"Welcome on Board!"

Interview with our International Office

The International Office at the MPI for Biology of Ageing consists of two ladies: Andrea Veith and Claudia Konitzer. While Andrea has been working in the International Office for a long time and is very familiar with all the tasks, Claudia recently joined during the Corona pandemic. She also works in Travel Management, supports Andrea during the Covid-19 pandemic and is her holiday replacement.

What kind of support does an international office offer?

Imagine you get a new job abroad and you suddenly have to move to an unknown country not knowing the language, the culture and (in case of Germany) the type of bureaucracy you can expect. Of course, this is exciting and on the same time it can be overwhelming as many things have to be considered. This is where we step in. We, this is Andrea Veith and Claudia Konitzer, offer support on the topics of visa application, travel arrangements, registration at the city hall, getting the right residence permit, opening a bank account, apartment search, finding childcare services or choosing a language course. Our job is basically to simplify things and hence to make the life much easier for all new employees from abroad allowing them to have a smooth start and feel welcome in Cologne! In addition, we also started a Buddy Programme some time ago, which brings together people from the same countries or with similar background and also fosters a smooth start. But of course, colleagues who have been at our institute for a longer period of time also use our services, for example for the extension of residence titles, re-registration after relocations... the list can be endless and so are the questions that pop up! We are always there to help!

Andrea and Claudia: Tell us something about yourselves: Why did you choose the job in the International Office and how long have you been working at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing? And…do you like it here?

Andrea: We, in the International Office have a very exciting job- really every day is different! Colleagues need help and we can support them by sharing our experiences. It’s a really good feeling to help others in need and at the same time it makes things a lot easier for our new staff members to start at the institute, to feel welcome in Cologne and to get settled in Germany! I have been working at the MPI for 11,5 years now, and the International Office itself has been around for about 10 years. Working with our colleagues, both scientists and from the administration is just fun and funny- well most of the time. I feel totally comfortable here! In fact, I am also responsible for managing the guest apartments for our new staff members. I also have a great network of landlords and landladies- if there is a vacancy, I always post these to make sure that our new (or current) employees find a suitable apartment. I know that finding a place to live is a great challenge here in Cologne and I am glad, if I can help with this!

Claudia: Since November 2018, I have been working in the Travel Office of the Max Planck Institute and I am one of the contacts on topics around business trips. Due to the corona pandemic, business trips at our institute have been drastically reduced and so the question came up whether I would like to support Andrea in the International Office. Personally, nothing better could have happened to me and I am glad that the MPI continues to give me the opportunity to be part of such a great team. I have got the chance to get an insight into a new and very exciting field of work and to familiarize myself with it. Andrea is an indispensable source of knowledge with lot of experience. She taught me a lot and is still guiding me, while I explore more of the International Office work. It is more than exciting for me to see how teamwork is lived at the MPI and between the different departments and people involved in order to make things successful.

Andrea, can you describe a typical day of your work? What do you like most and what could you easily live without?

A typical day? Getting up, having coffee, then checking and working on my huge list of emails. That can sometimes take longer than expected, because I don't know all the answers immediately. Some things I have to look up, which means more internet research once in a while or phone calls with other colleagues or authorities working at embassies, foreign offices etc. I really like it when I can help, when I see a smile on people’s faces or realize how relived they are that a problem got fixed. For me it is stressful sometimes to cope with all the sudden deadlines and urgent matters that have to be solved NOW or people expecting answers well…. ideally yesterday - this I could really live without. All in all; I'm very happy about all the support I can give and it feels really good to have a share in the peoples` wellbeing. Speaking of great colleagues….It's also a good feeling to be part of a large network of International Officers in the area or at the Max Planck Society.

Andrea, can you describe the most memorable situation you have experienced?

A new colleague from China came in shortly after arriving and gave me a parchment. His father had written down a Chinese children's song as a “thank you” for the one who helped his son and daughter in law to arrive safely. For me? An indescribable moment: It reminded me so much of my father. Well, it’s these brief moments and little things that count…and in general it is always a nice feeling to have those people we start working with before they commence their job and while they are far away, eventually coming to our office and to be able to look them in the eyes, smile and greet them personally.

Andrea, was there ever a really problematic situation, something you were proud that you managed to deal with in the end?

The expired residence permit of a colleague who traveled to the US and possibly couldn't come back? Thank God it was a person from South Korea and was allowed to re-enter without a residence permit! The expired passport of a colleague who could not get an extension? We managed that together somehow, even if we struggled for a much longer period of time and there was quite a bit of fear sweat. I learnt that sudden problems require spontaneous actions! And this can interfere with the day-to-day business sometimes.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the work of the international office?

Corona has had a huge impact on our work! Every arrival, every nationality has to be checked carefully. Is it a high-risk, high-incidence or even a virus variant area? And is the status still the same two weeks afterwards and two days before the arrival? What are the current regulations in NRW and will they still apply tomorrow? In fact, we had to do so much internet research to stay up-to-date- because we want to always make sure that all colleagues can arrive without any problems. Even in times of a pandemic.

A contribution by Daniela Morick.

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