Overcoming bureaucracy and the long path to find professional purpose abroad

Role Model Story Patricia

I would like to present you today, in this fresh new 2022, a very special Role Model Story. It is a story that shows what happens when you persistently work on your goal and keep a profound fear behind you. It is a beautiful, emotional, touching story and I am very happy and proud that the protagonist this time is a friend of mine. Let’s start with this wonderful role model portrait. 

Meet Patricia

Patricia moved to Germany from Mexico 11 years ago. What was originally meant to be a short adventure abroad became a new home. In between was a long road full of bureaucratic hurdles and the strong will to stay. Today she is working in the profession she is passionate about and trained in, but in between, there were years full of doubts, fear, and compromises. Today Patricia is proof of how a long road pays off in the end. 

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It started as a foreign adventure

Patricia is a fun-loving, free-spirited, and adventurous person. She has always had a desire to see the world outside of Mexico. After graduating with a degree in Communications, she wanted to explore Europe. The timing was right. She knew it was the perfect time in her life to do so and did not want to miss this window of opportunity. She decided to spend a year as an Aupair in Germany because of the language. She already knew Spanish, English, and French. She wanted to expand her language skills by another language and so the choice fell on Germany. It seemed to be a good addition to her academic degree and she hoped for a better career start in Mexico after her return from Germany. 

So she lived with a German family, took care of the children, and was thus well integrated socially and culturally right from the very beginning. Being part of a family is very important to her and so, despite the adventure, it was also a nice arrival in a foreign country. She lived in Munich and immediately fell in love with this city. Many who have lived in Munich can certainly relate to this. The city offers a cosmopolitan and international flair but at the same time it is a big village and the size is compact. She was 23 years old back then and enthusiastic about her new life. 

"The city has stolen my heart."

When a foreign country starts to feel like home

After a year as an Aupair, she had fallen in love with the country and the city, but still had difficulty communicating in German. Learning the language was more difficult than she thought. Her knowledge of the German language would not yet have the added value she had hoped for when she would return to Mexico. But there was something even more important: she was not yet ready to turn her back on this new country, which had quietly become her home. This adventure didn’t feel finished yet, and so she decided to focus entirely on learning German. She stayed, learned the language, and was able to apply for a student visa. It was also possible for her to work and make a living with a mini-job. It was always clear to her that she could only stay if she could support herself. She found a fairly freshly established restaurant with Mexican cuisine. Again, she has found a family. Only this time in a professional context. The work in this restaurant connected her to her home country Mexico and she loved the connection to the typical food she missed so much. In this Mexican restaurant, she could not only breathe a piece of home but also talk to her colleagues in Spanish and English. Thus, the work became a kind of retreat in which she felt at home, relaxed, and which also enabled her to stay while she continued to learn German on a daily basis. 

"My Mexican colleagues at work were like family to me."

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First fall in love with the country and then with the one person

Patricia was single when she came to Germany and decided to extend the adventure without making it dependent on a relationship. In the 2nd year, however, that should change a bit. She met someone. They were friends at first and both had the intention to help each other with their language skills. He also wanted to help her with her job search and even brought a laptop to a meeting to work on her resume. They ended up discussing everything else but her resume and it was clear that they had something special in common. In their third year in Germany, they became a couple and her list of reasons why Germany has already become a new home grew longer and longer. 

Of course, Mexico is also her home and she misses the food, the friends, and clearly her family. However, her heart has room for two homes and whenever she is in one country she longs for the other. 

When bureaucracy hits and you find yourself devastated

While it was an exciting and beautiful time privately, the big question mark about her professional future and visa status became increasingly threatening. She had now been in Germany for three years and was faced with the big decision of what to do next. A student visa was no longer an option and she had to find a way to stay in her beloved home country. 

She could not get her studies in communication sciences in Mexico recognized in Germany. Her only two options to stay legally in Germany were either to continue her studies or to get an apprenticeship. She struggled with this decision for a long time and tried to study German at the university. She was one point short of admission in the final test and this option was off the table. What remained was the possibility to do an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a special form of further education that is very typical for Germany. It is far more hands-on than a degree and you don’t need a high school diploma. The question was only where she could do an apprenticeship. For Patricia, it was clear that she did not just want to do something for the visa but would like to spend her time doing something she was interested in. Her professional family in the Mexican restaurant knew about her problem and offered her an apprenticeship in the gastronomy industry. They had to prove that Patricia was better suited for this position than a German applicant and after some setbacks and twists and turns they made it. In the end, she had the training visa in her hand but the road to this point was tough. 

I am sure many people can understand how it must be for someone who prepares his papers, goes to the office and on the spot and there puts his fate in the hands of an employee who sometimes has a good and sometimes a bad day. She felt like she was being judged over and over again by a person she didn’t know. Often she had tears in her eyes after such an appointment. The confirmation or rejection hung over her like a sword of Damocles and it cost her a lot of strength to get through this. Each time she made her way to the office, she asked herself: 

Will I be turned away at the entrance because a document is missing? 

Will the person opposite me have a good day today or a stressful one? 

Will they take into account that German is a foreign language for me? 

Will she see that I want nothing more than to contribute or will she see me as a parasite? 

There were phases when she had to renew her transitional visa every two weeks. Until one day the redeeming call came. Her apprenticeship at the Mexican restaurant was recognized! This was a sudden stop to a phase of daily concerns and uncertainty and Patricia was happy to have this opportunity.

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When becoming a citizen changes everything

After some time she even received the unlimited residence permit and was suddenly independent of her employer. A little later she was granted citizenship in Germany. A celebratory moment after so many years of anxiety and doubts about whether the country you like so much will let you stay. The citizenship process happened during the early days of the pandemic and so she didn’t really celebrate it until today. But there was every reason to be joyful. In the meantime, she had managed to get her studies in Mexico recognized. With her German citizenship, she was suddenly independent like never before. For the first time, she thought about how she could get a foothold again in her dream job related to communication sciences. After 8 years, she felt ready and announced to her employer her desire to change. Due to the pandemic, the hospitality industry was hit hard and the job that was usually so crisis-proof was suddenly no longer the same. Patricia had to work short time for the first time and the future of the restaurant was uncertain. 

"I didn't know where to start. Now that I finally had my citizenship, what should I do? Where to start?"

The fear to apply

Now that the way was clear for a fresh start, the application phase itself seemed scarier than ever. Patricia felt very insecure looking at her resume. How could she apply for a job when she hadn’t even worked in the profession she was trained in? All of her work experience was in a field outside of the industry. She did not feel competitive at all and was paralyzed. She was insecure about her work experience. And although she already knew German very well, she still felt very insecure in this foreign language and not like herself. 

 

"It was a long way until I dared to apply. I was incredibly afraid of formulating the cover letter. Looking back, I don't really know why, but at that moment I wouldn't have dared without the support of my friend. "

I think many can understand how Patricia felt at this stage of her life. As if in shock, unable to take the first step or fight her fear. Fortunately, she got help in exactly this phase. 

By chance, she came across a mentoring program of the city that helps foreigners to integrate into the German labor market. She had to apply for the few places in this mentoring program and was selected. Not only did she now have a direct contact person, she also had training on the application process, completion of documents such as cover letter and resume and application photos. Most important, however, was the exchange with others who were in a very similar situation. People who also had a non-linear resume and faced the same challenge as she did. Just talking about these fears and realizing that she was not alone gave her a lot of strength. She learnt a lot about herself in this period. She reflected herself and started to see that she is not a fraud but bringing lots of enthusiasm and talent to the table. 

The power of networking 

In this phase, she also slowly understood what networking really is and how she could use it for herself. At that time, she didn’t even have a picture on LinkedIn and thought she had no contacts. But as time went on, she understood that it wasn’t about the number of contacts and it wasn’t about asking someone for a favor. It was about offering herself and her skills and raising her hand. She did it and applied to a large German company with the help of her friend. The direct contact allowed her to get her resume in the right pile. The rest was history. She got the job, even got promoted in the meantime, and is happily practicing her new profession. It took a door opener and the opportunity for her to explain herself and her particular situation. And this was then possible of her networking efforts. Especially when a resume is not stringent and straightforward, it is important to be heard and to explain. 

"I learned that I don't have to match a job profile 100% to find a job."

My profession is my passion but also my status

I asked Patricia what the profession means to her. For her, it’s her passion, for one thing. She is very interested in languages and the topic of communication and is very happy to finally be able to work in this field. Surprisingly, it was also status for her. Through her work, she now feels fully integrated, not only in Germany as a country, but also within her circle of friends. It was always burdensome for her to see that she was the only one who fell short of her abilities. Who despite her degree could not work in this field, did not have a sexy employer to show for it but started all over again. Now she had the opportunity to prove herself and her abilities. She often made herself small. “I know every job is important, but I was very often ashamed to be the only one in my circle of friends who didn’t work in a big and well known company.”

"I know every job is important, but I was very often ashamed to be the only one in my circle of friends who didn't work in a big and well known company."

18 months after refocusing her career, Patricia is much more confident. She knows her fears were mostly in her head, and her promotion and role on the team are proof of that. She has lost her fear of contact and has reacquainted herself. She feels like a full member of society. “I am German-Mexican and I have the same rights and duties as everyone else.”

To others, she advises above all to be persistent and keep pushing for it. The road to becoming a citizen in a foreign country is a rocky and long one, and the only choice is to go all in or to retreat. She advises everyone in a similar situation to face their fears. In her case, it was a mentoring program but 1:1 coaching or a group coaching can also help. Get help, reach out, and make take one step after the other. 

Thank you Patricia beyond measure for sharing your story with us! As a friend, I am incredibly proud of all that you have accomplished and over the moon to be able to write this Role Model Portrait about you now. If you want to contact Patricia you can do so here or write me so I can get you two in touch. 

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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