A unique connection to Germany
From the mountains of Montana to the mountains of southern Germany via the flatlands of Hamburg and Bremen.
David Driscoll studied abroad at HAW Hamburg in 2009 as part of the UAS7 Study and Internship Program. Today he works as a Senior Designer for the Peter Schmidt Group in Munich. But it all started with a glimpse of his German heritage in 1997.
“My connection to Germany is maybe a bit unique. My mother’s parents emigrated from Germany to the United States after WWII, so while I was born in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, our family has always had roots in Germany. In 1997 my parents decided to give our family a glimpse of our German heritage and moved our young family to a small village in Hessen for two years, near my grandfather's birth town. This "glimpse” set the path for the rest of my life thus far.
I returned to Germany for a middle school semester on my own in 8th grade and made it my goal to return again. My chance came at the beginning of college. I was studying Graphic and Communication Design at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, when my German professor approached me to apply for a UAS7 Study and Internship scholarship that would enable me to live in Germany for a year. I jumped at the opportunity and was ultimately awarded the scholarship at HAW Hamburg for the fall semester of ’09. The semester was followed by an internship at Hamburg's Welcome Center, designing a wall mural that highlighted the cultural attractions multifaceted aspects of the city.
Time abroad brings together young people from around the world and starts a dialogue that leads to cultural tolerance
I still look back on this year as one of the most positive and formative experiences of my life. My studies in the Communication Design department exposed me to design approaches and creative processes that helped build a strong foundation for my professional career. Arguably more important than the actual studying, time abroad brings together young people from around the world and starts a dialogue that leads to cultural tolerance, open-mindedness, respect and in most cases friendships that last well beyond the scope of the study program. I still have many friends from my time in Hamburg nearly 11 years ago who I keep in touch with regularly and try to meet up with as often as possible.
Upon returning to the U.S., I transferred from the private college I had been attending to the State University in my home town. Transferring credits from two separate schools into a new design program with a fairly rigid structure meant that my Bachelors of Fine Arts was postponed by an extra year. In retrospect though, adding a year to my education only strengthened my foundation going in to the workforce. After completing my studies in the Spring of 2013 I decided that Germany was where I wanted to be. I was fortunate enough to be able to move in with family in Hamburg and made that my home base, finalizing my portfolio and applying for jobs in the Hamburg area. I was unable to land a position that would enable me to finance my own apartment, so I increased my job search to anywhere in Germany that matched my criteria. The first to offer me a position was a digital design agency based in Munich. Once again I packed my suitcase and this time moved onto the couch of my second cousin’s one-room apartment.
Moving from a small design agency to one of Germany's largest agency groups has not only been a good step for me professionally, but also allowed me to rediscover many of the multi-cultural skillsets I acquired in my year abroad
Fast forward three months and I received a phone call from POLARWERK, a small, but highly awarded design agency based out of Bremen, about an hour away from Hamburg. I had applied for the position of Junior Art Director, while I was still in Hamburg and the agency's first choice hadn’t worked out in the subsequent months. In the next two and a half weeks I accepted the job, found an apartment and started working. My flexibility finally paid off and this series of quick moves turned into a five-year stint at POLARWERK, during which time I was promoted to Art Director and design team leader. I often wonder if the lessons I learned during my study abroad didn’t contribute to my ultimate success here – being open to new experiences and being willing to push my comfort zone.
In early 2019 my girlfriend had just completed her Master’s program and we decided together that we wanted a change in scenery. For the past few years my sister and brother-in-law had been living in Munich and as much as I have come to love northern Germany, I was beginning to miss my mountains. After five years of "foot to the floor" concentrated work, I took a couple of months off last summer to rework my portfolio and decide what next step I wanted to take professionally. I ended up applying for the position of Senior Designer at the Munich office of Peter Schmidt Group. Two hours later I received a call back and I had a successful interview the following day. I have been working for PSG since last August and am very happy in my current role. Moving from a small design agency to one of Germany’s largest agency groups with many international clients has not only been a good step for me professionally, but also allowed me to rediscover many of the multi-cultural skillsets I acquired in my year abroad.
To all of my old friends from Hamburg who might be reading this, I think about you often and hope you are well. To anyone reading this who is deciding if a semester in Hamburg is right for you, I strongly recommend you take a chance and push your boundaries. It’s impossible to explain how much you will grow as a person until you have.”
This text was originally published by HAW Hamburg Study Abroad