XPAT Spotlight – Interview with Franziska Steinmetz originally from Barleben near Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt.
Persistence, flexibility, and determination mark Franziska’s path of making her dream of living in California a reality.
When she traveled to the USA for the first time as a teenager, Franziska was bewitched by the beauty of California and decided to check out the U.S. as soon as she had finished school. She chose to become an au pair to find out if living in the United States was something she would like to pursue.
Today, Franziska lives in Alameda, CA, but her search for a way to make California her home forever isn’t over just yet.
Read about her challenging journey in our interview.
Franziska, after you had decided that the U.S. was quite the place you would like to live and work, you strategically planned out your life to allow you to do just that. Tell us a bit about your path, your successes, and challenges.
After having seen the United States during a vacation with my parents I just knew that this is where I would like to live one day. From there on I have tried to point my every move towards somehow being able to accomplish that.
My first attempt to live in the United States was when I worked as an Au Pair in Connecticut in 2008, but only after one year, I had to return to Germany again. However, I didn’t stay there for long but moved to the Netherlands instead to attend University. Since all the courses were offered in English there, I thought it’d help me tremendously in improving my English (especially Business English). I also chose my field of study so that it would hopefully help me to move to and work in the US.
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in International Tourism Management in 2014. Part of my studies was an internship which, of course, I wanted to do in the United States.
My Bachelor Thesis finished and 500 applications later, I finally found a paid internship in the U.S. , a placement with a Cultural Exchange Organization in San Anselmo, CA. While working there as an Operations Management Assistant for one year I fell in love with the Bay Area!
But already before my internship had even ended the pressure was on to find a full-time job in the U.S. – So, back to sending out applications again! I eventually interviewed with a company in SoCal, which offered me to work for their German office for a while before transferring me over to their US headquarters. I moved therefor to Germany to work as Operations Analyst and Consultant for this cultural exchange organization in Dresden only to realize that the company did not plan to keep up their promise. Disillusioned I decided to leave and take another route.
Since I had been planning on transferring back to the US with that company, I had left most of my personal belongings and my car with friends in California. Hence, I wanted to find a way to come back to the area.
In early 2016 then, I returned to the Bay Area working again as an Au Pair, just so that I would be able to live in the Bay Area. That time I focused on using my time also for networking and consulting with immigration attorneys about possible visa opportunities. It was then, that I decided to go back to school and I started applying to colleges in California.
Finally, in January 2017, I began studying at Berkeley City College for a Certificate of Achievement in General Business.
This is quite some journey you put yourself through just to make your dream of living in California become a reality. Why did you decide to go back to University?
After talking to immigration attorneys I decided that this will be my best option (I originally had wanted to do my Masters but it was just too expensive). Going back to university allowed me not only to be able to earn another degree but would let me apply for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) after my studies which translates into a one-year work visa.
So, here I am now in my last semester (ending late May 2018)*, having applied for my OPT and waiting for the approval while applying for jobs. I sincerely hope to be able to prove myself worthy of a visa sponsorship after my time working for a company during my OPT for one year.
What’s your daily life here in California look like?
I am currently still attending college (full-time)* and am helping some people by offering organizational support on the side to keep me busy, make connections and develop friendships and relationships. I have different classes, mostly in Berkeley and study hard in order to keep up my 4.0 GPA.
Besides this, I have been volunteering for the San Francisco SPCA every week since May 2015. As a dog volunteer, I also took different training courses to work with adult dogs of different characters, as well as with puppies. I love dogs so volunteering was a great option to support the community and get me out of the house.
Not surprising, early this year I finally adopted my own dog, Maggie, in February! She is a 2-year-old, 14 lbs terrier mix and keeps me pretty busy at the moment.
What challenges did you face when you initially moved from Germany to California?
I actually did not have any major challenges when moving here. I felt right at home and just enjoyed everything the Bay Area has to offer! I just love to explore the Bay Area and think there is just so much to see and do.
The only challenge I face is that my stays here are always temporary and bound to the different visas, meaning that every year or two I have to face the fact that everything can be over again and that I will have to either figure out a new way to stay here, or to sell and pack my things and leave again. This is mentally exhausting and makes it hard to feel completely at home since you just postpone buying new things, making new friends and establishing relationships.
I had to relocate and start from scratch so often these past 10 years that I am at a point where I just want to have the certainty of staying in one place for longer and being able to just settle somewhere in the US, preferably in the Bay Area.
Finding a way to make California your permanent home hasn’t been an easy ride. What are your hopes?
True, it has been quite some challenging adventure thus far. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have gained so many new skills and experiences throughout these years, broadened my horizon and have grown as a person. I know first hand what determination, loyalty, focus and hard work mean.
Since I am on a student visa I am not working currently*, but I hope to soon find a job while I am on my OPT visa. I hope to find a company that will consider sponsoring me after. My dream is to work and live in the US and for that, I gave up having a ‘solid German’ resume that follows the traditional structure of – High School, University, Full-time job – for a lifestyle which required me to be flexible and grab an opportunity (and visa obviously) whenever I could.
Do you have any ‘Heimweh’?
Surprisingly I never had real bad ‘Heimweh’. Obviously, when events like birthdays or other celebrations or especially sad events like funerals back in Germany happen, you think to yourself ‘I wish I could be there and be part of it’. However, I know I still am part of it all even though I might not physically be there.
I talk to my family on the phone every day and at least once a year I try to fly over especially for Christmas. I still have a very close relationship to everyone in my family even though I don’t see them often.
What do you love about California and what could you do without?
What I love about California and especially the Bay Area, is its diversity. There are so many different people living here, which also makes the sights and events so diverse. Also, the area itself has just so much to offer from the busy city life in downtown San Francisco to the quiet places of Muir Woods or Mount Tam or the beach life in Santa Cruz. There is just so much to do and to see around here- I just love it!
Also, I just enjoy the open, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Plus, there are so many Germans living around here, which means there are lots of good German restaurants and bakeries in the area. This helps in case that ‘Heimweh’ does hit home sometimes.
What I can do without is certainly the rent prices !! They are CRAZY!
Thank you, Franziska, for taking the time to speak with us. Much luck on your path to fulfilling your dream!
If you would like to contact Franziska, know of a perfect job for her, or just want to send some encouraging words – you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* NOTE: The interview was recorded back in March. Franziska has successfully completed university in May and is working part-time in the Bay Area. She is still looking for a company, that can sponsor her.
Image Credits: Franziska Steinmetz