Germany Thus Far: 4.5 Years

The last time that I did one of these posts was back in 2018 which marked three years in Germany. Looks like I have a lot of time to catch you all up on. Let’s jump in to some of the big events and changes from the last 1.5 years, bringing you up to date on my 4.5 years in Germany thus far.

Close to home

Most of the time, I stayed close to home, either in Germany or in the States. I’ve made a few trips back to visit my family of course, but otherwise, I didn’t do a whole lot of travel. Most of my travel has been in Bavaria, or even to places around Munich.

Exploring Bavaria
Don't look down.
Don’t look down.

There are two main reasons that I didn’t get out much. First is that my partner was furthering his education last year in an intense accelerated program, so there wasn’t a lot of time to travel together. The second was that I didn’t really have the money to be able to travel alone, even though I had an entire month off in August because…

I switched jobs

After I realized that I could not stand it any longer in the travel technology company where I worked, I got to work looking for jobs. Luckily, I found a new position in a financial technology company which is much more challenging and intellectually stimulating.

It’s nice to be in a job where you feel like you’re a fit for the role, and your work actually matters. Not to mention, I get along with the people much better despite the fact that many of them are really intense.

New bike

Along with the job upgrade, I also came to the realization that I needed to upgrade my bike. My first bike in Germany was a cheap buy at a flea market. It’s quite worn, and it is not a good long-distance bike. Considering that my commute is about four times as long now, and I am getting more into longer rides in the warm months, it was time for something new.

Instead of buying another second-hand bike, I actually spent the money to get what I wanted. It’s stable and stands up really well to longer rides. If the current lockdown ever ends and the weather improves, maybe I’ll be able to go on some new adventures with it.

Pandemic

Speaking of the lockdown, I think I have to include the pandemic in this list. It’s still ongoing, of course, and it’s likely to last a lot longer. Still, I never thought that I’d be watching a global health pandemic unfold from Munich.

This week is my fourth week of home office. Everything except essential services are closed in Germany. It is only allowed to leave your home if you are going to the grocery store, pharmacy, work (for those who still have to go in), or for fresh air and exercise. In order to stay sane, I make of point of going out for a walk every day.

I’ve heard from people in the States who are concerned about my safety in Europe. No doubt they see what is happening in Italy and Spain in the news, but I think I’m much better off here than back in the States. At least I have health care, and Germany also has a world-class healthcare system which is actually accessible to people who need to use it. Plus, there’s the fact that there are certain protections in place that make my job much more secure than if I were in the States. I’ll stay right here, thanks.

Staying permanently

Before the lockdown, I applied for permanent residency. Since I wasn’t able to go and pick up the card, imagine my surprise when they sent it to me. I am now the proud owner of a Niederlassungserlaubnis.

Yep, I’m fine with staying somewhere that has villages and mountains like this.

What’s it mean? Basically, I get to stay in Germany for the long run, and I don’t have to get approval from the immigration authorities anymore if I want to change my job. Plus, I don’t have to carry my passport around anymore since it’s an actual ID card instead of a giant sticker in my passport. And yes, I seriously count that as a nice perk!


That’s about it. It’s obviously not an exhaustive list of what has happened the last 1.5 years, but you get the idea. To everyone reading this, stay healthy and sane.

Cheers!

What I Look for in International Work

I finished my Master’s degree back in 2017, and started working straight away. For the past almost two years, I worked in a travel tech company focused on vacation rentals. This was my first post-university job, but I recently had my last day working there.

It was quite an experience, and I certainly learned a lot in the first year, most notably on the technical side. However, there comes a time when you have to take a look around, think about where you are, where you want to be, and consider if the current trajectory of your career will get you there.

Turns out, recent changes in the company were taking me down a path that went further away from my goals. Not to mention I was basically bored out of my mind by my tasks the last six months and wasn’t seeing any real career growth.

Having to conduct another job search in Germany was not exactly something that I really wanted to do, but in the end I think I’m going to be much happier in the new role.

I could write a whole series on searching for a job in Germany, but instead I’m just going to share a few things that I have learned are important for me in working abroad.

Integration

While I integrated into my former company just fine, there came a point when I realized that integrating into company culture is not the same as integrating into German society. I enjoyed how diverse the company was, but when my partner tells me multiple times that my German is actually getting worse, it’s an indicator that I’m not getting closer to my goals. For the record, I was taking a German course through the company the first time I was told that my German was deteriorating.

German courses offered in house were poor quality and only held once a week. Couple that with the fact that most of my colleagues / classmates had very low motivation to learn German, and I felt myself not applying myself as much. I also did not have to use any German in my daily work, so there was nothing that really forced me to improve my German so quickly in the short term.

While looking for a new company, I tried to find something which had a greater German language leaning, but still an international feel. The company that I will be joining is again very diverse, but the market focus is DACH (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and the UK. This is much more focused than the 21 countries and their languages that I had to work with in my former company.

When I was offered the job, it was also stated that they would expect me to be able to get along with German-speaking business partners as well as the English-speaking partners in the next year. This is great because I have some time to learn the product and work on my German, but I also have a set point in time that I should be ready to speak and write German as a representative of the company. Knowing that it’s expected that I learn is a much better motivator than being told that someone can always help translate so it doesn’t matter if I learn.

I should quickly note here that some people who work abroad in English-speaking roles, or roles in their native language, only learn enough of the language to get by (restaurants, grocery shopping, transportation), but search out multilingual doctors, services, etc. for most things they have to do outside of work. While there’s no “right” way to do it, my personal philosophy is that if I’m going to live abroad authentically, and not in an Anglo-bubble, I should try to learn the language.

Career development

I always thought, “When I start working, I will have so much more free time for myself compared to in university.” In some ways that’s true. I don’t have to stay up late trying to complete extensive reading for a seminar. However, because I sit in front of a computer all day at work, I don’t really want to spend as much time doing that outside of work.

I wrongly assumed that if I didn’t have time or projects at work that helped me advance my career, I could just do that career development in my free time. While I have done some things in my free time, it’s not enough to counteract not making any progress on professional development in my daily work.

For a variety of reasons, my former company did not give me the opportunities I wanted to further develop my skills and learn new things which are in the field of my interests. Therefore, in looking for a new role in another company, I tried to find a field which both fit my interests and would challenge me to grow my skills and knowledge in the direction that is right for me.

While I know I have an uphill battle going into my next role, I would rather be fighting to learn details about an industry and the technology they use than doing the same tasks over and over which give me neither benefit nor joy. Some people may thrive on repetition and stability, but I would like to have the opportunity to be challenged.

A residence permit is not a reason

When I was looking for a job after finishing my studies, I knew that my former company was not a perfect fit. Among the options I had at the time, it was the best offer on the table. I could have waited around for a better offer, but that put me into the position of needing a “job search” visa. I also had these frustrating student loan payments that I would have to start making, but I had a bit of a buffer there.

The main reason I accepted the job in the end was to secure my residency. While it happens that you have to accept an imperfect job in order to maintain residency without major headaches, I don’t think that it should be the reason to stay in the job on the long term.

I had a lot of stress around how long I needed to be in the first job before searching for a new job, whether I should just wait until I could settle into permanent residency, or how difficult it would be to switch my residence permit if I got a new job.

The answers? One year is long enough to know you aren’t a match for a company. Switching jobs doesn’t hurt or help with permanent residency. As for the last one, the jury’s still out, but I understand that it’s a relatively simple process that will only require me to sacrifice my soul to the Ausländerbehörde for one day.

In summary, if you’re looking for a job abroad and maintaining your residency depends on it, it’s okay to be a bit desperate. What’s not okay is forfeiting your happiness after you’ve given the role and company a fair shot and know it’s not for you.


Anyway, that’s my two cents on what I find most important in working abroad. I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, but it’s at least food for thought.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 3 Years, Can It Be True?

It was shortly before my three-year anniversary of living in Germany when I realized it was coming up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the calendar says that it is true!

So in the past year, what are the most significant things I’ve done?

1. Got a Job in Munich

Since I handed in my Master’s thesis in early September last year, I also had to get a job. I started applying in July of last year and was very lucky with timing, as I then started working in October.

The challenges of transitioning from academic life to work life are enough to begin with. Add in that I somehow did it in another country, succeeded in changing over my residence permit, and moved to the city (I’m not a city gal), well… That’s pretty impressive for me personally.

Do I love working more than I loved studying and doing research? Nope. But hey, I guess that’s part of your first few years working; you learn what you like and what you don’t.

2.Visited the Family

It was September 2015 when I moved to Germany, and throughout my entire Master’s program I could not afford to make the trip back home. Therefore, going home last December was the first time in over two years that I saw my family in person. It was also the first time in two years that I used US dollars, that everyone I spoke with had a Midwestern accent, and that I was surrounded by American flags everywhere I went. Yes, I suffered from reverse-culture shock.

LOZ

It was a nice little adventure to go back home, although it was the dead of winter. At least my Grandma can’t be upset that I always miss the holidays since I finally made it for Christmas!

3. Distortion in Copenhagen

After several years of A telling me about Copenhagen and how great it is, I finally went. The first few days were filled with bike rides around the city to do all the touristy things. The second half of the week was all about the electronic music festival.

While it’s true that Copenhagen is quite expensive, the city has a great vibe, amazing architecture, and delicious food. I even had my first bagel in several years (my life without bagels is very sad, indeed). Copenhagen is pretty spectacular, one of the few cities in which I can see myself living happily, albeit probably broke.

4. Another Trip to the US

So the trip that I was not planning to make was to head back home in the middle of summer. Living away from home when someone in your family is in poor health is pretty tough. I eventually got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep stressing in Germany when I have a regular paycheck that can get me over the ocean to check in with my family in person.

Although it’s not what I planned, I now remember how flaming hot and humid Missouri gets in the summer, and why Missourians actually need air conditioning. A more pleasant part of the weather was walking barefoot through a summer storm to pick up my aunt’s car.

Family’s all okay now, too, in case you’re wondering.

5. Isle of Skye

The first trips I made to Scotland were back in 2014, and I documented them on the blog. (Read about them here and here.) Those two trips led me to falling as much in love with Scotland as I already was in with Ireland. One thing that A and I have wanted to do for several years now is to make it to the Isle of Skye. This year was the year to do it.

We rented a car and attempted Ben Nevis before going on to the Isle of Skye. That trip was an absolute dream, and the cool weather was dearly cherished after a brutally hot summer in Munich. I’ll eventually write about it here, but for now, I’ll just say that I can’t wait to go back to Scotland again.

Learnings

So those are the big things, but my international adventures are not the entire takeaway. Here’s a short list of some things I learned this year.

  1. Skiing is not for me. Tried that in Austria on a company ski trip, and the conclusion is that I will just skip straight to sledding and hot cocoa.
  2. I need to put the plant down, and walk away. I now have… seven plants? I think it’s seven, maybe there are more… Having a green thumb doesn’t go away just because one moves abroad!
  3. My German has gotten better. In fact, a few weeks ago I made a trip to the foreigners’ office and spoke in German during the entire appointment with the Munich bureaucrats.
  4. I need to plan a lot of hiking trips. Since I didn’t painstakingly plan out any options, I didn’t end up going on any. I tried to be a bit more relaxed, but it seems that being a planning freak does lead to more adventures into nature.
  5. Legal residence doesn’t get easier with time. In fact, the bureaucracy is so large that it even lost my file, resulting in multiple temporary permits and a long wait until they find my file before they’ll process the application that I already submitted. Never-ending story, this residency thing.
  6. December is too short, and there are too many Christmas markets to visit. Last year, I tried very hard to experience some new markets because I have had a love affair with them since my personal discovery of Christmas markets back in 2014. This year I will have to map out every one that I want to visit and be a bit more calculated in my excursions (and my Glühwein fund).
  7. Forcing myself to live in a city does not mean that I will learn to like it. Nine months into living here, and 12 months into working here, Munich still isn’t my favorite place. If anything, it’s more of a headache. If only I could find Munich-style jobs in the mountains….

Seven seems like a perfectly arbitrary number at which to pause here. So I guess that’s a wrap on year number three in Germany. I don’t really have a lot of plans for the next year yet (apart from Christmas markets), so let’s see where life takes me!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 2 Years

Can you believe that I have been in Germany for two years now? Seems like just yesterday I was breaking the news to my Grandma that I was going to be going far from home yet again. She wasn’t particularly pleased, but I think my family has all finally come around to the fact that I wasn’t meant to live the Missouri life.

Let’s review a bit what I’ve been up to. I stepped off the plane in Germany back in September 2015, and started my Master’s degree about this time two years ago. On top of my four semesters of study, I managed to visit Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, and Switzerland – plus a lot of southern Germany. I also met some wonderful people in Konstanz from all over, and three of my closest friends are now pursuing PhDs because they’re super nerdy. Just kidding guys! Well, partially at least….

Theses

Thesis Freiheit
My final Master’s thesis!

Studies themselves were quite a challenge for me here in Germany. The German language was obviously another source of frustration these past two years, although significantly less so now. Finances were also a struggle for me (I would strongly caution anyone considering graduate studies abroad if they have significant debt to be careful). Despite all of the difficulties, I was never deported and think that moving to Germany is the best choice I could have made!

I felt quite vindicated by my decision to move to Germany when I handed in my thesis last month. That same week I did a job interview in Munich at a start-up that I really wanted to work for. After nervously meeting the CEO and Head of Business Development there, I went back to Konstanz to do some exploring and discover the things I had not had the time to see in the past two years.

Konstanz Muenster and Me

While rendezvousing around Konstanz, I got a job offer from the very same company. A few days later I signed the contract and was working on moving out of my student flat.

A little less than a month ago I started working there and things have been going great so far. I’ve been working on some challenging tasks and am really excited about where the company is heading.

Student life is officially over and “adulting” (AKA paying off my student loans) has begun. Meanwhile, the leaves have pretty much all changed colors despite the Indian Summer that we had here in Munich.

So what’s next? Adjust to my new work like, find an apartment, and a trip back to Missouri for Christmas!

I’ll keep this update short since my last post was already very reflective. I’m also planning to reduce the frequency of these Germany Thus Far posts to once every three months. My monthly life isn’t changing as quickly and there are not so many new things during my day to day which would warrant monthly updates.

With that, I leave you lovely readers to enjoy autumn (or spring for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).

Cheers!

On the Changing of the Seasons

It may seem trivial, but I have long struggled to decide which season is my favorite.

When I was a child, I would have said summer. I didn’t have to go to school, so I would play in the backyard all day long. Summer also meant long trips to my grandparent’s place at the lake where I was free to roam the property.

When I turned 16 and got my first job, my love of summer turned to feelings of dread. I started to dislike summer almost as much as I dislike winter. Missouri typically has cold winters with a 5pm sunset. Since most of my winters have been spent in school during the day, there was very little time to enjoy the sun before it went down, especially after I started working.

It’s probably my loathing of winter which led me to appreciate spring so much. I always find it exciting when the days grow longer and I can spend more time outdoors.

Photo Sep 01, 18 08 23

But what about autumn? The coming of autumn meant going back to school, so I found this time of year very discouraging until I started university. And then everything changed.

It was during my university years that I started to be more confident in myself. I didn’t really notice it at first since I also struggled with self-awareness through most of my undergraduate studies.

During the changing of the seasons, from spring to summer of 2014, I left the country for the first time. Spanish, Oaxaca’s streets and markets, and the first inkling that I wanted to travel more accompanied a sense of self-awareness of the confidence that I had been cultivating through three years at university. Thus, my international experience and a sense of personal growth were marked by the changing of the seasons.

At the next changing of the seasons, summer to fall, I boarded my second international flight out of the States. The day that I landed in Northern Ireland, the air felt almost cold compared to the heat I had left behind in Missouri.

That semester turned out to be the most liberating and life-altering times of my life. Armed with my new sense of self-confidence and self-awareness, I forged enduring friendships and discovered and developed new parts of myself.

Two season changes later, as Virginia transitioned from spring to summer, I defended two Bachelor theses, applied to graduate schools, and earned my Bachelor degree.

As summer changed to fall, I found myself on another international flight. I watched the screen as the plane flew closer to the Emerald Isle, and I looked out the window somewhat in shock that I was seeing Europe again.

Only a few hours later my plane touched down in Germany, a country I had never set foot in before. This time I was transitioning into graduate school, another new country, and a plan to stay indefinitely.

Since that changing of the seasons, nothing has really changed as significantly. Until now.

Yet again, I find that the most pivotal changes in my life are coinciding with the changing of the seasons. As the weather changed from tank tops and unbearably hot to rainy and cold enough for sweaters in the span of a week, I was working on finishing my Master’s thesis.

Finish it, I did. Earlier this month, I handed in my thesis and breathed a sigh of relief. I’ve finished my second degree and only have to wait for a grade and my diploma in the mail. Everything is changing now. I’m saying goodbye to friends, went to a few job interviews, and accepted a job in Munich.

Photo Sep 01, 18 15 05-1

This changing of the seasons brings the end of my studies as well as the beginning of my professional work life. Finally, I see myself being able to start paying off those student loans, develop professionally in a non-academic environment, and have more financial resources to get lost in new places.

All this to say, I guess the reason I can’t pick a favorite season is that I prefer the changing of the seasons. To friends near and far, I hope to see you again as I come into some time and finances to travel. I already have a trip home to Missouri scheduled for Christmas.

Until the next changing of the seasons…

Cheers!