Life Abroad

Carnival In Germany: Where Idiosyncratic Disparty Unites

Carnival In Germany: Where Idiosyncratic Disparty Unites

The pre-Lent long-running celebrations, known as Carnival/Karneval/Fasching/“Fifth Season” frenzy, is about to kickoff here in Germany with announcements of this year’s Carnival programme, stores displaying on rows and rows of eclectic costumes for tots to geriatrics, and people getting excited over it – of course!

When is Carnival in Germany?

Although the Carnival season opens on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year at 11:11, the full-blown show do not take off until about a week before Ash Wednesday. This year 2018, it’s slated for Feb 8th (Weiberfastnacht – Women’s Carnival) through Feb 12th (Rosenmontag – the Carnival’s highlight). So if you are planning to visit Germany during this time and considering to take part, get yourselves ready for excessive eating, drinking, and merry-making.

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Posted by Sarah in Life Abroad, Travel Stories, 10 comments
In Retrospect: First year in Deustchland

In Retrospect: First year in Deustchland

Is it a year already? No way. Wow. Really? It doesn’t feel like it, but I better believe it. I don’t know if I can look back without feeling a little bit emotional over the past year. Leaving my family in the Philippines to start a family of my own, finding my bearings again, and entering a new phase in my life, which I had been looking forward to for quite a long time until it finally happened. Although I never doubted if I was in the right place, at times it gets overwhelming trying to take all the heightened emotions at once and processing my reality now. Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah in Life Abroad, Musings, 4 comments
How to Pass the German A1 Level Exam Through Self Study

How to Pass the German A1 Level Exam Through Self Study

Let me guess why you are here. Are you here because you’re also wondering why, out all the countries in the world that could have a language requirement to obtain a spouse or au pair visa, it has to be Germany? I’m afraid the answer to that – and to all the peculiar rules Germany has – is that it’s just the way things are. You may not be able change it, but there are definitely ways on how you can pass the German A1 level exam or the Goethe-Zertifikat A1. You just need to have a lot of dedication and a little faith in yourself.

You see, at one point in my life, I needed it so bad like my whole life depended on it. It was the last requirement I had to submit to finally be together with my husband, so I never ever entertained the thought of failing; it’s not an option. I was fixated on nailing it and ta-dah, I did!

I believe taking the course would’ve definitely been more efficient and advantageous, but I didn’t have enough time to travel to Goethe Institut in Makati everyday for a month to sit in a class and complete the language course; besides the fact that the cost to enroll myself in an intensive course can be quite steep. That’s the reason why I decided to study by myself and learn more than the few phrases I know. So if you’re in the same position right now, take it upon yourself to create a daily schedule of your at-home lessons and stick to it.

Say you only have a month before you take the exam, here’s what you need to do: HUSTLE! It can be done even with 2 weeks preparation, but know that cramming is never a good idea! You’d be under too much stress, hardly anything will get into your head. Please give yourself at least a month to study. It’s no joke, learning German is tough if you don’t have the knack for learning languages or you can’t rely on your memory anymore like when you were younger! It’s time to get serious, so… los geht’s!

Learning German

Allot enough time to study

Although it really depends on your ability to learn things quickly, I would recommend spending no less than an hour a day for an entire month if you’re working and have other things to do like most of us. Just try to make time for it and develop a habit of studying during whichever part of the day you decide to open those study materials. While some people swear by studying first thing in the morning and others tend to be more focused at night, you must know what works best for you.

Gather your study materials

I’ve utilized the Internet to gather all the German A1 Exam study materials I could find and trimmed down my list to what I think would be helpful for me. There is way too much information available online that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose your mind trying to figure out what you need and should pick. Been there, done that. So I am saving you from all of that by giving you the ones that worked for me.

Vocabulary exercises:

Now, if you’ve got a smartphone and desktop/laptop computer, you should download and register for these applications for free.

Duolingo – The app won’t teach you German grammar, but it will help you get acquainted with words and phrases you would normally encounter in basic daily conversations in German. It also helps you to learn consistently by recording your progress, setting a daily goal and pushing you to keep your “learning streak” by rewarding you with points to be used for cool things to be used within the app and to bring you to the top if you’re feeling competitive with your friends who are already using Duolingo.

I find it very handy and make it easier to learn while you’re on your way to work (if you’re not driving, of course!) and during your break time/s. They have offline mode for Android and iOS, too! So even without an internet connection, there’s no stopping you!


Memrise and Tinycards (by Duolingo) – If you believe that repetition is the mother of all learning, then you can definitely pick up useful vocabulary with these. With Memrise, you can set your own daily goals and mark certain words you’d like to practice more so it shows up a lot until it gets into your head. Tinycards is pretty new and basically uses flashcards to help you memorize the words. I’d say go for the latter if you are a visual person like me! I love flashcards!

Memrise Dashboard

Grammar lessons:

Those new vocabulary that you have amassed won’t be much of use if you don’t know how to form a sentence or communicate with it, right? Grammar books bore me, so I’m thanking God for the existence of grammar lessons on Youtube!

There are more than a handful of individuals who have graciously uploaded their content online to help you learn German (and other languages), but I think it’s important to just follow a lesson plan outline of one – unless he/she isn’t covering an area that you want to learn.

Among all those whose videos I’ve seen, I personally like the teaching style of these two:

German with Anya – entertaining and comprehensive lessons

German with Jenny – excellent explanations and examples

As you can see, these two teachers/tutors have spent so much of their time preparing these lessons to give everyone the chance to learn German for free in the confines of their home, at their own pace, in their own time. All you need is to sit through ALL the A1 German Lessons. It’s also a plus that they have compiled their A1 lessons into a single playlist – so you won’t have to go through all their materials guessing which lessons are for A1 level.

Grammar and workbooks: 

I’ve had this Grammar book for quite some time, but I never really read it until I got my exam schedule. If you truly want to understand German grammar right now and in the looong run, I recommend you get this Essential German Grammar book. This will definitely have answer to ANY of your grammatical questions. If you have more than enough time to study, grab one for yourself.

Essential German Grammar Book

Although I didn’t purchase the Fit fürs Goether-Zertifikat A1 book below, someone who also successfully passed the A1 Exam recommended it to me. When I previewed it, the book seemed to include some sample worksheets at the end of every chapter/lesson. Forgive me if I don’t have much of an opinion about it, but positive reviews tell you it should be worth your investment!

Fit fürs Goethe-Zertifikat A1 Book

Train Your Ears

If you have taken any language course or exam in the past, you already know that language examinations are usually divided into four parts, namely Reading, Listening Comprehension, Writing, and Speaking. You also know that the tough parts are always the listening and speaking. Oh yes, even after passing the exam – that continues to be my problem! The hurdles to fluency.

In the exam, you will be asked to listen to announcements on the radio, phone call conversations and more. You need to understand what they’re saying to be able to answer the questions on your exam sheet correctly. Same thing with the oral exam, if you have no idea what the other person is talking about, guaranteed that it would trip you up if you were not someone who makes lucky guesses!

I believe that speaking is 50% listening. You have to train your ears to daily conversations in German language. Expose yourself to the language as much as you possibly can. Listen to listening comprehension sample exams on Youtube, add German songs to your Spotify, watch movies in German (with English subtitles please!) and practice speaking with a local or someone who knows the language well.

People have found success in using iTalki to boost their confidence in speaking the language by getting 1-on-1 online lessons with native language teachers. Maybe that’s something you might consider enrolling yourself in.

See? There’s really no secret to it but hard work! Don’t give yourself a choice. Your longing to be with your loved one or to finally complete all the requirements to get that visa should give you enough motivation to really push yourself to get that game face on. You got this! Viel Erfolg!

As for me, the next challenge awaits! I’ll let you know what the Germans think of my novice communication skills so far once my assessment exam is over.

Posted by Sarah in Life Abroad, 22 comments
Moving Abroad Checklist: Preparing for Your Big Move

Moving Abroad Checklist: Preparing for Your Big Move

Perhaps you are just looking for a fresh start somewhere new, falling in love with the idea of living in one of your dream destinations or finally joining your partner or a family member where they were assigned to work. Which ever is the case, my goal is to make it as fuss-free as possible for you to transition from your comfort zone to a foreign soil. So let’s get started.

Moving Abroad Checklist


When I first decided to move and work overseas, it didn’t take long for me to realize there was a mound of things I needed to do and I didn’t have much time to prepare for everything. In spite of being young (and stupid), my inclination to take calculated risks whisked me away from possible hitches. Now on my second “big” move, I had more than enough time to build a checklist that will save me from headaches in the future. If you feel that you may still be missing a few more important things before you take the leap, use this as your guide!

Airport Scene - People with Luggages

Visit your target destination

Minimize or eliminate culture shock by taking a trip to the country you want to live in. Get acquainted with the people, culture and your options to allow you to live decently – job opportunities, for example. Explore and see if it’s a place you can imagine yourself being a part of. When you visit a place on a vacation, you can be less scrutinizing and mindful and that’s okay, but not when you have the intention of abandoning everything to live there. Try to get more than the feel of the place.

Secure a place to stay

I believe this is one of the most known yet overlooked things when you start planning things out. If you think it’s easy to find an apartment once you get there, you could be wrong. You wouldn’t want to put this aside and house hunt at the last minute or you might soon find yourself among the homeless. Gather all the apartment rental search engine sites catering to the area you’re looking into that you find online or your friends recommend. If you have a close friend whose tastes and instincts you trust and lives nearby, ask if they could have a look at some places and reserve one for you once you’ve found something that meets your requirements. I highly recommend having someone look at the place first and talk to the landlords before confirming anything. However, if you do not know anyone from there – just be very careful with the people you deal with online. Look for the tell tale signs of a rental scam.

Learn the language (if it’s not English)

Learning the language of a country where English is not widely spoken will be very beneficial to get yourself out of stressful situations such as wanting to know when the next train is going to arrive as you’ve been waiting for more than an hour and nobody seems to understand what you’re trying to say. You don’t have to be an expert before even arriving, but arm yourself with key useful phrases. If they still couldn’t understand you because your accent isn’t quite right, well, make sure you wrote the phrase on a piece of paper and nicely ask them to read it. Some people do not appreciate this, so this should be your last resort. In the long run, learning another language will only give you more confidence around locals and make you feel more at ease as you will be able to easily communicate with them – and finally understand what’s going on.

Join local/expat forums or communities

You might be thinking, “Oh no, I have to make friends again!” Unless you are a sociopath, you have that inborn need to be around people who you can bond over shared interests and eventually become friends with. Where exactly do you find them? If you’re working, you may meet colleagues who are in the same boat and ready to socialize. But if you’re working from home, that’s when you utilize the power of the web. Sign up with local online communities or join forum discussions focused on your city, connect with individuals and attend events or activities they might have once you’ve arrived and settled in.

Moving Abroad - Bags

Pack the things you can’t live without (apart from your family, friends and pets you’re leaving behind)

It’s time to start thinking of things to bring with you and getting rid of redundant ones – segregate them by importance. I’ve learned to live minimally through the years so I didn’t really have much to work with. But for some of you who have accumulated a collection of shoes, bags, name it, you may find it hard to sort it out or part ways with it. So the earlier you think of how to deal with this, the easier it will be to know which will go into either your luggage, storage space or someone else’s care. I find that creating a packing list of all your essentials helps a lot. Don’t tell me you need bring everything! It’s hard to let go, but you have to.

Start shipping things that can’t fit into your check in luggage

Now it’s sorted, but not everything can fit into your luggage allowance. You still have a few boxes to ship over! If you don’t have what they call an “expat package” for your material possessions when moving abroad, you have to settle international shipping yourself and this can be costly! List down your courier or forwarding service options, compare prices and read reviews. If you’re going to leave some important stuff and you don’t have a friend or a family member to take care of it, consider renting a storage space.

Prepare your passport, visas and other requirements

Inquire with government agencies in charge of emigration and foreign affairs in your country for all the requirements you need to complete before you are cleared to jet off. Allow ample time to prepare everything before your intended date of departure. Some processes can run a lot longer than you expect, so have a lot of patience!

Get a travel health insurance

Depending on your plans, you might need to talk to a local health insurance company about plans and coverage before leaving such as when you are only doing a working holiday somewhere or accepting a temporary contract for a year. If you possess a work or fiancé/spouse visa, this has to be done by your employer or your spouse. Either way, you need to have a health insurance no matter what!

Driving through Germany

Test the roads with a proper driving license

Many countries have what they call “mutual recognition” agreement concerning driving licenses, while some allow you to drive with your international driving license for a number of months up to a year. After a year, it’s possible that you can simply exchange your license for a locally issued one or still be required to take the complete driving course, written exam, driving tests – or all of the above. Just so you’re completely informed, check with the agency that covers this.

Make sure you have all your documents (school certificates, work recommendations files, marriage certificates, insurance policies, etc.)

Don’t leave anything out – even the ones you think you may not need. You never know when an instance might come that may demand you to show any of these. It’s better that you keep all of your important documents in one place so it’s easy to file and find them.

Book your flights

As soon as you have your visa with you, you can keep your eyes peeled on the flight search engines. If you know the best times to book your flight tickets, maybe you’ll still be able to score a perfect flight time and connection at a reasonable price! Don’t wait until the last minute before you look into flights! Only few get lucky with that one!

Make an appointment with your doctor and do a full executive check up

This is highly advisable for working holiday visa holders who want to make sure they’re in top condition before participating in a series of activities on your semi-traveling year. It’s best to know your fitness level and if there are existing conditions you may have to know how to take care of yourself! Remember, prevention is always better than the cure! Most travel insurances only cover accidents meeting certain conditions, so please take note of those.

Think about banking matters

Visit your local bank to inform them that you’re moving overseas as some banks lock your account when you try to access it somewhere else in the world. They will also be able to advise you on ways to manage and access your accounts while overseas as well as answer your inquiries regarding overseas withdrawal fees and such.

Settle your payables

Terminate or transfer accounts for utilities and other postpaid accounts and pay the remainder bills or fees that come with it so you won’t have to bother anyone to settle it for you. Normally, only you will be able to do that anyway because you personally have to sign documents to get this done.

Make sure your phone is unlocked

Communication is important so make sure your phone can work on any phone network in any country! It will be an unnecessary expense and hassle when you suddenly find out you’re phone is useless without a network signal. Also, if you have another phone which you plan on using your local SIM card with, activate the roaming function when you’re not sure whether it does it automatically or not.

Let the gang know you’re leaving

How time flies when you’re caught up with so many other things, doesn’t it? There are even times you tend to skip on the ones you will be missing the most – your family and friends. Expect that everyone you have told the big news to will be wanting to see you (sometimes, over and over again) JUST a few weeks or days before your flight. You won’t be seeing them for a while, so make time for them! If you’re big on throwing parties, it will surely be fun to plan a farewell party with your family and friends. This shouldn’t take much of your time to organize and invite people. The ones who care about you will show up even without an invitation to a party! Now it’s time to say your goodbyes and wipe those tears off those hopeful eyes looking ahead to a new adventure!

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Posted by Sarah in Life Abroad, Lists, 7 comments