MoneyGram has many employees of African origin in Germany. Chadrel Otaba from Gabon, Fatma Ben Saad from Tunisia and Bruno Appoh from Togo are three of them. In this interview with the Afrika! Magazine, they tell us about how their way led them from their home countries to Germany and finally to MoneyGram.
All three of you come from different countries in Africa, you had different journeys in life, and yet you share one thing: you work for MoneyGram in Germany. What made you move to Germany in the first place?
Chadrel: After graduating from high school in Gabon, I applied for a scholarship abroad. I listed Burkina Faso, Spain and Germany as my countries of choice. The Gabonese government then gave me the opportunity to study in Germany.
Fatma: I married a German with Tunisian roots and moved to Germany with him. I wanted to start a new future there.
Bruno: I think for me it was similar like for Chadrel. Back then, I was young, motivated, goal-oriented and I wanted a better future than I could have had in my home country Togo.
Now, you are working for MoneyGram, but that was not the case from the beginning. How did the beginning in a foreign country work out for you? Which difficulties can someone moving here from someplace far away encounter in the beginning?
Chadrel: My first big challenge was the language. I had no knowledge of German and I had to study it intensively for a year to be able to take an exam, the DSH exam, in order to be accepted at the university. I was lucky because thanks to my scholarship I was able to concentrate on the language course completely.
Fatma: I would say that the first steps are difficult in every respect, but in the beginning the language was the biggest obstacle for me as well. Also, it is very difficult to say goodbye to your family and integrate into a foreign society.
Bruno: Both of them are absolutely right. For me, the beginning in Germany was very hard. The new language, the big cultural differences, dealing with a new country and new people. At first, I also had to get used to the German accuracy, the punctuality in particular!
All of you come from different African countries. Which cultural differences are there between your home countries and Germany? Which differences are there in daily life?
Chadrel: The isolation is very strong in Germany. You live on your own around here. You exchange almost nothing with your neighbours. Only a “Hello” if you´re in the mood, nothing more.
Fatma: I agree. You can´t really compare it; every country has its own charms. In my homeland Tunisia, the community is much stronger. In Tunisia, life is more relaxed than around here. In Germany, there is more discipline and the pace of daily life is more hectical.
Bruno: In my opinion, there are many cultural differences. In Togo as well, people are much more open and laid back. Everyone laughs a lot.
What makes your work with MoneyGram so special?
Chadrel: The direct contact with people from different cultures. You can learn a lot about the cultures of the world. It is interesting to listen to people telling stories about their homelands starting off with “Back at home…”
Fatma: The daily contact with different people is the specialty of the job for me as well. The different nationalities, languages, cultures and mindsets keep fascinating me.
Bruno: The direct customer contact is so interesting above all because you keep learning things about foreign cultures. Even after several years with MoneyGram, you keep learning new things.
All of you bring different experiences with you: different homelands, different journeys in life, different experiences. How do these contribute to your work with MoneyGram?
Chadrel: In spite of our different experiences, the exchange between us works very well. It is like being on a market. You give a little bit of your experiences and you receive some experiences or tips for dealing with customers from your colleagues´ respective home countries in return.
Fatma: Through my experiences, I am able to identify with my customers really well because I am a “foreigner” abroad myself. You are automatically more humane and ready to help as you know how hard it is in the beginning to find your way in a foreign country.
Bruno: All in all, you are prepared for almost every individual situation and you know how to deal with people from the most different of countries.
You live in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin. Which tips do you have – especially for newcomers – for when homesickness hits you hard?
Chadrel: In almost every larger city, there is at least one African association or a forum for foreign nationalities. That can be very helpful. The different events of those associations give you the opportunity to get to know compatriots from our home countries. For instance in Mainz, I met other Gabonese through a football tournament of the association “African students of Mainz”.
Fatma: Homesickness is not as bad as it used to be. Today, there are more possibilities to lessen homesickness. Through the internet, the world has become a small village.
Bruno: With regard to Hamburg, I would say that it is a very multicultural city where you can find little bits of every culture everywhere. I would advise newcomers to go to the places where you can experience at least a little bit of your native culture. That also lessens homesickness.
Is there a special moment from your work with MoneyGram which you particularly like to remember?
Chadrel: When I was working in Koblenz a few years ago, there were only great moments. One of those was when I welcomed a new colleague and helped her experience her first week with MoneyGram. Through that, I remembered my own first week with MoneyGram.
Fatma: One of the most special moments during my time with MoneyGram was in 2010. Through a personal contact, I had the opportunity to represent MoneyGram at one of the largest cultural events in Berlin, the “Carnival of Cultures”. We were very lucky because we could participate for free and share the waggon of the Ghanaian community. The Ghanaian community received the first place that day. In the same year, I received a thank you bonus from MoneyGram among others because of that.
Bruno: My special moment was in 2008 when I received a bonus because of my special performance. That showed me that I am also able to be successful here.