My perspective on importance of international exchange programs for Europe
I have returned to Croatia after spending 6 months as an intern in Big Data and Advanced Analytics Department of Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. This was all made possible thanks to the programme of the lengthy name: Internship Programme of German Business for the Countries of the Western Balkans. The aim of the programme is to offer young students and graduates experience of working in German economy and to enable them to take part in the development of their own respective countries with the knowledge that they have gained through that period.
Spending time in Germany was precious on so many different levels and after returning home it took me a while to put all the pieces of experience together in my mind. There are many stories to be told regarding time spent in Germany, but today I will focus on the importance of international programmes from my experience of living and working in Germany. We shall start slow:
Travelling versus doing internship abroad
Nowadays, travelling is the most common way people meet and learn about new countries and cultures. You see a lot of new great places that you have not been familiar with, but you miss being an active part of the respective community. Spending some time in suburbs which are not touristic attractions gives you a completely different aspect of that place because you are able to see a glimpse of where and how normal people really live there. By working while spending time abroad, you get to be a part of the system that really creates value as well as learn something practical. Combining these things together you expose yourself fully to the culture and organization of the new country. This leads to a new point:
Working in different organizational schema
Germany is known for its organization and that was an important thing to experience. That style of governing was necessary because of the complexity of its economy. Thinking long term and achieving stability is stressed here. Just by being part of that different system, you get a huge learning opportunity to see new concepts as well as to look at your own country more critically and objectively.
People say working abroad can be stressful because you get separated from your loved ones, but I would argue that for a limited period of time it increases your productivity and focus. That brings us to the personal development:
Boosted personal development
Working at Commerzbank was an astounding professional experience. I worked with a lot of bright minds and therefore learning a lot was inevitable. But that was what I expected because I arrived with strong motivation to learn more about things I was interested in professionally.
However, I made a lot of progress with skills that were not strongly tied to the main domain of my skillset like creativity and critical thinking or effective tackling and approaching new problems. By staying home I would have not been able to achieve that to the extent I have done here in Germany. That is a highly beneficial consequence of living in a different culture.
Not forget to mention: I have encountered myself with a complete new language. That makes living there a bit harder but you should not be discouraged with that barrier because it is mostly psychological. Also, learning to get by in that type of surrounding is more motivating and enriching. I did not know almost a word of language at the beginning and I ended up being able to do basic actions with my German and it felt great!
Comparing societies and their values
Our societies were not built in the same way Germany was due to economical, historical and many other factors. Mentality also plays significant role. This diversity of societies is actually empowering. By comparing the different ways things work on both sides, you get to see a bigger picture and realize space for improvement. Here in Germany I was exposed to new trends regarding recycling, eating and living healthy, traffic organization, multicultural society, decentralization etc. These are really nice topics to develop perspective and opinion. Exchange of these ideas and opinions is important in developing a modern and progressive European society.
Final touch on character development
Spending half of year there filled me up with ideas and experiences and changed the way I perceive and solve problems (I would say that I am more philosophical now but more critical as well). This time spent there marked the final touch on the development of myself as an individual and represented stepping into full adulthood. I think many of my colleagues who did the same would agree on that one.