"I felt like I had won the lottery"
—Elle (STEP Praktikum 2016)
A STEP in the right direction
It was going to be what one might consider to be a typical winter night in Finland: everything was dark and quiet, and the temperature was rapidly dropping below -20 degrees as I left my work to go home. On my way out of the door, I checked my emails, especially one that at a first glance seemed like some kind of spam to me.
“This is to inform you that you have been chosen for the traineeship in Bayreuth, Germany.”
I knew, of course, that the results would be published by the end of the week – the results for the STEP-traineeships which I had applied for on the very last day, and which I had then tried my best to forget. It was not that I was not dying to travel abroad for my first legal traineeship ever: I had just never, for one second, expected to be chosen for one.
I felt like I had won the lottery.
At the risk of my fingers freezing and falling off, I called my mother just to tell her I was going to move to some strange city in Germany. I did not know where it was and, quite frankly, I had no idea how to even pronounce it right. All I knew was I was definitely going.
Soon enough, I was put in contact with the local Vice President for STEP, Johannes Lerzer, who ended up becoming one of my best friends in Bayreuth. He kindly informed me that I would do well to begin my traineeship in two weeks’ time – an interesting request for someone who, at the time, did not even have a valid passport. However, this made me realize that it might not be the worst idea to find out where and for whom I was going to be working for the upcoming weeks. Some might say I could even have done this BEFORE sending my application, but I had not wished to get my hopes up in vain.
After a quick Google search, I decided to discard whatever stereotypes I might have had in mind for German university professors and chairs, as one of the first things to turn up was a humoristic Facebook-page set up for my future workplace. I scrolled through the posts and laughed at them in disbelief. “Who does that?” I thought to myself – and at that moment, I knew I was going to love it there.
I was not mistaken. From the moment I set my foot on the beautiful university campus, I was having the time of my life. Even though I was also terrified to go and meet my colleagues and employer on the first day, my fears turned out to be rather absurd. As soon as I began my work at the Chair for Civil Law, IP and Economic Law, I was treated as an equal part of the team of Prof. Dr. Rupprecht Podszun. Often, mainly thanks to him, it even felt like I was one of the most important people in the room. Now, that is not a feeling you get too used to as a student!
On the most part, my work consisted of sitting in my office and doing research or drafting or correcting different kinds of documents, which I was basically free to do whenever it best fit me. As someone not used to these kinds of flexible work hours, I sometimes struggled to understand the concept of, as my colleague frankly put it, nobody caring when or whether I was at work or not. Therefore, I suppose I might at times have spent a little too much time socializing – my other colleague was quick to develop different ways of politely telling me to get out of his office so he could go back to work. Still, not once was I treated even close to as if I was bothering someone with my questions or other “just because” visits. That was one thing I absolutely loved about Germany: even though people mostly seemed unaware of it themselves, they always appeared so very friendly and well-mannered to me.
However, to say I spent the six weeks alone at my desk would be far from the truth. In fact, I never quite knew what was going to happen the next day or week: it might have been anything from listening to an international Skype-conference to helping to arrange a workshop for the local elementary school pupils, all while having a lot of laughs. These kinds of special days were always my favorite ones. Not only did they differ from everything I had done so far, but they also gave me a chance to improve my knowledge of the German language – especially the listening comprehension, which certainly kept me busy at times with a bunch of people all blabbering to each other. Another thing that probably helped me get a little further integrated in the culture, though, was that I was lucky to be staying in a room of a house inhabited only by German students. I should think that spending the Sunday evening watching Tatort is as authentic an experience as it gets!
Time flies when you are having fun, they say. I came to know this all too well, as I felt like I had only just got used to living and working in Bayreuth when it was already time to bid my farewells and return to Finland. To tell the truth, I was heartbroken to leave: even during such a short period of time, I had grown to love everything about the city they sometimes called “Bavarian Siberia.”
To me, it was always quite warm there.