Elizabeth is 54 years old and comes from Northern Ireland. She says she has always been open and curious about the world.
In 2016, layoffs started in the hospital where she had been working for over 20 years. The cheerful, optimistic woman did not expect that instead of leisurely planning for her retirement she would be forced to look for a new job!
I was terrified, Elizabeth recounts. Salaries in the health service are not as high as you might think. I was living month-to-month. Losing my job was a huge blow to me.
As Elizabeth recounts, the first shock soon passed.
We tallied up our savings, but they did not amount to much. My husband’s pension alone was not enough for a decent living. It became clear I had to find a new job soon. I didn’t want to burden my kids with these problems, especially that my son was still in college, and my eldest daughter was planning a wedding.
Reality gave Elizabeth a rude awakening. The 52-year-old woman quickly started looking for employment. Unfortunately, no one in the area was looking for someone with her skills.
My friends had the same problem. They too got sacked, with no job in sight that they could take. One of them suggested going to Germany as a private nurse. Better to have a friend with you, she told me.
But Elizabeth had never learned German in her life. She took Spanish as a child, a few years ago she learned basic French in nursing school. This didn’t let her feel prepared to go to Berlin.
I was afraid I couldn’t make it. German sounded too alien to me. I once took a French course, I knew basic grammar, but I thought I really knew nothing.
Elizabeth started taking casual jobs. It allowed her and her husband to survive, but it was too little for their needs.
My daughter set the wedding date and I kept hiding from her that I had lost my job.
A breakthrough in Elizabeth’s situation came… by accident. While shopping with her daughter at a large mall, she came across a lost group of students. As it turned out, they were foreigners who spoke only French. Elizabeth’s daughter was away in the changing room.
They asked me how to get from the mall to the bus stop. They were very lost. When it turned out the shop employee doesn’t speak French, I decided to help them, even if I had to do charades. I was missing a lot of words and had to help myself with gestures, but we eventually came to an understanding. They were really grateful.
Elizabeth admits she was so focused on trying to help the students, she ‘forgot that she knows nothing’. In fact, during the conversation she was surprised how much she remembered from the class.
When my daughter came out of the changing room, she told me: Mom, your French is very good! I replied: but I can’t speak it!
My family wouldn’t drop the subject. It also came out that I’d lost my job. I regret not telling my loved ones about it sooner. They gave ma a lot of support.
Elizabeth’s children decided to convince their mother that her abilities are much greater than she thinks. Full of positive energy after the unexpected meeting, she went back to her notes from the French class that same day.
I couldn’t remember or understand it all, so I asked my daughter to buy me an online course. She agreed right away!
Elizabeth turned out to be a very keen learner.
There is no such thing as a knack for languages. There’s only hard work. I decided to learn new words every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. That’s what I was aiming for. This way, I managed to really learn a lot!
The woman learned at home, sometimes with the help of her family. She even went to a language class organized by the local government.
It turned out I didn’t need that class. After two hours I was talking with the teacher, while the other people were learning the alphabet!
Today, Elizabeth works as a geriatric nurse in Switzerland. She says the work is hard, but quite satisfying. She intends to move back permanently, as soon as she saves enough money to start her own business.
I feel like living! – she declares.