Man, it’s been almost 3 months since I’ve written anything! This summer, it seemed like everyday something new was happening and it took full concentration just to acclimmate and keep my head. In short, I left my job, visited a new land, started a new job, started a new course, and cleaned up my social circle.
Last year October, I started working in retail because I was raring to get back to work. Retail seemed like fun (apparently retail in The Bahamas – my only dose of experience – is a completely different beast); I’d meet people, make new friends, earn a little money, and most importantly, further develop my German. Managing to be accepted by one of the largest retail firms in Austria was deceptively easy – one quick interview and I had a job. Lucky for me, I was put in the men’s department (trust, the women’s department is the WORST!) and unbeknownst at the time, my coworkers in this department were the best thing that could’ve happened to me. They showed me the ropes, taught me the merchandise (I can spot a bad suit a mile away now), helped me with my German, and protected me. “From what?”, you’re asking. Smiling wryly, “From customers”, I’ll answer as flashbacks dance before my mind’s eye.
It is becoming more commonplace to see people like me in the workplace in Austria but it’s still visually like rum raisin icecream and some folks (not all) react ….well, differently. Still, I was employed and I applied myself because this job was the introduction I needed to acheive my end goal. You see, Austria is an interesting country; employers need the reassurance of another employer that an employee is employable – confusing? Not really, fact is, no one knows me or my skill sets here. Although the language courses are government operated, an C2 German level means nothing to the general populace or an HR manager; as in most government programs that affects the population, they failed to close-the-loop. Granted, very few migrants ever continue on to C2, most stop at B1 (see, this means nothing to you, imagine a hiring officer!). So, now you understand fully why I started in retail. It got me that intro I needed for my resume, it polished my understanding and use of the language (anyone who’s ever used any highschool foreign language in the country of origin knows what I’m talking about), and it boosted the confidence of other hiring managers.
By mid-summer I began to go crazy. Bored to tears, standing in an un-conditioned store, clocking my life away, and receiving endless amounts of rejection letters sent me spiraling into depression. I will admit, patience is not my virtue. This works well for me in project management – I roll up my sleeves and get things done under budget and on time. When I’m not in control however, patience is a trial by sword. A coworker at the store swooped in to the rescue, she told me about a government agency that helps women update their skills and get better jobs. I visited this agency and got an advisor. He looked at my resume and told me that my first problem was that I’d failed to put my education title on it. I was shocked, not one of my Austrian ‘friends’, that have ‘helped’ me with my resume updates and ‘supported’ me through my search had ever told me, “you have a title, you need to use it”! Turns out, for the level of jobs I was applying for (for which I am well-qualified), one must have a degree (title) and it must be prominently displayed everywhere my name is placed; otherwise, HR managers just don’t bother themselves to read through and see the copy of the degree and apply logic and so on. K.I.S.S. people! He also pointed out a few other things that I’d been erroneously doing and then shipped me off to the University for further assistance (turns out, I was over-qualified for his agency to assist me).
A few weeks went by, while interviewing intermittently, I spent a lot of time thinking about the value of friendships, re-evaluating my life and goals, and making decisions. I went from being depressed to being white-hot and deeply angry. The term “Schadenfreude” (to experience joy at other’s pain) took on meaning for me despite not having an English translation. Can you imagine that the closest English equivalent to “Schadenfreude” is Sadism?! I began to remove ‘leeches’ from me one by one. The last vestiges of ‘sweet island girl’ were laid aside and my anger dissapated as I freed myself from these destructive people. Interestingly enough, the very folks that I disassociated myself from where the very folks that I’d previously had to basically bribe my husband to associate with.
Mid-August arrives, last day at work arrives and my husband surprises me with tickets to Greece! Now, in my previous life (NYC), we’d travelled quite a bit and upon arriving to Austria our energies (not to mention, all our savings) were diverted to settling in and rebuilding our lives. I’d accompany him on business trips to neighboring countries and it was great to experience but….that’s not a vacation. Three long years and my husband hadn’t taken a vacation – poor thing. So, off we went to Rhodes for two weeks of sun, beach bars, and incredible seafood. It was wonderful but there’s twist in my story.
Two weeks before we left for our vacation, I get a call from a company that had already sent me a rejection letter months ago asking if I would interview. Shocked, curious, and resourceful, I agreed. The discussion was friendly, we spoke in both German and English and before I walked out, I knew I would get another call. I did, two days later – this time to speak with the VP. I prepared like heck, this was it! I thought back to any questions that hadn’t fully been answered in the last meeting, and prepared a presentation to that theme. The VP tried to unsettle me by telling me my German was shit (she literally said that, lol), to which I smilingly replied in German, “As I arrived here three years ago, the only word I knew was ‘Hello’. It takes time to learn a new language but I think I’ll get there.” She then pulled a few other tricks out of her bag but I kept on hitting homeruns. Finally, as she sat back and considered me, I turned to the Director that had initially interviewed me and reminded her of the unanswered question and presented my prepared Powerpoint. The VP gave a belly laugh and left to attend something; the Director turned to me and gave me a thumbs-up. I sat back and waited. Upon returning, the VP and Director discussed me and a new department they needed. Two days later, I got the job and happily went off to spend a few moments with my husband on a sandy beach.
I’ve been at the company for 3 months now and love my job. My life has switched back into the high-tempo pace I’m used to – things to do, people to see, places to be. My final personally-financed course – “Deutch ins Büro” (Office German) is a huge disappointment that I will not get into, but suffice it to say, I’ve learned more useful German at work than in this course.
As I celebrated my new job with the family, Oma bursting with pride said, “I always told you, you would succeed, didn’t I? Didn’t I?” Squeezing her tight, I replied, “Yes you did Oma, you were always in my corner!” while encompassing the entire family in my gratitude.
It’s mid-November now, my life is still high-tempo yet simplified and incredibly satisfying. I’ve reached the one of the goals set three years ago – to step back into my career. The requirement to utilise both languages daily, has prompted an incredible jump in my German skills, so I’m well on the way to accomplishing my last goal set three years back. I’m feeling the need to once again re-evaluate and set new goals. There are a few shadows floating in the back of my mind but I’m not quite ready to examine and organise them just yet. After such an exciting summer, time to enjoy the moment is required, to fully process what has happened and ensure that my reactions are in line with ensuring the positive development of my current situations.
The one thing I’ve taken from the past months is not to be a bystander in my life. Opportunity will knock but one has to open the door.