Break guilt: making cash at a Mainz call center and liking it

Finding a job in your temporary foreign home is a great way to cover the costs of studying abroad. My study abroad program came with a paid fellowship at the University, but I wanted some extra cash to fund my travels around Europe, so I picked up a second job at a call center in Mainz.

If you’re looking to get a job while studying abroad, be sure you know the labor laws in the country in which you’re studying. I had to go through a bunch of hoops to get a German social security number just so I could opt out of the system.

But as with any job, the easiest way to find work when studying abroad is to know the right people.

The company I work for does marketing consulting based on market research, which is where I come in. Basically, I call customers of a particular company and survey them on what they think of that company’s product. It’s a simple, mundane job that pays well enough, and it allowed me to continue my streak of successfully avoiding working in the food service industry.

There are a couple of differences between the work environment here in Germany and the places I’ve worked in America. The most glaring is the amount of breaks my co-workers take. When I first started working, I made as many calls as I could, one right after the other, without anything more than a stretch-break between them.

As I got more comfortable in the somewhat laid-back workplace (the bosses occasionally walk around handing out candy to the callers), I started doing as the Romans did and taking breaks with my co-workers. It took me a while to get used to taking these breaks, but enjoying a bit of fresh air every now and then really improved my mood. It even helped me convince people to take a fifteen-minute survey.

I suppose Google has it right: Happy employees are better employees. Relaxing every now and then on the job actually helped me do better at it. Most European employers also give more vacation days and parental leave for both genders. Allowing their employees to focus on their personal lives improves job satisfaction, which in turn improves output. Maybe American companies outside of Silicon Valley can learn a thing or two from this model.