In this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast, we will be hearing from Ana Claudia Vicente da Silva. Ana developed an interest in German culture in university while in Brazil and then joined a German company upon graduation. She worked hard in that role and eventually got the opportunity to transfer to the company’s German headquarters. Though she already had a significant amount of experience with Germany regarding the work culture and language, she still had many challenges to overcome in her adjustment to life in a smaller German town. Listen to her story and learn from her experiences in this episode!
LEARN in this episode:
✔ How to position yourself for success in a move to a foreign office within your company
✔ Tips for negotiating for a better salary when moving to other countries
✔ Some of the main differences between Brazilian and German culture in both personal life and professional environments
✔ The challenges of moving abroad with a partner who can’t easily adapt to new environments
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Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.
Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad.
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Send us a message at https://expatempire.com to schedule your call today!
With that said, let’s start the conversation.
David McNeill: [0:00:46] Hey Anna, thanks so much for joining us today on the Expat Empire Podcast.
Ana Claudia: [0:00:50] Thank you, David, for inviting me.
David McNeill: [0:00:52] Yeah, it will be great to hear more about your experience moving from one country to quite a different one. If you could tell us a bit about where you’re originally from, where around the world you’ve lived so far and where you’re living right now, that would be great.
Ana Claudia: [0:01:04] Great. I’m from Brazil and I live in Germany. Actually, these are the two countries where I actually live. Although I participate in a lot of projects in different countries like the U.S., France, China and also South America, I am actually living in Brazil and Germany. Now I’m living in Germany. I’m still here in Germany.
David McNeill: [0:01:26] In which city are you living in?
Ana Claudia: [0:01:28] The name is Kempten. Those who are not from Germany will not know, but I can say it’s somewhere near Munich.
David McNeill: [0:01:36] Anna, where would you say that your interest in living abroad originally came from?
Ana Claudia: [0:01:40] I was thinking about this question, it’s something a little weird for me because I just had the impression since I was a young person in university that I would someday live in Germany. Somehow I was always attracted to German culture and so on. That’s also why I started learning German when I was in university. and also working for a German company.
David McNeill: [0:02:04] Is there anything in particular that drew you to Germany or was there some certain experience that you had when you were young that connected you with the German culture? Was there anything like that?
Ana Claudia: [0:02:13] No, I cannot tell that it was actually that. It was only a sensation that I had. I had a sensation that I would go to Germany, but then I didn’t know if it would be like only as a tourist or really to live there.
David McNeill: [0:02:27] When was the first time that you were able to go there? Was that when you actually made the move or did you have a chance to travel before that?
Ana Claudia: [0:02:33] No, I traveled a lot to Germany before. First was actually as a tourist. I was here for three months. I also had the opportunity to learn more German. I was also doing an intensive course, something like that. Then I also had several business trips because I was working in a German company so I had the opportunity to visit here because of business.
David McNeill: [0:02:59] So how did you find that first job, that was a German company and that was in Brazil, right? How did you make that happen and ultimately, of course, kind of go toward that goal of eventually making it to Germany?
Ana Claudia: [0:03:10] Yeah, actually my career, I started as a consultant, SAP consultant, so I was traveling a lot. That’s when I was also doing projects in other countries. Then I decided, no, I want to have a more stable life. I decided to work in an industry. Then in Brazil it’s very known that German companies are good companies because they have better benefits or work conditions for people in Brazil so that’s why I searched for that and also because it’s an international company and I would like to use my language skills.
David McNeill: [0:03:47] At the time that you joined the company did you have quite good language skills, or were you still in the beginning, early stages of your studies?
Ana Claudia: [0:03:54] Yeah, I would say my English level was the same as nowadays or maybe nowadays is a little better because I’m using it more, but the German was intermediary, I would say. Not exactly enough to live in Germany, but it was alright enough to be differential in my curriculum.
David McNeill: [0:04:16] Right. Exactly. You were working at this company, this German company and you were living in Brazil. How did you kind of think about trying to make the transition? Did you really work toward finding that opportunity or did it land in your lap luckily from one of your managers, how did you find this opportunity to make the move to Germany?
Ana Claudia: [0:04:36] Yeah, I would say it was a mixture of both because I had already this idea or the impression that I would need to go and live abroad or to continue improving my career because my career in Brazil was kind of on the top of what I would be able to achieve there because for sure the headquarter is in Germany. The nicest things are happening here and not at the plant. Then I was just doing my job, doing a good job. I had a successful career in Brazil and I also was participating in projects with German colleagues. I think this was also important and it was also important that I was being myself.
I mean if you ask someone from a Brazilian point of view, ‘oh, is the relationship of Ana with the German colleagues good or bad?’ I think they would say it’s a bad relationship because I was really kind of fighting with them bringing my points and really discussing and analyzing and so on. Not so much friends from the perspective of a Brazilian, but in the perspective of a German, I think they realized, oh, Anna is really good. She has her points, she brings new ideas, she does good work. I think this was also what made them to think about me for a position here in Germany. Then in the end, the position, the offer of this position came to me, but it was as I said, a mixture of both. The opportunity came, but just because I had success and I also had this behavior, I would say.
David McNeill: [0:06:08] Yeah, that makes sense. Obviously that puts you in a good position to get this opportunity. When that was presented to you, did you think, okay, I’m going to take this immediately or were there any questions in your mind about whether or not you should stay in Brazil? How did you think about approaching that opportunity and maybe even the cost of living and how you would make your living work in Germany or did you just say, all right, I’m there and you packed up your stuff and left in two weeks?
Ana Claudia: [0:06:35] No, I didn’t analyze and actually in the beginning they were trying to offer me something that was not that attractive to be honest. They were trying basically to take my salary in Brazil and translate into Euros and just a little higher. Then I said no wait a minute you guys are wanting me. It means if you have a position in Germany, I want to earn like a German because actually it could be anyone from the whole world working there. So then this was also kind of stressful a little to have this discussion because I have the impression they were trying to push me something/anything. They would think, oh, because it’s so good a opportunity for her she will accept anything, but I didn’t. But then it worked out. I explained it, I said, Hey, wait a minute. You are searching for me, this is the position, I’ve researched also on the internet, on average the salary is this and this. Then they readjusted and then I came.
David McNeill: [0:07:36] How was that process as far as getting everything sorted, maybe your visa as well? Of course they were probably helping you with that but was it a process that went quite quickly or did you have to wait a long time between accepting the offer and actually getting to Germany?
Ana Claudia: [0:07:51] Yeah, I had to wait a lot, I would say. One reason was also because I was ending a project in Brazil, so I had to finish that and to handover, but in parallel they also hired a service provider to help me in Brazil to get my visa, my work visa. It was actually also not really a good job, to be honest, because I think the problem of most of those kinds of service providers, they provide a very standard service. They don’t really get or try to understand your case, specific case and then go through the right path. Then in the end, what happened was, I had to go two times to the consulate in Brazil because they did something wrong so it cost me one or two months. In the end between my accepting the job and when I actually started working, was six months, which is a long time in my opinion.
David McNeill: [0:08:43] Yeah, definitely. Did you have any feelings of being uncertain about leaving Brazil behind in a sense, or obviously you could go back and visit and go in the future. But given that, I guess Germany was your goal, I suppose you were super excited to make the move, but how did you think about adjusting culturally? Were there any surprises as well after you started working in Germany?
Ana Claudia: [0:09:06] Yeah, actually before I was moving, I really thought that, okay, it will be a piece of cake because I knew Germany, I visited here several times as a tourist and on business and I already had an intermediate level of German. I was not actually thinking about it having so huge a cultural shock for me, which I was really wrong afterwards. But before I was not really worried about that. Regarding leaving Brazil behind was something that for me, was a little easier than for a lot of friends of mine for sure, because I was already not living in the same city as my family. I was already just visiting my family each two months, for example. For me it was much easier because I also come from a history that my father was military and belonged in the army. I don’t know how to say that in English and because of that, we were moving a lot. Then I was already used to, from time to time to build up a new life and so on. So that’s why for me in this aspect of leaving behind Brazil was not so heavy as it is for a lot of other Brazilians.
David McNeill: [0:10:20] It sounds like you also were moving to a relatively small, not one of the main cities in Germany. How was that experience? I know a lot of people of course, moved to Berlin, moved to Munich, moved to Hamburg. But given that you were in a smaller town, what was that vibe like?
Ana Claudia: [0:10:36] Yeah, for me it was at one hand, okay because even in Brazil I was not anymore having a very hectic very busy life. I was much more working and doing sports and walking with my dogs and going to restaurants, this kind of life. So my lifestyle was basically the same, but what was very different for me was the social life because in Brazil, even if you have this kind of lifestyle that you don’t need to go to disco or to be among a lot of people and so on, theater and such things, but you have a social life so it’s very easy to get in contact with people and do things with other people, which is not exactly the same here in Germany.
David McNeill: [0:11:26] Tell me a little bit about that. What was the experience like to make friends in Germany or to try to, and of course, if you’re in a smaller town and maybe working for a large company, perhaps there are many other foreigners there as well, but that can also be a challenge of living in a smaller town, even in a dynamic international country like Germany. Tell us about how you really built your network there.
Ana Claudia: [0:11:49] So first of all, I didn’t come here alone, I came with a partner. So this was also regarding the social life, a little better in this aspect so to say, but for me it was a shock. It was a shock even the social life inside work, inside the company, because in Brazil, you talk much more with your colleagues, you go and drink a coffee and you speak and talk maybe some minutes. Here in Germany its not exactly this way or at least for me in the beginning. For sure, the department that I was working was changing so each year was coming new people, getting out other people. Then we were having younger and younger people in our department so this aspect was changing but even though, it was not like in Brazil.
Then in the beginning it was really hard for me because the work was so silent and when I was about to drink something or eat something, I was afraid, oh my God, I will disturb my colleagues because it’s like a cemetery here. It was really shocking for me and sad, and that’s when I realized, okay, Ana, I am the foreign person. If someone needs to do something and to try to adapt, it’s myself. I should not wait for other people to approach me or to invite to do things, forget it. Also because of the culture here. So that’s why I decided, okay, I need to be proactive and that’s what I did. I started, I don’t know, promoting things, inviting people. It doesn’t matter if they say no, okay, I will try the next one and so on. Then my life was getting better and better I was building some friendships and this was really great then, but it took some months.
David McNeill: [0:13:50] Yeah, of course. Yeah, it definitely takes quite a long time, I’m sure I’m and totally different culture from the Brazilian culture, I can only imagine. Did you find that your friend group ultimately became mostly German or other internationals or other Brazilians in Germany? How did it evolve over the years that you’ve been living there?
Ana Claudia: [0:14:10] Yeah, in the beginning, I would say it was more Germans than foreign people I would say because the Brazilian, which were also living there used to live in another city near Stuttgart. There are a lot of Brazilians there also because of the company that we’re working for, but somehow we didn’t have so much social life together so sporadically only. With some German colleagues from work I had even more I would say, and other foreigners, so a Chinese person or Indian so it was really mixture.
David McNeill: [0:14:51] And so we talked a little bit about some of the challenges and differences, of course, I mean, which ultimately can become challenges coming from, for example, Brazilian culture to German culture. But was there anything that stuck out to you that was really a big step up in your perspective or really exciting difference coming from Brazil to Germany?
Ana Claudia: [0:15:10] Yeah. I think the first shock that I had at work was regarding, for example, due dates. I remember when my boss at the time said to me, oh, I need you to develop these, this and that, a process and then I asked, okay, when should it be finished? And he says, oh, maybe in spring or take a look when you think you will have this done. I was thinking, huh, what do you mean? Because in Brazil, usually your boss come to you and say, Hey, I want this from yesterday. You already started late and you need to do like a crazy and have things done and here was much more, at least at my department, I’m not saying that every company in Germany is this way okay, please don’t generalize. But in my case it was really a shock when he said, oh, I want you to do this and yeah, take a look when you think you will be finishing then you tell me, tell me which resources do you need. I was feeling so much oh my God, I’m like in a spa. I can decide when I will work, how I will work, when I will deliver. This was like shocking. It was a nice shock, but it was also a not so nice shock because in the end I realized that other people, I mean, everybody then is kind of this way. They don’t have a sense of urgency of the things. Then it makes that some things take so long to happen that you get off. I mean, I got frustrated in this case.
Now with the crisis that we are experiencing with the pandemic they saw that you need to be a little more agile than that too, to really cope with the situation. This was one thing, the other shocking thing for me was also regarding the time and also how responsible you should be with your meetings and the meeting time. When you say yes, it’s yes, no is no. I accept, or I don’t accept because in Brazil it’s so normal that everybody’s so busy that even if they accept a meeting with you and they don’t appear because they were like having other urgency, it’s like normal, but here in Germany, not at all. Even if you are almost dying, you should send a message and say, Hey, I’m almost dying. I’m not able to participate, but then you should say that before the time of your meeting.
Actually this is really, really good so this is something that now I’m totally in this culture. When I’m in contact with Brazilians, I suffer the other way around that when they say yes to me and they don’t come to the meeting, I tend to be also pissed off. But it’s actually because of this huge difference. It’s like in Brazil you don’t have so much control of your life during work. Here in Germany, you can have, and you have of course some people are workaholics. There are also exceptions, but normally you have control over your life, and this is much more comfortable. So this was a nice shock but at the beginning it was not so nice because I was on delay in some meetings or not appearing. This for sure was not good for my image, for my relationship at work but then I’ve learned.
David McNeill: [0:18:43] So do you feel like it’s a matter of just adapting and integrating that culture into your life because of course you’re living there longterm now, or do you feel like you were always maybe looking for that a little bit, because obviously there are cultural stereotypes and you can talk about that for Germans, for Brazilians, for anybody anywhere. Did you think that maybe you didn’t quite fit in as much with the Brazilian culture on some of those aspects and you were looking for a bit more structure or was it really, as you say, kind of a shock and something that you had to get used to, and only now you realize that maybe you prefer it?
Ana Claudia: [0:19:19] Yeah. Yeah. How can I say, there are two things. One thing is that even when I was in Brazil, living in Brazil, my Brazilian colleagues used to say, oh Ana, you look like a German because I was a already very structured in Brazil. Then when I came here, I realized, oh, actually I’m not as structured at all. I mean, for sure, maybe if you take experience from other Brazilian’s, David the shock that they had is much bigger than mine because it was already structured. To be honest, when I was in Brazil and we were among the Brazilians talking about the Germans, we were much more making fun of them and say, Hey, look how nerdy they are or whatever. They always care about the time and this and that. We were more like making jokes. Now that I’m here and understanding how this can impact your life positively, also negatively. As I said if you’re too structured and you are not flexible to cope with new situations, this is also not good for sure.
Then only when I was here that I realized that this aspect can be good for me, but then I think beyond that, so going a little beyond your question, I would say, I think the most valuable thing that I’ve learned is that I can be, I can access my characteristics as a Brazilian and as a German depending on the situation. This is exactly what I think is differential of an expat person. Expat person, foreign person living abroad who already isn’t having any trauma anymore, he’s already accepting and has already developed with the whole experience, is really someone able to access your skews from your regional country when it’s necessary and good, and accessing the skills from the country that you’re living now when it’s necessary is good. Then in the end you are profiting much more, so you are having a differential situation point.
David McNeill: [0:21:19] Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a great way to put it and really mixing and matching the cultures as necessary. It’s almost like building blocks or modules and you can engage them when you need to. I would love to know a bit more about kind of your plans from here and how long frankly, that you’ve been in Germany at this point and if you plan to stay there. Obviously I know that some things changed in the job front for you, so it’d be good just to hear about what’s happened in those intervening years.
Ana Claudia: [0:21:46] Yeah. I’ve been here seven years basically. My plan is really to continue living here because I then find myself living here as in Brazil, to be honest, especially because of the safety. I feel safer here and this feeling safer is also something that when I was in Brazil, I didn’t have the dimension of how good it is to feel safe because in Brazil, you don’t know another way of living. Then it’s really, it’s even almost impossible to imagine how it is to feel safe the whole time. I know that here you can also have some robbers or terror attacks or whatever, but this in comparison to Brazil is nothing. Then I really feel more comfortable living here. I already overcame those traumas and those struggling and my Brazilian, and my German, or I am myself. I am Ana Claudia, a mixture of everything. Yeah, so that’s why I decided.
I also have my boyfriend here, my dog. The person that I came with, the partner that I came with here I also got divorced. This was also something maybe interesting for someone who is listening, it’s also important to say that his life was not really good when he was living here. My consequently was also not that good because there was no plan for him. I think this is a great mistake when they say, oh, one person got a job and the other is just accompanying and let’s see what I will do there. It doesn’t work this way because it’s your life. When you move abroad, your whole life needs to be restructured, rebuilt. Then if you don’t know what you want to achieve, and you don’t know how to translate what you want in terms of, okay, what should be then my life, he will not have a life and sooner or later, it will get very difficult for you.
I mean, in my case, I would get divorced anyhow even if I was in Brazil because our lives were taking different paths, but the period that we were here together would have been much better if he had this kind of direction. So also coming to your other question is that along this time, what I realized after experiencing so many different situations, including my divorce, that’s when I decided to search for myself. To search, okay, who is the real Ana? What does Ana really want to do in this world? That’s when I realized, okay, I want to help people to develop themselves professionally, but at the same time, having this work-life balance.
When I say to develop professionally, it also includes an international career living abroad and so on because as I said, I made some mistakes. Nowadays I can say, okay, if I was able to go back in my life, I would do it differently. But because you don’t know it’s like a first experience, you don’t know so you do the best you can, but actually you could have done better, much better in my opinion. Then that’s why since I got divorced, which was a big event in my life, I started searching for myself. I realized, okay, I really want to help people develop themselves. I realized this would be a way to also express my potential, my abilities, my competence, and my dreams in a much better way on this earth. That’s when I decided to focus on that. In 2018, I was a steering parallel with my career in the company. Then I realized, okay, I’m really getting good at that, I like that, I’m really getting results for my clients. That’s why I decided, since this year, to be 100% mentor and coach, and this is what I’m living now.
David McNeill: [0:26:06] That’s amazing. It’s a great story of taking those difficult experiences of moving obviously with the husband and so on here to Germany and exploring your career, exploring your life and what you want to do and really reinventing yourself. It seems like it’s been a very eventful and productive seven years.
Ana Claudia: [0:26:28] Yes, for sure. This is also something that when people, especially Brazilians when they say, I want to live abroad, usually it’s because they are not happy with the situation in Brazil. They are much more motivated to go out from where they are now and not actually motivated to what they will have when they move abroad. This is something that, yeah….so this is why I also decided as a mentoring coach. I also on focus helping people in this moment, in this journey from deciding to live you abroad and then actually doing the moving.
We know our services is kind of complimentary in this aspect because actually, if you are not open to experience new situations in a way that you have really a learning eye on that, a learning point of view, you will not succeed because then it will be so many different things happening to you that if you just let it come to you naturally, it will most likely come as something difficult, like a challenge, like something that you’re struggling with. If you have this kind of behavior, it will not be nice. You will not really learn whatever you would be able to learn with this experience. You will not be happy. You will not succeeded and so on. That’s why it’s so important. It is something that I was not aware of before, but now that I have experience, I saw, my God, it’s really a huge experience that if you take advantage of that, you can grow a lot. You can develop a lot.
David McNeill: [0:28:10] Yeah definitely. It’s one of the top things that I’ll tell people in talking about potential new clients is basically saying you shouldn’t just be trying to go to X country or to go abroad just to get away from home. That’s probably not going to set you up for success. It’s more about figuring out your spot, figuring out why you want to go there, how you can go there being excited about it from that potential opportunity perspective. As we know, it’s a long road, a lot of challenges will come up along the way. If you don’t have the right mindset from the get go, it definitely brings your chances for success down, I think.
Ana Claudia: [0:28:44] Yeah. Also, as you said, they also should take a look, okay, which kind of pleasures will I have in these new countries and I think they also need to understand that they need to find pleasure in learning things. Find pleasure in facing challenges because this they will have their whole life every day. When you’re foreign in a country, you will experience challenges every day. It will not finish. It will not finish. That’s what I also say in my posting. No matter if you speak perfectly the language, no matter if you got married, no matter if you have now a child in this local, no matter if you have the passport, you will always be a foreigner. You will always have a challenge. If you don’t deal well with facing challenges, you will not be happy living abroad. That’s why this pleasure that you’re seeking, so you need to a look, okay what kind of benefits I will have in this place, but also which kind of benefits I will have with this experience.
David McNeill: [0:29:48] Right, exactly. You talked there a bit about your posting and how you’re sharing this information. It’d be great. If you could tell us a bit about where we can find you online and people that are interested can see what you’re up to and maybe reach out for some more help on the coaching and consulting side of things.
Ana Claudia: [0:30:03] Yeah. On LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook it’s always @Anaclaudiavicente coach or @anavicentecoach. I can send you afterwards.
David McNeill: [0:30:18] Yeah, we’ll put it all in the notes of course.
Ana Claudia: [0:30:18] The point is that my postings are much more important because I’m focused more now in Brazilians. Although I’m able also for sure to do this mentoring coach in English, but nowadays my whole marketing data/information, and so on, is more focused in Portuguese for Brazilians, but for sure if you’re interested, if you like this conversation and want to learn more about my experience and how I could help you, I’m totally open for sure for you to contact me.
David McNeill: [0:30:49] Okay. Amazing. Yeah. We’ll definitely put all those links there and I’m sure some folks will reach out. Thank you so much again, Anna, for joining us today, it’s been great hearing about your experience going from Brazil and now you’re seven years in Germany. I look forward to keeping in touch and wish you all the best.
Ana Claudia: [0:31:03] Thank you. Thank you very much for this interview, for this opportunity. I wish all the best for you.
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