Beginning of an adventure....

After being mesmerized by Europe in the summer of 1998 as an IAESTE exchange student in Potsdam, Germany, I began plotting my return to Europe.  This time my devious plan was to LIVE in Europe instead of spending a mere two months there as a visitor.  Any city in Europe could fit the bill as far as I was concerned.  I was prepared to immerse myself in a foreign culture and live abroad for one year. 

Shortly before I was scheduled to leave Germany and begin my summer backpacking trip around Europe, the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin responded to my enquiry about job openings.  By that time I had nearly given up hope of finding a job in Europe as a non-EU national because no one responded positively to all the emails I sent out.  With only a bachelor's degree under my belt and lack of the coveted EU citizenship, I faced huge odds.  I was quite surprised when a laboratory wanted to interview me.  Fortunately Berlin was located only 45 minutes from Potsdam via the S-bahn (fast commuter train). 

My interview at the Max-Planck Institute was scheduled on my last day in Germany.  That day was extremely chaotic and stressful because I had to whiz into Berlin in the morning for the interview, return to Potsdam to clean out my room at the student dormitory, tie things up at the lab, say bye to everyone, and bolt back to Berlin to catch the train headed for Krakow, Poland that afternoon.  The interview went fairly well and I liked the people there because they seemed quite laid-back and easy-going--not the stereotypical uptight, stern, proper German :)  When I left, my interviewer told me they could probably work something out despite all the bureaucratic red tape.

By the time I made my way to Amsterdam, I had received a formal acceptance letter for a one year contract.  I was quite thrilled even though I suddenly began to have second thoughts about moving to foreign country whose language I could not even speak.  How would I survive for one whole year?  Sure I knew some people from Potsdam, but who would I hang out with now that I would be living there?  What if my excitement for Europe disappeared after a few months?  I also had to consider some issues relating to my future and career.

I finally decided to take the plunge and accept the job when I came back to Canada and did some serious thinking.  I was not aware that the various Max-Planck Institutes in Germany were fairly well-known in the scientific community until I visited one of my former professors.  Prior to this discovery, I could only vaguely recall that there was some Planck constant used in wave theory calculations for physics.  I had no idea he was German or that there was a string of research institutes established by the German federal government under his name.

Although I accepted the job, there were other obstacles and many uncertainties.  The German Consulate in Vancouver told me that such an extended visa would require at least THREE months to approve and warned me that a quick short-term visa could NOT be extended under ANY circumstances once I was in Germany.  On the other hand, the people from Max-Planck assured me that everything would be fine, that they have managed foreign exchanges numerous times, and that I should just haul my butt into the country as soon as possible to start the job.  They faxed me some inscrutable special German law for foreign scientists and promised to throw their weight fully behind me once I arrived.  These people sounded as if they write immigration laws at their will!

I flew back to Germany on September 15, 1998 after less than one month in Canada.  I was very excited and freaked out at the same time because I was either going to be blacklisted and deported after a short stay on my short-term visa or end up living in the largest city in Eastern and Central Europe for one year!  Of course the latter possibility came true and thus began my adventure......


Background Music: What's Love Gotta Do With It - Tina Turner