July 7, 2016   //   International   //   By Marco Dietrich

“Marco, there are three firms in the US that would like to host you as an exchange employee next summer. They are located in San Diego, Portland, and Chicago. It is totally your call.”

After Dave had listed all of my opportunities I really had no idea what to do. This was a hundred times better than I had expected. But after Dave had finished talking about Mueller I spontaneously agreed on coming to Elgin / Chicago. This has turned out to be one of my better decisions in life.

Before I start blogging about my experiences in the US I want to introduce myself.

For most of my childhood I grew up in a small town near Frankfurt, Germany. Both of my parents were tax advisors so obviously that was the last thing I wanted to become. However after graduating high school and doing a half year of social work at a school for disabled children I chose to study business administration in the beautiful college town named Muenster (situated in the western part of Germany), mostly just because I always was good at numbers.

It did not take long for me to realize that taxation was surprisingly my favorite course in contrast to most of my fellow students. I guess the saying is true: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… So I ended up with Möhrle Happ Luther in Hamburg doing an internship in the tax department after finishing my undergrad studies. I couldn’t have done too many things wrong there since they kept me employed as a student assistant when I started my grad studies at University of Hamburg in October 2014.

To give you a short overview of Möhrle Happ Luther the firm has about 280 employees and provides tax, audit, and legal services mainly for family owned and mid-sized entities. It is the 15th biggest accounting firm in Germany and a member of the Crowe Horwath International network which is why they have a connection to Mueller. For those who also do not know Hamburg is located in the northern part of Germany close to the North Sea and is by far (at least from my personal opinion) the most beautiful city in Germany with a lot of old and historic buildings, its port, two rivalling soccer teams and one of the best bar scenes in Europe.

To finally explain how I joined Mueller we have to go back to the year 2013. During that time a close friend of mine did a semester abroad in New Zealand. Before, I had travelled most of the European countries but had never been outside of Europe. So when he told me to visit him I was a bit nervous about doing such a long travel away from home. Luckily I overcame my doubts and did a six week long backpacking tour in a campervan through New Zealand’s South Island with him. That trip got me hooked on travelling and experiencing new and far countries and cultures. In the subsequent two years I traveled to Israel and Alaska.

However travelling did not seem sufficient enough for me after those three trips. I was eager to live and work abroad for a longer period of time to improve my language skills, get to know locals and their views on things in life, and to get a better understanding of different working cultures. By that time I had no knowledge about the Global Exchange Program between the American and German member firms of the Crowe Horwath network. So, I applied for an international internship at a Big 4 firm and was accepted a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately this meant as well that I had to have an awkward conversation with my boss in Hamburg in which I had to tell him about my plans. To my surprise he informed me about the possibility to go abroad with Möhrle Happ Luther too, and he came up with the idea to contact this great guy from Chicago whom he described as really dedicated to the Exchange Program. After having the call with Dave, Mueller’s managing partner, I totally forgot about the Big 4 internship and absolutely wanted to join Mueller.

Although the United States apparently does not like to grant Europeans access to their country for more than one month (the paperwork to obtain a visa can be quite nerve-racking…) I found myself sitting in an airplane heading to Chicago a couple of months later.  I was pretty calm most of the days before my departure and just as much during the flight. Mostly because of Erin, Mueller’s HR Director, who did an amazing job organizing my stay with Mueller including my arrival, lodging, visa, etc.

However when I passed customs I suddenly became really nervous. Is my English good enough? How am I supposed to meet people to hang out with on the weekends? How much weight will I gain within the next four months? Is Elgin fun? Is there really somebody who is picking me up from the airport?

Fortunately there was. Kevin and his wife kindly were waiting for me for more than an hour to get through border control and were still smiling and waving when they spotted me in the crowd of arriving travelers. They even took me out for dinner at this great place called Claim Jumpers.  Although I did not order the Chicken Pot Pie, (Dave was very disappointed with me when he found out about that a couple of days later) my outstanding Filet Mignon confirmed that my fear of gaining weight in the US was absolutely justified.

When I arrived at my new home where I was supposed to stay for the next nine weeks I could not believe my eyes. My apartment was at least twice as big as what I was used to from Germany. It was located only three minutes away from work, provided a gym, (which alleviated my weight concerns) and moreover there were two TVs, one in my living room, one in my bedroom.  After checking the channel list my first thought was: Awesome they have HBO here! My friends back in Germany have been living in fear of spoilers about Game of Thrones ever since (Hold the door!!)

Besides the apartment Mueller also provided me generously with a cell phone and a rental car. Living in downtown Hamburg I am not used to being in need of a car. So before I came here I told them that I would be just fine taking public transportation and walking. It has turned out that a life in suburban Elgin definitely requires a car. The next grocery store is about three miles away from my hotel; there are no sidewalks, just one old train going to Chicago every hour or every other hour on the weekend respectively, and rarely busses to neighboring towns. That is why I am super thankful to have my own car for the time I am staying in Elgin although I already learned that Americans are completely crazy drivers. In Germany it is strictly forbidden to overtake someone on the right side. That is why the chaos on I-90 completely freaks me out and makes me stay on the very right lane of the highway the whole time.

Next time I will tell you more about working and cultural experiences. So stay tuned!