Pausing for a moment, reading a book in peace, traveling across Europe, dedicating oneself to a project or volunteering full-time – this is the dream of many employees. At Univention, this dream has come true, because for the past two years, employees have had the opportunity to take time out in the form of a “sabbatical”. In this interview, Andreas talks about how he managed to establish this offer, why the topic is so important to him, and how he spent his sabbatical.

What made you decide to take a sabbatical?

Actually, I had been dreaming of seeing many different places and trying new hobbies for quite some time. I had already accumulated a few books on travel destinations, personal development, drawing and painting, but I never had the time to read them. At work, my tasks kept increasing, the expectations grew, the stress increased, and the direction became more and more unclear. The proverbial hamster wheel was spinning faster and faster. A weekend was no longer enough to recharge my batteries, and a vacation was no longer relaxing. Then my gut told me that I could do things differently. This was a good time for me to make my dream come true and take a sabbatical. Take a break, slow down, read more books, get out in nature more often and travel around Europe.

How did you organize your sabbatical at Univention?

First of all, I remember that the possibility of a sabbatical was not yet available and that there was a lot to coordinate. I first approached Carina, my colleague in the HR department, to discuss the matter. A few weeks later, a general agreement was reached for all employees. I was really surprised that it went so easily and quickly. I was able to clarify the next steps with Jörg, my department head, and plan them with my team. I am grateful to my colleagues for their understanding in taking over my tasks. I was able to successfully complete some projects before I left. Upon my return, I also thanked Peter, our managing director, and he replied rather sheepishly that it was an experiment after all. A successful one, I think.

What does a sabbatical at Univention look like, and how did you prepare for your trip?

The general arrangement for all employees who want to take a sabbatical consists of a savings phase and a leave phase. In the first phase, part of the gross salary is waived, and a credit is built up that can be used in the second phase of the sabbatical. The advantage is that all social and health insurance continues as before. In order to travel around Europe, I quickly decided that I would need a motor home. I found a company in Bremen to make this dream come true. There I was well advised from the purchase of an empty van to the fully equipped habitable interior with stove, refrigerator, bed, solar and running water. The rough destinations were the Eiffel Tower, the Northern Lights and the Algarve.

Where did you go and why?

I started planning by doing research and collecting ideas. Then I combined the three rough destinations with three itineraries. I started in March 2022. The first stage to get to know the camping life took me through East Frisia and the Netherlands to France and the Eiffel Tower. I researched that Kilpisjärvi in Finland is the best place to see the Northern Lights. There are two seasons that are ideal: Fall and Winter. So I had to choose between an average temperature of 5°C or -15°C. The plan was to be there from September to October. I am often asked the question: “Do the Northern Lights really look like they do in the photos?” Yes! They are beautifully green and completely silent when they move. At the end of the third trip, I spent three weeks with my motor home right on the cliffs in the Algarve. There, near Ferragudo, I saw beautiful sunsets every evening. In March 2023 I was back at Univention in Bremen.

What was a typical travel day like?

My classic travel day started at 9 a.m. with getting up and having breakfast. Around 12 o’clock, I would think about what I wanted to do that day, or not do it. I traveled slowly, sometimes only 60 km a day. Only once I rode more than 500 km to avoid the nightly freezing temperatures in the mountains of southern Spain. Since I brought my bicycle, I could also park outside and then explore the area by bike or go shopping. I mostly cooked myself with local ingredients, and sometimes I went out to eat. In Warsaw, my bike saddle broke off on the subway. But there are bike shops and I can recommend the restaurant “Tre Orsi Pizza”. I was able to use my English well all over Europe. And I took lots of books with me and read them. It was really nice and over way too fast.

What did you learn from the sabbatical?

I learned that it’s good to have a direction of where you want to go. You can either do things completely randomly, fast and agile, or you can think everything through 100% first and never really get started. The mix of the two extremes is important. Back home, I didn’t like my apartment at all. I redecorated it first, also with souvenirs from the trip, and set up a small reading corner so that I could read a book in the middle of the day. I want to continue being on the road, sometimes a week in the office and then a week in the home office in the motor home. I find that this freedom fosters creativity and makes me happy. I am grateful to Univention for that.

What do you recommend to people who are planning a sabbatical or are thinking about it?

Talk about it and exchange ideas with others who have already taken this step. Just do it. It will be great!

Thank you, Andreas, for taking the time for this interview. Meanwhile, the next colleague has gone on sabbatical: she went to Mexico for a few months. More about that on our Inside Univention Blog.

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