Born in: Tunisia
Studied in: Tunisia
Worked in: Japan and Germany
Current work location: Munich, Germany
Who are you?
Mouna is a Data Scientist. Not the type who sits behind the laptop all the time but a passionate outdoor person. Almost every weekend, Mouna tells me about a new trip she made, a mountain she climbed or a lake she discovered.
“I am a travel-lover and hiking junky. If I don’t go hiking on the weekend, I feel something is missing. It is a wasted weekend “.
Where are you from?
Mouna is born in Tunisia, a country in North Africa at the mediterranean sea. Grown up in a big city near the capital, she describes herself as a city person. However, nature’s love grew in her as she enjoyed visiting her grandparents in the countryside. Her family used to visit over the weekends. It only took a little time for the wild rosemary crowned mountains to steal her heart.
Which experience or time was shaping for you?
Mouna went to a National Pioneer high school in the capital city for her studies. A governmental institute where you can only be admitted upon success in a national exam. The city was not far away from home. Hence, she didn’t need to move out of her parent’s place as many other students came from different states. She enjoyed most meeting other students from different regions.
“I loved that. I like meeting people from different walks of life. I believe that the more diverse people we encounter, the richer we become. Everyone has a story worth sharing whether it’s wisdom out of a bitter memory or a joke out of an unlucky situation.”
One notable thing about the high school was that they had a canteen. Unlike other countries, this is not common in Tunisia. Therefore, the students spent more time bonding.
In retrospect, Mouna sees this time at the high school as the most positively impactful experience of her life. During that time, she built strong lasting friendships with amazing people while studying in the heart of the capital, a cultural melting pot. She got the chance to train her English skills by walking around and randomly talking to tourists on the street. And she didn’t miss doing so.
“I wanted to speak English and I guess I looked like a non-harmful nice teenage pupil in my school uniform so, to be honest, the rejection rate was low. That boosted my confidence to approach other tourists.”
Of course, you already need some confidence to jump on strangers and ask them out of the blue if they needed any help.
Following these random encounters, she volunteered to guide them through her city. In the end, exchanged contact details and did develop good relationships.
She is still in contact with some of those foreigners and meets with them when the occasion arises in any corner of the world. Like three years ago when she visited a South Korean friend in Seoul that she just jumped on with a big smile: “Hey, where are you from? Welcome to Tunisia!”.
Where did the wish to become a Data Scientist come from?
Early in her life, it was already clear that she wanted to become an engineer, same as her father. For her, this was the definition of success.
Of course, as a teenager, you see the surface of what it means to be an engineer. Mouna saw her dad going to an office every day, and the first thing he did in the morning was to have a coffee and talk with his coworkers. Often also during the day, colleagues visited him, and he spent a lot of time just talking with them.
When she used to finish high school courses early, she used to pass by his office.
“I would see his coworkers coming, they sit, drink coffee and talk and talk and talk. They talked about personal matters. So that’s your real job, Dad? This is what you do? You drink coffee and they open up to you?”
It took some time for Mouna to realise that he was working when talking to colleagues. Her dad was an electrical engineer but later in his career switched to training juniors and conducting technical recruitment and one of his skills was to solve conflicts between employees. So his job consisted of talking a lot.
So although the idea she had of her dad’s work became different, namely less technical and more relation, she still wanted to become an engineer.
“This success definition of having coworkers in an office with a big desktop computer (of course at that time a bulky grey one that took forever to boot and slowly you’d see that colourful yahoo home page in Internet Explorer browser as the coolest thing!). Did I also mention the occasional field trips to the power stations and business meetings with international delegations from partner companies? That sounded fun. I wanted to have that”.
She went to an engineering school after high school to follow her ideas. However, it was not her parents’ wish. She could have studied Medicine with her grades, as all her family members advised her to do so — even her dad.
“He did not say; it’s a man job; he was more like it’s a tiresome job. It is not comfortable and you will struggle. But I still want to do it! Not electrical engineering maybe, but I wanted the engineer title that came with me standing next to a big machine whatever that is. I want to be an engineer. Maybe because people told me, “don’t do it “I was even more into it.”
In Tunisia following two years in the engineering school of Maths and Physics rocket science, you have to decide on your speciality. For Mouna, the decision was not based on the subjects with good grades but rather job-oriented. So she decided to dive deeper into I.T and specifically had an ignited interest in AI, supposing that it would be easy to find a job later on. As a people person, she also convinced a friend of her, “Yeah, let’s do that together; it seems promising “. It wasn’t that easy because “there was always the stereotypical geek guy with the hoodie in the darkness doing Matrix “. Fast forward, Mouna finished her studies with a Software Engineer computer science engineering degree.
“Against everyone’s wishes and preferences and choices, I did it, I chose my path! “
Why go abroad?
Mouna had many foreign friends; she knew other ex-pats and often picked or dropped them at the airport as she lived nearby.
“I felt sad. I couldn’t explain why. Every time, I dropped someone off at the airport, I felt like I also want to go, I want to fly, I want to go somewhere new. And I also had that itching dream of working in Germany, you know one of the “engineers' dreamlands”.
When she asked her parents if they would support her financially in continuing her university studies abroad, they refused. “You are still a young girl, going alone in a western country, which is different from our culture and religion: We don’t want something bad to happen to you…” Lots of drama. My mum was so against it. And dad followed along.
Having no support from her parents didn’t mean that she can’t really go. If you have a dream, the conclusion is straightforward: “I’m going to go abroad on my own with my effort, and I will sponsor myself, and I will make it happen.”
She focused during her studies to get an internship abroad. She had no preferred country, just a shortlist of those she would avoid: “I wanted more, I wanted to explore”.
Mouna had an immense curiosity to go on a faraway journey, leave with a backpack, and learn a new language. That was her goal.
But it was not that easy to follow her dream.
Her friends had already found an internship in Tunisia, but Mouna was still looking for her quest abroad. Professors from the university and friends reached out to her to make her go for offers from local companies for fear of chasing irrational youthful dreams.
“If I accept anything, I will drop into this comfort zone and stop looking for what I want. So I said no to everyone. I was stubborn. “
So Mouna did send her applications around the world.
“It was a lot of pressure. People didn’t see that I spent so much time searching and applying all over the world”. She put a lot of effort into it; she studied for many interviews. “I don’t even remember how many, but I am sure it was more than hundreds of applications.”
When almost all of her friends had already finished their internships, she made it to find one in Japan! She went there for an internship of 6 months, got a job offer at the same company afterwards and worked the first four years of her career there.
How was it to work abroad the first time?
In Japan, the work culture is quite different from the one we know in Germany.
People are very polite to an extent that they won’t be straightforward or clear on what they require. Hence, criticising someone’s work was taken as a personal offence. Moreover, over-working with not necessarily paid extra hours is the normal. She loved and adopted their punctuality but time flexibility was not a topic.
As the rest of the world, the pandemic hit Japan. Nevertheless, there was never an actual lockdown. Only the first three weeks in February 2020 were remote as a failed attempt to save the Tokyo 2020 Olympics from cancellation. As Corona chose otherwise, the olympics were postponed and everyone went back onsite with face masks.
It was not only the work culture which led her to Europe.
“I also felt like I am living in two worlds because of the 8 hours difference. I could not catch up with my friends; I could not catch up with their news or travel to them easily. I did not have many paid vacation days in Japan, only ten days. It was impossible to jump and see friends, problem of time or money; it was just hard though I had also my circle of friends in Japan.”
Post-pandemic, she decided to leave Japan and travel for a while to France to see friends and family. During that me-time trip, she enjoyed her freedom with no stressful work obligations. She started projects that she never had time for while working in Japan. She then decided what she really wanted to do and what to prioritise in her personal life and career.
In France, she visited friends and spent time learning via online resources and getting involved in online communities like “Women Hack”. Again, a new chapter of applying worldwide started — this time, driven by her exploring instinct as usual, focusing on some favourite countries like Canada, Netherlands, Swiss, Germany, and Scandinavia. Thanks to an online “recruiting” event, she got to meet foobar Agency.
Although her friends in France advised her not to go to Germany as Germans are stereotypically cold and not very friendly, Mouna had some doubts. Against all odds, she was curious and took this adventure starting the journey with foobar, first remote from France, then onsite from Munich from August 2021.
Here she is, Mouna from Tunisia, working in Germany, a global citizen enjoying hiking in the Bavarian Alps. Who knows what will be the next step or the next big dream?