it out of you. But you do realize that you can achieve things which you wouldn’t have imagined you’d be able to achieve just a few weeks earlier.
What helped you not to give up?
The German language crash course I took in the first year helped a lot. My employer payed for it and for an advanced course as well. I learned the basics of the language really quickly and started to find my way in everyday life. Another important thing was that there is a contact person at Diakonie Neuendettelsau who speaks Spanish. Whenever I felt helpless and overwhelmed with anything, I could talk to him and he always helped me out – no matter if I needed a fridge or had problems with the language. Since it was difficult without a car in the Bavarian countryside, in the second year I drove my car from Spain to Germany. It’s much more comfortable now.
What is the most important thing to know about working in a foreign country?
Many people don’t realize that it’s not only about learning a foreign language but about experiencing and understanding a foreign culture. For example, in the beginning I had problems with being on time. In Germany you have to be present a few minutes before the scheduled time – in Spain we arrive fifteen minutes later. The early opening and closing times of the shops and the early lunch and dinner required getting used to. Once you understand the culture in a foreign country it’s much easier to assimilate or even identify with it. And finally to feel comfortable and be able to imagine to stay.