My full name is Fernando Andrés Franco Alas. Fernando Andrés are my given names, Franco is the first family name of my father and Alas is the first family name of my mother. I learned fast (mostly because of the faces of the unlucky ones who had to read my name) that it’s not common in Germany to see such a long name. That’s why this little explanation is, in my opinion, not only useful but almost necessary. I am 23 years old and I was born in the small but beautiful country of El Salvador, where I studied in the German School from 1997 until 2012.
After I graduated from school, I attended university for six months. These six months were a trial period for me. I had to prove my parents I was a responsible and diligent man who was ready to study abroad, almost completely by myself. Not much time later, I applied and received my acceptance letter from the Philipps-Universität Marburg for the “Studienkolleg”. Studienkolleg is a form of preparatory courses for those willing to study at a university in Germany. It usually lasts for one year, which is equivalent to two semesters, with the possibility of repeating only one semester. It is divided into 4 courses, each with varying subjects and depending on one’s choice of future studies, which are as follows: T course (mathematical, science or technical degrees), M course (medical, biological and pharmaceutical degrees), W course (business, economic and social science degrees) and G course (humanity degrees or German studies).
That’s when my journey in Germany started in March 2013. But before talking about my experience in Germany, let me explain why I (and many others) decided to leave my beloved country.
Data of El Salvador
Four are the things I hear the most when I tell people from where I come: “Where in Spain is that?”, “Where in Mexico is that”, “Oh, south America” and “Yes I know, Brazil” (there is a city in Brazil named Salvador). El Salvador is a small nation situated on the Pacific coast of Central America. It is the smallest of the Central American countries, with an area equal to that of Hessen! (21,000 km2 approximately).
El Salvador being so small, is one of the advantages the country has. You could spend the morning surfing on the same beaches where world championships take place and climb a volcano in the afternoon. The next day could start hiking the mountains and it could end swimming in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, placed on the top of another volcano. The variety of natural beauties in such a small area is what makes it so beautiful. In addition, the climate just makes everything better. The Pacific lowlands are the hottest region, with annual averages ranging from 25 to 29 °C. San Salvador is representative of the central plateau, with an annual average temperature of 23 °C. I would like to underline the words “annual” and “average”.
Salvadorians are as warmth as our climate. We are very social and hardworking people. Despite all the adversities there is always a smile on our faces and the willingness to move forward. We are also characterized by our kindness and hospitality. Music and sports, specially soccer, play a significant role in our culture. And there is nothing we enjoy more than eating Pupusas, which are thick, griddled “tortillas” with a savory filling such as cheese (special cheese), beans (mashed beans), pork, etc.
If you click here you will be able to watch an excellent video made by a friend of mine, so you can appreciate better some of the beauties I am telling you about:
So, with such amazing and heavenly conditions, what led me to leave my country? I am sure the following comparisons will help you understand.
First, finding a job in El Salvador is an arduous challenge. The country has an unemployment rate of 5,5%. On the other hand, Germany has an unemployment rate of 3,6%. Besides, the minimum wage in in the Central American nation is approximately 270 $ (230 €) per month. Whereas in Germany it’s about 1.500 € per month. I would say it’s a pretty significant difference. But here comes the most frightening data: El Salvador has a murder rate of 108.64 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants per year. In Germany are murdered 0.85 per 100.000 inhabitants per year. So, it was not about whether I wanted to leave Central America or not, it was rather that I had to leave if I had the chance.
My experience in Germany
I came to Germany being 18 years old. As someone of legal age and at this age in particularly, I felt I was a mature adult with nothing else to learn. Of course, I couldn’t be more wrong. My experience in Germany has helped me grow in so many ways it’s almost indescribable. But I will try to explain why and how that is.
As mentioned before, I studied in the German School in San Salvador (capital city of El Salvador). The school had self-evident a German system, with German teachers, directors and so on. I spent 12 years hearing, speaking and learning the language in this environment. So, anyone could think that already in Germany there wouldn´t be any inconvenient with the language. I set one foot in the European country and the past 12 years seemed to disappear. It’s one thing to speak with professionals who know German is not your mother language and it’s another one to speak on a day-t
o-day basis. I had to ask everyone to repeat the things three times until I finally understood. But after many awkward conversations I was finally able to have normal ones.
Obviously, studying at the THM has helped me improve my language and it has helped me get familiarize with Germany. On my first introductory day, I remember being a little nervous about being a foreigner student among Germans. They all seemed to already have their groups of friends and my thoughts were that it would be a little bit difficult for me to fit in. But luckily, two cool guys approached to me that day and we have been friends ever since. They were always willing to help me with every question I had. At the beginning it was a little hard getting used to the system. For example, when and where do you register for exams, classes, tutorials, etc.? Or the fact that you only write one exam per subject per semester. Once again, my German classmates seemed to know everything, and I had the feeling of staying behind. The lectures were also tough to understand because of the technical terms. But with the time it all became a habit. The process has not been that hard though, because the THM has things to offer that in El Salvador you can only dream of. One of these things that impressed me the most are the facilities. But the most important one in my opinion is the intercultural presence. But I will get later to that point.
In El Salvador, I have never used the public transportation because of the criminality and insecurity. I drove everywhere I went. Therefore, the S-Bahn and bus system were completely new for me. Moreover, it was the first time living by myself and knowing how to cook, use the wash machine and pay the bills are obviously a must. In general terms, I developed a higher sense of responsibility as well as a better emotional intelligence, since my family and me are an ocean apart.
Among all these awesome experiences, the most enriching one is to get to know wonderful people from all around the world. I have friends from diverse cultures, backgrounds and religions. But I can assure you that despite the different cultural background we get along very well. I am proud to have friends from the middle east, south America and Europe. It has helped me understand, help and open up to new people and cultures, allowing me to understand and appreciate myself and my own culture. Because of these reasons, I can affirm that my experience in Germany has been nothing but an amazing adventure in which I am still growing and learning.