For some time Lyla Ulferts, a recent high-school graduate from Echo, wanted to broaden her cultural horizons.
“I had been interested in learning German, I have German roots and I really wanted to experience going abroad for a little while, so Germany was the perfect choice for me,” Ulferts explained.
This past summer Ulferts left her American way of life behind arriving in the European nation Aug. 12, 2019. Since then she has been living in a little town called Gettorf in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany.
There she is working as an au pair for a German family.
As an au pair, Ulferts helps with the kids and stuff around the house.
While COVID-19 has had its impact, Ulferts wouldn’t say it’s changed a whole lot other than the fact that the kids are home all day, and the cleaning lady hasn’t been coming. So she is doing more work than before.
In order to take on the role of an au pair, Ulferts had to make sure she knew enough German by taking a test at the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul.
“I was told I would need the certificate to get my residence permit but nobody checked,” Ulferts explained, adding “I guess it’s better safe than sorry.”
Ulferts also had to sign a contract with the family she has been staying with.
Culturally Germany is very similar to Minnesota, explained Ulferts.
“I’ve been told I fit in really well with the northern German culture. So I would say culturally I haven’t been surprised,” she added. “The weirdest things for me have been the roads (they’re so narrow). I was a little scared at first riding in a car here, and the winter. They don’t really have snow and haven’t for several years.”
Speaking German all of the time has been challenging for Ulferts.
“Learning German with books and apps is completely different than being immersed in it,” she explained. “It was almost like relearning everything from the start, just with a basic foundation. I’ve definitely improved though and can understand most things that are said to me.”
Ulferts said she has been able to visit the cities which are connected to her German roots (Aurich, Leer and Emden).
“I went to see Hamburg in February, and I also spent a weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark with some friends. One of the things I like most however is going on little hikes with my host family. There are some really beautiful spots here,” she added.
Ulferts indicated she is learning to be more independent away from home.
“Before coming here I hadn’t really done anything on my own, so I’ve found out it’s sometimes nice to just go and do stuff yourself,” she added.
Ulferts enjoys going on little trips with her family and just taking walks in nature. Last week she walked to Hamburger Hallig (an island on the North Sea), which she said was amazing.
“I also always enjoy spending time with my other au pair friends,” Ulferts added.
Ulferts will be staying in Germany until the end of June, and then she will be going to Austria for two months. She was planning on staying longer and going to college here, but the coronavirus has complicated things a bit.
Ulferts is considering enrolling in a two-year art program in Minnesota and then possibly coming back to Germany to the art school in Kiel and doing another couple years there.
“I’ll keep learning German when I come back home in case it all works out, but even if I don’t end up coming back, at least I’ve had an amazing experience here,” added Ulferts.