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October 30, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts on the international flavour of technology and/or learning & development.

In April 2012, I decided to make a bold step in my life and move to Berlin. It is a magnificent city with much history, culture, openness, and beauty that welcomes close to 10 Million visitors a year.

Why Berlin? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • I have always wanted to live in another country – I had worked for 16 years in the same company (many different roles), lived 11 years in the same apartment, and had not lived more than 10 kilometers from Vancouver General Hospital, where I was born. Being a dual citizen of Germany and hearing about how amazing Berlin was made the choice easy.
  • It’s in Germany, but fairly forgiving for those learning German – I may be a dual citizen,  but never spoke German at home and thus I had to almost start from scratch. The Goethe Institute helped with that, and I highly recommend them.
  • An international metropolis in constant change – From the Berlin Wall coming down, a mecca for artists and musicians, the impacts of gentrification and being at the forefront of the Euro Crisis, Berlin is the embodiment of life in “perpetual beta”.

So I packed my bag, and headed over the Pond.  Having spent over 10 years working in the learning & organizational development field, I often worked on initiatives related to change. Sometimes the change impacted me, sometimes just others. I came to realize the power of keeping my approach to change simple.  This time around, I was going to be the initiator, manager and recipient of change. So I did what I had done many times in my professional life, I prepared. I read some great expat blogs, spoke to many people about the change, and even took a pre-change trip to Hawaii! While the preparation provided peace of mind as I packed up and moved to Europe, it was a few simple things that really provided me with the support I required to integrate into Berlin:

Have the curious imperative.

Seth Godin’s post on the curious imperative suggests its just not ok to say, I don’t know. Be it looking for a restaurant or trying to figure out the German bureaucratic system, taking accountability was crucial to learning the ropes, and something I had to remember when things got frustrating. I developed a greater sense of self-reliance and confidence*.

*NOTE: Watch out when trying to figure out German via Google Translator…it doesn’t always help with the essence of what you are trying to say…especially with bureaucrats!

Living like I was in an Improv show

In an improv show, the actors live by the phrase “yes, let’s” meaning that they cannot turn down another idea from a fellow actor, but can alter it through suggestions and feedback. I had taken an improv course and also read how Bobby McFerrin (the guy who sang Don’t Worry, Be Happy) uses improvisation in his work.  

The results:  By keeping this in mind, I was able to meet fantastic people and contacts, experience wonderful cultural events, and open up future opportunities that I would never had if I didn’t say “yes, let’s”. I’d like to think that others benefited from my suggestions and feedback, but the post-event feedback isn’t in yet! 😉

Connecting through a passion

As some of you know, Germany has a rich history in soccer (football) so hanging at the local bar during a match is always a great way to learn about the culture. But I’ve never been good with my feet, so I looked for an alternative. To my delight, I was able to find a baseball team (the Berlin Sluggers) who practiced 2 times a week and played on weekend.

The results: Not only was I able to be physically active and enjoying the beautiful summer weather, I now had an extensive network of friends who have helped me with my needs in housing, professional development, employment and integration.

While this may only be part 1 of the journey, I have learned to use these simple concepts to help initiate, manage and receive change. The power of simplicity is often overstated, but underutilized. The next time you are confronted with change, either as an initiator, manager or recipient, see what simple things you can use to make the change a success.  As Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try”.

Simon aus Berlin