When I arrived in Munich and left the airport to see my happy parents and smiling sister waiting for me, I knew I had failed.
Like quite a few others I moved back home after my graduation in 2018. That was not planned: While I studied in London, I had started to work for The Times newspaper. I was arrogant and quite full of myself (as one often is when being 21 and thinking the world is only waiting for you) and so I had sent only one serious job application: To The Times. I was sure that I would get into their prestigious graduate scheme and was confident that I did not need to worry about my future. “I would not want to work anywhere else anyway”, I told my friends, “so I only applied there.” Shortly: I was an idiot. And as idiots often do, I paid the price for it.
On the last day of classes, I received an email that I had not gotten into the graduate program. Suddenly I found myself having no other option than to move back home – something I had always wanted to avoid. In hindsight it was one of the best things I could have done.
I want to share this story with you because this past year was a year of going home for many. Not because of stupidity and arrogance as it was the case for me, but because of Covid. With the pandemic came travel restrictions and remote university classes and many of you might have decided to stay in your home country or to return to it in the coming months. After graduation some might decide to go home till the end of the pandemic is in closer reach. But even though you might have a better reason than me for going home, it still might feel like a failure and a waste of time. It should not.
First, there is the obvious advantage of moving back home: You are back with your family and long-time friends. In life we often pay a certain price for the decisions we take. The price we pay for the amazing opportunity to study abroad is (apart from a lot of actual money) that we leave family and old friends behind. I left for London when I was 17 and saw my family and friends around three times each year. Moving back I was suddenly surrounded by family and friends again – and while it occasionally can be annoying to be reminded by your mother to clean up the kitchen after you have lived in a messy London flat share for over three years, it is still a very valuable time. You might move back home after graduation – but it will probably be for the last time in your life. Being able to spend time with the people you have known for so long can be a great privilege. So enjoy it!
A second advantage might not be that obvious to you. I certainly did not expect it. For your career it can be quite beneficial to start at home. People had actually told me that for quite a while – but I continued to ignore it. “If you want to go into journalism, start at home”, my editor at The Times told me, after I had been rejected for the Graduate Scheme. And even though back then I did not want to hear that he was right.
Back in Munich I started working for the “Abendzeitung”, a German left-leaning tabloid, similar to the Daily Mirror. And while in London it was difficult to even get a badly paid internship at the Evening Standard, in Munich I was able to start a well-paid graduate scheme with the paper, write title stories and conduct important interviews. While in London I was one of thousands of foreigners wanting a job, in Munich I was one of the very few with such extensive international experience.
This might not be the case for all of you, but do consider looking for your first job at home. In London you are one of many, many young graduates, looking for a job. It can be extremely hard to get your foot into the job market (now probably more than ever) and often jobs are badly paid and quite boring. Back home you are somebody who knows the culture and environment, but who also brings international experience with them. For your career it might be a lot better to start an interesting job at home than looking for a badly paid job, pushing paper around and completing Excel sheets in the basement of some London high-rise.
You might be wondering what happened after I had moved home. Did I stay there? Am I living in my parents’ basement, asking my mom to do my laundry? Not quite. Last year I actually moved away from home to Brussels in Belgium. Here I started to work for NATO, an exciting opportunity to work far away from Excel sheets and paper-pushing. But I am sure, I would not be here today if I had not moved home before.
I hope you can see moving home as the privilege and opportunity it can be. It might seem like a failure, but can very well be the key to your next great success.