No house, no job, no friends – and how to change that

4248320824_e45a6b226b_z
4248320824_e45a6b226b_z

width="168"In May 2014, 25-year-old Logan Ouellette left his home town Ottawa, Canada to move to Berlin.
“When I first arrived in Berlin, I didn’t have a flat or a job secured, which now that I look back on it is kind of crazy,” he says.

In our interview he shares his story and how he experiences Berlin – with all the good and the bad surprises, the bureaucracy, the job search, and his new friends he made.

VENTUREVILLAGE: What was your first learning in Berlin?

Ouellette: I was under the somewhat naive impression that as a university graduate with native English skills and a relatively solid resume, I could find a decent salaried job that would allow me to live comfortably enough to eat out every once in a while, travel sometimes and put aside some money for savings. Unfortunately, I soon found out that there are many, many other people just like me who come here with the same qualifications (if not better) and struggle to find anything close to that kind of job. But I’ve now learned what to expect from the startup scene for someone with my skill set, and have tempered my expectations accordingly. In a sense, this reevaluation has pushed me to be more creative and entrepreneurial, as well as expand my boundaries. Which is exactly what I came here to do.

VENTUREVILLAGE: How did you find a job?

Ouellette: I initially found the job posted on Berlin Startup Jobs and I applied before I left Canada, had a few interviews via Skype and in person after I arrived in Berlin, and finally started working on my second week in the city. I was hired at Tech Open Air as Community Manager.

“left”]VENTUREVILLAGE: How difficult was it to get a working visa?

Ouellette: The process was actually very easy. I was able to get a Youth Mobility Visa which allows for young people between the ages of 18 and 35 to work and live in Germany for a period of 12 months with only a few requirements, like a valid passport and travel insurance to cover the entire stay. Canada is apparently one of the countries that has a special relationship with Germany, and they make it very easy to allow young people to do cultural exchange. I simply made an appointment online with the German Consulate in Toronto, filled out a few forms and acquired the necessary documents, then submitted my application in person and was able to pick up my visa a few short weeks later right before my trip overseas.

VENTUREVILLAGE: How are you insured?

Ouellette: Currently I have a travel insurance that covers me in case of medical emergencies, which was a requirement for acquiring my visa, and I also have German insurance through my employment.

VENTUREVILLAGE: What is really different in Berlin? Was do you like the best, what not?

Ouellette: Well, there are a few things I’ve noticed when I compare Berlin to my home town of Ottawa. First of all, the transportation system here is much more comprehensive and reliable, it’s so easy and relatively quick to get from one end of the city to the other. I love that beer is available everywhere and cheaper than water; in my home province, alcohol sales are controlled by the government, which means beer and liquor can only be sold in government-run stores and not at all in our equivalent of the späti. Also, this is such a bike-friendly city with all of the clearly designated lanes and the flat terrain, plus drivers are much more amenable to cyclists.

On the other hand, I find the bureaucracy to be a big challenge here. Not only because my German is not up to snuff, but the fact that there is so much paperwork and administrative protocols to go through just to be able to live here. In Canada, I can move around freely and settle wherever I please without too much paperwork, and there’s no requirement to opt-in to health insurance because we have a publicly-funded healthcare system everywhere paid through our taxes. It has taken some getting used to, but after a few months now in Berlin and the help of German friends, I think I mostly have the hang of it.

VENTUREVILLAGE: How are people in Berlin? What kind of people do you meet the most? And is it easy to get in-touch with others?  

Ouellette: The people in Berlin are really quite awesome. When I first got here, I didn’t know a single soul, but I was determined to get out there and integrate into the community. I spent my first week in the city feverishly searching for a WG and exploring on my own, but one day I stumbled across a Facebook event for Silicon Drinkabout Berlin, a regular Friday after-work drinks and networking event for those interested or involved in the startup scene. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to go meet people and network, so I mustered up the courage to show up on my own, and almost immediately I was welcomed with open arms. I ended up meeting a lot of cool new people, and even got invited with a group to a bar afterwards where I experienced my first proper night out. Since then, especially after I got hired at Tech Open Air, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who have come here from all over the world to get involved in the startup scene. What’s great about the startup community in Berlin is that everyone is so friendly and open-minded, regardless of what country or background they come from, and it’s fairly easy even for an English speaker with little-to-no German language skills to get integrated.

VENTUREVILLAGE: Do you ever get homesick? And what would you do in those times?

Ouellette: When I first got here, before I had any luck with finding a flat or a job, I briefly thought I had made a huge mistake and that I was going to end up failing and having to return home. I missed the comfort of my friends, my family who were close by, and the community I was familiar with. Fortunately, my best friend went through a similar experience a few years back when she picked up and moved to Amsterdam on an internship, and I was able to turn to her in my darkest moments and she encouraged me to keep my chin up and continue on. Eventually I did stumble upon a flat and a job, as I mentioned before, and slowly I started feeling more comfortable being on my own in a foreign city and figuring things out as I go along. I still keep in touch with my family and friends back home through email and social media, and I chat almost daily with my best friend to share all the highs and lows of my experience, but I’ve reached the point now where I’m confident being independent and taking on any new challenge that comes my way.

Image: Ouellette,
some rights reserved by Frank Spee