A Pseudo-European Teenager Goes to Texas

Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world.  She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!

When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian,  Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading


In one my last posts, I mentioned that our family was preparing for my oldest child to start school this year. I know it is a big deal in most countries, but in Germany, I think it is an even bigger deal, partly because the first day is wonderfully ritualized by such things as a special church service, an informal reception at the school during the first graders’ very first hour of school, and a peak inside the classroom and chance to take loads of pictures while the kids are there. It’s usually a family affair in the league of birthdays and holidays including the extended family. Often a special lunch is organized either at home or at a restaurant followed by Kaffee und Kuchen.

Fuss surrounds the new Schulkind (school child) as everyone excitedly files into the church hall or school building for that momentous first day of school. And one of the props in addition to the lovingly selected Schulranzen that crowns this moment is the Schultüte. Loosely translated, a Schultüte is a decorated cone made out of cardboard that is filled with sweets, school supplies, small books and other treats to celebrate the day. First citations of the Schultüte were made from eastern Germany in the early nineteenth century. (Source: Wikipedia) Every picture of a German schoolchild on the first day of school includes her or him proudly holding up a Schultüte.

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I’ve experienced several “American expat in Germany” rites of passage since I first moved to Germany, which was eight years ago: having a German wedding, learning to drive stick in the Swabian Alps, figuring out what goes in the Gelber Sack, pregnancy, giving birth, Kita/Kindi and now Grundschule. Our oldest is a Vorschulkind, or a child on the verge of entering school. She’s participated in special group activities at Kindi as well as attended welcome events at her future school in preparation.

The anticipation and the excitement is the same here as in America. But, the rituals, as ever, seem to be better defined and executed in such a way that really makes you feel like you are preserving a tradition from the same photo from generation to generation. The first one we experienced was the selection and purchase of the Schulranzen or school satchel. I’ve never seen anything like it before moving to Germany. It is a massive, structured square, kind of like a mini suitcase, that the children wear on their backs. Continue reading

International schools: going local or not

Of the many considerations and decisions we have to make as expats, ones regarding education for our kids can be amongst the most challenging. What’s available where we are has made the decision for us whenever we came to that juncture. While we were still living in San Diego, our oldest was going to attend a German immersion charter school in San Diego. San Diego doesn’t otherwise have a Deutsche Schule but amazingly has the Albert Einstein Academies, the aforementioned immersion charter school.

Since we moved back to Germany before our daughter matriculated, she’s had another year of Kindergarten for us to consider the path to set on. We currently live more than an hour away from the next large city, Stuttgart, which now has three international schools. My husband and I didn’t feel that for this stage of the game (grade school) there was any reason that anybody had to make the big sacrifice of commuting in order for her to attend an international school. There is also a relatively new (about eight years old) international school in a smaller city closer to us that we keep in mind as an option for the future, but we’ve been made wary by stories from other expat families with older kids. Basically, the quality of teaching as well as administrative organization is not the greatest, especially for the older and newer grades since in a lot of cases, the school is still figuring things out.

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A German Education

I am going to attempt to explain the German education system in the simplest terms possible. For those with further education who can handle the exceptions, I have listed them at the end.

When a child is born in Germany, it has the right to a place in a daycare from the age of one year, starting in 2012. Daycare is referred to as Kinderkrippe, Kleinkindbetreuung or Kindertagespflege, although the latter only refers to the care of children in private homes with a Tagesmutter, not to a daycare center.

From the age of 3 years until they are old enough to start first grade (usually age six by the end of September), children attend Kindergarten. Kindergarten in Germany is usually mixed-age preschool and American “kindergarten” all jumbled together. The preschools on offer are almost all publicly subsidized, and fees vary in each city. Often the fees reduce with the number of children you have (and they don’t even have to be attending preschool), sometimes are linked to your income, or taken from a table based on the number of hours your child attends. There are preschools that are half-day, some are all-day, some serve lunch and some do not. The good ones have a waiting list, and for the most part, parents wishing for their children to start after their 3rd birthday need to get them registered at preschool by February of that year.  The number of spots varies from state to state – in Baden-Württemberg, space is tight, especially in Stuttgart. In Berlin, there is much more on offer. Continue reading

Expats All Over Again: 10 Things I’ll Miss (and 10 Things I Won’t) About Germany

Like Jane and her husband, we are also on our way out of Germany. Unlike them though, we are becoming expats once again, this time in Ireland. There are so many things I love about living in Germany. This move happened quickly, and it was a choice for us, but it is scary and I can only imagine what I will miss about Germany, even while I look with excitement toward the new experiences that await me and my family in our new country (mit einem lachenden und einem weinenden Augen).

There are things I know I will miss and there are things that I know I won’t miss. For all my moaning about Germany, I know I have it good over here. This becomes especially apparent when friends from the US come to visit. I’ll start with the things I will miss:

1. The bread – I know that there is good Irish soda bread to be had, but I know I will miss the good, crusty, Brötchen and the Vollkornbrot full of nice seeds.


There’s nothing like German bread and bakeries.
PHOTO: Nick Gray (Wikimedia Commmons)

2. The public transport system – Again I know there are buses and trains in Ireland, but I am sure that they are no way as dependable as the ones here. Continue reading

Kindergarten Eingewöhnung (Acclimatization)

It seems every post I write has to do with kids, but that is how my life looks right now! At the moment, both of my little ones are in the midst of the Eingewöhnung process in their respective nursery schools (Kindergärten). My youngest is starting Krippe (loosely translated as daycare) and his sister is starting nursery school.  When I signed them up, I was told to prepare to be available during the acclimitization process. Little did I know, they have it down to a science. Continue reading

Raising “Free Range” Kids in Germany

I’m concluding my Christmas holidays now here in America, so it’s natural for me to once again think about how different my life would be if I were living in America instead of in Germany, especially as a mother.

Despite all my good intentions to not shop as much and my otherwise disciplined nature about spending money, I’ve continued the shopping spree which I had started on my last visit last October/November. All of these pre-Christmas, thanks to the economy, and of course post-Christmas sales have been too difficult for me to resist. Along with stocking up for Christmas presents for next year, I’ve been noticing what sort of toys are out on the market for children. My husband and I made a quick stop into Pottery Barn Kids when I first saw “Melissa and Doug” toys. I had previously read references to this brand on several parenting related web forums and sites. They were obviously regarded as nice, so I checked them out of curiosity. Maybe they would make a nice gift for one of our friends back in Germany.
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