Pure Michigan

by Magdalena, Head of Retrofit Services


I wake up with a smile on my face every day. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a bit – most of the time, I swear to the alarm clock first – but I think you get the point: I am having fun! For those of you who experienced an exchange study semester abroad, it is a very similar feeling when working abroad. The only difference is that I am no longer a broke college student but I am expected to be a responsible and hardworking adult. However, the work part is actually really enjoyable given the fact that I am honored to work with a great team on new exciting challenges every day – but more about work later.

It’s now been 7 months since I started my new position in the TGW office in Grand Rapids, Michigan (a place I usually describe to be in between Chicago and Detroit and that has nothing to do with rabbits as Alex Hofmann was kind enough to explain in a previous blog). My position here basically involves supporting the local Lifetime Services team under Irwin Gafen in growing the department and all structures and processes involved in order to achieve our 2020 goals and strategy.

Moving to the States and setting up my new social and work life was pretty easy given the fact that I already knew Grand Rapids and my colleagues from previous visits, so I knew what to expect. The transition was even made easier by the warm welcome from our colleagues as well as me moving into a gorgeous house in which I felt at home instantly. It’s what most Austrians/Europeans would regard as a classical American suburb home “Wisteria Lane-style”. Sounds odd to you? I can tell you, I love it: You walk out the door, have a chat with your neighbors, and go for a run or grocery shopping around the corner. So everything was pretty cool and exciting when I arrived.

The summer went by pretty fast. Not only did I embrace my new position at work, but I also had a bunch of visitors from Austria and was eager to explore my surroundings. For the cosmopolitan city vibe and great architecture, Chicago is a great place to visit, and Michigan Lake shore beaches can compete with some Caribbean beach destinations.

My first real culture shock happened some time in August. It was not at work, but during shopping (please no wrong assumptions – it’s pure coincidence that it happened while shopping and cannot be interpreted as a direct proportion of the time I spend in malls). I bought a T-shirt and the person at the cashier said with a big genuine friendly smile “I really like your scarf – where did you get that from?” I felt pretty good at this praise of my style and continued shopping. At the next store I bought a camping chair and the person at the counter got all excited ”Oh, I have the very same chair and I love it – I use it all summer”. Again I felt really good to have made such an excellent choice. It was not until my last purchase of the day – a sweater by the way – that it struck me. The person at the cashier made another very nice compliment “Oh this sweater will go excellent with your scarf”. That is when I realized that this is part of the job: Making feel people good about shopping at the store and that I did nothing special. That really upset me at first and I came to the initial judgement that it is all fake.

However, since then I have realized that although being nice might be part of their job description, it’s not all fake. It’s part of the American culture to be friendly and make people and customers around you feel good: be it a compliment, a joke, or a short chat. Finally, it became one of the aspects of the culture here I appreciate most: a friendly relaxedness that makes life just a little easier.

Earlier I promised to tell you also something about my work. In my opinion, the experience I just told you about is also defining how Lifetime Services in the Unites States works: The customer is king and facts and figures are not always enough, but making the customers feel good and that you care about their issues is important. Besides the customer service aspects, there are other challenges and great learning opportunities around. For example, have you ever interviewed someone for a new position from another culture? I learned that it is damn hard to get a hold of someone’s personality when suddenly the behavioral patterns you are used to don’t apply anymore. I hope I have made my point: It’s a great work playground: There is a lot to learn where I can challenge myself every day. The start-up atmosphere and a great team that works hard every day to achieve our goals makes it complete.

The beautiful colors of autumn have already passed and we are now in the middle of the notorious Michigan winter. I want you to know, I also enjoy the cold seasons and look forward to all the new challenges in 2017 – and working for TGW, we all know there will be plenty. However, I am also looking forward to being back home and I am eager to take my experiences here home with me to contribute to our open-minded, proactive, result-driven, and responsible TGW Group values. The most beautiful thing for me about being abroad, is that by embracing another culture, at the same time you value and increase the awareness of your own culture – what do you think?


Head of Retrofit Services