I’ve learned from my experience that the earlier you start taking an interest in the local culture and participating in local life, the easier the integration process is. In a way you have to let this new culture in, to be open to it. Maybe the integration process doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it definitely becomes much more beautiful.

People tend to close themselves to the experience because they’re not sure if they can find a job and maybe they might stay only a short time. Much is lost through that because they miss out on how enriching it can be to learn to live with this new culture and with these new people around you. This effort gives you the positive experience, which might be the reason you decide to stay and to learn the language in the future. That’s not like that only in Germany, it’s like that everywhere.

Viola Hoffmann

Priceless experiences and reasons to stay

By Inga

Are you looking for a job in Germany? Then you already know it is not all about qualifications and it is a lot about culture.

Viola Hoffmann is the founder of the recruitment agency Accedera, which specializes on foreign skilled workers who want to work in Germany. In her interview with Multicoolty she explains, what it comes down to, when you want to work in a foreign culture and how her own multicoolty story and life in five different countries gave her the inspiration to help other people to integrate into German society.

What was your motivation to start recruiting foreign professionals?

One of the reasons was the fact that many qualified migrants don’t get adequate jobs here. We thought that it cannot be that Germany loses all this potential with all the qualified people it has in the country, while at the same time everybody talks about the shortage of labor.

Now the situation is changing with the possibility to validate the foreign education, however, this is not always that easy. Sometimes people have to go through additional courses that cost a lot. Another problem is, of course, that these qualified professionals often have to start from a lower position because they do not speak the language. It’s really a pity.

Isn’t starting from a lower position inevitable, in a way?

There’s a really sad case I’ve worked on last year. It was a foreign professional who decided that since his German was not really good, he would start as a kitchen aid, so that he wouldn’t have to live from state support until his language skills got better. What happened is that when the person felt confident about his language skills, then the work agency simply told him: “You have already worked here as a kitchen helper. There are so many jobs for kitchen helpers out there. So we cannot help you unless you keep working as a kitchen helper.”

This is a shame! Of course, there might have been ways to get out of this situation, but for him it was too complicated to understand the bureaucracy. He felt pushed into this corner and was very disappointed. Unfortunately, it is not that easy to change the way institutions act ….

Our mission is to help these people with all the paperwork, to encourage them to learn German and to find possibilities to get better jobs. There are many things one can do to not to have to work as a kitchen aid forever – there are different ways to overcome these issues.

For me it is very rewarding when I get feedback from people who have found a job, have learned the language and have managed to integrate themselves. This makes our job worthwhile.

Do you see it getting easier for foreign specialists to find work in Germany?

At the moment the public authorities are realizing that many people are returning to their home countries, although we need specialized work force. They understand that they still have to make an extra effort to keep these people here, not only give them jobs.

Therefore, I would very much like to expand our business even more into this direction. It is not only about finding a job, but finding a whole network of support. For example, I wish that the people could call us anytime and ask us for help when the culture shock really arrives.

But is it really possible for a foreigner to integrate into German society?

It’s definitely possible. However, you do need lots of patience and endurance. When you come as a foreigner to a foreign society, it doesn’t matter if it’s Germany or not, you have to be tolerant. You have to deal with how the people are – people who will always be there. You have to work on it and adapt yourself because the people around you are not going to change.

The main worries that foreigners have, are connected to how they will actually manage this integration. Am I just going to work, and that is it, or do I try to come into contact with the locals?

We want to offer our support here.

Are the German companies open for foreign specialists?

It is most of the time not difficult to convince the companies that the people who come to Germany are qualified. The main problem seems to be that the companies are afraid that the professional doesn’t speak sufficiently German. There is still some uncertainty: different culture, different language, how can we include him in the team, how will the colleagues react, do the other colleagues have to speak English, but maybe they don’t speak English … and so on.

Is Germany a multicultural society?

When I leave my home in Cologne Südstadt and walk on the street I hear lots of other languages and not necessarily much German. When you look around in the metro – there are so many people who are not born in Germany or whose families are not from Germany. So in this sense Germany, either is or is definitely on the way to becoming multicultural, depends how you look at it. However, this change is not conscious to everyone. It is not yet self-evident for Germans that we are multicultural society.

Are the Germans open for multiculturalism or not? There’s a heated debate about that ….

Well, we’d have to define an average German first. Who is this typical German? I really don’t know…

I must say it’s quite difficult to be tolerant if a foreigner says that he does not want to learn German or to integrate himself. But at least I have the impression, that there are many people who do want to learn German and want to be integrated. Often these people get good feedback and support from the locals.

Why is this topic so controversial then?

There are so many clichés stirred up from media and public institutions. On the one hand, state institutions act as if coming to Germany is the most wonderful thing that could happen to a person. It’s clearly exaggerated.

On the other hand, it’s such a cliché when some politicians say that all social help is exploited by Romanians. When you look at statistics, people coming to Germany are mostly highly qualified professionals who work here and pay their taxes! So there is a painful public debate in both directions and you cannot often see the average foreigner who comes and works here.

That’s what I find very nice about multicoolty blog: you leave out these two extremes.

What is your personal multicoolty story?

I lived in the USA for a year during high school. Then I decided to study abroad in Maastricht, in the Netherlands and thereafter to get my master’s degree in Copenhagen, in Denmark. Additionally, I did an internship in Argentina and have been married to a Peruvian for five years.

I’ve learned from my experience that the earlier you start taking an interest in the local culture and participating in local life, the easier the integration process is. In a way you have to let this new culture in, to be open to it. Maybe the integration process doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it definitely becomes much more beautiful.

I understood this in Argentina: I went only for five months and I really thought that it’s such a short time and I might as well not give an effort. I opened up for the local culture only towards the end of the internship and I still regret it.

The same happens here, when people think that they’re not sure if they will find a job and maybe they stay only a short time, so they close themselves to the experience. Much is lost through that because they miss out on how enriching it can be to learn to live with this new culture and with these new people around you. This effort gives you the positive experience, which might be the reason you decide to stay and to learn the language in the future. That’s not like that only in Germany, it’s like that everywhere.

For example, I didn’t give an effort to integrate myself in Denmark and it made the experience quite difficult.

Why was the experience in Denmark so difficult for you? It is, after all, a neighbouring country for Germany.

Every person who moves to another place always has a form of culture shock. The level of how severe the shock is can vary. I had this culture shock in Denmark, when after nine months I thought I cannot take these people anymore. It was clearly because I didn’t focus on building relationships  with the locals and people around me in the first months.

When you have a culture shock you feel displaced and isolated, you start wondering why the people in this country are so weird. You don’t even get that many people go through these same emotions.

What would you recommend to soften the culture shock or make it pass quicker?

It’s pretty clear that if you simply walk on the street it’s not very likely that you’ll find your best friend. (laughing – ed.) It might happen in some other countries, but not in Germany. So you have to reach out and make it clear that you are open to get to know people: participate in local events; go to an association or even a sports club; involve in an activity you enjoy together with locals. For example, when you play music, then you ought to find people who share the same passion.

For me, sport is something that helps me to integrate very easily.

Since everybody has the culture shock then the important question is, if the person can overcome this culture shock at some point or not? Culture shocks can have real consequences on people’s health, causing depression and sleep disorders, for example.

What is the solution then?

One thing is to try to integrate from the beginning, and this is very important. But I have recently come to understand, that some people will never feel at home or even comfortable in some new countries. There might simply be no cultural fit. In this case it is necessary to acknowledge that your way of life is different and you will never be able to live well here: in this case you just have to accept the situation and, if necessary, try to find happiness somewhere else. If the environment is not for you, then it’s really not worth to try to bend yourself and maybe even become depressed when you simply cannot live in this place.

Has living abroad changed you?

I’ve been recently doing lots of intercultural personality tests and my personal culture is apparently an absolute mixture of the countries I have lived in. For example, looking at a work culture perspective I fit really well in Denmark and I indeed liked it very much there: I like flat hierarchies and informal way of working. In private life I tend to be very relationship oriented, whereas Germans normally tend to be object oriented. I am pretty sure I embraced this relationship orientation in South-America and it has definitely changed my value system. It is clear that every time I have stayed abroad for longer, it has changed me a lot.

I think that the experience of living abroad is priceless.

However, I don’t think people have to push themselves to do that. If a person feels like staying in his or her home country, then this is completely fine.

A grande finale: tell us about a cultural blunder you’ve committed?

Argentina comes to my mind right away. (laughing – ed.) The understanding of time is very different in each culture.

So one day I was invited for a get-together in Argentina. Since I wanted to fit in, I really pushed myself hard to not to arrive too early because I knew it’s polite to come later. Finally, I arrived at the friend’s house half an hour later than planned. You can only imagine how I had to push my German side to be able to do that. (laughing – ed.) It felt really awkward. But when I arrived my friend was still taking a shower and she was very surprised that I came so early. Apparently in Argentina it’s normal to arrive to the party one and a half hours later than planned.


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