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Sunday, May 7, 2017

An American's Experience with German Public Healthcare

When I began my master's studies in Germany, I also enrolled in German public healthcare. At that time, I wrote a (somewhat naive) blog post about my first experience with German public healthcare. This is an update to that post.


Since I was a student at the time, I was only paying the student rate for public healthcare (about 80€ per month). Since I also have a chronic disease, I was taking much more out of the public healthcare system than I was putting in.

While most German-taxpayers were compassionate and understanding of my situation, I did piss a few readers off by cheerfully pointing out how the system worked in my favor. They complained that I was taking their money, draining the system, and that I wouldn't be so happy once I had a full-time job.

Well, I am back to tell you that (1) I have a full-time job, (2) 15.6% of my income is paid into the German public healthcare system, (3) I am (usually) paying more into the healthcare system each month than I am taking out of it, and (4) I am okay with it.

First, a few facts about the German public healthcare system:

  • Everyone that makes less than approx. 57,000 EUR (63,000 USD) must enroll in public healthcare
    • If you make more, you can choose to become privately insured (price depends on level of coverage and pre-existing conditions) or continue paying into public healthcare
  • The system insured 71.6 million people in 2016, which is about 88% of the country's population (source)
  • People earning over 850€ per month have to pay 15.5% of their income for public healthcare (8.2% is paid by employee, 7.3% by employer)

This system is widely accepted within Germany, and very few political leaders push for significant reforms. When I was a student in Germany, taking more from the system than I was putting in, I also never heard anything negative about my situation from the Germans that I would speak to about this topic. Germans would generally laugh as I spoke so highly of the public healthcare system, telling me that not paying extra for doctors appointments and prescription medication is how it's supposed to be. 

The entire premise of Breaking Bad is basically a mystery for Germans, and people would often ask me how a person in an industrialized country like the U.S. could go into bankruptcy just because he was diagnosed cancer or got into a car accident.

Solidarity
The principle at play in any publicly-funded healthcare system (whether it be German public healthcare or US Medicare) is solidarity. The healthy will end up paying for (at least some) of the health care services for the sick. The wealthier will pay for services used by the poor.

In the US, the prevailing mindset seems to be, "I don't want to pay for somebody else." For better or worse, people only want to be responsible for themselves and their families. The problem is, of course, that a serious illness or accident that often lead to financial hardship (at best) for middle- to low-income families.


Everyday, I see my American friends and family sharing fundraising pages on Facebook to help someone with their medical bills. Just the fact that this webpage exists is, in my opinion, a sign that the US medical system isn't okay.

Such websites don't exist in Germany because people don't need them. Public healthcare in Germany covers everything*, so insured people would never be financially burdened by medical bills.

There is strength in numbers, and with over 70 million people belonging to (mainly) just a handful of public health insurance providers, healthcare and medication fees can be negotiated strongly. Thus, health spending per capita is significantly lower in Germany than the US.


If you have a solid income, never get seriously sick or injured in your entire life, and you never have any children, is this system benefiting you? No. But the problem is that you cannot predict when you are going to get sick or injured, and (in my experience) Germans are willing to pay for the safety of knowing that should something happen, they are covered.

If you are curious what your net salary would be if you lived in Germany, and how much of it would go towards public healthcare, check out this salary calculator:
http://www.brutto-netto-rechner.info/gehalt/gross_net_calculator_germany.php

*German public healthcare does not cover everything, there are required "co-pays" (e.g. 5€ for a prescriptions, 10€ per day at the hospital), but these are fairly insignificant and would not cause financial hardship.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finding a Full-Time Job in Germany (a Foreigner's Experience)

Hey guys, guess what....


That's right, after graduating with my Master's degree from a German university in December 2016, I finally found a full-time job in my field! In fact, today is my first day at my new job (wish me luck!).

Wanting to be as real with my readers as possible, this post will review my experience with applying to and interviewing for full-time jobs in Germany.

First, the hard facts:
Length of my job search: 3 months
Number of jobs I applied to: 24
Number of interviews: 8
Final job offers: 2

I applied to a few jobs while writing my Master's thesis (Nov-Dec 2016), but I didn't really start putting real effort into the job hunt until the new year. I was also very lucky to have a part-time job contract until March 31, 2016. This meant that I didn't have the pressure of needing to find a job ASAP.

Here is a timeline of all the jobs I applied to, and how far in the application process I made it with each position:


Overall, I was very lucky in my job search. I usually got a response (even if it was a rejection email), and I got quite a few interviews. To better visualize this, here is a pie chart of this data:


I got absolutely no response from 25% of the jobs I applied to. Shame on the businesses that do this! Even if it is just a form email, you should reply to all applicants! It's just common decency!

Speaking of form emails, I got those from 42% of the jobs I replied to. Receiving a rejection email is not a great feeling, but it's better than hanging on to hope for a position that already rejected you without you knowing.

For 33% of all the jobs I applied to, I got at least one interview (usually via phone or Skype). I really hate interviewing for jobs, and the first few interviews went quite horribly. However, I also think I got better at interviewing each time. Which ultimately led to...

...drum roll please...


via GIPHY

...two job offers!!!

My job search reached its peak when I scheduled two second-round interviews for the exact same day -- the first for 1:00 pm and the second for 5:45 pm.


I got to the first interview about an hour early, so I stopped into a cafe next door and had an espresso. This probably wasn't such a great idea, as I was nervous and hadn't yet eaten anything that day. By the time I got to my interview, I was visibly shaking.


Of course I took an elevator selfie on my way up to the 19th floor office.


I was then placed in a beautiful conference room with one of the best views of Hamburg's Altstadt that I had ever seen. They also made a nice first impression with a little spread on the table. Since I was already shaking from my espresso, though, I just stuck with water.


After this interview, which went until about 2 p.m., I then sat in a café for over three hours until it was time for my second interview. The second interview actually ended up being less of a job interview and more of an employment persuasion. I left with an unofficial job offer and the peace of mind of knowing that my job search was finally over!


via GIPHY

The following week, I got final job offers from both of the companies with which I had a second interview, and after a little bit of back and forth, I signed a job contract on March 25th to start on April 18th!

Let me know if you have any questions about finding a job in Germany in the comments below!

P.S. This post was chosen by followers of the Welcome to Germerica Facebook page. Make sure to like my page to stay up-to-date on all things Germerica!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Our Germerican Wedding Reception

I married my German husband on December 30, 2016 in a beautiful wedding ceremony in the Lüneburg Water Tower. After the ceremony, we celebrated our marriage in a small reception in the historic Lüner Mühle - a restaurant and hotel located directly on the river in an old mill built in the 14th century.


The celebration actually began with a short reception on the top of the water tower, which is where we met our guests after the ceremony. Marco's father, an avid flag collector, also gave us our first wedding gift! :D

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

Couples that get married in the Lüneburg water tower also receive a plaque to place at the top of tower. So, we glued our plaque to the side of the viewing platform (make sure to look for it if you ever visit Lüneburg!).

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

After this little reception, we made our way back down, this time taking the stairs through the water tower's basin, which is where this cool picture was taken: 

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

And finally, we made it outside! We then walked with our guests to our reception venue on the other side of the river.

Wedding in Lüneburg Water Tower

German-American Wedding in Lüneburg

Wedding in Lüneburg

Lüneburg Bergström

Lüner Mühle

I created the centerpieces and place cards for the reception together with friends, and I also made double-sided menu cards in English and German. Luckily, our reception venue let us set up these things the night before.

Winter Wedding in Lüneburg

Winter Wedding in Germany

Winter Wedding in Germany

For the sake of our guests' privacy, I do not want to post many pictures from the reception. All you need to know if that the reception was over 12 hours long, there was lots of drinking and dancing, and my husband and I had a great time (which, in my opinion, is the most important)!

German-American wedding

German-American wedding

Hochzeit Mühlensaal Lüneburg Bergström
All photos were taken by Björn Schönfeld

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Germerican Wedding Ceremony


On December 30, 2016, I married my [German] husband in a small civil wedding ceremony in Lüneburg, Germany.

Since we had planned a winter wedding in Northern Germany, we were never expecting nice weather. In fact, the days prior to the wedding were the typical gray, cold, rainy weather we are used to. However, the skies cleared for one single day in late December, and that was the day of our wedding.


The ceremony was held in the city's historic water tower. My husband, Marco, arrived at the venue before me and greeted our guests as they arrived. This was pretty easy considering there were only about 25 of them!


 I made the boutonnieres myself!
I actually walked to the water tower from an apartment my friend Meghan had rented nearby. Of course I forgot my bouquet (which Meghan ran back to the apartment to get), while I got to see my groom for the first time.






I then had a Cinderella moment as my Prince Charming helped me put my heels on, and strangers that were visiting the museum area of the water tower kept taking pictures of us.



Marco then went up to the ceremony room, as I waited downstairs with my father and the officiant. Luckily, my bouquet also arrived during this time (thanks again, Meghan!).

Then, when we were ready, we took the elevator up to the third floor, and my father walked me down the aisle to my husband-to-be.

I made my bouquet myself too!






I do have to admit that the ceremony itself was a little cheesy. Since Lüneburg is such a popular city for weddings, there are three public officiants that spend their days officiating civil wedding ceremonies. Our photographer, Björn Schönfeld, told us that ours is particularly well-known for her over-the-top flowery language. But the bright side was that her speech was so cheesy that I didn't cry (and will probably always remember it)!







And after each saying "ja," we were married! We exchanged rings and signed the marriage certificate immediately afterwards.





And we walked out of the water tower as husband and wife.




Come back next week to see the reception photos!
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