Today I had my integration placement test in the volkshochschule (VHS) – adult continuing education – where I was lumped together with random people that also needed to begin integration. Each person was given a number as we entered the room. I was number 542. We all sat down at individual desks that were uncomfortable for someone my hight. The introduction to the class was given by a German speaking woman who spoke very slowly and deliberately. Along with speaking she wrote on a flip chart what she said, and the contents was a brief description of the classes, the exam, and well, the overall process that we were entering into.
Names were read out from an attendance list, and of the 20 people present there were, judging from the names on the list, 17 people from Arab background, one from Japan and one from Eastern Europe – and me. All were men, besides the one Eastern European woman (and her teenage daughter who was there for ‘moral support’). What was interesting for me was that an interpreter was present to help translate the German instructions into Arabic.
We started off with a simple test of copying out a short paragraph to determine the writing ability of the students. There were some who had difficulty and others who did not put pen to paper as, I assume, they were illiterate, and asked for assistance to write their forms out. The class was thus divided and those who needed extra help left with the Arabic interpreter. The several others continued on with a longer written test that lasted for 30 minutes. There were some multiple choice answers as well as fill in the blanks. The exam was about 50 questions in length and I struggled to make it to number 38 when my own paper was taken away after the thirty minutes. I felt reasonably good about my answers, as some I could find within other questions a few pages into the exam. What surprised me was the panic of many of the other test takers. Anger that they had to finish one fellow held onto his exam and wildly checked off boxes at random. During the exam itself the Japanese man spent time looking up words on his phone while the Eastern European woman stated that she did not have her reading glasses and that her (fluent in German) daughter would need to help her along. These actions concerned me, as they really don’t put those at any advantage. Cheating on your test might get you into a higher class grouping, but really, once there, I can imagine them struggling as they find themselves out of pace with the rest of the class.
In the end, after the speaking test I was told that I did very well and will be informed about what level I shall need to begin with for further language classes and the integration material. Geography, politics and social activities will be part of the instruction, but I am still convinced that most of the class besides the language instruction will be about what to put in the Gelber Sac – the Yellow Sack that is collected at the curb that contains all sorts of items. Not one city has the same rules about what can go into the sack, and so it is a German mystery that propagates its own urban legends of minions sorting out recycling from non-recyclables, or if the whole thing is simply chucked into a furnace and burnt for electrical power.