I'm sure some of you want to know now what I’m doing all day long when Michael is at work, working on his computer. At the moment, I’m still exploring the closer area and need to deal with the bureaucratic stuff. Living in America, respectively California, you can’t go without two things:
1) The social security number (SSN) 2) The California driver’s license.
Since there is no national ID card in the U.S., you need both the driver’s license and the SSN to identify yourself. However, the problem is that you only get a SSN if you’re either an American citizen or if you are, as Michael is, employed in the U.S., neither one does apply to me. Unfortunately, you need the SSN for almost anything (to open a bank account, to attend a course at a public college, to get a California driver license and so on). You’re not a person if you don’t have an SSN.
In my case, we had to do it like this: First of all, I had to pass the theoretical exam for the driver's license. With the certificate of having passed the theoretical exam, I could then apply for the SSN since, which in turn is required for taking the practical exam for the driver's licence. The SSN has since been sent to me, now I can finally take the practical test for the driver’s license. My test is due on February 8th and Michael keeps on teasing me on a daily basis that I’m not gonna pass it.
Both foreigners and American citizens have to pass the exam for the California driver’s license. Citizens even have to pass it again if they move here from a different state. Usually, Americans don’t have to take the practical test, however. Those of you who think the written exam is easy might be in for a surprise. I really had to study for it and the practical test not only consists of driving around on a parking lot but, it’s a real driving test in traffic. Michael even had to turn within three moves on a street. To get you an idea of how my theoretical exam was like, I put a variation of the questions below. (They said I could take the questionnaire home with me).
1. You are driver of a slow-moving vehicle on a curvy road with only one lane in each direction. You have to pull over and stop when it’s safe to do so and let other drivers pass if a certain number of vehicles is following:
+ 3 vehicles + 4 vehicles + 5 vehicles
2. When you arrive at a corner (an intersection) with a flashing yellow light you have to: +stop before passing the intersection + wait fort he green light + decelerate and cross the intersection with considerately.
So, would you have known the answers? The test was in German, by the way. It seems that you can choose any language for the theoretical exam. In San Francisco, there’s plenty of people who are living here but who aren’t able to speak English. The neighborhood next to us is called "The Mission" and only consists of Spanish speaking immigrants. If you go to a restaurant there, it is quite likely that you have to order in Spanish.
I have been going to college for an English course in this quarter since February 21st. It’s called "English as a Second Language" and it’s provided by the City College. You could compare the City College to the German "Volkshochschule". A difference, though, is that it’s also a kind of vocational school meaning you could also become a nurse there for instance. The course "English as a second language" is offered for free. In order to take the course, you first have to do an orientation test.
To perform this test was really quite the event for me. Including me, there were approximately 30 people taking the test. Among these, 25 were Spanish speakers, and that’s why the explanations were translated to Spanish. From time to time, the teachers forgot that about 5 people in the classroom didn’t understand a word of Spanish. Consequently, we often had to ask for an English explanation. Many of the participants had already been living in the U.S. for five years and more, but hardly spoke a word of English.
The test was kind of a reading exercise, meaning you had to read a story and then fill in the gaps in another text we were handed afterwards. That is to say, the test was about comprehension and grammar. The first text was really easy. If you passed it, you had to take a second, more difficult text. I accomplished a level 8 out of 8, what a show-off I am!) and I realized that our education system in Germany is frankly not that bad.
With my stellar test results, I am now allowed to take any course at City College, theoretically I could even attend the nursing class. I'll stick with my English course, though. They're providing an intensive course for level 7/8 that is held for two hours each day from Monday through Friday. The course goes on for a semester (from January through May). So, I'm going there every day. It’s really fun. My class consists of 24 people from all over the world. Mostly, it’s people from Mexico and El Salvador. We're working with a real exercise book and we even get homework from time to times. It really is like school. But I'm learnng a lot and I enjoy being around people.
And what’s going on the weekends? I have to admit, we’re always on tour: Either we're visiting San Fracisco, or we're exploring the nearby areas. For example, we spent a weekend with Sylvia and Richard in Napa Valley und did some wine tasting recently, and on another weekend we were driving on highway 1 along the ocean to enjoy the beautiful views of the landscape. Since we don’t own a car yet, we usually rent one for these trips. That’s also because renting a car in the U.S. is not that expensive. There’s definitely innumerable things to do and it’s a lot of fun to go on discovery trips on the weekends. Mostly, I love the ocean, and I still can’t believe that it is located so close to our house.
What I miss is my job, the children I worked with and even though I can volunteer in social institutions here it’s not comparable to my old job at Domus in Munich.
Alright, you left-behinds. Keep us in memory and write us a letter! Although San Francisco is very appealing and exciting, as an expat sometimes you become homesick (and I do a lot).
Angelika and Michael
Thanks to Boris Kleinbach, firstname.lastname@example.org for translating the original German text to English.