Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Comparison of Public Accounting

This was my first week at my new job, and oh boy! I went to the client on the first day and was immediately busy-busy-busy. My hopes for a leisurely orientation week and mild 40-50 hour weeks were not realistic; it seems public accounting, no matter where you work, still has demanding hours during busy season and relatively stressful demands, but I'm happy to say that I think I'm going to be equally happy working here as I was with my job in Bellevue.

That being said, there are definitely differences. I'm not sure if these are company differences, differences between Big 4 and national-sized firms, or because of different countries' cultures.

Immediately there were some things I missed about CLA:
  • A travel monitor–I'm used to always having two monitors (sometimes even three) and now I only have a small laptop screen to work on. No one else seems to mind, but I'm considering buying a travel monitor for myself. 
  • A dedicated desk space–This was a long-standing debate at CLA but by my last few months I had my own desk with my name on it. At my new job, I don't think anyone has a dedicated space, not even partners. Everyone groups along the open bench spaces in order to sit with other people on their immediate team, and if you need to take a phone call you move your laptop to one of the sound-proof booths that are scattered around. I don't think this will be as big of a frustration for me here, because I'm only expecting to be in the office very sparingly. 
  • Standing desks– this was a real treat at CLA and when I was in the office I loved being able to move up and down at the push of a button. I'm re-learning what a bummer it is to sit at a conference table 10 hours a day.
  • Jeans in the office–I loved the "dress for your day" approach that CLA took. I think that people who work exclusively in the office here might also dress more casually (it's hard to tell because I've only been in the office a total of 6 hours) but I need to always be dressed ready to go to the client. 
  • Always understanding the inside jokes–I know that the longer I'll be in this job, the more stories and jokes I'll be in on, but often times the conversations around me are happening in Polish. I don't resent anyone for speaking in their native language but I do feel a little left out. 
  • Traveling–Yes, there were times where the traveling was too much, but I liked the variety I had at my former job. I got to visit really cool places because of my job, and sometimes Cameron even joined me. Although overall I think the stability of working in the same city all the time will be a nice change, I would have liked to be able to travel (especially to different countries). Alas, most likely my only out-of-town traveling will be to Warsaw for trainings. 
  • Client variety–Similarly, I liked working with different clients every few weeks. I think now my whole job will be focused on one (maybe two) clients. Luckily, I will at least be working on different subsidiaries every week or two. 
  • Per diem–Hand-in-hand with traveling was the per diem. I often tried to eat cheaply so that way I felt like I was earning a little travel bonus. If the few times I will travel, I'll just be reimbursed for costs. If I want, I can even apply for a company credit card.
  • Onboarding process–I know that I started in a very traditional route at CLA. I was right out of college and started with a group of other recent graduates. The first week was training and about month later I got further training in Minneapolis. I know I'll be in Warsaw for training next month, but I would have liked more than the quick half-day overview I got on day one. Similarly, I don't feel like I've been introduced to all of the important people I'll need to know and I definitely haven't been told how to contact IT on my own. 
  • My commute–It was unusual to live as close to the office as I did, but I liked that I could walk to the office and then any to-client travel I had was reimbursed by CLA. Although I'm walking distance to PwC's office, I'm never going to be there. Instead, I'm paying about $2.50/day for bus tickets to the client. I know it's not much but it still is a slight downside.  
  • Unlimited PTO–I took full advantage of this at CLA, and I typically took off up to six weeks a year. I'm not 100% sure about my leave, but I know Polish law requires I get at least 20 days paid time off, and I likely qualify for 26 days because of my work and university experience. Polish law also requires that everyone take a consecutive two-week break at some point during the year. 
There are a few things that I think are going to be better at PwC. Unfortunately, some of the in-office benefits won't really be relevant to me since I'll be at the client 95% of the time, but I'll still list them out here:
  • More consistent hours–Even though public accounting still is a demanding job that mandates   long hours, the work-life balance still weighs heavier on the "life" side in Poland. 
  • Overtime pay–I'm a salaried employee, but legally my hours have to average out to 40 hours/week. To get around that for busy season this time of year I am expected to work 9 hours days and during other parts of the year 7 hours are the average. And, I get paid overtime (I believe it's 1.5x during the week and 2x on weekends). While I would rather not take overtime, I don't feel as much resentment for long days when I feel like I'm being compensated for it. 
  • Lunch breaks–No one eats lunch while working, which used to be my norm. Every day the team always takes 30 minutes to eat together in the kitchen to have a social break. It's a reminder that even while at work, you don't just have to think about work. This daily ritual is a little weird for me right now because I'm used to eating on my own schedule, but I think once I'm used to it it will be really nice. 
  • Work-provided iPhone–I remember when I was at CLA it was strange that I was using my own cell phone plan for work-related phone calls. It's a little cumbersome managing my work and personal phone, and I think some people just migrate all of their personal use onto the work phone, but I fell like a true professional on a work-phone. 
  • Nicer backpack–It's a little smaller, but a much hipper look and much more adjustable. It's sleek, and I don't feel like I'm wearing a target that advertises "I'm an auditor" all of the time. 
  • Monthly massages–CLA used to have this but stopped providing them after the office grew too big. I doubt I'll sign up for these very often, but maybe I'll make a point to go into the office on the massage day of the month. 
  • Purchase points–I haven't read into it too much, but I think that I will get ~$40/quarter to be used for certain purchases. It sounds like most of my co-workers use this for gym memberships or on gift cards to be used for work clothes. I'm going to see if I can buy a bus pass with it. 
  • Company credit card–I'm not sure if I'll even apply for this since I won't be traveling much, but having a company card is far less cumbersome than requesting for reimbursements and waiting a month to actually get paid back. 
  • Coffee and tea–This was provided at CLA too, but the coffee culture is quite entertaining. Anytime anyone wants to refill their mug, they invite the whole team to join them. Three or four times a day, everyone gets up and takes a few minutes. From what I can tell, this is another excuse to take a mental break from work and to socialize with your coworkers, and it happens both in the PwC and client office.
While some of the details are different, many things are the same. Everyone does some light complaining about the work demands and their frustrations with the client. The workroom is more jovial once the managers are out of the room. When you've worked a long day or long week, you get to complain/brag about it. Because of the work demands, you become close to your coworkers.  I miss my old coworkers, and still am part of some of their group texts and Snapchats–I even participated in an international water-drinking challenge with them this weekend–but I'm optimistic that I'll befriend my new coworkers here, too.

I didn't take any photos at my new job (I thought that would be weird during my first week) but here are some other photos from the week:
Last Saturday I had a "Goodbye to Housewifing" party. As always, there was a spread. 

My times for the water-drinking challenge. I drank a gallon of water in 1hour 40minutes.

Chugging along.

Getting back to my old routine of weekend hikes. 

Hiking along the Skawa riven near Wadowice, the birth town of Saint John Paul II. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Americans Abroad

Anytime I introduce myself as an American people are very surprised I would choose to move to Krakow. Similarly, every time I meet an American I immediately am interested in them. Cameron and I are hosting a party at our house next weekend, and of the 16 people invited, six of them are Americans...a surprisingly high ratio given that every time I meet an America I think "gosh, you're the first American I've met here!" Clearly, I'm suffering from short term memory loss.

As previously written, my developing friend group is a nice international mix but I do seem to be particularly drawn to Americans. It surprises me, because I'm not particularly patriotic and I tend to agree with stereotypes about Americans, even the ones that I am an example of. (As a side note, according to one of Cameron's coworkers I am outspoken, even for an American.) Even though it will likely never happen, I would love to be mistaken for a European! But maybe it is the loud forwardness of Americans that makes them so easy to befriend for me.

Yes, the Americans I have met are all outgoing and confident, but I think that is more of an artifact of the personality types that are willing to meet strangers from the internet rather than a reflection of someone's nationality. There could be an access affect, in that BumbleBFF and Facebook are more well known in the United States so the proportion of America users is disproportionately high, but I don't think that is necessarily true, especially since only one of the people I have met through Bumble is an American. Perhaps my percentage of American friends is reflective of the percentage of Americans in Krakow (or at least of the expats who are actively looking to meet people), but based on the English-speaking events I've attended I don't think that is true, either.

Most likely it is a self-selection bias. When meeting another American there is an instant commonality to build off of. There is a comfort in knowing that I won't accidentally make a cultural faux pas. I like not having to think about the vocabulary I'm using and that I can speak quickly and not worry about my enunciation. I also (maybe mistakenly) assume that if you willingly left the US to move here, you are a person who goes against the American stereotype of being sheltered and uncultured.

I've noticed myself attributing all of the qualities that I want people to think about me to the Americans I meet: friendly, open, culturally sensitive, intelligent, independent, brave, fun. I'm sure this is just an attribution bias, but maybe those are the traits that you need to succeed in a new world.

I noticed a similar phenomenon when I moved to Bellingham for university. It seemed like I really liked every other New Mexican that I met. In that case, it wasn't the comfort of familiarity–I actively wanted to avoid other New Mexicans so that way I could feel more special and unique–but I couldn't help but like them. I ended up deciding that it must be a very select type of person who chooses to leave NM for WA and enjoys it. Perhaps it is the same for Americans who move to Krakow.

I know it is not the money that moves people to Krakow, but the culture and lifestyle. Americans, especially those who have traveled to other European countries, seem to really love the history and beauty of Krakowian architecture. Everyone who comes here for work is drawn by the cultural insistence that work is secondary to enjoying life. They like knowing that sick leave is taken seriously here and that you won't be reprimanded for getting a cold. Although not universally spoken, you can get by not knowing Polish, especially if you stay around Old Town. Unlike many other European countries, Americans are thought of fondly by most Polish people. A few of the Americans I've met are English teachers, and I think there is an appeal to feeling wanted for your accent. Conversely, I think it would be challenging to be British in Krakow, because the Brits have a reputation for flying over on the weekends to party because drinks are so much cheeper here.

It's also hard (at least for me) to visually distinguish between and American and a Polish person. Maybe the chance of fitting in (so long as you don't attempt to speak) is also attractive. Part of it is that I don't think there is a strong Polish look (other than typically being white), but also there isn't a particular style. Surely I would look out of place if I wore a baseball cap around town, and maybe my yellow corduroy pants are a little unusual, but nothing in my wardrobe is a dead giveaway (we'll see if that changes when I start working). Even sneakers can be worn around town!

Whatever the reason we are all here, and no matter why I'm drawn towards my fellow Americans, I continue to be thankful that I am making friends. It was my biggest fear before the move, and I worried that I would feel unmotivated to get close to people since I knew the friendship wouldn't last more than a few years. I now know that was silly and unrealistic, given my constant need for attention, but even my friendship tank can overfill. I'm pleased to say I feel maxed out on friends and have even deactivated least for now.

A Girls Gone International Meetup. If you are curious about the nationalities of everyone here: American, English, South African, Indian, Polish, French, American, American (me), American, Hungarian, and Polish

A hike through the Ojcowski National Park. (American and Polish if you were wondering about the nationalities of the people pictured)

More views from the park (and a [presumably] Polish family)

Only 8292km away from Seattle!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Slovakian Winter Adventures

I had been planning our first vacation for months. This trip to Slovakia was intended to be our Christmas present, first ski trip of the year, and first international travel for us. It turned out that both Cameron and I went to Slovakia for separate occasions already in January, but it still was our first trip together.

In some ways the timing of this trip was perfect–we got our car registered the day before we left and I got a call the week before telling me I will start working mid-February. Unfortunately, the snow coverage was not perfect, but it sounds like this year in general is bad. The good thing about low snow levels is that it is easy to drive through the mountains! Cameron is the better snow-driver, so he probably would have driving most of the time no matter what, but legally he had to drive. Cameron really does not like driving, especially in unknown places, but for this first year he will have to be the only person sitting behind the drivers wheel of our car unless we want to be taxed up to $5,000.

Why? There apparently is a profitable market for selling imported vehicles, especially from the US, but there are hefty taxes for cars that are imported for sale. However, if you bring a car over in a move as a personal good and don't sell it for at least a year those taxes don't apply. So of course, somewhere along the way people came up with the loophole of selling their cars but not registering the vehicles under new owners until after one year in order to avoid the import tax. To overcome that, the Polish government mandated that during that first year vehicles can only be driven by the registered owner of the car, and since the car's title is in Cameron's name, the sole owner is Cameron.

Luckily, our drive to Demanovska Dolina, Slovakia was relatively traffic-free and mostly consisted of two-lane highways that passed through agricultural land, small towns, and the occasional small one- or two-lift ski area. We stopped for lunch at a brewery and had our first taste of Slovakian food–mostly dumpling-like dough, meat, and cheese. After that first meal I should have known to be more careful about what I ordered, but it wasn't until day three that I got fed up with Slovakian cuisine always having secret meat hidden in it. Although frustrating for me, it suited Cameron perfectly well!

Our main attraction for the day was visiting the Stanisovska Jaskyna Cave- for only 10Euros total we had a private tour through a very long water-formed cave. Highlights included two hibernating bats, touching "cave cream"–a soft clay-like material that grows on the walls and apparently is harvested as a beauty product, and a shot of gin as part of a Himalayan caving ritual that has been adopted for this tour. I though the bats were going to be the wildlife highlight of the trip, but while skiing we saw a white ermine one day and over the course of the week I saw five foxes hunting in snow-covered fields.

The surrounding area was riddled with caves, most of which are closed off to the public. Later in the week Cameron and I did our own solo hike looking for caves, but the ice cave behind our hotel was closed and the other tourist-accessible cave nearby costed more than we wanted to spend.

The next three days were ski days at Jasna, the largest ski area in Slovakia and the one best suited for expert skiers. Our first day had beautiful views but was mostly a zoomer groomer day. Any slope we hadn't tried on Monday we got to on Tuesday, including a timed slalom course and some very large jumps in the freestyle zone. A little new snow opened up a patchy black run for us which we did three times in a row towards the end of the day. Day three was by far the best thanks to a replenishing supply of snow all day and the discovery of some ungroomed terrain that no one else was skiing in. We went down our new favorite run at least four times before we encountered anyone else giving it a try. Wednesday was also the best food day, as it included my childhood favorite of plum-filled dumplings covered in vanilla sauce for lunch.

We took a break from skiing on Thursday to go to Tatralandia- a water park that was heavily advertised as a fun place to ride waterslides year-round. Even though most of the water slides were outside and closed for winter, there were still five indoor ones that we frequented over the 6+ hours that we were there. There were also ten pools to rotate between, many of which had jets or water toys to keep you occupied. We opted out of the activities that had additional fees (even though I was very curious about having little fish eat the dead skin off of my feet) but did acquiesce to buying drinks at the swim-up bar. Given that the place is marketed towards loud and splashy children, it wasn't necessarily relaxing but it was a nice break from skiing.

Our last day, Friday, we opted to try a different ski area in hopes of avoiding the rainy forecast at Jasna. Rather than our typical 10 minute drive we had gotten used to, we headed out for a 50 minute drive to the Tatranska Lomnica area at Vysoke Tatry. We were excited to ski in the high Tatras and try out some new free riding terrain, but unfortunately the lift that accesses all of the advanced areas was closed. Also, there was heavy fog and rain, so we didn't really get to see the beautiful surrounding mountains that are advertised in all of the photos we'd seen. We weren't having much fun, so after lunch we returned our rental skis, drove back to the hotel to repack, and then set off for Besenova (another waterpark).

Although marketed as the relaxing adult alternative to Tatralandia, Besenova had a very similar makeup of pools, slides, and other kid attractions. There were more slides available plus a wave pool! The outdoor thermal baths were just as nice as at Tatralandia, but since we were there on a Friday evening it was overall more crowded and thus a little less enjoyable. After our three hours were up, we went out to a vegan restaurant for the best meal I had in Slovakia (finally, no fear of hidden meat!)

Our original plan for our Saturday drive home was to stop at some Polish thermal baths and maybe have lunch in Zakopane, the mountain capital of Poland. We were pretty much maxed-out on thermal baths and water parks, and Zakopane was cute but too crowded to really want to park and walk around, so we just drove through and admired the architecture from the car. The idea was that since it is only two hours from our house we will surely be there for a ski weekend at some point. We learned that the estimated two hours is without traffic, and what should have been a three hour drive in total extended to almost five hours in the car. Luckily, we had stopped for Slovakian treats before heading home so we had lavender cookies and cherry chocolate to satisfy us until we made it home.
Exploring a wooden gothic church on our drive to Slovakia.

Exporing the Gothic Wooden Church of All Saints- the oldest preserved structure in the region, dating back to the 15th century. 

Another stop to check out the scenery and stretch our legs- this is the remains of an old ironworks site. 

Looking out towards the mountains we were skiing in-the lower Tatras. 

Interesting ice formations outside of the Stanisovska Jaskyna cave. 

Cave exploring!

First lift at Jasna. This was the first time Cameron and I had seen a "critter car" at a ski lift–we ended up riding it our last day just to check it out. 

Great views from the lift!

More pretty views. 

Chopok peak sits above 2000 meters high.

The type of skiing Cameron and I do sometimes requires some brush navigation. 

Post-skiing hike looking for caves and icicles. 

More patch navigation. 

Fresh tracks on Wednesday!

It's easy to get fresh tracks if you're willing to go between rocks. 

That's me in the background looking for a good line. 

Feet-eating fish at Tatralandia. 

Some of the jet pools surrounding the swim-up bar. 

A final rainy day at Vysoke Tatry.