Los Geht’s 03: Reunification and Job Search

So I am back after another unwanted and unexplained hiatus. Just to recap a bit, in December 2018 my husband, Govind left for Germany to join his new job in Hamburg. As I explained in the previous posts, a long distance relationship was not something new for us but after 3 years of living together, the sudden void of companionship truly felt a bit different and difficult. Nevertheless, work kept both of us busy and the time difference between India and Germany was manageable, so complaining a lot doesn’t seem right.

Govind’s first few months in Germany, without being able to speak any German, were definitely not smooth. The toughest part, I guess, was finding an appartment which his German friend helped him with. But signing the rental contract is just the beginning. Then come numerous other contracts like phone, electricity, gas, internet etc. and everything is in German. From later experience I realised that it’s overwhelming even for someone who can manage with a bit of German, so I can only imagine how crazy it must have been for Govind to go through all that alone.

Meanwhile in India, since I was already aware of the unreasonable wait times for national visa application at the German Consulate in Bangalore, I booked an appointment for March 2019. I was applying for a family reunification visa so we basically needed to show that Govind would be able to support my move to Germany with his job and apartment there. An important rule in Germany is regarding the per person area requirement. By law, atleast 12 sqm of living space is required to sponsor a family member for the family reunification visa.

Once the process of family reunification visa began, I started seriously thinking about how, when etc. I would leave my job in India, but the decision was very complicated. I also had to figure out what I would do once I am in Germany. With the comfortable cushion of my super stable job in India somehow the thought of applying for jobs in Germany while I was in India never even crossed my mind.

Parallely I also started brushing up my German from school and thought I would cover atleast levels A1 and A2 before going to Germany. Both these levels were fairly easy for me because I had studied German in school for 5 years from class 6 to 10. In Feb 2019 I wrote the Goethe A1 exam and got 100/100. I was pleasantly surprised by the result because I never joined any language school and did not have any practice with the speaking part of the test. In March I had the visa appointment where they basically asked me for Govind’s docs but no German proficiency certificate. Then one month later I took the Goethe A2 level exam and passed that one easily too. I basically spent a few hours of self study every day (travel between home and work took around 2 hours everyday and I utilized that for learning German). I also started watching a lot of YouTube videos (Learn German and Easy German are two YouTube channels that were immensely useful). I borrowed a few books from my office library and became a member of the Goethe Institute to get exam prep books. I also changed my phone language to German and that taught me a few new words every day. Honestly speaking, the thing that helped me the most though was my unfair advantage of having learnt German as a kid.

I had read a lot of articles and blogs about marriage verification process for family reunification and thought that I would get the visa only after a few months. Surprisingly my visa came much earlier than I had expected, within 3 weeks of applying for it. The validity of the visa was 3 months which meant that I was supposed to fly to Germany and apply for my residence permit before that visa expired.

I planned to visit Germany in May for a month and then come back to decide about quitting my job or taking study leave or a sabbatical, because leaving a job at ISRO was not an easy decision and one that I kept on delaying endlessly. After getting my residence permit in Germany I also learnt that my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit) becomes invalid if I stay outside Germany for more than 6 months. This would have meant doing the whole visa and residence permit application again (from India) so it was definitely not an acceptable option. In my head I did the math and ended up staying in Hamburg for about 4 months (using up almost all my unused annual leaves from ISRO). In this process, I also decided in my head that I would forego my promotion at ISRO and informed my boss that I would resign immediately after my return serving a 3 month notice period and would leave by December 2019.

My 4 months in Germany went amazingly well. This was pre-Covid and I was so fortunate to meet so many people and make so many friends in the wonderful city of Wedel. I also managed to meet old friends in Germany and Holland. I made it a point to use every opportunity I could to practice my spoken German because I believed getting better at German was not only supremely essential for day-to-day life but would also be my only chance at finding a good job in Germany. Well thankfully half of this was proved wrong but more on that later. I do truly believe that learning German is very beneficial for anyone planning to stay in Germany even if it’s just for 2-3 years. In fact, even though I don’t need a word of German at my workplace (not even for socializing), I still find it immensely helpful to attend a language course provided by my employer to at least keep in touch with German. My German proficiency is also fairly sufficient to help me socialise with my wonderful German neighbours and read the plethora of post we receive. It was very strange to me when I first came here but now I am very much used to the fact that Germany loves snail mail and still relies a lot on the post for important documents and administrative communication.

By July, after forfeiting my promotion at ISRO and informing them of my imminent resignation, I seriously started thinking about what I would do after moving to Germany. I had already been here for about 2 months and then I started looking at jobs online. I started applying here and there, visited a few job fairs in Hamburg but really felt direction-less by this point.

Now that I look back at my life, I realise that meeting Frau Dorfmann, my German teacher and mentor in Wedel was a very important event that changed the course of my life. While teaching German, she also encouraged me to apply for jobs sooner, even though I had no real plan of taking up a job in the immediate future (at least not for the next 6 months or so) as I was still employed at ISRO.

The constant motivation from her side was just the push I needed. In around mid August I stumbled across the space jobs market in Darmstadt and started applying to roles that seemed suitable for my job experience. The work was entirely in English, which I felt was something very rare in Germany. Around end of August, exactly one week before going back to India, I got two interview calls. One of them was an in-person interview for a job in Bremen and the other one was a telephonic interview for a job in Darmstadt.

I personally was rooting for the job in Bremen, since we were living in Hamburg and Bremen is like 1.5 hours train ride away. Now that’s not very ideal, I know. But the other option, Darmstadt was like 500 km away and meant return to long distance relationship in another country. The Bremen interview went well. Actually the role was not what I really had in mind and didn’t match a lot with my experience but I was very proud of myself that I could manage the interview in German! Yes, I had to switch to English at a few places, especially the technical explanations related to satellite stuff, but for the most part, I managed with German. Initially, I was even apprehensive to apply in Darmstadt but in the first interview itself I felt really good about the role because it was AOCS, a very niche field in the satellite domain which I had been working on for the last 8 years at ISRO. I was also happy with the salary they offered so I did some math in my head and realised that managing 2 households in separate cities in Germany seemed doable, plus we could meet every weekend so it was definitely an upgrade from the long long-distance between Hamburg and Bangalore. Additionally the other option of sitting at home in Hamburg searching jobs nearby was much less attractive mentally and financially. In my head, I was also optimistic that something would happen soon and we would somehow get to be together in the same city. I wouldn’t have imagined that it would take less than a year for that to happen, but more on that later.

The telephonic interview for the job in Darmstadt went fine and I was told that I’d be informed about the next round soon. While I was at the airport on my way back to India I learnt that my profile was shortlisted and I’d soon have the final round of interview. Ten days later I had a super technical interview with my to-be teammates virtually.

The whole process was so impressive and it was only during the interview that I realised that this was the job for me. They needed an AOCS expert and I needed a space job in Germany so it was actually a perfect fit for both parties. Suddenly in my mind I started rooting for the Darmstadt job.

And about a month later I got the exciting news that I would soon be joining Telespazio Germany for working on operations of meteorological satellites at EUMETSAT in Darmstadt. Needless to say, I was elated. The thought of two homes, different cities, long distance relationship etc. didn’t really cross my mind when I heard I about my selection. Those were worries that future Smiti could tackle. At that moment I was just too happy that I got this wonderful job and would get to continue to work in the space domain in Europe. The news of my selection came a few weeks after I had already given in my resignation at ISRO. But in my head I was already going to Germany with or without a job. So getting this job was truly an icing on the cake!

So I guess this is the culmination of the Los Geht’s series. With these 3 blog posts I tried to pen down my thoughts and bring out what I was going through during the move from India to Germany. Uprooting our life and moving to a new country after leaving our well settled home was a big decision but the idea of ‘Wir schaffen das’ or ‘We will do it’ mixed with a bit of ‘Let’s see where this goes’ is what kept us going.

It is now almost 3 years since we took that decision of moving to Germany. A few months after I joined my new job in Jan 2020 we had Covid-19 enter our lives and change the way we worked and lived. Today my husband and I are fortunate to be living in the same city and as an unimaginable bonus we also work at the same organisation. We undoubtedly have a lot to be thankful for. These 3 years have taught us a lot, not only about life in Germany, but also about us as individuals.

When one moves to a new country it is not all rosy!; you start afresh; you’re far away from family and make new friends; you strive to fit in; you unlearn and relearn a lot of things; but most importantly you keep going wherever life takes you…..

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