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.

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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.

This article is part of the 2008 JobMob Guest Blogging Contest and ProBlogger's Killer Titles Group Writing Project that I discovered on Group Writing Projects.

Unemployed? Subscribe to JobMob via RSS or email and follow me on Twitter to beat unemployment and not just survive it.

Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Kate

    Wow Jacob! The article looks great. I am really pleased to have it included in your contest. I am off to post it to my Live Journal and Facebook accounts.

  2. sarah


  3. Jan

    The one thing I try to bear in mind is that you never go back, but always forward. I’ve reinvented myself many times. When ageism and xenophobia (lack of respect for foreign experience) left me without work for about a year while away from Canada at the age of 55, I simply built for myself a new profession where my age wasn’t a factor. We, not the world, need to bestow favours on ourselves, including seeing ourselves are endlessly resourceful and adaptable individuals; and also as individuals with infinite ability to learn new things and discover new people. I appreciate your optimism, your Canadian-ness and your own ability to reinvent yourself and help others find this gift within, Kate. Thanks.

  4. josh

    Is there any western country that is really narrow minded or is it just the lack of self-confidence? I can’t imagine that someone can be totally pigeon-holed in any major country/city. There are periods of economic downturn, but I believe that there is always a job for everyone, you just need to know how to find it and/or make yourself available to it. (and read sites like Jobmob too to improve your chances)

  5. Christina

    This is great advice! Thanks for writing this, Kate.

  6. Kate

    Josh- You do raise an interesting point. I do agree that confidence plays a huge role in how we see ourselves and our capacity for change.

    But, and this was a huge realisation for me, the old world and the new world have very different ways of looking at things. And I would place modern Israel in the new world category like the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

    Pigeon holes are very defined in Europe at every level of society. For example, children are often sorted into ability streams at the age of 10 or 11. In Germany, after children finish the 4th class, they are sent either to a Real Schule to start learning a semi-skilled trade or a job with basic literacy and math, to a Hauptschule to start learning how to be a clerk, administrator or civil servant, or to a gymnasium where they are on university track. Guess which track most children of immigrants end up on? Guess which trask most ethnic German children of the wealthier classes end up on?

    I can be convinced though. Tell me a “self-made man” story based completely in Western Europe in which a very successful business person built his or her empire from absolutely nothing.

  7. Russel

    On Rosh haShanah a couple of years back I met a pensioner, a former employee of the AACI, among other places, who would agree with your 1st and 2nd points. “My dear, I’ve had so many jobs since I came to Israel more than 40 years ago and it didn’t make a difference.” She went on to say, “Now for you it might be more difficult. You are a man, and men identify strongly with their jobs.”

    Indeed. And it has taken me two years to turn my career about (worse than a supertanker trying to change course).

    Could I have done it sooner? Sure. I just had to let go of my ego to do so. By this time next year I plan to be deeply immersed in my studies and … well, I’ll take it from there.

  8. Kate

    Russel- You are a brave man. Congratulations. Good luck.

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  10. Laurie/Halo Secretarial

    Found you through the Problogger contest (it was the word Canadian that got me!!) Really interesting post – thanks for sharing it!

  11. Barbara Ling

    Excellent article! Loved the point:

    ““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.”

    Thanks for sharing,


  12. Rebecca

    Great article.
    My husband recently faced the possibility of unemployment due to his employer in the process of being bought out.
    I know that we have discussed some of the points you mention.

    We’ve accepted that we can’t control what happens to his job but we can control how we pick up and move forward from the experience.

    Thanks for the optimism you’ve provided!

  13. Rob Moshe

    Well written.

    How much more successful we would be if we spent more time on realizing how truly great and capable we are and less time on what we assume others think about us.


    Saw you in Problogger killer titles. you can check out mine if you wish.

    How To Be A Prostitute Farmer?

  14. Jacob Share

    Kate- this truly a great article, I’m glad to see the conversation it’s generated.

    Jan- good for you. Just as successful businesses are the ones who know how to adapt, you’ve made changes when necessary to keep propelling yourself forward.

    Josh- there currently is a lack of self-confidence in European culture that stifles ambition. You can sense it in Kate’s description of German schooling, and I sensed it in France where people will do almost anything just to keep their precious de facto 8+ weeks of vacation per year. I remember a few years ago that a survey was done in Spain showing that the most desired job was that of a government bureaucrat or functionary i.e. job security with much vacation and just enough salary to get by.

    There are also bureaucratic issues that make starting a business unnecessarily difficult but thankfully most of those issues are being resolved in some European countries or have been already.

    Russel- thanks for that insight and yes- good luck. It’s true that many people see their jobs as who they are, and make their lives more difficult than they need to be as a result. This is changing though with 1) the growing tendency of people to switch jobs more frequently *by choice* and 2) the increasing ease for people to multiply streams of income using the Internet even when they have a “real” job.

    Rebecca- good luck to you and your husband too. No one has full control over their job, income, etc. but there are many things you can do to increase your control. But I don’t need to tell a WAHM that 🙂

    Rob Moshe- hear hear!

  15. tyler

    enlightening good job Kate

  16. Reg Clodfelter

    Hi Everyone,

    My name is Reg Clodfelter, and I am a research assistant for journalist Katherine Lewis. I am doing research for a story about national unemployment, and I am looking for a person to interview who has been unemployed for at least a year and is finally starting a full-time job mid-May.

    The interviewee must:
    – be comfortable talking on the record (being quoted by first and last name and geographic location) and discussing financial details of their situation.
    – be available for interviews in the next three weeks.

    If this describes you or someone you know who is interested in being featured in a national magazine, please contact me at your earliest convenience by email at regclodfelter@gmail.com. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

    Thank you for your time,

    Reg Clodfelter

  17. Kate B

    I forgot all about this entry in the Guest Blogging contest years ago and, now that I have left Germany and am unemployed in my own country, I really needed all these reminders again. It was as if it was written by a complete stranger.

  18. Kate

    I’m not sure I should be tweeting articles I wrote so long ago again today, but I really want people to appreciate who they are.

  19. Kate

    This seems to be the article people like best of all the work I’ve done for Jacob’s Guest Blogging Contests over the years.

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