Germany – My second home
It is now a bit over 20 years since I went to Germany with SAGSE. As a 16 year-old who had never left Australia, the exchange opened up a new world for me and was a key experience in my life. The opportunity to experience Germany “from the inside” for six weeks gave me language skills and cultural understanding that would be difficult to achieve in six months of independent travel. I returned with a good amount of fluency in German (something I would never have thought could be achieved in such a short time) and can still clearly remember many experiences from that time. My host family invested a huge amount of effort in advancing my German language ability and ensuring that I was well introduced to German history and culture (with trips to concerts and the opera as well as Erfurt, Weimar and Berlin) as well as life in Germany generally. They have remained close friends ever since – we are in regular contact, they came to my wedding and I also went to my host brother’s.
My SAGSE exchange experience led to an interest in German language and culture which continues to this day. I went on to study German language and history along with law at university and later moved to Germany where I worked for an international law firm in Frankfurt for more than 5 years. I’m now settled in London working as a lawyer for a Swiss investment bank – speaking and working in German (although sometimes the Swiss variety) remains part of daily life. I remain a frequent visitor to the German-speaking world both for work and pleasure. There is always something to draw me back – Christmas markets, skiing in winter, the Austrian lakes in summer and Oktoberfest in Autumn.
Much has changed since 1993, but the format of the SAGSE exchange is largely the same today. I have accompanied a number of SAGSE groups in Germany over the years. Communication with home and around the world is much easier in the era of smartphones and internet, particularly compared with my time on exchange when communication home was by letter and a weekly five minute phone call. The reaction of SAGSE students to their time in Germany remains very much the same – it is an unforgettable experience.
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A dream comes true: Ben’s story
Ben Fajzullin left the beaches of Brisbane for the cold of Germany and his dream job abroad. His story is an inspiration for all learners of German.
After graduating from the Church of England Grammar School, Brisbane, Ben decided to pursue his goal of working in Germany. He began by teaching English to Germans, returning to Australia to work as the nightly Newsreader on SBS. He left Australia for Berlin to become Senior Business Editor for Deutsche Welle News. He reports regularly on various topics of interest from all over the world, reaching the global community and gaining many followers in the process. Ben is an inspiration to us all, especially for learners of German.
From Brisbane to Berlin
Taking an early interest in a foreign language was the best thing I did in school. The older you get, the harder it is to master one! And German grammar is a nightmare. But doctors say learning another language can do all sorts of wonders: boost creativity, stave off dementia, even make you a better negotiator.
German landed me a job as an international TV anchor. It’s what I always wanted to do as a journalist and beats having to cover stories about cats up trees! It was all thanks to SAGSE. After a year of German classes, I decided I’d travel to Germany once finished school, to try learning the language properly. And SAGSE took me on.
The exchange opened my eyes to a whole new world – a lot more than just the language. New ways of doing things, new ways of perceiving life, tolerance, travel, different food, opinions, endless opportunities and so much more than I knew existed. Six or seven weeks were definitely not enough.
After university I returned to Germany as a SAGSE committee member, accompanying a student exchange group. And after five years of work as a radio reporter and presenter in Australia, I jumped at the opportunity to move to Germany. That’s when the real adventure started!
Dreams come true in Berlin
His life changed when as he grabbed the opportunity to move to Berlin and work as a business journalist for Deutsche Welle, hosting the TV shows Journal and Made in Germany.
Listen to Ben explaining what it’s like working for Deutsche Welle in an interesting video here.
… and his impressions of life, living and working in Germany?
“I think it is great that old traditions and values still mean something in Germany. The liberal-minded Germans and their openness and ability to be so direct is really impressive. Being in the heart of Europe and living among so many different cultures and languages is also great.”
And Ben now feels at home in Germany: But along with the country and its people, he also likes German cooking. Rheinischer Sauerbraten and Düsseldorfer Senfrostbraten are his favorites.
“But you can’t beat a good Aussie meat pie with tomato sauce. Pavlova is also a winner – with fresh strawberries and cream! And the mangoes Down Under are the best in the world.”
“I love telling stories, whether they’re mine or someone else’s.”
Throughout his career as a reporter, TV and radio host, he worked at many challenging events. A highlight was reporting as a sports journalist from the FIFA World Cup in 2006.
“I’d always wanted to make sure I went to at least one big football match while I was here in Germany, but to go to a dozen and report on them was amazing.”
It was especially challenging to cover politics. “My most challenging assignment was the 1998 waterfront dispute in Australia, which was a watershed in Australian industrial relations. As a young radio reporter down at the picket line in Brisbane for months, it was difficult to come up with a new lead every half hour for the news. And it wasn’t the easiest having striking workers spit and throw things at my car, after one of our station’s hosts accused them of being ‘lazy bludgers’.”
Ben is now an accomplished journalist with international experience. But he knows that it is the simple things that mean a lot.
“Health, wealth and happiness, as my grandfather always said – although the health and happiness parts are a lot more important.”
And when all of his goals have been reached, he will start working on his dream: “To have a little house one day, somewhere in the world, right on the beach – with a mango tree and avocadoes.”
Find out more about Ben:
Written by Linda Mains, Brisbane
Webmaster Peter H Bloecker, Gold Coast