Where did you learn German?

In September 1990, aged 13 I took the decision as I started at Taunton School (having previously been at its then boys only preparatory school (Taunton Junior Boys School)) to take German as a second modern language.

Over the next five years I learned German at school, through to A-Level, with four language exchange visits in Lüneburg in Lower Saxony. I am still in touch with some of the people I met through the exchange 30 years later. Without doubt, those trips to newly re-unified Germany imparted a lot of my early German on me. So Lower Saxony is surely worthy of a flag on my “German language learning map”.

As a triple linguist at A Level – a distinct rarity – (in addition to French and German, I did A Level Latin) it came as no surprise that I then read Modern Languages at University. St Andrews University was the next stop for me in terms of language learning, and in November 1996, I remember having to start thinking about how to spend my Year Abroad during the 1997-98 academic session. I remember having to consider whether I wanted to spend an academic year in the French-speaking world or the German-speaking world.

The lure of New Caledonia or the French-speaking Caribbean was highly tempting, although unlikely to come off, and I was afraid of a similar fate that had met my sister. She had spent three summers working in a hotel in Lisieux, Taunton’s twin town, and was getting a bit sick of Normandy. And then the letter arrived confirming that her placement in a suburb of Caen, Hérouville-St-Clair. I knew France fairly well as I had had several exchanges and work experience in St Brieuc, and I didn’t want to risk that I might return to Britanny, as lovely as it is. So it was to be the German-speaking world for me.

When I chose my Year Abroad destination, the initial choice was between Germany and Austria. Austria was better paid and a country that also excited me as being a Gateway to Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Balkans. A number of other St Andrews students applied for Vienna and Linz as their preferred cities, but I opted for Styria, and stated that I wanted to experience the Forum Stadtpark in Graz. I got Styria but found myself teaching in Judenburg and Murau in Weststeiermark at two vocational schools.

Through a fellow Language Assistant I met on my year abroad, I went off to Brussels for a summer (which became two summers!) and worked for an American telecomms company. I also kept up an act as a stagiaire in a very arcane corner of the European institutions (to ensure party invitations!). When the company I worked for offered me a job for after graduation, I seemed destined to return to Brussels, but I got a call from a colleague who suggested that all was not well at the company, and so I had to chose “Plan B”, which saw me move to Vienna a few weeks after graduation and initially live in a student hall of residence only a kilometre from where I now live with my family.

After moves to the 9th district and then the 5th district (where I spent 11 years!) after doing lots of bits and pieces and a touch of sports administration, I took a 20 hour a week retainer job in the Secretariat of a thinktank housed at the Oesterreichische Nationalbank in April 2003. After promotion to Executive Secretary in 2008, and juggling a part-time position there with working as a freelance translator, I landed the job of translator in the Banking Supervision Department of the Austrian Financial Market Authority (FMA; Finanzmarktaufsichtsbehörde) and have spent over seven years there as its in-house linguist. In 21 years in Vienna, it is safe to say that the city has undoubtedly taught me German, and that I owe a massive linguistic debt to my adopted home.

My final step of going “all in” in Austria was naturalisation in 2018.

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