There are no big rabbits in Grand Rapids

by Alex Hofmann, Project Manager at TGW Systems, US


Growing up and spending most of my teenage years about 90min north of Wels in Mühlviertel, I got excited about going abroad when starting college. Throughout my exchange semesters and various jobs, I was given the opportunity to experience different cultures and I spent a fair amount of time in different European, North American and East Asian countries. During an assignment in Romania, I met a lovely American girl (my wife) who worked there as an English teacher. After spending two years together in Europe we decided to move to the USA.
TGW Systems Inc. gave me the opportunity to continue my project management career in my new home – the USA. In my new role I am responsible for the realization phase of turnkey material handling solutions. This includes engineering, installation and commissioning of integrated systems using TGW US, TGW Mechanics and other subcontractors’ subsystems. My first assignment in the US was an automated goods-to-person project for WIX Filters in North Carolina. Currently I am responsible for AutomationDirect phase II in Georgia, TVH in Kansas City and a goods-to-person system suburb of Chicago for HellermannTyton.
After overcoming an initial visa obstacle, the entire relocation went very smoothly. I remember it as a very exciting time getting to know new colleagues and exploring the city and environment. The first few weeks in Grand Rapids, Michigan were on-the-job training, and a month later I went back to Wels for some training with TGW Mechanics. This trip back to Austria also gave me the chance to visit family and friends again. It took me some time to educate them that there are no Big Rabbits or bunnies in Grand Rapids :)
My first winter in Grand Rapids was one of the coldest and snowiest winters for decades. I recall snowshoeing along Lake Michigan’s shore watching icebergs moving – what a great experience. That winter’s snowfall amount is something I can’t remember seeing back in Europe. Summers in Michigan are nice too, green forests and hundreds of lakes and rivers.

A lot of things in the USA seem much more spread out and less centralized than in Europe. The disadvantage of being spread out makes traveling a bit more time consuming, but the advantage of the space allows for nice and affordable housing as well as great nature areas. One of our favorite things to do in America is going to one of numerous natural recreation areas. We love traveling and camping in one of the national or state parks as well as skiing the Rocky Mountains.

Having an American partner helped a lot with my cultural adjustment process. Her family also introduced me to wonderful American traditions like Thanksgiving. Knowing the local language (English) definitely helped with the social adoption and “escaping” the expat community. Our neighborhood has BBQs and bonfires in the summer; guys drink beer and play darts in their garage in the winter…not unlike Austria.
It is true that hearty, central European bread is hard to find in America. However, I can’t complain about other food options. Furthermore, Grand Rapids was voted as the “Beer City USA 2012”. The biggest difference in “work culture” is probably the big focus on flexibility and short term orientation. My impression is also that, probably due to bigger distances, phone conferences and Skype meetings are more common than what I was used to.

It’s been three years that I made the move. I don’t regret that I did it and look forward to many more exciting years! 

Alex Hofmann

Project Manager at TGW Sytems Inc., US