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.

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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!

Munich Now

On Saturday, I went for a walk. The sun was shining although winter still has it’s grip on this city. I took the public transport to Olympia Park, then I walked up Olympiaberg, an artificial hill made up of debris from World War II.

As I walked, I breathed in the cool, fresh winter air. It seemed almost as if every inhalation woke me up a bit more, and with each exhalation I removed a bit more of the cobwebs from inside my chest.

As a child, I grew up with the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and the birds singing in the trees. Summers were bare feet, fireflies, and cricket song. Nature is where I’m happiest, and it’s what gives me life. Although my dreams were always bigger than a small town, I know I’m not made for the big city.

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I thought about this when I was standing still at the top of the hill, soaking in the sun and letting the cool breeze wash over me. In that moment I realized that there are two versions of myself.

There is a version of myself which is relaxed, funny, adventurous, and ambitious. This version is outdoors in nature as much as humanly possible, yearns to travel near and far, and writes introspectively and honestly.

Sadly, this isn’t who I’ve been for most of these last months. The self that I have been is anxious about the smallest things, uses books and movies as escapism, and often goes about her days in a fog. Since the last month of finalizing my thesis, I have become this person.

Being outdoors in the park helped to clear the fog and cobwebs. I have spent so much time indoors and in the city that my sense of self has been suffocated as well as my creativity.

These are not the original words. I had written another post, but it wasn’t right. Spending some time alone in nature today reminded me that I have two different writing styles which seem to reflect those two versions of myself. The original post was written in a style which a reader can understand and perhaps find interesting. I’ve put out plenty of this writing and received praise for it, but this is not the version of my writing which I like to express. My preferred writing is that which a reader can feel.

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Since September, I’ve finished my Master’s degree, moved out of my student flat in Konstanz, started a new job, visited my family in Missouri for Christmas, and moved into a new flat in Munich. The winter has been bitterly cold and snowy. On top of the weather, my work hours have made it very difficult for me to spend much time outdoors. Everything has been a whirlwind of activity, and all of it occurred between the walls of various buildings.

So… I’m in Munich now. I’ve been working here for almost six months, although settling into a flat was a more recent occurrence. I’ll not write much about the transition of the past six months, as it was cumbersome and quite boring to be honest.

What I will tell you, dear reader, is that I will be making an effort to get outdoors, be the truer version of myself, and write with a little more feeling (although I promise you’ll still get the travel tales and recommendations!). This is definitely going to be a greater challenge than in the past since I’m more “in the city” than I’ve ever been in my life, albeit a worthwhile one.

Cheers!