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'An unpaid internship was like an investment'
Photo: DPA

'An unpaid internship was like an investment'

Published on: 02 Apr 2013 07:40 CET

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Ovalle studied in Norway before making the move over to Bielefeld, a city tucked up in the north-eastern corner of North Rhine-Westphalia. After a prolonged search, he managed to secure a job working in an architecture firm and a German wife but is still weighing up whether to move back to Costa Rica.

Where are you located and what do you do?

I'm originally from Costa Rica but these days I live in Sennestadt, a suburb outside of Bielefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia. I studied architecture in Norway and I am lucky to be working as a design architect in a local firm here in Sennestadt.

What brought you to Germany and how long have you been here?

I came here because I got married to a German. I have been here two and a half years now but before things got serious with my now-wife, I never even imagined learning German, let alone moving to Bielefeld!

How did you land your job and do you have tips for anyone seeking similar work?

I looked and looked and looked! As simple as it sounds, I googled architecture offices around my region and started writing emails to all the ones I found interesting. The majority didn't reply, but eventually I found an internship in Münster (I had to commute three hours every day but it was worth it), and after a couple of months I found the position I am in now. Architecture is very different from fields like IT or engineering, my first recommendation is – surprise surprise – to learn the language. Very few architecture offices in this country work in English (or Spanish, my native language), so you must learn the language and try as hard as you can with the technical vocabulary. Another tip is to start small, in my case with an unpaid internship. I saw it as an investment: I'd live on a very tight budget for a while but I sharpened my language and professional skills.

Is it important for you to be able to speak German in your position?

Not only is it important, it's the only way to work. Being an architect, you have to speak with everyone from clients and authorities to engineers and craftsmen, and be able to understand their needs and requirements. Also, speaking the language, even with a very strong accent and evident mistakes, shows people that you take what you do seriously.

What are the key differences practising your profession here versus in your home country?

The amount of regulations, codes and guidelines involved in designing almost anything in Germany can be overwhelming. There are guidelines for things I didn't even know existed. While this keeps the standards of work very high, sometimes these regulations can become goals in themselves instead of serving a purpose. And of course, in my country one of the main problems to solve is how to keep the warmth out, while here it's how to keep it in!

What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?

The best thing about working in Germany is that the quality of technical work is regarded with high esteem everywhere in the world – which is great for your CV. I can't think of much particularly negative about being an architect specifically here, as in my experience architects in Germany face the same challenges that architects all over the world have to deal with.

Do you plan on staying?

It's hard to tell. To have a job in my field in Europe in the middle of the current economic crisis is a great feeling but I do dream of doing something for my country.

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