The dictionary on Konstantina Pavlous’ desk in a room in Mainz also accompanied her father 20 years ago. The truck driver from Lefkada drove all the way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. In 2022 Pavlou decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and travelled to Germany for the first time in her life. Since November she has been working in a primary school in Mainz, gaining work experience and working to make a particular dream come true.
Agorayouth: Konstantina, you are 24 years old and in your final year of course to become a kindergarten teacher in Thessaloniki. How did you end up in Mainz?
Konstantina Pavlou: This is the result of a great coincidence: In the summer I work in cafes and restaurants on the island of Lefkada, where I come from. There I met a lady from Germany and we chatted a bit in German. I told her that I was doing an Erasmus semester in Vienna and that I would like to do an internship in Germany. We kept in touch and she arranged for me to come to Mainz for a five-month internship. As we have a slightly different approach to early childhood education in Greece, I am not working in a kindergarten but in a primary school in Mainz.
Is it your first time in Germany?
Pavlou: Yes, and actually it’s only my third trip outside Greece in my life. I come from a small village, but I study primary education in Thessaloniki. After my internship ends at the end of March, I will graduate.
Have you been to a Kindergarten in Germany? What was your impression?
Pavlou: I have had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten here twice. I have never been with the very young children and it seemed to me that the focus was on looking after them and playing. They had very nice facilities and equipment, but it was a big surprise that there was no educational programme like I am used to. Personally, I think it would be great to have a plan with topics for each year to do a little bit more. Once I saw the children doing arts and crafts with scissors and one child couldn’t do it. So the educator came and did it for the child. That was hard to see because it is so important to show them how to do it.
Tell us a bit more about how it works in Greece.
Pavlou: Kindergarten in Greece is like a pre-school for children aged 4 to 6. At university I had courses in psychology, maths, physics, computer science and so on. In kindergarten we teach the children how to speak, learn, write and communicate. We also do smaller or bigger projects, for example about nature or animals. Depending on the subject we watch a film, create a story or a little theatre play. We reflect on what we have experienced together or discuss the things we have learned.
You have been working in a primary school in Mainz since November. What are your tasks?
Pavlou: At the Brunnenschule Mainz-Marienborn I help out in different classes – usually in German and maths lessons. I look after the children, help them with their exercises or accompany them on small excursions, for example to the forest to learn about nature. In the afternoon I often study German with a girl from Kosovo. It’s an A1 class, so we talk or read together. I also help in the English classes as German is more difficult for me: I often need more time to understand the context because the children use their own words or speak very fast.
What differences surprised you in the beginning?
Pavlou: Everything is very organised – every week there is a new plan for the teachers! I was really surprised that there is no strong hierarchy and I can easily talk to any teacher regardless of their age – in Greece it is much more formal. There is a nice team atmosphere which I really appreciate.
What can you take with you back to Greece?
Pavlou: I really like the way the teachers run the course, how they structure the lessons. For example, that they have a morning circle in the beginning and that they inform the students about the programme for the day or do a brainstorming. That way the children know what to expect. When I go back, I want to use these methods. The only difference is that we don’t have books in the kindergarten. We learn by hearing and seeing.
You will graduate soon – do you want to start working then?
Pavlou: No, I want to do a Master’s degree. I want to focus on children with special needs and learn Braille, for example. This specialisation is very much in demand at the moment.
Why did you choose this specialisation?
Pavlou: I have an older brother with disabilities, maybe that is why I am so interested in the subject, because I was exposed to it very early on. In Mainz I saw that it makes a difference when there is an educator who can concentrate on helping these children. In Greece there is still a long way to go because progress is very slow. I often feel that people with special needs are not wanted in society and this is a very sad attitude because they have so much to offer!
I have a dream to open my own kindergarten where I would like to create something like a farm with lots of activities – something like a school of nature for children with and without special needs. I know it will cost a lot of money, but I really want to create something different.
Can you imagine coming back to Germany to work here?
Pavlou: If I can’t find a job in Greece, I can come back to Germany for a while to earn some money and learn. In my job in the summer season I get 3.50 euros an hour without any break, the minimum wage in Germany is 12 euros – so nobody in Greece should be surprised that young people still leave the country. But I need to improve my German – so when I come back to Thessaloniki I want to continue with the B-level language classes.
Have you had a chance to see some places and travel around in Germany?
Pavlou: Yes, I really like it here! Mainz is a small and nice city – everything is within walking distance. I was able to stay in a room of my headmaster, which was really lucky as the rents here are quite high. I have done some day trips to Bonn, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Mannheim, Trier and Bielefeld. And I want to visit Berlin and Munich. My father went there 20 years ago as he was a truck driver. I have his dictionary with me, it is really old and in Katharevousa. I can’t wait to follow the steps he took back then on his first time in Germany.
You can read more about people in Greece who support children with disabilities here. For more impressions of the differences in education systems, read this article.
interview: Lisa Brüßler
photos: Konstantina Pavlou