Blue-and-white decorations, Bavarian food, oompah bands and steins full of beer – the Würzburg Oktoberfest presents a whole new world to Daniel Saloma, a young Mexican on his first trip to Germany. The trip has been made possible by the Bayer Youth Exchange (B.Y.E.).
The Oktoberfest was just incredible,” says Daniel Saloma. “I was looking forward so much to experiencing German customs – and suddenly I was right in the middle of them.” For Daniel, the Würzburg fair, similar to the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich, was like a trip to another planet full of colorful and crazy figures. “It was a unique experience. I am really grateful to have been able to experience it during my trip.”
This is the 21-year-old’s first trip abroad, and it has taken him right across Europe to France and Germany – a real adventure for the medical student from Mexico City. “It is a dream come true for me,” he says. “I would never have been able to afford such an expensive trip myself, and my parents were not at all keen on the idea of seeing me travel alone.”
In fact, it might never have happened at all, were it not for his aunt who works for Bayer. As a global enterprise with companies in almost every country in the world, Bayer has set up its own in-house youth exchange program – the Bayer Youth Exchange (B.Y.E.). Bayer employees can use this international platform to look for host families abroad for their children, or to sign up as hosts themselves.
Through the Exchange, Bayer aims to boost cohesion and solidarity between its employees around the world while at the same time securing the company’s future. “Bayer is an international company,” says Vera Hahn, head of Regional Coordination at Bayer and a B.Y.E. sponsor. “We are increasingly working with people from different backgrounds and are therefore looking for employees who are open-minded and curious about the various cultures represented in the company.”
She adds that the exchange program encourages flexibility in dealing with people and openness to different approaches and solutions. “This can be crucial when it comes to successful collaboration in international teams,” she says. “In a few years, the children of our Bayer employees will be entering the job market themselves, and they could be precisely the employees the company is looking for.”
The B.Y.E. – An In-house Exchange Program
How has the exchange program been received by employees?
“Extremely well. The network now includes a large number of employees all over the world. Most of them see it as a great opportunity for their children to spend a few weeks with a host family abroad. The young people get to experience a different culture, and this makes them more open to different ways of living. In addition, they also have the chance to improve their foreign language skills.”
Why do the employees use a specific in-house program?
“We know from feedback that employees value the fact that the B.Y.E. host families are not complete strangers – they are colleagues from the big ‘Bayer family.’ Parents tell me they are therefore happier about sending their children abroad, because they know they will be in safe hands. The Bayer host families also really enjoy welcoming the children. Another argument in favor of the B.Y.E. is that Bayer has a presence in lots of countries worldwide. This offers a huge range of nations and cultures to choose from.”
Why is the program consciously targeted at young people?
“As an international company, Bayer is always encouraging its employees to take on assignments abroad, drive forward their careers and expand their horizons. And if people start early in doing so, they develop a certain broad-mindedness to the world. Later on, they often find it much easier to take these kinds of steps. It is therefore important to have early experience of this and become more open to other cultures, other religions and other ways of living. This attitude then generally will last for a lifetime.”
Is it not possible to achieve the same thing over the internet these days?
“Interactions on social media and online in general can never replace the experience of a trip abroad. Spending time in another country, being immersed in another culture, and discovering first-hand how people live and why they think the way they do – neither a computer nor a smartphone will accomplish that for you.”
The platform introduced Daniel Saloma to Bayer employees Ulrike Eyrich and Michael Schollmeier, and brought him to Bischbrunn, half-way between Frankfurt and Würzburg. The couple’s son had traveled to the United States three years ago with the B.Y.E. That was when they discovered the platform and were immediately taken by the idea. “I found it reassuring that my son was being looked after by a colleague in the United States,” says Ulrike. “You automatically have a certain level of trust in colleagues, so I could wave him goodbye with a degree of confidence.”
We get to know lots of different cultures and are able to demonstrate our own way of life and culture to our guests at the same time.
Since then, the couple has welcomed a guest every year, one from Poland, one from Paraguay, and now one from Mexico. “And every time it has been a great experience,” says Michael. “We get to know various multi-faceted cultures and are able to demonstrate our own way of life and culture to our guests at the same time.” These encounters often develop into friendships that involve return visits and regular contact.
Daniel would also like to see his new German friends again soon. As always, Michael and Ulrike put a lot of effort into organizing an itinerary for him, with loads of excursions and a tour of the famous Würzburg Residence, which they have visited a number of times already. In the evenings, there is pasta with ragu, and in the mornings muesli, fruit, and rolls with cold cuts and cheese. “We aim to provide the truest possible image of everyday life in Germany,” says Ulrike. Since Daniel is studying medicine, the chemical laboratory assistant even took him to the Röntgen Memorial Site in Würzburg, where Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays. “It was fantastic,” says Daniel, “really interesting.” But not as much fun as German fun fairs!