Mark Snell is organising the IBN annual golf tournament on Friday May 16th, so we caught up with him to hear more about him and his experience in Germany.
Mark, what brought you to Germany?
Like most Irish people of my generation and the generations before, I grew up in an Ireland where opportunities were limited. Particularly for anyone from small towns like Youghal, Co Cork, a lovely picturesque seaside town but not a hub of economic activity at least not in 1988. Job prospects locally were few and far between. The Ireland of the 1980s was somewhat different to previous decades, in that it brought with it an opening of the education system. I was lucky to be able to avail of this opportunity and to study at NIHE Limerick (now the University of Limerick). This opened up many opportunities for me. My first summer vacation in 1985, during this time was spent in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart working for Daimler Benz. The following summer I spent a month in Frankfurt. These stays in Germany had nothing to do with a love of Germany or being fluent in German. I had as a child never really been fond of Germany, they were always portrayed as the bad guys. Sadly also at that time my German was very limited as I had taken French in school. However it improved greatly by the end of these 2 short stays. Initially I had only chosen Germany a) because I had contacts there from a family camping trip in Scotland and b) because Germany had such good train connections which made exploring the rest of Europe so easy. After 1986 I never dreamed I would be back. Unfortunately what German I had picked up was quickly forgotten. At the end of 1990 after having spent 2 years in London, I decided it was time to go home. However this was not to be, the best job offer I got at the time happened to be in Germany but with an Irish company. Apparently my previous time in Germany had not been wasted. So it was a bit of a compromise, I didn’t get to move home but I was working for an Irish company.
Why have you stayed?
I initially only planned to stay for a few years as most people do and then go home. It was a means to an end. However over time living here has become very comfortable. I initially stayed six and half years with the Irish company and then moved to a French consulting company and have been there ever since in various positions. New opportunities made staying a more permanent option. Ireland is just a plane ride away and with the advent of cheap carriers visiting home has become very much more affordable. Dare I mention the weather, although not Mediterranean the summer in Germany is generally dry, warm and with an open air pool only one street away from where we live we want for almost nothing.
What you miss about Ireland?
I could go on about Sally O’Brien and eggs but Germany is not a desert. I initially missed Barry’s Green Label, Clonakilty Black Pudding, my mother’s steak and kidney pie and of course Munster Rugby and the sea. However we have solved most of these issues; Barry’s and Clonakilty we now bring back with us whenever we are home so this is no longer an issue, Wrights at Dublin Airport have often saved my bacon in this regard. Munster’s away matches are often easier & cheaper to get to from Frankfurt but nothing compares to Thomond Park and unfortunately I don’t get there as often as I would like. Missing my mother’s cooking which is irreplaceable has forced me to be more adventurous with my own cooking but will never compare. Living in Frankfurt the sea is unfortunately also irreplaceable but we do get our fill whenever we are in Youghal or Inis Mor.
Advantages of living in Germany
There are many advantages to living in Germany; the weather, being central, the high number of vacation days, a stable economy, the scenery (the Germans call Ireland the green island but take a trip up the Rhein river around Rüdesheim and you will be amazed how green it is, amazing castles and wonderful views) and the culture (despite commonly held view Germans do have culture and a sense of hummour). The weather I have already mentioned above. Germany is central and is an ideal location from which to explore the rest of continental Europe.
Advice for people moving to Germany
Get involved; there are many expat groups e.g. IBN who hold events (Don’t forget the IBN annual golf tournament on Friday May 16th, if interested please contact me at email@example.com) and get involved in your local community, nobody does festivals better than the Germans and they will organize one for any reason and not just the Oktoberfest.
Lean the language ; if you want to integrate and increase your opportunities both from a social and career perspective learn to speak German you are after all in their country. You don’t have to speak the language perfectly the Germans will make an effort to understand what you mean unlike some others I could mention. There are various ways to lean German; both privately or through cheap courses provided by the VHS. Regardless of which route you go the old saying still applies; ‘use it or lose it’. A lot of Germans love to practice their English which makes learning and using German harder. You have to be determined and answer them in German. I have a basic rule I don’t speak English to Germans.
Explore your surroundings; there is so much to see in Germany itself and the surrounding countries, use your stay to explore your surroundings.
Finally don’t sit there complaining that things are not the same as in Ireland, it is different. It is an opportunity to experience something different. Embrace the experience
Did you have any knowledge of the German language before you arrived?
As mentioned above I came to Germany twice as a student long before moving here permanently. I took two hours of German for three months prior to going to Germany the first time, so my initial German was very limited. However being thrust in an environment where German was the common language I quickly improved my language skills. I learned most of my German from watching the local news on ARD and ZDF. Note in my opinion it is far more important to be able to communicate than to speak the language perfectly. So I used what limited German I had on my return and built up my vocabulary and language skills by using it on the job
Your plans for the future
In the short term, I have to use this opportunity to plug the IBN annual golf tournament on Friday May 16th again, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested, all welcome. That will be followed by the annual pilgrimage to the Heineken Cup Final, this year in Cardiff on the weekend of 23rd May, unfortunately without Munster -> so close and yet so far. Otherwise after 24 years in Germany we are very settled and unless someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse we will be here for the next few years.
Interested in other IBN Germay events? More Information can be found here: Events 2014