Matt Benfield is a recent graduate of Appalachian State University and is currently working for DHL as a data analytics intern in Frankfurt, Germany. Matt is also a freelance writer, and his work can be found at his blog Everyday Pride as well as Huffington Post. The following is transcript of an interview with minor editing for brevity.
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How Matt Landed a Job in Frankfurt
Assimilating to German Life
Advantages Millennials have for Working Abroad
Comparing life in North Carolina to Frankfurt
Advice for Those Interested in Moving Abroad
Guilt Being Away from Home?
Matt’s Future Plans
How did you land your position abroad?
Through college I worked with a group called AIESEC which helps place students in internships abroad and I was also studying International Studies, so I was very international-oriented already. AIESEC has a great partnership with DHL and we sent quite a few students to them, so I actually picked up my current position at DHL as a data analyst in Frankfurt, Germany through AIESEC. With DHL, I am analyzing all of the logistical data of our shipments along with other internship type tasks.
And how has assimilating been and adjusting to the culture?
Obviously, Germany isn’t too different from the US, at least in the way that most people speak English and also German people are some of the best people you can meet even if they can be a bit cold on the outside before you get to know them. I would say that it took me about three months before I started to feel like I was settled in and started to call Frankfurt home. During the transition period where I didn’t have any friends, and being someone who would consider themselves an introvert and doesn’t necessarily go out of their way to make friends, I spent a lot of Friday nights just in bed feeling lonely.
I would say now, after those first three months, I am feeling much more settled in.
Even when you do make friends, they aren’t like your friends from home because there is always this sense that everything is temporary, and the friends you make while working abroad will eventually all go their separate way, that everyone is just stopping by for a bit, so even though I consider it a “home,” everything is far more fluid than my home in North Carolina. But I would say now, after those first three months, I am feeling much more settled in.
Do you feel you have any advantages as a millennial when it comes to working abroad?
Yes, definitely. There is the obvious advantages that our generation has like ease of access thanks to air travel and increased awareness of the world due to social media and world news. But beyond that, and it is hard to generalize millennials, but working abroad really provides what it seems a lot of millennials want.
For one, it provides the freedom to move around; I can go to Madrid or really anywhere in Europe from Frankfurt in a few hours, and that freedom provides the rich experiences that millennials sort of have become famous for wanting. We are known as a generation that likes to change jobs and change scenery, and I have a stronger sense of fluidity here, I feel like I could really take my life in any direction now that I am working abroad. Living abroad in some ways makes you realize how small the world is because it is so accessible, but also how large it is in the way that, if you look beyond the typical suburban dream that our parents had, there are so many different directions you can take life.
I feel like I could really take my life in any direction now that I am working abroad. Living abroad in some ways makes you realize how small the world is because it is so accessible, but also how large it is in the way that, there are so many different directions you can take life.
To that point, I knew a life coach that talked about the idea that when you are at home you have all these strings attached because you have your friends and family and maybe a steady safe job, but when you take that leap abroad, you cut those strings, and you experience a new freedom from all of the strings that you were tied to before, and I think that freedom is something many millennials, at least after college, want.
How is your everyday life different in Frankfurt than back home in North Carolina besides the obvious fact of it being Germany?
During the week, I pretty much wake up, go to work, go to the gym, come home and have dinner, write and then fall asleep. So in that way, it is really similar to what I would be experiencing at home. But I also think there is a unique appreciation for daily life being abroad, at least, it feels a little more special, even if you have a normal 9-5 job. I would say at least once a day it sort of hits me that I am in a European city and that this is a unique and special experience I get to have, and those moments make the harder times worth it.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about living abroad?
I lived abroad short term in Ukraine and Panama, and even after having those experiences, I can say living abroad full-time and long term isn’t going to be anything like you think that it is going to be. I see the college kids who are studying abroad and they think that living abroad is just drinking wine and going to cafes and those Instagram moments, but actually living somewhere is really hard. You are trying to learn a new culture, a new job and also if you do it right out of college like I did, you are also learning to be an adult as well. I think that is a lot for anyone to handle, but again, that is what makes it rewarding.
Also, I am not sure if there is any deeper feeling of loneliness than having no friends in a foreign country. That is a very uncomfortable place to be, but I think that discomfort is good. I had a choice between a comfortable sales job back home with good benefits or coming abroad and I am glad I chose to come abroad.
Being uncomfortable and unsettled is good, especially in your early 20s, when you need to find out what things in life you want and what things aren’t that important to you or don’t interest you.
Being uncomfortable and unsettled is good, especially in your early 20s, when you need to find out what things in life you want and what things aren’t that important to you or don’t interest you. I know I wouldn’t have started a blog or started freelance writing if I had stayed home.
There is something about working abroad, being unsettled and with no strings attached, that I think makes you a little more willing to try and learn new things. The last three months being here have been an emotional roller coaster, and when my friends ask about it, I probably sound like I am complaining, but I am really grateful for the opportunity and I think the discomfort makes the experience more fulfilling, even if at times it is hard.
Do you feel guilty being away from home at all?
Maybe a little bit now, after a few months being gone and after the election. Before I left I thought I would never come back, but there is something about being an American abroad that makes you feel patriotic, at least for me, in a way that I hadn’t before. I know when Hillary was giving her speech at the Democratic National Convention, I felt a strong sense of pride in the US and being an American, so I certainly have thoughts about going back and trying to do something meaningful in the LGBT community or in politics, but it still something I am contemplating.
What Are Your Plans for the Future?
I have no idea. I mean, in my ideal scenario, I build up the blog and my freelance writing career, and that gives me the freedom to move around a little bit more. I am really appreciative of the opportunity that I have, but my dream scenario definitely involves more writing and a little more freedom to the see the rest of Europe and the world. But I don’t even know what I am doing tomorrow, so we’ll see.
Have questions for me about working abroad? Are you working abroad and interested in sharing your story? Let me know on twitter @12hourdifference.co .