Just today, a friend of mine asked me, how Germany fits as a destination for living abroad. We discussed the pros and cons. That made me think of multiple expats that come for foreign assignments to different countries across the world. What does a foreign assignment bring? What can one expect to be wary of? What can one expect to learn? All these are questions that decide whether or not we take up these opportunities, or show us pointers to evaluate them.
Today, we share insights from Christian Hacker, from Siemens in Germany, who talks about what he experienced on his “international exprience” in the US. Most specifically, we analyze the possibilities and find out, what does a foreign assignment bring to our careers.
Experteer: When did you have your first abroad experience?
Christian Hacker: At 25, I was able to realize my childhood dream of living and working in the US. After gaining work experience here in Germany from the age of 19 as a part of my dual degree, in my first real job itself, I made some important contacts in the commercial departments abroad. For me, it seemed like the most logical step to shape my personal and professional profile through an experience in another culture. So, I decided to go to Chicago, US, as a member of the performance controlling branch of our business unit.
There used to be an “Information year” – an opportunity for young talent for a limited period of 10 months to gain experience abroad, a light experience package, if you may. This possibility was unfortunately already closed when I joined. My joining batch was the first one where a full-scale deployment for multiple years was initiated. At that time one had to explicitly state the desire for an international experience for a number of years before it was made possible. However, these days, our young professionals venture out of home earlier than ever.
Experteer: What were the three most important things you learnt during your stay abroad?
Christian Hacker: Besides the most obvious points like more independence or the ability to organize things in a short span of time, the main points from my perspective were:
Understanding other cultures: I often hear stories from colleagues here in Germany, on how clear and even written communication sometimes fails to achieve the desired effect in departments across the globe. Every one seems to have different perceptions. This is where studying abroad, or international experiences help the most, especially to understand, why the communication though clear, may still be formulated from the “German point of view”. It is often understood differently abroad. In these cases, it helps to pay close attention to explaining the reasons for a particular policy, or clearly explain what may already be known from a German perspective. The biggest misunderstandings occur due to the assumptions made by the information sender about the information receiver. A stay abroad, sharpens this communication issue by bringing it closely in relation to the language and the style in another culture.
Enriching one’s own personality and discovering new facets: Before my international experience, I had heard many colleagues being talked about by others in a strange manner. Things like: “Since he’s been abroad he’s a changed person’, or ‘ colleagues who come back after international experiences, take a long time to acclimatize again.” Only after I went abroad, did I realize how these notions came about. Living abroad opens up one to completely diverse experiences. With a constant barrage of new impressions and contact with people of multiple cultures, which is different from just being on a holiday, there’s a fundamental change. You tend to question things, take on new ideas that are not necessarily present in your usual “home” environment. For me personally, a stay abroad meant, a significant change towards more open, more balanced people. Through the friendships I made, I was even more conscious of the areas that were of interest to me personally and what values I held in importance (across national borders). In hindsight, this can almost can be perceived as one’s second puberty.
Experteer: What was your biggest challenge while working abroad? Can you share an anecdote?
Christian Hacker: The biggest challenge was clearly to get rid of or downscale well-known ways to work and think. My boss would often give me a big grin in situations where my German efficiency took center stage. “Ah, those Germans” was something I heard often with mischievous smiles in the backdrop. Once in the department of Motor Vehicles, I had an incident which astonished some people because I returned a day after I got my driver’s license asking them to correct my height on the back of the license by a few centimeters. Professionally, there were some frustrations. It was not always easy to achieve success through the German work attitude. I realized, especially in business, it is the results that count, and perhaps how you get there is less important . After I became aware of that, I stopped insisting so much on the German way, and a lot of things became easier. Today I would probably refrain from returning to the motor vehicles department just for the correction of a tiny detail on my driver’s license.
Experteer: What’s the most important tip you’d like to give someone planning to work abroad?
Christian Hacker: Do not give up! The beginning is certainly not easy, and in the first few months, there are other things going on that you may not know or understand fully. However, once you’re over the initial uncertainty, it opens up endless possibilities and perspectives that can only be experienced through a multi- year stay. And they are definitely worth it.
Thank you Christian for your interesting insights. While the step of going through the initial few battles is never easy, we hope that all those wanting to get into new jobs abroad are able to see through those hurdles and create new possibilities for their careers.
Christian Hacker was born in 1983 in Germany. After having successfully achieved his German Abitur, Chrisitian completed a dual degree course at Siemens. He has been working for Siemens for more than 10 years now. Christian has worked across different functions including Internal Controlling and Risk Management. He was named a “Corporate Top Talent” by Siemens. Christian is a big fan of German efficiency as well as the American joie de verve and is trying to connect these two extremes in his personal and professional life.