Andre Sasongko is a freelance database developer from Jakarta, Indonesia. He is an entrepreneur, freelance database developer, and father of two. I met up with Andre at Shhared coworking space in Altona, where he told me what brought him to Hamburg.
I first met Andre at a Hamburg Startups mixer event and was curious to hear his story. After leaving his native Indonesia, he studied in Wisconsin, USA, and worked there for several years. The world was his oyster. He chose Germany, then Hamburg, and hasn’t looked back since. His positive outlook on Hamburg and life generally make him an inspiring conversation partner.
Andre’s journey begins in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he grew up. His father is a businessman who had contact to a lady who organised for young people to study in the USA. This was 1996 and he was following in the footsteps of his brother, who had left five years earlier.
In general the education in the USA is better than in Indonesia, which is why I chose to study there.
In his new home, Wisconsin, he studied Computer Engineering, before working for two years for a Japanese company that produced moulded plastic. Here he was taking care of internal business reporting databases.
During that time, he met his now wife, who is from Nordrhein Westfalen in Germany. Having completed an apprenticeship in Hotel and Hospitality Management, she was training for 18 months in the USA but was unable to stay for longer due to visa requirements. When her visa expired, she returned to Germany and although she was able to join Andre back in the US for a short time, the only long-term solution for the – now engaged – couple was for Andre to move to Germany.
Moving to Europe – first stop Bremen
Andre, being an entrepreneurial person and not fazed by change or unfamiliar situations, moved to a country and a continent in which he had never set foot before.
Being completely new to Germany, he wasn’t too concerned about which city to live in. As his then fiancée was working in Bremen they settled there.
Andre attempted to find employment but didn’t have much luck. He puts this down to his lack of German language skills at the time, the cultural difference and the fact that he wasn’t dedicating 100% of his time to getting a job. He was applying in English, rather than German, and found it difficult to be as confident at interviews as he otherwise would have been.
Knowing that his future lay in Germany, he spent time learning the language and trying out some business ideas.
Meanwhile, Andre and his fiancée had been on a weekend visit to Hamburg and fell in love with the place. The greenness, the excellent public transport, and the size of the city – because Andre had only ever lived in large cities – made Hamburg attractive. At this point, he decided to apply for jobs here, which took roughly seven months. Once he got his first job, again as a database developer, the couple moved to the Hansestadt.
What makes a city attractive?
Asked what he thinks is attractive in a city, he says first and foremost it is important to have a good network of friends, good public transport, and an atmosphere that is open to international people. For him, a city like Hamburg is ideal because he grew up in a large city and continued to live in large cities in the US.
Having lived here for 10 years, he now considers Hamburg his home – but he would like to spend some time, perhaps a few months, with his children in Jakarta:
I’d like my children to get to know where I grew up, and to spend some time with my family and learn a bit of the language. Children should understand where their parents come from.
Andre now lives in the suburbs in eastern Hamburg. Since moving here, he and his wife have had two daughters who go to school in the local area.
They consider Hamburg a family-friendly city because of the support that the state gives to parents, paying for children’s nursery care, and things like accessibility ramps in public buildings that make it easier to get around with pushchairs.
Despite what many people say, they found nursery places for their children easily, and – although they consider themselves lucky – they found good schools for them too, despite being outside the catchment area.
For such a large city, Hamburg also has many green spaces and parks for children to play in.
Our experience of Hamburg as parents is very positive. Although my wife being German makes things a lot easier – otherwise we would have had more problems. It also depends on what area you live in.
In their experience, the schools are generally racially diverse with some children from non-European backgrounds, meaning that children can learn from other cultures. But their children don’t consider themselves any different from children of entirely European descent – race is simply not on their radar.
All of this puts Hamburg at an advantage even against other German cities. Maybe this is a USP that Hamburg should market more actively when attracting international people.
Building a network in Hamburg
Andre continued his career in Hamburg by working full-time for various companies as a database developer and analyst and also doing some PHP development.
Since February this year, he has been working freelance. In Hamburg, he says, he has never had problems finding work since taking up his first job – whether as an employee or a freelancer. Alongside his freelance work, he is planning a startup with a friend.
Networking in Hamburg is, he says, not a problem. There are so many events to go to that he has to be restrained in not going to every single one – and even that would be impossible because there are often too many to choose from, often taking place at the same time.
In Hamburg, there are so many interesting events – there’s an event for every topic you could imagine. The startup scene is growing so there are lots of startup events.
The growing startup scene is a plus for Andre, as this means more work for people like him.
International Hamburg – benefits for everyone
I firmly believe that having a strong international community within Hamburg is of benefit for the city as a whole. I asked Andre what he thinks – is this true in his point of view, and, if so, why?
In the end, we are citizens of the world, he says.
As Heiko Hubertz said at Webmontag last week: “Go international or go home!” In Hamburg you can talk to people from different countries and cultures and get feedback on whether your business or product can work internationally.
On a personal level, he says it’s good for one’s development to see how other people perceive and deal with problems.
In some circumstances, he sees himself as a mediator between cultures, understanding how people perceive the western world in Indonesia and vice versa, and being able to explain things from both perspectives.
Usable Hamburg – making Hamburg accessible for internationals
I took the opportunity to ask Andre what he thought about Hamburg as an “accessible” or “usable” city for international people as I have blogged about the topic on a number of occasions.
He said that it would be useful to have a platform for international people to find out about all the things that cause problems when relocating. So this would be a central resource, not necessarily a physical building (like the Hamburg Welcome Center), where people can seek help with problems like getting insured, finding a place to stay, setting up a business or finding work.
As a German speaker, issues surrounding language are not much of a problem for him and, as previously mentioned, having a German partner makes life easier when finding one’s feet.
Andre is so positive about Germany that he wonders whether he might have studied here instead of the USA if he had been here before:
The education in Germany is good, and of course the cost of education is much lower.
On the subject of accessibility, he says that language is probably a barrier for many people who would otherwise choose Germany but on the other hand, there is an increasing number of courses taught in English.
Rooted in Hamburg
Andre’s story and outlook are good news for Hamburg: for him, Hamburg is an attractive, international city that ticks all the boxes. Whilst he could have lived almost anywhere in the world, Hamburg is the place that he chose to put down roots in. A lot of credit is due to Hamburg for that – its family-friendliness, international scene, greenness, and more.
But on the other hand, Andre deserves a lot of credit too. With admirable perseverance and commitment to his new home, he has invested time and money in learning the language, building a strong network and a business, and raising a family here.