Kieron’s New Life in Germany
I started learning German at 13 and loved the fact that it meant missing a PE lesson every week. I found it easier than French. As my German teacher told my parents "Kieron's eyes light up when it's time to do grammar". German had a logical structure to it that I had failed to find in French. Sixth form coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and I was even in Germany on November 9 1989 on a youth conference when the wall came down. Exciting times. So when after Alevels I found myself studying German I leapt at the chance to spend my second year in Dresden, in the former communist East, moving there a year after reunification in 1991.
Parallel to all this I had been struggling through my teenage years with mental health issues and trying to work out who I was and what my place in the world and the general scheme of things would. From the age of 12, I had followed world affairs avidly, listening to the today every morning. The feeling of Weltschmerz grew in me year by year. I had't enjoyed the Maths part of my degree in the year before going to Germany and was seriously thinking about dropping out. After my Alevels I had been to Romania for 2 weeks in the summer after the revolution and experienced Ceaucescu's orphanages first-hand. All these things, an inclination towards the dramatic, coupled with the sort of naive belief only a teenager can have that I could change the world,, led to a radical decision.
I would drop out of uni and go and work in a Romanian children's home. My year in Germany came to an end, I dropped out of uni, moved back to the UK, signed on, did some voluntary work and hoped and prayed I would be able to make Romania happen. In January 1993 just before my 21st I moved to the little Hungarian speaking town of Cristuru-Secuiesc (Romanian), Szekely Keresztur (Hungarian) in the middle of Transylvania. I spent 4 1/2 years working with children and young people there who were growing up in a state children's home housing 400 children and young people. It was while working there that I met and then married a German which was how in 1997 I ended up back in Dresden again.
Although I spoke German, I didn't have any vocational or higher academic qualifications. So after 5 years teaching English freelance, at the age of 30 I went back to university and qualified as a social worker. By the time I qualified, I had 3 children and my marriage was on the rocks. It's now 10 years since we broke up. The kids are all but grown up (15, 18 and 21), and I'm happy in my job as deputy manager of a Day Care facility for 110 children. It has been a long journey. Looking back, I'm not sure it was a good idea to live abroad (as apposed to just having a gap year) at such a young age.
Add to struggling to find out who you are, a lack of self-confidence, no experience of dealing with adult life back home, (where there are friends and family to support you, and you have a vague idea of how things work) and no qualifications it's a surprise I survived at all. And it was tough at times. I don't regret it. How could I? I have 3 wonderful children and an amazing grandchild but I can't honestly recommend it to anyone. I would also recommend to not underestimate the impact of a place on an individual's personality and their relationship. The reasons for any break-up are complex. I did however find that the person I spent 4 years in a relationship with in Romania was very different from the person I found myself married to in Germany. All in all, after 28 years away from Britain I am a happy, contented person, not because everything has been easy or because everything in life is good but because I have found myself, learnt to be happy in my own skin, found my place in Germany and learnt to be grateful for what is, accept what isn't and not worry about what might be.