< SWITCH ME >

Thirty-two-year-old Ulrike Storost, from Germany, had only just unpacked the removal boxes in Berlin when she saw the advert for a job at UNESCO in Paris. Her dream job. And so she gave up her life in Germany and followed the job into foreign climes. She told E&M about the challenges of a new beginning in a foreign country, about working at an international organisation, about her expectations and about why this step still made her a lot more contented. The story of a new beginning.

The decision

UNESCO

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is one of the 16 independent specialised agencies of the United Nations (UN). It is based in Paris. Currently, 193 states are represented in UNESCO. Its main areas of work include support for education, research and culture, as well as communications. For more information about the UNESCO associated schools, click here.

"I now work at UNESCO in Paris. My job is to coordinate UNESCO associated schools internationally. UNESCO associated schools - those are schools which try to support the values of UNESCO, both through their teaching, and through project work. Altogether there are more than 8700 schools in 180 countries which have pledged their commitment to the goals of UNESCO. For example, they work to create a culture of peace, intercultural understanding and sustainable development. Our team in Paris coordinates the national networks of UNESCO schools worldwide. Our team - that's a group of five women from Italy, Scotland, France, Germany and Palestine.

The job was advertised about a year and a half ago. I didn't think for long about whether I was going to apply - even though it didn't actually make sense at all at that point! I had just moved from Bonn to Berlin. I'd just settled into a new office, I'd just arranged everything in my flat in Berlin, and my old friendship group had come back together. But I'd been waiting for a job like this one for a long time. They were looking for someone who'd trained as a teacher, who'd gained some administrative experience and who had international experience; those were all things which I could show I had.

unesco_stairs
Photo: Ulrike Storost
Before signing her contract, Ulrike took the night train
to Paris to see her future office.

I'm actually a teacher of Spanish and art. I studied in Mainz, Berlin and Madrid. After my "Referendariat" - that is, the two-year teaching practice in a school which acts as preparation for the second set of exams - I had the opportunity to do a work placement at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. I really enjoyed that. I would have liked to stay in Geneva after the work placement, but it's very difficult to get a job there. When nothing worked out, I went back to Germany. I also thought it a good idea to get some solid work experience in my own country. In my luggage, I had the dream that one day I'd go abroad again - the dream that this wasn't going to be the end of the story.

When I then got the letter of acceptance for the job in Paris, doubts began to form in my mind. Do I give all this up in Berlin? Is it worth all the energy which it'll cost to start again abroad?

My parents and friends all advised me to accept the job. And then there was the fact that it really was a dream job for me. I definitely wanted to work in an international environment at some point. And I think the UNESCO schools are a very good project.

I also wasn't all that frightened of starting afresh. I've moved around a lot in my life - even as a child. When I was a teenager, it was always terrible at first. But with hindsight, it was always enriching. Now I have a rich network of friends because of it, people who come from the most diverse places and who have the widest range of attitudes.

Once I knew that I wanted to take on the job, I travelled to Paris on the night train, just to make sure. I walked to my future office. There I couldn't see anything at all, because it was the summer holidays, but it was important to me to get some sort of visual understanding of what my future office would look like. Afterwards I knew: I'm going to do it.

unesco_front
Photo: Ulrike Storost
Ulrike in front of the UNESCO bulding in Paris.

The first month

In the first month, I didn't have much time to think about things. I had to carry on working in Berlin right up to the last minute. I only thought about how things would carry on in Paris once I actually got to Paris. The most urgent problem was finding a flat which I could even vaguely afford. It was a lucky coincidence which helped me. A former exchange partner of my brother happened to have an empty flat in Paris at the very moment that I arrived. It's funny how people you haven't seen for a long time can help you at the most unexpected moments.

I didn't really feel homesick. Time went past so crazily fast. From Monday to Friday I was at my new job, and on the weekends I was discovering my new city. Now after a year I'm very happy that life settles down and regulates itself after a while - that I have a routine.

At the beginning it helped that so many people in my working environment were in a similar situation to me. They all came from completely different countries to work at UNESCO, and so they were new to the city and were looking to make friends. And then I also found it very useful that I already had a few acquaintances in Paris. That I at least had somewhere to go for help. I can actually say exactly when it was that I began to feel at home: it was the day I got my phone line and internet access. After that the world was connected to my home again.

Taking stock after a year

My contract lasts for another year. I'm very happy that I can stay here. I've got to know a lot of people and now it'll need more time to deepen some of these friendships.

Taking stock after a year, I can see that it was relatively easy for me to settle into Paris. What I found quite a challenge was carving out a unique role for myself at work, being tested again from the beginning.

unesco_ulrike
Photo: Ulrike Storost
Ulrike and her colleagues: she had always dreamt of working in
an international environment.

The international world is a big challenge. I've learned a lot about myself in the last year. I haven't so much learned new facts, but I've definitely learned about the processes which are central to an international organisation, and about the way people deal with each other when so many different cultures come together. There are people from more than 150 states working together here. I've become more careful with my typically German directness when writing emails.

After a year, questions are surfacing too: what do I miss when I'm in Paris? Do I want to stay here in the long term? How long can someone stay so dynamic and keep moving from place to place? Until now, the mix has worked well for me, but maybe my priorities will change.

The nice thing is that I have this contentment, this calmness now that I'm here. It was always my dream to work at an international organisation. That was what I imagined for my life when I was in my twenties. And now that I'm here, I sometimes have the feeling: it doesn't matter where you end up. You've done it and from here you can continue learning. And that gives me quite a different kind of peace."

Text and interview with Ulrike Storost by Kristin Kruthaup.

Die Deutsche Ulrike Storost, 32, hatte ihre Umzugskisten gerade in Berlin ausgepackt – da sah sie die Ausschreibung für einen Job bei der UNESCO in Paris. Für sie ein Traumjob. Und so gab sie ihr Leben in Deutschland auf und folgte der Arbeit ins europäische Ausland. In E&M erzählt sie, von den Schwierigkeiten eines Neuanfangs im Ausland, von der Arbeit in einer internationalen Organisation, von ihren Erwartungen und Ängsten und warum der Schritt sie dennoch so viel ruhiger macht. Ein Erfahrungsbericht.

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