Career IT: An Australian Expat Tells Her Story

Career IT: An Australian Expat Tells Her Story

Imagine it: your employer offers you a new job, starting in one month. The catch? It is on another continent. An Australian expat talks to Young Germany about moving to Hamburg, learning German, and office etiquette.
by Nicolette Stewart

Meg came to Germany in 2010 when her current employer asked her to head up their EU Technical Support Team in Hamburg. Moving to Germany to start a great job is the dream of many of our readers, so we asked Meg to tell us her story.

Young Germany: Let’s get right down to business with the one thing everyone wants to know about moving to Germany. How was the visa process?

Meg: Getting my first work visa was a little difficult, especially as I needed to prove no EU citizen could do my job.  Getting a work visa is now much easier for non-EU citizens with the introduction of the EU Blue Card as we no longer have to prove that no one in the EU could do our job.

When the EU Blue Card was introduced, I applied for it straight away and was issued it with no problems. All I had to show was my pay slip that proved that I was earning above their salary threshold and my Bachelor of Science degree which proved I was “highly-skilled.”

Was German professional life much different from what you experienced in Australia?

I was really lucky that I just transferred from one office to another. My work was exactly the same, all in English, and I was lucky that the team in Hamburg consisted of three extremely relaxed and very non-stereotypical Germans. I really didn't need to learn anything new which was a relief as at least I could count on my job being exactly the same when the rest of my life had changed radically. 

In my new job, I have had to deal with learning about German office etiquette. The mandatory greetings have proved the hardest to get used to, especially having to say Mahlzeit or Guten Apetit to anyone who is eating lunch in the break room as you walk by or having to respond to the Mahlzeit greetings when eating lunch. I swear I spend the majority of my lunch break greeting people.

How was the transition from life in Australia to life in Germany?

This was a little tougher, especially since I moved here alone without knowing a single soul and only about 20 words of German. It's not a strategy I would recommend, but truth be told, I thrived on the challenge of having to adapt so quickly to living in a foreign country. I was at a stage in my life where I really needed this kind of challenge.

I did have days where I hated everything being so difficult, but it never became so overwhelming that it clouded my view of Germany. I was also lucky that I found an English language amateur theater group here in Hamburg who made me feel so welcome and has become a major part of my social life.

Can you tell us about your experiences learning the German language?

I should have been able to speak German better than I did before I moved here. German was the foreign language I heard most as a child, thanks to my parents doing the whole expat thing in Switzerland when they were in their early 20s and us returning to Switzerland multiple times to visit their friends. I also did (and failed) a semester of German at university.

When I arrived here I was determined to learn German and not to become one of those expats who after five or 10 years in the country can barely order a meal. Since I was working full-time I did an evening course for four years, but with only three hours of class per week, progress was very slow. It wasn't until I quit my first job and took four months of intensive German classes at the Goethe Institute that I can say that I learned to speak German. I ended up sitting and passing my B2 exams and would like to go back and do C1 as there is still so much to learn.

You mentioned leaving that first job and starting a new job. Can you tell us something about the job search process in Germany?

The company that brought me over to Germany ended up having some major financial problems that led to them being sold to another firm. Seeing the writing on the wall, I got my permanent residency which was fast tracked by me having the EU Blue Card and being able to speak German at a B1 level. Once I was a permanent resident, I could quit my job and still remain in Germany which is what I did at the end of 2014.

Searching for a new job was quite difficult due to the fact that I do not speak fluent German. All jobs in tech support naturally required me to be fluent in both English and German. Therefore, I moved laterally, in a sense, and ended up getting a job at a major media agency in their Ad Operations department. So I'm no longer considered to be working in IT but working in the technical department of a media agency. My current job is all in German which proves to be challenging as my German is nowhere near fluent, but I'm fortunate that my new colleagues are patient and put up with my grammatically incorrect emails.

Has working in German helped you level up your language skills?

Working completely in German has been a challenge. I have had to get over my fear of speaking German on the phone. I still dislike it and struggle with it, but I have proven to myself that I can do it. I actually feel like my spoken German has gotten worse, whilst my understanding of spoken German has gotten a thousand times better. I also have yet to write an entire email that is grammatically correct. Still, my bosses are very pleased, and I think also surprised with how well I'm doing my job, given that it is in a language that I am not comfortable in. It will be interesting to see where my German is at in a year's time.

Can you tell us more about the process of obtaining your permanent residency permit?

With the EU Blue Card your permanent residency is fast tracked from five years to 33 months—or 21 months if you can speak German at a B1 level.  To get my permanent residency I need to show them my B1 certificate, prove that I had worked and lived in Germany for 21 months and paid into the pension fund, and fill out a basic form. Like most things in Germany, it was all a matter of having the right paperwork.

Are you in Germany for good? Or is this just a stop along the journey?

I told myself when I first moved here that I would stay until I no longer liked living here and then I would move on. I still haven't reached that stage yet. I can't say if I am here for good, but barring any major life events, it does seem likely.

Do you have any advice for people considering moving to Germany?

I recommend learning the language. Once you are functional in German so many doors and areas of life become open to you that you were just not able to access before. The more German I can speak, the more comfortable I feel in Germany. Also, don't expect things to be like “home.” Open your mind to new ways of doing things, and if things here drive you insane, humor really helps.

Read more about Meg's life in Hamburg on her blog Geek Mädel.

by Nicolette Stewart