Pre-integration at the Goethe-Institut: the example of Vietnam

“I only need to pass the B1 certificate to get my visa for an apprenticeship contract in Germany. I can always learn to speak German properly later.” “I don’t have to engage with German culture before I migrate to Germany, because once I’m there I’ll soon get used to it automatically.” The employees at the Goethe-Institut Hanoi spend their working days finding out what’s behind ideas and opinions like this, as well as preparing Vietnamese people for life in Germany.

By Janna Degener-Storr

The South-East Asian country of Vietnam is around ten thousand kilometres away, and many Germans only know it as a holiday destination – if at all. And the majority of Vietnamese citizens preparing for migration to Germany in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City probably only have a vague idea of what it means to live in Cologne, Greifswald or Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Twelve years of experience

Pre-integration experts at the Goethe-Institutes began developing services to change this back in 2008. Since then, anyone considering emigration to Germany can take advantage of free advice sessions, information events and seminars, as well as a range of online services.

For example the booklet “Eine kleine Starthilfe für den Krankenhausalltag in Deutschland” was developed under the pre-integration umbrella and can be downloaded free of charge from the Goethe-Institut Hanoi website. It offers prospective nurses an introduction to working in German hospitals. The reason for this is that young Vietnamese professionals in the nursing sector are – alongside joining spouses – a key target group for pre-integration work in Vietnam. In 2013 the Goethe-Institut Hanoi started offering a one-year specialist language programme featuring intercultural content as well as language, to prepare these professional migrants for the requirements of the B2 examination. More than two hundred people complete this course every year before travelling to Germany to train in nursing.

New ideas and formats

During the last project, “Pre-Integration in the Regions of South-East Asia and South-East Europe”, which came to a close in June 2020, the Goethe-Institutes in Vietnam developed some more new ideas and put them into practice. In addition to the themes of “Intercultural communication” and “Local culture”, there was now also a focus on developing learning skills.

“In the ‘Learning to learn’ seminar, participants can discuss – with support from the course leaders – which methods they use for German language acquisition, what difficulties this involves and how to handle this effectively,” explains Sombatua Sihotang, regional coordinator in South-East Asia.

And on the subject of “exam preparation”, there’s now a new seminar format geared towards the specific requirements of joining family members. “Joining spouses need an A1 certificate for their visa application, but frequently haven’t had much experience of a test situation,” says the expert. “So the seminar leaders explain the exam format to them and also give them tips on what to watch out for in the ‘reading’, ‘writing’, ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ modules.”

As well as that, the current project has included several information events organised by the Goethe-Institutes in Vietnam, at which Vietnamese migrants talked about their lives in Germany and answered questions from the audience. Just at these events in Hanoi – known as Alumni Talks – there were more than 120 interested participants in some cases.

Online services in corona times

While the institute was closed due to corona from the beginning of April to the beginning of May 2020, the Goethe-Institutes in Vietnam switched over to digital services for their pre-integration work as well. “During this period all advice and seminars took place online,” reports Huong Thanh Nguyen, who coordinates the pre-integration work done by the Goethe-Institut in Vietnam. Since the lockdowns were lifted, some of these services are being offered in a face-to-face setting again depending on need.

In the nursing project alone, Huong Thanh Nguyen organised twelve online events during the pandemic, with twenty-five to thirty professionals taking part in each of these. She also ran an online interview series in parallel with the Alumni Talks, with a focus on “Mein Leben und Deutschland”, in which a joining family member, a nurse and two students related their experiences with authorities and finding accommodation, work and placements, family and leisure, dining culture and language barriers, culture shock and feeling homesick – and they also answered listeners’ questions: how much money can I earn in Germany and how expensive is life there? How can I get my professional qualification recognised in Germany? What happens in an integration course? What level of German does my child need to cope in a German school? How easy or difficult is it to find friends in Germany? What impact is the corona pandemic having on everyday life in Germany?...

First-hand information

For instance Ha Dinh De Soghe, who has been living in Braunlage in Lower Saxony with her German husband since 2018 – and also brought their son over from Vietnam to join them – talks about her relationship with her mother-in-law: “At home in Vietnam I was thinking a lot about my future life with the new family. What will my new family be like? What will my husband’s relatives be like? But once I arrived here, I immediately felt more relaxed. Everyone was very kind and nice to me. My mother-in-law especially absolutely loves me! My real mother always says, you’re very lucky to have such a good mother-in-law.” If her mother-in-law is sick sometimes, says Ha Dinh De Soghe, she really wants to look after her herself – which is usual in Vietnam, but not in Germany: “Here it’s completely different though. That type of work is carried out by nurses and carers. In this situation I somehow feel inadequate as a daughter-in-law. But here it’s quite normal.”

One of the subjects Phung Kim Tuyen, who works as a carer for the elderly in Berlin, talks about in the online interview is her training, and her focuses include cultural and legal differences: “If a patient in Vietnam doesn’t want an injection, we keep trying to persuade him that the injection will do him good. In Germany of course we would also try to convince the patient in such a case with arguments. But if the patient doesn’t want it anyway, we’re not allowed to do anything against his will. That would be against the law.”

Why go to such trouble?

With event formats like the online interviews, the Goethe-Institutes in Vietnam are also reaching the type of migrant who would really rather jump on a plane without any preparation at all. Sombatua Sihotang speaks as regional coordinator for migrants from diverse regions of South-East Asia when he says: “Many immigrants have misconceptions about Germany. For instance they are convinced that life here is very easy and they underestimate the stress involved with migration.” And Huong Thanh Nguyen also repeatedly experiences in her daily pre-integration work at the Goethe-Institut Hanoi that she has to convince immigrants of the importance of her work: “Joining family members in particular often think they would be able to rely solely on their husband or wife in Germany. Then I explain to them that they will integrate far more effectively in Germany if they actively approach others and build themselves a network, and they need to speak good German for that.”

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