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Florian Schneider: “I always keep my options open with regard to returning home”

People who move abroad to work often do so because of the good career opportunities they hope to find there. For Florian Schneider, who works as a German lawyer in Moscow, this certainly turned out to be the case. In this interview, he talks about the challenges he faces and why he regularly reviews his life and goals.

Florian Schneider is a lawyer and managing partner of Dentons Europe AO in Moscow. A native of Freiburg who grew up in Germany’s Rhineland area, he started to take private Russian lessons while studying for his school-leaving qualifications (Abitur). After his first state exam in law, he went to Russia for the first time, completing a six-month internship at a law firm in St. Petersburg in 1999 before doing part of his legal traineeship there too in 2001. The same law firm subsequently offered him a position in Moscow after his second state exam – one he simply could not refuse.

What motivated you to go abroad to work?

Florian Schneider: I wanted to know what it’s like to work as a lawyer abroad. That’s why I decided to do part of my legal traineeship in St. Petersburg.

After my second state examination, the professional opportunities that awaited me at the start of my career in Russia were completely different to those in Germany. I got a job with a really big law firm in Moscow – with the direct prospect of becoming Office Manager. I simply saw much more potential for me in Russia than I did in Germany. In the meantime, I’ve switched to another, larger law firm in Moscow with even better opportunities for getting ahead.

“Organising my day-to-day life is a challenge”

What challenges do you face?

Florian Schneider: I had got to know Russia through my internship and my legal traineeship, but I only knew St. Petersburg, not Moscow. I was already quite good at the language when I moved to Moscow. The ongoing linguistic challenge is that I have to speak English, Russian and German in parallel – every day. I find that quite demanding.

But what really posed a challenge was organising my day-to-day life. First of all, it took absolutely ages before I got my suitcase back from customs. I had to find a flat and set it up...

How did you manage to settle into a new culture?

Florian Schneider: I’m quite open to the Russian culture, but I’ve retained my German roots, which means I keep certain boundaries. I feel happy that way. Work events quickly enabled me to build up a network. And that led to a football group and finally to friendships.

Would you go abroad to work?

Do you have more contact with other Germans or are you well integrated in Russian society?

Florian Schneider: At the beginning, I mainly had contact with other Germans. Now I have contact with people of many different nationalities; Americans or English people, for example. Above all, I know other expats – they have their own community here in Moscow. I also have good working relations with my Russian colleagues, but it generally doesn’t go much further than that.

I don’t have that much private contact with Russians. Although, strictly speaking that’s not true. You see, I got married a year ago. My wife is from Moscow and we have a daughter now so I’m getting much more exposure to Russian society. In the spring we are moving to a house outside Moscow. I’m in the process of negotiating the rent. That means re-organising my daily life, which poses yet another challenge.

What does home mean to you?

Florian Schneider: First, home is Germany. That’s where my parents live, my siblings, my nephews... And second, it’s the place where I feel at home, where my flat is, where I live.

In that case, Moscow has already become a sort of home for you?

Florian Schneider: Definitely, yes. When somebody asks me where I come from I say, “I come from Moscow.”'

The best expat destinations

Since 2014, the platform InterNations has issued a list ranking the best expat destinations. In 2015, it surveyed a total of 14,300 people from 195 different countries. Some of the people are expats in the true sense; i.e. they have been sent abroad by their employer to do a well-paid job for their company. But many of those surveyed moved abroad out of a sense of adventure, for love or to fulfil a long-nurtured dream. 

The rankings for 2015 were published in October 2016. Topping the list of best expat destinations are Ecuador followed by Mexico and Malta. Germany is in 16th place and Russia, the location chosen by our interviewee Florian Schneider, only comes in 60th. At the very bottom of the list is Kuwait, which ranks 64th.

InterNations: “The Best & Worst Places for Expats in 2015”

Travelbook: “The 12 best countries to work and live in“ (in German only)

Do you have a check list to work through before changing location?

Florian Schneider:

  • It’s important to be well prepared, to get information in advance – for example, through internet forums or by reading a book about the country you're heading for. If possible, it’s good to go and visit the place you’ll be working.
  • And you should get help. There are many people and institutions that are glad to provide assistance and that have some good tips. People should definitely make use of this support!
  • And it’s important to have a long-term plan. What are the prospects of a return? How long do I want to do this for?

“It's important to regularly review your life and goals”

What concrete advice do you have for someone who wishes or has to go abroad in a professional capacity?

Florian Schneider: They should ask themselves how they really feel about it deep down: Am I open to foreign cultures and something new? People need to know where they’re coming from and where it is they want to be in the longer term. Furthermore, they shouldn't measure their country of destination and their home country by the same standards. So much is just so different and needs to be judged differently and accepted – if you don’t do that you won’t be happy abroad.

The most important thing however is that you regularly review your life and goals. I do that every three years at least and then set myself a new goal that I want to achieve over the next three-year period. Up till now, I’ve always been able to aim for a move up the career ladder in Moscow. That’s why I’ve been here for nearly 15 years now. But I always like to keep my options open with regard to returning home.

Interview: Verena Striebinger

Join in the discussion!

Would you like to work abroad? Or have you already made your professional mark abroad?  What kind of experience did you make? Tell us about your challenges and successes and pass on some tips for others who would like to follow suit in our Community group “Spotlight on Jobs & Careers”!

Community discussion

January 2017

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