This entry will be a stark departure from the discussion of politics and culture to which I normally dedicate this blog. Allow me to begin with a little bit of background on myself. I was born and raised in the Great State of Ohio and joined the US Army upon graduation from high school. Afterwards I was sent to my first (and last) duty station in Schweinfurt, Germany. Schweinfurt is a beautiful town nestled along the Main River in northern Bavaria (or, more accurately, Lower Franconia; Unn’r Frangg’n to the locals); the perfect mix of industry, culture, history, pomp and quirk. I could not imagine living anywhere else, and so I have remained here for the past 11 years, first as a Soldier and now as a civilian employee of the Department of the Army.
But now the great tradition of military, economic and cultural partnership that has existed between the US Army units stationed here and the people and government of the city of Schweinfurt that has been in place since the end of World War II is coming to an end. For reasons both tactical and fiscal the US Army is shutting down its operation in this city, units will move to other locations in Germany or deactivate all together, and the barracks and facilities leased and operated by the US government will be locked up and turned over to our German hosts.
For many, this is no great disruptor. Active duty personnel and most civilian employees will make their way to other bases in-country or back stateside. The many German employees who have worked side-by-side with their American counterparts, some for decades now, will take advantage of the mechanisms already in place (or being put in place) to ease their transition either into retirement or back into the German workforce. But there also exists a minority contingent of US citizens who have been here for some time and who wish to remain here long after the others have pulled up the stakes and gone home. I am one of these, and in preparation for the inevitable departure of the rest of “little America,” a couple of friends and I took part in a 3 hour class hosted by the Schweinfurt Volkshochschule (literally “people’s high school,” essentially an adult education center run by the city) covering visa application, residency and citizenship.
The Volkshochschule website had advertised a maximum class size of 16 students for the course, prompting us to rush to enroll and pay our 9 euros before all of the available spots were snatched up. It turns out that this expedience on our part was fully unnecessary, as only 6 students ended up enrolling. Other than myself and my comrades (both of whom are American and have been here for 12 and 27 years, respectively) there was a young Brazilian woman with plans to marry her German sweetheart, and a 4th American who attended with his German spouse. Additionally, instructors from the Volkhochschule‘s German language course for immigrants, the city’s immigration office and the Landratsamt (the office that handles most administrative services for the city) were present.
It turns out that having these “subject matter experts” on-hand was extremely beneficial. The course instructor was a young attorney to whom I will from here on out refer as Herr Anwalt (get it?). And while Herr Anwalt was extremely affable and quite up on the legal aspects of immigrating to Germany, he was largely unprepared to answer specific questions concerning the nitty gritty of the application process, how applications are reviewed and what role each agency plays in the process, often deferring to the others in the room to the point where we, the students, began addressing questions directly to those individuals. I am sure that this is not how the course was originally intended to be structured.
Herr Anwalt’s inexperience shone through again as he failed to take advantage of the small and relatively homogenized class that had been presented him. Instead of seizing upon the opportunity to tailor his topics to few and largely unvaried specific cases in the classroom that night, he instead covered the spectrum of regulations and procedures for all categories of visas, residency permits and paths to citizenship. As his students, would all have been better served with a more intense and narrower focus on issues and procedures related to our specific circumstances, something completely feasible considering the small class size and time allotted for the course.
These are, of course, minor complaints that can be attributed to Herr Anwalt’s inexperience in teaching this course and I am sure he will improve his style over time. Overall I was very pleased with the structure of the course and the amount of information that I got out of it. Herr Anwalt put together a great handout consisting of descriptions of and requirements for each of the visas, residency statuses, and paths to citizenship available; he created a class atmosphere that was comfortable and conducive to students asking questions and that facilitated discussion between the students, Herr Anwalt, and the other agency representatives; and he provided us with his contact information and seemed genuine when offering future assistance and advice. Most importantly I think that every student walked away with more knowledge and a greater confidence in their ability to navigate the murky waters of the German bureaucracy. Kudos to the city of Schweinfurt, the Volkshochschule, and Herr Anwalt for lending a helping hand to a poor, needy immigrant from the shores of Lake Erie.
Finally, I created this post at the behest of a local blogger, podcaster, Twitterati, and all around cool guy, Florian Kohl. If you are so inclined, check out his blog at FlorianKohl.de