Five languages, three degrees, but no job - Sylvaine is well-educated, sophisticated and versatile. But like many other young professionals, she is becoming desperate in her search for a job. How does it feel to be unemployed in a foreign country? And what's the best strategy for surviving the economic crisis?


Photo: Juan Guateque

A citizen of the world

Sylvaine learned the hard way how fast the global downturn could ruin a well-calculated plan. After a successful job interview in Berlin, the young Frenchwoman did not receive an employment contract from the CEO. Rather, the CEO admitted, in subdued tones: the situation had deteriorated dramatically since he posted the job and the company had no money to hire anyone at that moment.  It was one of the many disappointments Sylvaine has experienced since she moved from Brussels to Berlin last October; and staying at home for three months is an unfamiliar experience for the 24-year-old highflier who studied in France, England, Germany and Belgium: she is used to getting what she wants.

I met Sylvaine through my friend Gregor, who likes this gorgeous girl with the beautiful French accent so much that they have been together more than four years. But apart from her accent, Sylvaine appears more European than French. She was raised in the international environment of Geneva, decided to become a translator when she started learning English at the age of twelve and is now fluent in five languages. She holds a Master's degree in Translating and Interpreting from renowned universities in Norwich and Brussels - and makes a point of practicing her language skills as often as possible.

To cut a long story short - Sylvaine should benefit from globalisation and the need to communicate in different languages. But this logic doesn't work in times of crises. Companies around the world are offering very few jobs, and tend to play it safe by hiring native speakers who can write protocols or press releases without an additional grammar check. Among my friends in Berlin there are countless young talents with nowhere to go - a lawyer from Spain; an events manager from Israel; a political analyst from Romania; an art-dealer from Italy, and a nurse from the US. Other acquaintances have suffered even worse setbacks, losing their jobs and thereby their right to remain in the country.

Photo: Steffen Heltsche, www.youthphotos.eu
It is a wide world, after all!

I don't want to deny the fact that the crisis might help prune the ambitions and hubris which some internationals have to a certain degree. But most friends I know are just in the wrong place at the wrong time - and have to find ways to get through the crisis.

Sylvaine made herself apply for less ambitous jobs, as a secretary or a call-centre employee. But even though she was overqualified she didn't get many of jobs she applied for and refused to work at a call centre for a pittance. Finally, she decided to take a six-month internship at a technical translation service in Berlin. The pay is lousy but at least Sylvaine can improve her skills. She gains experience and learns how to use special translation programs and interpret on construction sites.

Further education on the job or another degree at a university are certainly smart alternatives for those stuck finding a job. Both can help keep up the motivation of international professionals and prevent them from sinking into depressive self-doubt: Will I fail due to my international way of life? Was it all a useless adventure? Will I have to return home like the prodigal son?

Fortunately, Sylvaine and my other friends have not fallen prey to such destructive thoughts. My good friend Felix discovered what is probably the most hedonistic answer to the global economic crisis - a round-the-world trip. I received his last e-mail while he was somewhere in the South Seas; I could not even trace his location on Google. To sum up his email, he wrote:  I'll be back when the crisis is over.


Cover photo: Abigail Yao / www.youthmedia.eu

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