Andy and I had been talking about our future, our goals, and what we wanted our lives to look like for months. Mostly in vague terms, no concrete plans or decisions to make it happen at first. But sometime during the summer we started getting more serious. We really needed to make some changes. We didn’t want the traditional life of going to work in the same boring office every day and trying to make the most of our few weeks of vacation each year. We wanted more.
Committing to the decision
I know we made the decision to make things happen earlier, but that night in Lisbon is what sticks in my head as the beginning. We fell in love with Lisbon because it has a great vibe, but it was also the night we had one of our first really great conversations about the future. We sat at a table at an outdoor cafe, in the middle of a glossy-tiled pedestrian street, with a view of this gorgeous arch, faint music in the distance and the scent of salt water in the breeze, and we talked. Sipping our generously poured drinks, we talked about our dream, some of the practical details of our goals and what it would take to make it happen. We were committed to it.
It started with our visas. Andy was coming up on five years of living in Germany, which meant he was eligible for an upgraded visa. The upgraded visa would give him much more flexibility for employment, allow him to work on a contract or self-employed status, and give him more freedom to travel outside of Germany for longer periods of time without risk of losing his visa, basically permanent residency. This was the holy grail. (I’m not eligible for permanent residency for a few more years. My visa allows me to live here as Andy’s spouse, so it’s basically attached to his.)
The importance of certificates
Andy got the long list of required documentation he would need to apply for this visa, and found that one of the requirements was proof of a B1 level of German. (This is the same exam I had to take at the end of January.) Apparently working for a German company for five years and speaking German everyday with his coworkers wasn’t sufficient. Germans love paperwork, documentation and certificates. But he was assured by the immigration office that the practice exam given by the community college would be good enough.
We showed up with a folder of documents about two inches thick. Everything seemed in order until we got to the language requirement. The woman we were meeting with looked at the letter from Andy’s practice test disapprovingly. “But this isn’t a certificate,” she proclaimed. Andy explained what the front desk had told him. “But this isn’t a certificate,” she repeated. She must have said that three or four times despite Andy’s explanations. Finally she told him she would look into it and send him a letter if anything else was required.
The only letter we ever received was notifying us of our next appointment, which was about two months later. Assuming everything was fine, we went in for our early January appointment with cautious optimism.
Unfortunately we were told Andy needed to fulfill this language requirement. He mentioned the letter from the practice test again, and she responded “But this isn’t a certificate.” Didn’t we have this conversation already? Luckily Andy was able to give her a little push to investigate further, and when she consulted with a colleague, she was told it was acceptable because of an agreement between that particular school and the Freiburg office.
Short test, long process
But he still needed the test on German government, history and society, which I also had to take in January. It was frustrating that she didn’t tell him about this requirement at our original appointment in November, but there was nothing we could do about it.
The test is simple, but it still meant finding a school that could get him in on short notice. He lucked out by getting signed up for a test on February 1. The original goal was for him to be out of his job by the end of March, but this pushed us back to the end of April.
On February 1st I met Andy for lunch after his test, knowing we were one step closer to our goal. I thought he would be ecstatic to be finished, but instead he looked tense. The teacher giving the exam told him it often takes two months or longer to get the results, even though everyone else told us 2-4 weeks. Four weeks was the maximum we could handle if we were going to reach our goal of getting Andy out of his job by the end of April. We couldn’t handle waiting two months for the results on a 25 question test. (Side note: WHY do they grade this test by hand instead of electronically?)
It turns out the reason it takes so long is because most people take both the civics test and the official B1 language test around the same time, so the office waits for the results of both and issues an integration course certificate. Fearing they would wait indefinitely for a language test that Andy would never take, he started calling people again. He managed to get someone to agree to look at his test immediately, and a few days later a certificate arrived in the mail. We were down to the wire for Andy to turn in his notice in time for an end of April exit.
Somehow Andy managed to get our visa lady to accept his certificate by email and get our visas ordered. It was finally enough for Andy to quit his job at the beginning of March, just barely making the eight week notice he had to give and getting him out of his job by the end of April. We just received a letter from Berlin letting us know our visa cards have been mailed to the office in Freiburg, so we’ll have them in our hands any day now.
The finish line
It’s fair to say it was an extremely stressful few months. There were so many times we thought this process was just going too slow and we’d never make our goal. It’s tough to work towards something and constantly hit roadblocks that are out of our control, and the painfully slow pace of German bureaucracy was maddening. But we made it. Due to unused vacation time, Andy’s last day is April 19.
In case you were wondering, I still have not received my integration course certificate even though I took my tests on January 23 and 25. I’m glad we didn’t sit idly waiting for Andy’s.