Expat Essentials

Laura Kaye in Berlin: The expat’s essential guide to the German integration course, Pt. 1

(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of Laura Kaye’s series detailing how to get into, then make the most of, the German integration course.)

I have a confession to make…

I’ve spent the majority of my time here in Berlin as one of “those” expats. You know, the types that largely subsist within the safety of their expat bubble. The sort that would rather spend an hour commuting across the city to find an English-speaking exercise class, rather than face the horror of attempting to converse with other people auf Deutsch at the class on offer ’round the corner.

It’s not indifference or closed-mindedness that’s prevented me from properly integrating into German society over these last few years. No, it’s a crippling fear of having to decline German adjectives –.at speed – in front of other human beings. Cringe!

But 10 months ago, all that was about to change! After having settled my son into kindergarten (bilingual of course, so that I could avoid having to speak to his teachers in my horrendous broken German), I found myself for the first time since arriving in Germany, with enough free time to take an intensive German course. Toll!

If you’re reading this, then you’ve most likely heard that taking an Integrationskurs (integration course) or a Deutsch als Fremdsprache (German as a foreign language) course at the Volkshochschule (VHS) is a very cheap way to learn German quickly. Or perhaps you’ve been told that an integration course is a prerequisite for your visa, or that you need to complete it in order to become a naturalized German citizen.

Walking you through the process

After having completed an integration course at the VHS in Berlin, I’m here to share my experience to help you decide whether this is where you want to invest the precious time you’ve set aside for learning German. I’m also going to share a few tips for finding and enrolling on a course, give you an idea of what to expect when taking the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer Prüfung (German test for foreigners exam), and explain the options available if you want to continue to learn German at the VHS once your integration course is finished.

Note that, since the VHS isn’t centrally administered, my experience here in Berlin might be a little different to those taking courses in other parts of Germany.

First things first

So first thing’s first: What is the Volkshochschule? And what is the Integrationskurs?

The VHS or “folk high school” is basically the German version of a community college. VHS schools can be found all across Germany, and there are usually several schools per neighbourhood in larger cities. They offer a wide variety of classes for adults on subjects ranging from sewing to computer programming. Here in multi-kulti Berlin, the integration course and subsequent “German as a foreign language” courses are amongst their most popular. Natürlich!

The Integrationskurs is overseen and subsidised by BAMF (the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees), and is designed to “promote the integration of immigrants with regard to social participation and equal opportunities.”. It includes language classes up to B1 level, and an Orientierungskurs (orientation course) that covers aspects of Germany’s history, culture and legal system.

The total course consists of up to 600 hours of language classes, and the 100-hour orientation course. There are also specialist courses for particular groups of people such as parents, young people, and people with additional literacy needs.

If you already speak a little German as I did, you can begin the course part way through at the level that’s right for you. As well as the VHS, there are also a number of private schools that offer the subsidised course

You might qualify  to take an integration course if you are:

  • a foreign national who has already been living in Germany for a long time.
  • a recent immigrant with permanent residence for work purposes, or if you have immigrated for the purpose of family reunification, for humanitarian reasons or a settlement permit.
  • an EU citizen living in Germany.
  • a repatriate to Germany or the family member of a repatriate.
  • a German citizen of foreign origin without adequate knowledge of German.

The class is subsidised for qualifying applicants, with classes costing a maximum of €1.95 per hour. Günstig, oder? Anyone receiving social assistance or unemployment benefits might also be able to take the course at a further reduced fee, or even for free!

Whatsmore, if you complete the course within two years of registering, you may qualify to claim back 50 percent of any contributions you’ve paid toward the course fee (just in case you needed an additional incentive to finish).

If you find that you don’t meet the requirements to take a subsidised Integrationskurs, have no fear! You may be able to take the exact same classes at the VHS as a private student for just €2.05 per hour, providing there’s enough space on the course. The process for finding and registering for the classes is largely the same.

So once you know you want to take a course with the VHS, how do you go about registering?

I’ll admit, finding and registering for a course definitely wasn’t the most intuitive process. In fact, some might argue that your orientation really begins at this point, as you figure out how to navigate a somewhat bureaucratic application process.

So that’s what we’ll cover in Part 2. Stay tuned ….

About the author:

Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.

Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.

More posts by Laura Kay

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Everyone loses – employers, families and kids – as Kitaplatz waiting lists grow in Berlin

Having a baby in Berlin: Medicine, rather than modesty, is the aim of the game in Germany

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 2: Learning German whilst pregnant so we’re not ‘those expats’

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 3: A Berliner is born, and the German benefits you need to know about

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