I arrived to Berlin on the morning of May 10th at approximately 10:00 AM, just over 24 hours later than the expected time of arrival; thus, I became the final student to arrive and join the rest of the IIP Berlin group–significantly later than expected. Shoot. My frustration with airport security that led to my missed flights the day prior was oppressed by the loss of six hours, the realization that I haven’t slept for nearly 24 hours, and an eating schedule that needed serious realignment. Shoot! Yet, the prospect of being in another country for almost three months gave me excitement, compelling me to wipe away any remnants of tears around my eyes and cast away my craving for a congratulatory you-made-it-to-Germany-in-one-piece pint of ice cream. I was ready to tackle the imminent challenges.
In the summer of 2014, I visited Germany for three weeks. I stayed with a wonderful host family for the first two weeks, traveling with them and attending my host brother’s school. During the final week, I spent traveling around Berlin and Munich. Therefore, Berlin is a city that remains familiar to me. The architecture, the geography, and the history were things I immediately recognized when we went on walking tours during orientation week. Because of this familiarity, the culture shock was neither large nor overwhelming. I was surprised by the amount of knowledge about the historical buildings and its stories I was able to retain from three years ago. The familiarity of these places that I once stepped foot on when I was 16 made my stay in Germany homelier. So far, I’ve experienced more confirmation about the differences that I was already aware of than new discoveries.
For one, I can confidently say that most of the populace still look like they walked out of Vogue Magazine. People of all ages had a gait representative of models from Paris Fashion Week and this was seen on the subways, in supermarkets, and in schools. Wherever they went with their sleek leather jackets and perfectly styled hair, Germans went with absolute style. If our fluency in English language and mannerisms weren’t explicit enough to get us labeled as foreigners or Americans, then it was our sweatpants and “Pitt” T-shirts made out of 100% cotton, not leather.
There is more emphasis on public transportation in Germany especially in Berlin, where U-bahn, tram, and bus routes create an extensive web of commuting possibilities for students, tourists, workers, and more. Quick and efficient, the German public transportation system is just a part of the country’s emphasis on green and sustainable practices. The heavy usage of the public transportation bolsters carpooling practices; there are less people driving cars and, consequently, there are less emissions released into the air. Additionally, bicycling remains a clean, popular way to get from one place to another. One is virtually able to find bike lanes on every sidewalk. Recycling reaches new levels in Germany, where people are provided an incentive to recycle empty plastic bottles. Many machines that process plastic bottles can be found stationed in local grocery stores like Edeka, where a simple insert can award some spare change. In my hotel, a mere opening of the window automatically turns off the AC system. With regards to sustainable practices, Germany is more engaged with organic and environmentally friendly farming practices. Germany is the biggest organic importer in Europe, consisting of nearly 40% of the total market. Many products found in supermarkets have a “Bio” tag on them, meaning that they do not contain toxic substances, synthetic inputs, or chemical additives.
Much of my first week was spent re-adjusting to a familiar environment, eating out every day, gorging myself on Wurst (German for sausage) of all styles, and hanging out with other IIP Berlin students who are accepting, adventurous, and excited.
My internship began in the second week. My company is called Vencon Research, a compensation benchmarking consulting firm that provides various reports to their clients on their competitor’s compensation packages. My company has a huge database on compensation and legislative benefits data from over 70 countries; they are consistently updated. Their United Arab Emirates data is currently being updated and researched on by none other than your’s truly! This week, I also completed reports for a few clients, acquiring the necessary numbers and putting them in an already coded formula that produces results. A compensation package is defined as the total package offered by the firm to a prospective employee. This consists of the base salary and any other benefits such as allowances, hard and soft benefits, and intellectual subsidies. An employee normally reviews the entire package before accepting a job with the company. I’ve only been exposed to a few of many types of services Vencon Research offers to their clients with salary surveys and benefits surveys being two of them. The client that requests these reports are given information on their competitors, often anonymized in these reports, and are able to see which areas they can improve on. One of the biggest problems Vencon Research runs into is that sometimes their clients do not fully provide the information that Vencon requests. Therefore, some data is left blank or more communication is required between Vencon and the corresponding firm to clarify data. This sometimes causes reports to be delivered late and often that cannot be controlled by Vencon. These services are important for clients because companies need to know what kinds of benefits they can offer to their potential employees so employees are more willing to work for them. If another company manages to receive the same employee, the former company can certainly look into their compensation package to see, if all other factors are held the same, what sorts of areas can be improved. Additionally, if a company sees that its package is scored significantly higher than their competitors, then they may possibly reduce some of the benefits so they can save on costs. I look forward to continue learning about my company these coming weeks.
The office consists of several departments. I work at the Data Research department while some of my other colleagues work at data revisions, sales, or coding. Despite the fact that there are less than 30 employees in the office, all of us do very important work. I became the youngest person at the company, just beating the former youngest intern/student by three months. Apart from the work aspect, I am overwhelmed that all the employees in my company are fluent in at least three languages. My colleagues who sit on both sides of me speak Russian to each other while another who sits across from me likes to converse with his colleagues from different departments in Spanish. On top of that, they are completely fluent in English and German! I am grateful that I am supported by an environment filled with people who are extremely intelligent, crazily multilingual, and hail from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. They have invited me to lunch everyday and we enjoy sharing our experiences from all around the world.
These two weeks in Berlin have been phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve fully internalized the fact that I’m here. I know there will be many opportunities to learn new things and grow. Berlin is a multicultural city that offers places and stories that are unlike many other places. With still quite some time left, there is still time for mistakes and learning opportunities. I take each experience to heart. I am excited for what’s to come!