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31 May 2011

Weißwurst and Karma


Today’s guest blog comes from Arundhati Pandeya, a Consultant in PwC’s Munich, Germany office.  She called me a few months ago when she had just started her career with PwC and was relatively newly graduated.  We discussed her new joiner and multi-cultural experiences in Munich (one of my favourite cities in Europe, though I will spare you photos of me and the famed Rathaus-Glockenspiel).  Arundhati was eager to get involved in the Gender Agenda at PwC.  Impressed by her initiative, articulateness and energy I asked her to write a guest blog.   Here’s Arundhati’s story – I’m sure you’ll find it as wundervoll (couldn’t resist) as I did.

à bientôt,


As I sit down to write this, it strikes me that it's been a year since I moved to Germany; Munich to be precise; from Singapore. A year ago, there I was... newly married, freshly graduated, proud of having earned my second masters degree with flying colours (vanity unintended) and looking forward to immersing myself into Munich life, art, culture et al. 


I am married to a German, who I must say fits the bill of 'the perfect Indian Son-in-law' so well that it makes my mother jump for joy - literally. That should lift the cloud as to why I decided to move to Munich in the first place. I thought - why not Germany?  I was 23 at the time, I thought myself to be amply qualified to get a good job anywhere and held my cultural sensibilities to be developed enough to ease into a new life in a new country, all in all, the idea seemed very exciting at the time. So I decided to take the plunge.

After I landed here, I took the first three months off to 1) learn German 2) get to know the city and 3) to find a job. I must say the whole phase started with much aplomb, with family and friends telling me that I had great credentials, an international background and everything going for me. Optimism galore.


The optimism, the energy and the adrenaline held up for three months. Long enough, I’d say. And then slowly the hope started to dwindle as the count of unanswered applications began to rise. And then one day, in the middle of all the job search and German learning, and disheartening conversations with a few established professionals - it hit me. I sat thinking about a class I took at graduate school - European Union and Regional Economic Integration - and of the professors who taught us. Klaus Regling (a celebrated German economist who after retiring as CEO of the European Financial Stability Facility, came to the National University of Singapore to teach us a few things about the European Union) and Viktor Mayer Schönberger (a name well known in the circles of Public Policy, Governance and Information Technology), and their lectures on 'Fortress Europe', EU immigration policy and the politically-charged opinions of the European populations against immigrants. A concept that seemed so far away then - seemed dangerously close now. I was always taught to believe that talent and hard work find appreciation no matter where you go, yet there I was thinking of the European 'immigration' issue and whether it applied to me.

It is hard to be the poster child of success (good schools, great grades, a fantastic extracurricular record, and internships with eminent people) and then be suddenly faced with realties of the job market. It doesn’t take much to burst your bubble. 


And so I am thankful to those who told me in a very frank manner that it would next to impossible to aspire to get a great 'English - speaking' job here, in the heartland of Germany where the 'Mittelstand' – a central force in German-speaking business – thrives.  I am thankful to those who told me that few would truly understand my qualifications since they were not traditional German qualifications.  These people gave me perspective, and perhaps also the power to prove them wrong. I often think, from where I stand now,  that the (often unfairly 'clichéd') strong independent woman in me took over and just refused to give up... refused to give up on a chance to build a career, refused to step back from my personal commitment to my husband. But it is also important to know that I had support, in more ways than one - support of family, of friends, of German teachers who told me that I would be fluent before I knew it, and of those secretaries who decided to forward my resume to their bosses. It was six months of toil, disappointments, testing of the nerves but then again, don't all of us struggle at some point in our lives and careers?


In the end, it all worked out.  PricewaterhouseCoopers happened. It's been six months, and these six months have been enriching. I have found a niche, I have found encouragement and above all I have found acceptance.

In my team, I believe we defy Fortress Europe, we embrace talent. Outside my team I do feel there is much left to be desired. 'International' is often both an extremely overrated and an underrated word.  There are perhaps some of us who don't truly grasp the need or the advantage of diversity, but more often than not, people do come around. Have I conquered the Fortress? I do not think so. Am I on a good way to doing it? I would like to believe so.  And in the end the Hindu in me rises and tells me it is all about Karma, the success, the failure, the struggle and the support and perhaps the ability in the end to be a true-to-the-core Indian and yet learn to love and be loved by the Weisswurst. (For those readers who are not familiar with the Weisswurst, it is a beloved Bavarian Sausage, literally translated - white sausage).


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Hi Arundhati,
I loved your story (I also loved that wedding photo!) What stands out is your resilience. You had a goal and you went for it! Statistically (and maybe now it's an out of date stat) women get discouraged by job rejections more quickly than men, but you carried on. Women also find great comfort in friendships (it's oxytocin at work) and you inspired many good friendships to sustain you.
I wish you well with your career at PwC and maybe one day I'll be interviewing you for my Inspirational Women section on my site!
I'll wait to hear about your seat on the board!
PS Re that board thing, I am interviewing Dr Judith Baxter for the next newsletter, author of some new research on how women's language styles leads men to ignore them... http://www.changingpeople.co.uk/2011/why-cant-women-speak-their-minds-in-boardrooms/

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