A Canadian English teacher gives her German job-seeking students more than new language skills. Here are the 3 unemployment survival lessons anyone should take to heart.
This a guest post by Kate Baggott. If you’d also like to guest post here on JobMob, follow these guest post guidelines.
Among my many duties, I teach English to classes of unemployed people in Germany. Living in a foreign country, I often bump up against cultural differences that surprise me, but the attitude toward unemployment here in Germany compared to the attitudes in Canada really shocked me.
Canadians aren’t really a laid-back crowd, but we are extremely tolerant. I now think of the Dutch as the Canadians of Europe. We can be fussy about our own personal habits, but take no notice of others. While people might get freaked out by their own unemployment, they don’t judge the current working status of others. Short term unemployment is considered a chance to have some time off to think. Long term unemployment is seen as bad luck.
For most of its history, Canada’s economy has depended on primary industries: fishing, farming, mining and forestry. When a farmer doesn’t plant or harvest in winter, she isn’t considered unemployed. When fishermen face a moratorium and can’t head out for cod, it isn’t their fault that they can’t go out to work. In fact, for various seasons, or even for a few years at a time, entire regions of the country are basically jobless.
So, it came as a shock to me to hear the negativity my unemployed students are battling in Germany every day. And, I hope some of the lessons I have tried to teach them, will help you too.
Lesson 1: You are not what you do!
“I’ve been unemployed for a year now,” a student once told me. “I am finished now. No one in my field will hire me.”
“But you’ve been learning so many new things and making yourself so valuable, you could try something new,” I said to her.
“Oh no, if you change what you do, you change who you are,” she replied.
“Change who you are!” I said. “Who you are is the light that has been shining inside you since the day you were born. Who you are is not a job. Who you are is sacred and can’t be touched. Just keep it burning and you’ll be fine.”
Lesson 2: Learning is a Lifetime Process
“I am fifty years-old and I worked for the same company for 25 years,” another student told me. “I am too old to learn new ways and a new job.”
“You’ve certainly improved your English over the past 5 weeks, what makes you think you can’t learn other things too?” I asked.
“It’s not what I think,” the student said. “It’s what the bosses think.”
“Then you have to change their minds. You have to take your certificate from this course and show them what you’ve learned,” I said. “You can stand up and tell them how you learn and that you never stop taking in new ideas. You can give them an opportunity to change their minds. It’s a gift you can offer them.”
Lesson 3: There is a Reason for This Experience Too
Canadians are right. Long term unemployment is often the result of a string of bad luck. One of my students lost her job and then, a few days later, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead of looking for a job and taking up new employment, the daughter dedicated herself to her mother’s care for two years.
“Now I have nothing,” she said.
“What would have happened to your poor mother, if you hadn’t been there for her?” I asked her. “Isn’t it wonderful that you could take care of her when no one else could?”
More common stories are Germans who have been working abroad and, when their postings are up, return to Germany only to find no one is interested in their international experience. After so long away, they also find themselves without family and community support. They are basically new immigrants in an old country.
“You have to pretend everything is new,” I tell them. “Like me, like every other foreigner, you have to find out where everything is and how it works. You have to talk to everyone you meet and build a new life, not re-build an old one.”
“But I used to have so much more,” one student told me. “I used to be someone.”
“And now, you have another chance,” I say.
Does it help my students, to have a bit of the Canadian optimism as they continue their job search? I know that for the moment, in my class, for them to know I value them helps them learn.
It also helps me. Every day that I bump up against the foreign and the incomprehensible, I try to remember my lessons myself. It helps me to remember who I am, no matter where I am in working life.
About the Author
Kate Baggott is a writer and English teacher. Links to her recently published articles can be found at katebaggott.com.