‘I had this thing for Ireland, I felt drawn to this place’
New to the Parish: Katrin Sturm arrived from Germany in 2011
Katrin Sturm at Sandycove, Co Dublin. Photograph: Laura Hutton
When Katrin Sturm runs into people she worked with when she first moved to Ireland, they often express surprise that she still lives in Dublin. Most of her former colleagues moved on after two or three years working in the Irish tech sector, seeking further opportunities abroad.
“Dublin sometimes has a reputation as the call-centre environment. It’s known as a place where you go for an entry-level tech position, but people look at you weirdly when you’re still here after six years. I’d say 80 per cent of people in tech move after a year or two.”
The high cost of renting in Dublin also pushes people away, she says. “People want a certain standard of living and say it’s too expensive here. But most never actually plan to stay here anyway. People still ask me, ‘Why are you still in Dublin?’ They really think you were just here as a stepping stone and then you move back to your home country. The thing is, these people don’t know real life in Ireland. They’ve never lived outside their tech bubble.”
I was going to tennis tournaments around the country in places you’d normally never think of visiting. I got to know Ireland and not just Dublin city centre
For Sturm, the key to getting to know life outside Dublin’s tech scene was getting involved in sport and buying a car. “Playing tennis helped me build a life here and make friends. Also, many expats don’t buy cars. I was going to different tournaments around the country in places you’d normally never think of visiting. I got to know Ireland and not just Dublin city centre.”
She was born and raised in the village of Bodenmais, in the Bavarian Forest, and often dreamed of visiting the world outside the small, conservative surroundings where her parents ran a B&B.
“My mum called me the dreamer; I always had these ideas. I’ve always been the one that if I wanted something I’d go for it. Some might call it stubborn. But no one else had those ambitions to go abroad. We never really travelled as a family. With the B&B my parents didn’t take the time off.”
After finishing school, her mother suggested she get a job in the local supermarket, but instead she applied for local-government funding to study a double degree programme in international business in Germany and the UK. “I cried for 15 minutes when I got it. My parents couldn’t believe it was possible.”
She subsequently secured internships and trainee roles in Amsterdam and Toulouse before moving to Paris for a job with DHL after graduating. She enjoyed working in the French capital, but she struggled to settle in to big-city life, and she eventually packed her bags. “I drove 10 hours back to my parents’ place, dumped everything and booked a flight to Buenos Aires. I took four months off to travel around – I flew up to New York, on to Quebec, I travelled across Canada, down the west coast and then flew to Mexico City. When I got back home I realised I needed to work with people rather than sitting in front of a spreadsheet all day.”
I had this thing for Ireland; I felt drawn to the place. But I never thought there would be possibilities to come here for a career
Sturm started looking for work outside Germany and was surprised to discover an opening with a large tech company in Dublin. Having spent a week’s holiday in Ireland when she was 18, she had always wanted an excuse to go back to the country. “I had this thing for Ireland; I felt drawn to the place. But I never thought there would be possibilities to come here for a career.”
In November 2011 she boarded a flight to Dublin, where she was met by a relocation specialist sent by her new employer. “I’d never been treated as an important person before, but they had a driver waiting for me at the airport, ready to bring me around to visit different places to live.” She was shocked to discover the cost of renting in Dublin and realised finding her own studio apartment for €500 was an unrealistic ambition. However, she eventually found a place to live on Bachelors Walk in Dublin’s city centre.
“I even negotiated the rent down. People are always shocked when they hear that. I’d been moving around every year before coming to Ireland, and I felt I wanted to build something here and have a more stable life.”
Despite the warm welcome she received from colleagues in her new job, she found it difficult to meet people outside the tech social circle. “You naturally get sucked into this bubble, but I didn’t move abroad to just hang out with Germans. I was trying to break out, but it’s tough – you don’t know anybody else.” Her decision to buy a car and get involved with sports changed all that.
In 2018, after more than six years working in tech, Sturm decided to set up her own business. “My job had almost taken over my life at that time. I felt like an entrepreneur stuck in a big corporate world. I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do long term?’ and ideally I wanted to help other people develop and build their careers.”
I’m still amazed that it’s okay in Level 5 to have an off-licence selling alcohol when gyms and hairdressers are not being prioritised at all. I can buy a pint but I haven’t seen the inside of a gym in months
She founded the company The Best Possible You, which offers trilingual support services, in English, French and German, to people in technology. Three years on, and despite a pandemic, the business is going strong. Like most people, she has grown accustomed to working from home and initially supported the Irish Government’s handling of the health crisis. However, she has become increasingly frustrated by recent lockdown measures.
“At the start I felt Ireland was taking a better approach than others. That’s what I believed until Christmas, and then we let people go anywhere. I’m still amazed that it’s okay in Level 5 to have an off-licence selling alcohol when gyms and hairdressers are not being prioritised at all. I can buy a pint but I haven’t seen the inside of a gym in months.”
She has found the media coverage of the mandatory hotel quarantine system is unfairly fixated on returning Irish citizens with little consideration given to the country’s foreign national population. “Everyone wants to talk about the Irish coming home, but no one talks about the non-Irish people living here. We basically don’t exist. What if a family member dies and you can’t leave Ireland for the funeral?”
Despite the frustrations of lockdown, Sturm is happy to be in Ireland. “I think in terms of Irish mentality and culture in general, the Irish are superfriendly. I don’t feel I’m a foreigner or a stranger here. This is my home.”