Friday, January 27, 2012

After a long silence...

In June 2011, I finished my 6.5 month contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines and returned to München.  At the start of July, I jumped back into German studies, continuing with a B2.1 course at Goethe Institut after last completing a B1.2 course in November of 2010.  Luckily, I did not have to repeat any courses at Goethe Institut, even though I tested into B1.1 level upon my return.  The first day of B1.1 class, I found that we were moving so slowly, and though things were rusty for me, I still needed quite a bit more from my studies than to be repeating the same things I learned the previous fall.  I spoke to the teacher after class and indicated that even though I had only tested into B1.1, it was all coming back to me rather quickly and I said that I was too "Anspruchsvoll" (demanding) to sit through all of that again.  I suggested that I jump to B1.2, but to my surprise, the next day I was placed into B2.1.  It certainly proved to be demanding enough...but I was also glad that I had essentially saved 2400 Euro (the cost of B1.1 & B1.2 together) and two additional months of rehash.

From there, things progressed rather quickly.  I completed B2.1, then hopped to B2.3 the next month, presumably at the request of my teacher (since this kind of thing only LOSES money for the school, in principle).  B2.1 & B2.3 were easily the most worthwhile courses I took at Goethe.  My teachers for B2.1 & B2.3 could speak several languages and taught us quite a bit about the origin of the words and phrases we were opposed to teaching just the direct translation.  They also pushed us to write quite a bit, and in B2.3 I had the opportunity to give my first speech in German (granted, it was not pretty...).

It was now September, and paying for classes at Goethe was getting costly.  We looked for alternatives schools, and I found a decent one at Alinguas, right on Hohenzollernplatz where we live.  The cost to attend Alinguas was about 1/3 of Goethe, and I truly only needed to practice my speech in order to prepare for the upcoming "Goethe Zertifikat-B2" test near the end of the month.  This test is the language level that one must attain in German in order to work in a business setting here.  I took two weeks of additional B2.2 level at Alinguas (they didn't offer B2.3 or C1.1) and it proved to help me speak quite often, for the simple reason that the class size was usually 5 people, as opposed to 12-15 at Goethe Institut.

The day of the "Goethe Zertifikat-B2" test fell on the first day of Oktoberfest.  In fact, before we took the 3-hour test (listening, reading comprehension, writing), the administrator pointed out that various beer brewers in the area were already parading down Sonnenstraße.  Enormous, beautiful horses carted the seasonal brew behind them, and these floats were usually flanked by the brewer's own fest-band, outfitted in Lederhosen and Dirndl, playing traditional music.  And all right outside our test-room window.  Believe me, it was hard to concentrate.

There are just a few times in my life that I recall the feeling of utter defeat, after wanting something so badly, and further thinking that it just wasn't meant to be...that I would probably have to wait to achieve this goal.  This sense stems from being so excited to have the opportunity, to finally be doing this, and then after it's over, feeling totally beaten by the experience...and that sense of helplessness that comes with not knowing the outcome.  Annette met me after the test, and we walked home together. Though I kept saying "it was so bad...I don't want to talk about it," I found myself systematically rationalizing my answers with her, seeking her approval on what I could remember from the test.  I don't know why people bother doing this, because with me, I only focused on the fact that I had answered some questions incorrectly, and I felt further defeated.  I was sure I hadn't passed, based on the weakness of my essay alone.

Three days later, I checked the results at Goethe Institut, and I had in fact passed, further earning the chance to complete the verbal test the next day (if you don't pass the written exam, then you are not offered the verbal exam).  I passed the Goethe Zertifikat-B2 exam the next day, with my best subject being writing (huh?) and my worst subject being listening comprehension (I took offense to that...I think I'm a decent listener, but I'm just going to chalk that one up to the distractions of the oom-pah bands!)

The last time I felt like I had failed something so badly, but came away with a win in the end, was when I tried out for Blue Man Group in 2005.  Everything went great, until the last audition.  I thought I totally blew it, and when I came outside the theater Annette was again right there waiting for me.  I almost immediately broke into tears, as I explained that the world had crumbled upon me when the pressure was on.  We caught a movie that night to put my mind at ease, and I went through the whole next week at my job, one of those terrible recruiting call-centers, second guessing every little thing I did in the audition.  Eventually, I got the call at work, that I got the gig.  I can still remember that feeling of vindication, for all the hard work I had put into drumming all those years, and that was exactly how I felt when I passed the Goethe Zertifikat-B2 exam...finally, I had something to show for the many months of learning the difference between Akkusativ and Dativ!

The reason I'm thinking about all this again is that yesterday, I had one of those chances that can truly make a difference in your life.  Again, it was one of those "tests" that we all face quite regularly where you think "man...this could make or break me."  I had an interview with Boston Consulting Group, at their international office on Ludwigstraße here in München.  BCG is one of the "big players" and getting an interview there is not to be taken lightly.  They are known worldwide as one of the top 3 management consulting firms, with Bain and McKinsey rounding out the group, interchangeably.  Typically, they hire Harvard, MIT, Northwestern MBA types for their consultants, and from what I understand, competition is pretty fierce.  Let's put it this way:  An MBA, 2-3 years into the job at one of these three, will make at least $120-180 K/yr.  Now, I am not aiming at being a consultant, so what's the big deal, right?  Well, BCG also happens to be the #2 company to work for out of the Fortune 500.  Employees rave about this place, and it has ranked in the top 15 for seven years straight.  To me, it's just one place I could possibly get a job at in Germany, out of the many places which I've applied to, which hires people with good Englischkenntnisse (English knowledge).  But, it's more than that after one knows its pedigree...

So, I go into this interview thinking, "great, they like that I don't have a typical background for a job MBA who has 1) studied Marketing 2) played drums for Blue Man Group, 3) worked on a cruise ship, 4) now communicates in German at a C1 level."  It is not off the wall to be invited by BCG with such a background, as they seek "out of box" thinkers for their company ( of my interviewers studied sociology and was now a senior in HR...ok...that's not too far off...).  We start talking, in German naturally, about my background, etc., and I casually ask if it would be too much trouble to continue the conversation in English -- because describing HR systems work within Enterprise Resource Planners like Peoplesoft would be like jumping off a cliff...if it were to continue in German.  She said "no"...and I'm suddenly cut from my rappelling line...

OK...maybe I can handle this.  German...great.  Let's do it.  Then the other lady says "I know you applied to a Marketing and Analysis position previously, but we are more interested in talking to you about our HR Recruiter position."  It was in German of course, so it looked/sounded more like this "Katzerofl mengebiere yadayadayada neinja sagenSiemirbitte Denkmal 'HR RECRUITER' würdenSie, oder?"  I smiled and said, YEP....THAT SOUNDS GREAT!  (sarcasm/frustration alert)

One hour of struggling German conversation later, I came out of the interview thinking "crap...I guess that's that then."  Not only was there no chance to express myself in an intelligent fashion in English, regarding ANYthing, but I was also cornered into a position that...fits my profile, sure...but had nothing to do with the original position in my application.  I even got the treat of hearing the "yeah,, we have several other candidates that we would like to interview, and we should be getting back to you within the next two weeks" in German.  Though I felt defeated, it definitely gave me insight on how I would be judged in a German-speaking business.  Just because you can read/write/speak at a high level in a language, and you can take tests that prove that you can do so, it could still be a long fight before you are able to truly compete with native speakers.  But I want this fight.  I want it pretty badly.  At least I talked for a whole hour in German...that's some kind of win, right?

I am now thankful for the opportunity, and thankful that Annette was there to greet me again afterwards.  I'll let you know how this one turns out...


1 comment:

  1. D,
    Congrats on your test results sounds like your hard work paid off.