Weinheim, October 31, 2014. Getting to know other cultures, broadening horizons and learning for life. The Freudenberg Group has been offering its employees’ children the chance to do just this for the last 15 years. All in all, some 1,000 young people have traveled the world under the Group’s TANNER program, spending several weeks at a time with the families of Freudenberg colleagues right around the globe. “We want all our employees’ children to have this opportunity, particularly those children whose parents are not financially in a position to fund such a trip themselves,” says Hartmuth Posner, Head of Corporate HR.
It is the personal success stories that define the TANNER program. Three participants, early birds with TANNER, report on how the youth exchange program has changed their lives.
A new mindset for work
For German-born Katja Gounou, the TANNER visit to Galicia in 2000 marked a complete change of orientation. "I entered an entirely different world right here in Europe," she reminisces. And she isn't just referring to the countryside, the food and the language. Aged 20 at the time, she stayed with a family who had a child with significant learning difficulties. "It was wonderful to see how they still managed to lead a normal family life," Gounou says.
The time she spent with a host family with young children made a lasting impression on the young woman. Back in Germany, she gave up her apprenticeship as a veterinary nurse and started training as a teacher in order to work with children. And once she had completed the training she went abroad again, this time spending two years in Spanish-speaking Venezuela. “TANNER taught me an open approach to other people and other opinions,” Gounou says. That touched on her private life, too. Her husband comes from Cameroon. “I’m not sure I would have been able to commit to that without my experiences in Galicia and Venezuela.”
Finding love in Argentina
In 2000, German-born Nadja Schäfer set out on a journey that was to have long-term repercussions. She found the love of her life. In 2008 she married Ariel Nieto, the son of her TANNER host family. Their own son Timo is now six years old. Schäfer used to live with her family in Argentina, but has been back in Germany for almost five years now. "Timo is at home in both countries," says his mother. She considers her son to be living proof of how well typical German virtues can harmonize with the Argentinian mentality.
As Nadja Schäfer says herself, TANNER radically changed her life. And she finds the intercultural experiences useful in her job as well. As a team manager at Roche, she is able to "be much more relaxed about lots of things."
Home is where your heart is
Juliana Matos from Brazil was one of the first TANNER participants to travel to a foreign country. Her stay in Germany in December 1999 was the prelude to living an international life. For her, it was a childhood dream come true. "I had always wanted to step out into the wide, wide world," Matos recalls. Freudenberg helped her do that. The first surprising new experience was already waiting for the then 15-year-old as she touched down at Frankfurt Airport. "That was the very first time I saw snow."
Matos is still a globetrotter. She went on a one-year student exchange in the USA in 2001. "And I've been travelling ever since," she says. Now she flies to the USA on business, as a key account manager for automotive customers of Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies in Plymouth. "TANNER showed me just how colorful the world is," she says.
Host families also find the exchange program an enriching experience. "They welcome a taste of global diversity into their homes," says Beate Voss, Head of the Global TANNER Office. Some host families have already welcomed twelve children. "For me, it's a thrilling experience to see how the world comes a little bit closer together every time TANNER meets."