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Interview with an Irish mother living in Frankfurt am Main

Let me introduce you to my friend Sarah, who is from Ireland. I met her around two years ago through another friend and our paths have crossed many times since! Sarah has opened my eyes to the cultural differences she experiences living as a foreigner in Germany. I thought that it would be really interesting for both my German and non German community to gain an understanding into the life of an Irish mum in Frankfurt.

Why Frankfurt?

Hey, I am Sarah, am mom of 2 smallies, living in Frankfurt since 2006.

I am originally from Dublin, Ireland.

What brought you to Frankfurt?

I was offered a job with the Irish government as I spoke German, so I jumped at the chance, relocated to Frankfurt and have never looked back! Soon after my arrival in Frankfurt, I met my husband to be, an American/Irish , who coincidentally grew up 3 kilometers away from me in Dublin. We now have 2 children, a boy who is 5 and a girl who is 6.

What do you miss about Ireland in comparison to Germany?

The banter, flexibility, and excellent customer service! Banter is chatting to each other in a light hearted way, having a laugh. No matter where you are in Ireland, you can enjoy the banter between people. Customer Service is not so customer orientated in Germany, this reverts back to flexibility. For example, I was in the supermarket this morning, looking for Kerrygold grated cheese (clichè I know!), I asked one of the employees, who told me, she "was not responsible for cheese" and that was that. No ability to say, " let me find out for you etc." In Dublin, people go into the warehouse looking for items, if they are unable to find them, they let you know when they will be available and or if another store has it. One person is just not responsible for one section of the supermarket. This really bothers me!!

What was the hardest part of moving to Frankfurt?

Well despite the obvious reasons like leaving your friends and family behind, I had a constant niggle in my head - if I was making the right choice. I was no longer in my 20's and if I am honest, I was not as carefree as I once was!

School system in Germany and Frankfurt

There are many differences in the school systems in Germany compared to other countries. It could be important for children to attend a child daycare centre as early as possible because this can help ensure that their development and their command of the language reach the highest level possible. There are many options for childcare in Germany for kids up to 3 years old, in particular: Toddler groups, childminders, playgroups, crèches, and kindergartens for mixed age groups.

Sarah, what kind of experiences have you made regarding crèches?

I found it extremely difficult to find a crèche for my daughter as I had to return to work after 3 months. Most maternity leave in Germany is 1 year and some people take up to 3 years off. It was impossible to find a crèche who would take my daughter at such a young age, when I enquired, I was met with voices of disdain, "how could you put such a small baby into a crèche, we take children when they are 1." There is a central registration system 'Kindernet" in place, where you register your family details and hope for a place to be offered. In our case, it did not work, we ended up getting a place in a private crèche connected to my husband's work. We paid a lot more than the public crèches, but still doable in comparison to crèches in Dublin, where the average monthly cost is around 1000 € per child. There is no central registration system, as all crèches are private. You call the facility which interests you and if a place is available, it is yours!

Unfortunately, I did not know Sarah at that time and didn’t do this job here. But there are childminders that take babies and the “Stadtschulamt” can help you to find the right childminder for you and your child.

What about Kindergarten?

The 'Kindernet" central system is again a key player here, you register your child for a place, keeping your fingers crossed that you received an email which states " you have an offer." I really wanted a Kindergarten where another language was spoken, ideally Spanish, but due to a large influx of Spaniards coming to Frankfurt, it was impossible to get a place. Around the corner from where we live, is an Italian Kindergarten, I attend all the Info days etc and made myself known. Shortly before my daughter's third birthday, we were told we had a place. Kindergartens are free in Hessen, you pay only for meals, which are extremely reasonable. In Ireland, most kids go to Preschool or Montessori, a year or 2 before they begin "Big School" - one of these years is paid for by the Irish government but only for a set amount of hours, the other years needs to be paid by the parents. Cost vary, but around 400 euro a week for 3 hours a day. How lucky are we to live in Germany!

Children attend nursery up to about the age of 6. There are also pre-school offers in Frankfurt. Many primary schools offer children the chance to get acquainted with school life one year before school life begins. This gives the children a chance to improve their German in a fun atmosphere. These half-day programs are free.

What are the main differences in the school systems in Germany and Ireland?

My daughter has just started her first year at school, she is 6.5 years old. She is in a bilingual German French public school, we took a lot of time, considering all our options and decided this was the best for her. We only speak English at home, we thought she would get bored in an English German school. She also has a lot of hobbies, and needed flexibility for afternoons, which was important. She has 2 teachers all the time, a French teacher and a German teacher, she will have these teachers, for the 4 years of Grundschule. German schools start at 8am and finish at 11.30 or 12.30 - again something I was not used to! We need afternoon care, which is called a Hort to cover the hours we work etc. Her Hort is in the school itself, so she goes there herself when school is finished. She eats there, in a canteen and does her homework, she then plays, does arts and crafts etc..until she is collected. School has zero costs and the Hort costs 100 euro per month plus food (3 euro per day) In Ireland, school is all day, well until 2/3pm for the small kids and then 4pm for the bigger ones. Children start at the age of 4/5 and they are in primary school until they are 12. They start at 9am and finish at 2pm or 3pm. All activities take place in school, sports, music, speech and drama etc.. There is also afterschool care. Children wear a uniform, which I love, it makes life so easy as a parent!

Sports clothes are also uniformed! There are private and public schools. Public schools are free, but books, uniforms and trips need to be paid for. Private schools fees vary. We also have schools where everything is taught through Irish, the Gaelic language. Children bring a packed lunch with them to school. And another difference is – in Ireland, you have a different teacher each year, it leads to lots of variety and new ways of teaching.

All children in Germany must attend school and the new school year begins in Germany after the summer holidays. Many schools are half day schools: this means that as a rule teaching lasts from morning to lunch time, and in the first twos school years it is often only a few hours in the morning. However, there are also schools with afternoon supervision, so-called all-day schools. Most schools offer extra lessons or homework help. In addition, there is support for children with special educational needs.

From the ages of 6 to 10 children attend primary school (“Grundschule”). Primary school lasts 4 years (Class 1 to 4). After primary school children are sent to different types of secondary schools: the “Hauptschule”, “Realschule”, “Gesamtschule” or “Gymnasium”. In Germany, therefore, children attend school for at least 9 or 10 years. They can also stay longer and do the final exams known as the “Abitur”. Or they can leave school and do an apprenticeship once they are 16 years of age or over.

In Ireland, at the age of 12, from 9am to 4pm, you begin secondary school, you have 2 state exams, one at the age of 15 and then at 17/18. Most students study 8 subjects, of which 3 are compulsory Irish, English and Maths. Based on the results of the 8 exams, one can attend university, technical college etc Everyone brings their own lunch or is allowed home for the lunch period. Once at school, you cannot leave the building, what surprised me here, is that kids in secondary school are always in supermarkets etc at different times during the day. I also noticed at my daughter's school, the door is always open and anyone can walk in. In most schools in Ireland, you have a reception area, which is always occupied by the school secretary etc. so no one unknown enters the school! Again sport activities etc take place in the schools! Matches in rugby, football, hockey etc are at the weekends, and there is lots of rivalry between the schools, which makes for a great atmosphere!

Life in Germany

How did you find life in Germany?

Luckily, I had a lot of experience with Germany, as I had spent all my summers working in hotels etc. and I spent half of my Erasmus programme at University in Tübingen, so it was not too much of a shock to the system! A big advantage was my ability to speak German. I was also working with Irish people, which was a lovely buffer. Frankfurt was experiencing an influx of international people, and as a city, it is really quite small and compact. I found the Sunday closing (all shops etc. are closed on a Sunday) initially tough as I was travelling so much during the week, I had to get all my shopping, dry cleaning etc. completed on a Saturday, which was a feat in itself.

How is socializing different in Frankfurt and Dublin?

Well, this reverts back to "banter" - if it's on the street, in a pub, restaurant etc in Dublin..people chat with each other, by the end of an evening outside, you have 20 new "friends." There is a word for fun in Irish and its called "craic" - and a saying is "the craic was mighty" - it was so much fun! Restaurants, pubs etc are always full, and there atmosphere is really electric. There can be pressure on people to consume lots of alcohol, which isn't every ones cup of tea!

Here is Frankfurt, socialising is a little more subdued, there are not as many pubs, bars etc but there are lots of fantastic restaurants, with cuisine from all corners of the world. There is also no set seating times, which is a godsend. In Dublin most restaurants, have in the evening 2 seating times, 6.30pm -8.30pm or 8.30pm -10.30pm, which means you have to vacate the table at 8.30pm or 10.30pm. This is extremely annoying, as you are always conscious of time! The cost of going out in Frankfurt is 50% less than in Dublin!

Frankfurt and its top 5

Sarah, what do you like the most about living in Frankfurt?

As in any city, there are positives and negatives, the reasons we love living in Frankfurt are many - but here are our top 5!

  1. Frankfurt is compact and safe, one can walk around the city easily, take the underground, or a tram, or ride your bike in the many bike lanes etc.

  2. Frankfurt is family friendly, there are many family events at weekends, lots of museums, a fantastic zoo, riverside walks etc.

  3. Frankfurt has beautiful regions on its outskirts, wine regions, strawberry picking, pumpkin, apple, asparagus festivals etc.

  4. Frankfurt is international, currently there are 180 different nationalities living and working in Frankfurt, the opportunity to meet other nationalities is enorm.

  5. Frankfurt is easy, everything is on your doorstep, from supermarkets, to hospitals, bakeries to dry cleaners!

Thank you, Sarah for sharing your experiences with us.

If you are interested in learning more about any topics she mentioned, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I would be happy to support you getting started in Germany, especially Frankfurt.

Drop anchor. Incoming.

Into Frankfurt. Into family life.

It‘s not always easy finding your way around in a new environment. As a mother of three who knows the challenges of daily family life, my agency supports your family individually and creatively. Suddenly land is in sight.

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