One topic I haven’t written much about is what it’s like to find a job/work in Germany. The reason for this omission is that I don’t have much experience in this area yet.
What’s been daunting and intimidating for me besides knowing that the interview will be conducted in German– is that my education has not equipped me to do one specific, straightforward thing. So far it’s been pretty hard to explain that I have a master’s degree in managing gardens. What does that mean? “Am I a gardener? Am I a plant grower?” they ask. My experience and education in ballet, arts administration and horticulture equip me to create programs and manage them or to manage people and create efficient organizational plans. I could teach something or do the hands on work of a gardener. I could do event planning for an institution or marketing or fundraising–all depending on the needs of the institution. But people look puzzled about all these other skills and interests when I start out by saying that my master’s degree is related to plants.
I never really see jobs advertised that ask for a person like this, especially in a garden. And further I find it difficult to say all this when someone asks me about my career. I have met event planners for example and they have an education that is specific to event planning. This tells the employer they are the right person for that job. I don’t have that. I’m more of a career cameleon I guess.
Nevertheless, a few months ago, excuses aside, I finally I contacted the local university botanic garden in Erlangen. I wrote an email in German, explaining my educational background and asked if I might volunteer or work as a gardener or a tour guide at the garden a few hours a week. A few days later, to my great delight, I got a very nice response, inviting me to a meeting at the garden. The email explained that there was likely no job but that they hoped I would be willing to meet anyway.
I was thrilled for the opportunity, job or not, so I replied right away and we agreed to a date the following week. The morning of our meeting there was a very strange spring snow. I took it as an auspicious sign and a pretty way to look at the garden. Lenten roses heavy with snow, and snowy pompoms on top of the witch hazels.
Luckily a friend volunteered to drive so that I didn’t have to figure out where to go/where to park etc. All I had to do was successfully navigate the conversation. She dropped me off at the door and we agreed to meet later for a coffee.
Within a few minutes I found the people I was meant to meet with: the director of the garden and the director the friend’s group. We conducted our entire meeting in German, with a few English clarifications when necessary. I basically explained my transition from ballet to horticulture and how I ended up in Germany. Then they explained that the botanical garden is a part of the university and as with many university run botanic gardens, it is understaffed and under funded. They didn’t have a job for me they said but they hoped that we could create a connection and maybe work together in the future. They told me that sometimes short-term positions (between six months and three years long) become available. They also said that they don’t have that many professional horticulturists in Germany and that Garden Management is really not a thing here. As I have heard before they said that it might be difficult to find the right fit, but that I should not give up.
After the meeting I was walking on sunshine. I wasn’t really any closer to a job than I was before a started but I had navigated the meeting speaking German and I had successfully created two new horticultural contacts.
A month or so later to my greater delight I received an email inviting me to a tree tour around the botanical garden with the visiting members of the International Dendrological Society. In the email the garden director asked if I might translate a few things when necessary. I felt honored really. And so I’m off! Back in the world of plants.