The 27-year-old Athar Mohammed Khan received his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in India. He moved to Germany in September 2010 after having worked with commercial vehicle manufacturer Ashok Leyland for three years. Since October last year, he's made the transition from a student to a full-time employee in the automobile industry.
How did you end up coming to Germany and where did you study?
I had been planning to go to the US to pursue a master's degree, but I started looking at universities in Germany and realized that they were really good. The kind of research carried out in the automotive field is great, not to mention the fee structure and the student jobs as research assistants, so it is a good option financially as well as to get some experience. I studied automotive engineering at the RWTH in Aachen.
Can you speak German?
When I came here, I had no knowledge of German but I did three levels of language courses. My German friends used to help me out a lot. However, knowing the technical terminology is very important in my field, and I am now getting that training on the job.
What is your current job?
I'm working at Delphi Automotives, an American company which is currently doing a project in Germany. I'm working on a development process. The aim of most automotive research at present is to make a car which has lesser fuel consumption and is low on pollution emissions. I have been working here as a testing and calibration engineer since October 2012.
How did you land your current job?
Thankfully, it has been a smooth ride for me. A recruitment agency contacted me through a social networking website. The whole process including interviews with the HR department took about three or four weeks. It was easier for me because of my previous work experience in India and because I had worked as a research assistant for a year and a half as a student in Germany.
I worked in Luxembourg for two months after I started my current job. In January, I relocated to Braunschweig, where I currently live.
Is it difficult for students to find good jobs quickly in the automotive industry?
Yes, it can be quite hard finding a job for a student because they don't have a lot of experience. In my field, you should try to figure out which specific area you want to work in while you're a student and then try and get practical experience through your thesis, jobs and so on. You should then apply for a specific job in the field because if you apply for some job simply for the sake of it, the HR guy at the other end of the table will know!
People often have the impression that there are no jobs available in Germany, but that's not true. When I realized that I would be finishing my master's thesis in four or five months, I started applying to places – that's the optimum time frame, since it can take a couple of months for the entire process.
How was your transition from having a student job to a full-time job?
The kind of work I did as a student was very similar to my current job. I got my appointment letter from Delphi while I was still working on my master's thesis, so it was a bit of a race to finish it, which I did in September. After starting work in October, I was extremely busy arranging my visa and blue card, that too from Luxembourg. So it was only in the Christmas break in December that I actually had the time to think about it all – in that sense, it was a very strange and hectic transition.
How important is it to be able to speak German in your professional life?
I think it's pretty important, not only for your job but also for everyday life. When I have to speak to the technicians on the job, I have to speak to them in technical German. My company has arranged a German language course for me which concentrates on technical knowledge.
Do you feel accepted as a foreigner?
Germany has grown to accept a lot of international people into the technical field because there's a huge dearth of people in this area. The company I'm working for is multicultural and multinational, so we are accepted as foreigners. My German colleagues help me to integrate myself into the company and the culture. Besides, I don't like to go around carrying the baggage of my culture everywhere. I like to adapt to the culture I am in.
Having worked in both India and German, what is the biggest difference you see in terms of the way of working?
The biggest difference is the structural processes and team work: each person's role is quite clearly defined in Germany compared to India. In India, people work better individually whereas here, there is more emphasis on team work.
Also, the work-life-balance is very important in Germany. In India, it's usually one or the other which takes precedence.
What is the best thing about working in Germany and what aspect don't you like?
The best thing is working in real time with the most recent developments in my field. Germany is the Mecca of the automotive industry and so you get really great experience working here. There's nothing I don't like as such – except may be the high taxes.
Do you plan on settling in Germany?
That's a difficult question to answer because I don't know what the future holds. But I have a blue card so living here long term won't be a problem for me; I know how things work in the automotive industry in Germany and I'm in the process of improving my technical German. So I would like to see what kind of opportunities come about and then decide on the future.
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Interview conducted by Mithila Borker.