Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?)

Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?)

By: Dani Deng
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Business Student Dani Deng had to face several challenges abroad before finding the right fit in terms of accommodation, city, and job.  Read on to learn how she faired in Germany doing an independently found internship at a start-up and a co-op position at SAP.

My adventure in Germany started when I landed an internship at a start-up company in Berlin and ended with a co-op at SAP in Heidelberg. I acquired the internship position independently, which made it challenging to start work in a new country without knowing anybody there and having to find my way. I moved to the capital of Germany all by myself. 

I knew it was not going to be easy, even with my travel experience. For someone who has been to the Netherlands for a six-month exchange and travelled through 16 countries in Europe and Africa, I would say working abroad is a whole new challenge.  

The Internship: Mismatched Expectations 

Based on my experience, I think of Berlin as a little on the cold side. People were not as friendly, especially when you compare them to the people of Canada.  I found the vibe of the city to be a bit depressing. Contrary to my belief, in a city as international as Berlin, it was hard to find someone in customer service who could speak English, with the exception of tourist oriented areas. “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” (“Do you speak English?”)  was my go-to phrase, although most of the time I was disappointed to find out the answer was “no”, and I had to use my best guess to carry a short conversation. 

Finding accommodations and starting my internship was a smooth process. However, once I started the job at the start-up company, I realized it was very demanding and I was required to work 50 hours a week. My work involved a lot of phone calls with customers to solve their cases, and dealing with conflicts between departments. I often felt emotionally drained after handling such complicated cases. Because of how drained I felt, I avoided social events after work so that I could give myself a chance to rest. 

Besides all the pressure from work, another challenge was my living situation. I shared an apartment with an older German woman. She worked as a freelancer and she stayed at home most of the time.  I noticed that the kitchen was always a mess and although we discussed a cleaning schedule, she was not very cooperative.

It was at that point when I realized that I needed to make some changes to my living and work situation, because I was getting overwhelmed with all the challenges I had to face. 

Creating a New Life

From a young age, I have played piano and it has always been my passion and a stress relief.  Every time I moved to a new city, I would look for places where I am able to play the piano. After I started the internship, I found a piano centre where I could play every weekend. Surprisingly, music was where I started to change my situation for the better.

At the start-up company, a colleague introduced me to several others from different departments in the company. We realized that we all had a passion for music, and we decided to start a band.  This meant that there were many rehearsals. It was a pure joy to be able to play music with people who hold the same passion and talent. Since then, I have become more and more active in social activities with colleagues. By the end of my internship, our band even performed a small concert for our colleagues.

The most important thing about living abroad is to find your circle of friends or support system, and to expand it from there. This made a big difference for me.

Transitioning into Co-op

After my internship, I moved from Berlin to Heidelberg to do my co-op with SAP. So I hopped on a train with all my luggage and I fell in love with the city from the moment I arrived. Everyone is so caring and friendly. Most importantly, I had no problem getting by with English when dealing with administrative matters with banks, the civil office, the electricity office etc. I was told that most of the residents around this area are employed by SAP or some other big international companies; hence English is more commonly used than in other areas of Germany. Although finding accommodation in a student city is extremely tough, I managed to move into a very nice student dorm before my co-op placement started.

My past four weeks working at SAP has been a blast! There is a big student community, a North American Group in the company, and I have been making a lot of personal and professional connections. My work requires very high attention to detail because it is related to financial controlling. Therefore, I am spending more time on individual cases and I am given more freedom to schedule my own work progress. Compared to my internship in Berlin, I get to learn a lot more from different types of assignments and there is a lot less repetitive work. 

In my time at SAP so far, I have noticed a lot of support from my supervisor.  My supervisor would set up coffee meetings with me to check if the job is aligned with my expectations and he would ask me for my feedback on the tasks that I was assigned. During the conversation, he would offer me some background information regarding the tasks, what the purpose is behind the tasks, and what the company will be using the data for.  This helps me to better understand the purpose of my work and to see the bigger picture.

With a more normal working schedule (40hrs/week), I have more free time outside of work, so I signed up for German evening classes. Language is the key to understanding a culture, and it is also the stepping stone for anyone who considers starting a career in international business.

It has been an amazing experience in Germany. Living alone in a foreign country can be lonely and difficult, but there is no better opportunity than to know your capabilities, your needs, and your goals in life. 


Beyond the Article

Posted on December 20, 2014