It was the fall of 2008. I was a semester away from wrapping up my master’s degree in historic preservation. The stock market was plummeting so quickly that the prospect of having a job by graduation seemed to dwindle with each passing day. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Luckily, I ran into a friend at a career fair that fall who introduced me to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX).
An Introduction to German Culture
I could not have foreseen how impactful the opportunity to live, study, and work abroad in Germany for one year would be in transforming my career.
During my year in Germany, I gained two wonderful host sisters, met some of my best friends to this day and caught a unique glimpse of German culture living in former East Germany twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Upon my return to the states, I thought that my German adventure was winding down, but it was only just the beginning.
Exploring German Sustainability
Shortly after CBYX, I was selected to participate in a 10-day delegation to Germany with the German-American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest’s Transatlantic Program for Young Technology Leaders. Our group of U.S. young professionals toured the country to learn about Germany’s latest innovations in sustainable architecture and urban planning. We explored the car-free, low-energy residential district of Vauban in Freiburg, learned about the Passive House Institute’s advanced building certification program in Darmstadt, and visited the site of the International Building Exhibition in Hamburg.
I returned from my second trip to Germany inspired to shift my career focus to sustainable building. I was then fortunate enough to have that opportunity to serve as the Project Coordinator for the Das Haus Tour: a 12-city, 13-month roadshow throughout North America demonstrating renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies from Germany. It was through this experience that I not only solidified my passion for green building (and strengthened my public speaking skills on live radio and TV interviews) but also made a number of new stateside connections in the industry.
This experience brought me to the current phase of my career working as a Green Building Consultant for Baumann Consulting: a German-American engineering consulting firm focused on high-performance buildings.
What Comes Next?
When someone asks me the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” it makes me cringe. Some of the most meaningful experiences of my life could not have been planned. I never knew I would become a German-speaking green building specialist. If back in graduate school you had asked me where I saw myself in five years, that possibility would not have even been on the list.
Had I not ventured to do an exchange abroad, I would have unknowingly bypassed the most transformative five years of my life.
As I build my career I’ve learned that continual flux is the only true constant. I am a planner by nature, and it can be unnerving not always knowing where my next step will lead. Yet throughout each phase of life, there are common threads, core experiences that fortify you with the tools you need to be ready to accept the next challenge.
For me, that common thread has been a passion for sustainability and enduring connections to the German language and culture.
Sometimes to get to where you’re going, you’ve got to veer off the charted course.