My internship in Varvarin, Serbia
Praktikumsbericht von Tom Brummelhuis, AHR 13 F
from 11.07 - 26.07.2018
As I always wanted to see the practical working methods in a company, I decided to take the chance of doing an internship in a foreign country, mostly because of the other language. Since I have already done several internships in Germany and the Netherlands, I wanted to do a "real" one, not just for a few days. Because of my father, who works for a company, which has its production in Varvarin, Serbia, I got the great opportunity of gaining this new experience.
- On my way to Serbia
It all started with my dad's spontaneous idea of joining him on his business trip to the aforementioned place of production to meet customers of a well-known German producer of IQF fruits. IQF, by the way, is a term of many, which I learned during my stay and it stands for Individual Quick Frozen. After two hours from Düsseldorf Airport, we landed in Belgrade, where we rented a car and drove to our hotel in Paraćin, 150 km south-east of Serbia's capital, Belgrade.
As soon as we arrived, I was able to collect first impressions - and it was totally different from what I had expected. The houses and streets were partially damaged or even destroyed. For example the walls of the houses had huge cracks or the streets had deep pot holes. I had never been to Serbia before or had even heard about it, except that there was a conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, which is also known as the Kosovo War. For me, this was the only explainable reason for this poor condition of Paraćin itself and the small villages around it. The destroyed houses and roads definitely remained from this war, which started on February 1998 and ended on June 1999. A fact, which was confirmed to me later by inhabitants. Although the whole city looked very poor, in the centre there was a big, luxury-looking hotel, called Orbis. I felt a bit uncomfortable, because many inhabitants were staring at us, while we were walking into the hotel. Probably, they had never been in such a hotel before or wished they had the money for it. I will also go into detail on this fact later on. The next day we drove to the production place in Varvarin, where I stayed for the next two and a half weeks.
- About my work and the company I have worked in
The company, Fru Com Handels GmbH, is a medium-sized, family-owned enterprise, producer of frozen fruits, as well as fruit juice concentrates and flavors, specialized in non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), Kosher, BRC (British Retail Consortium) certified berries and stone fruits. The high quality ingredients go to the bakery, confectionery, jam and beverage industry, as well as private label services for retailers and health food chains. The headquarter is based in Salzburg and the production place, called Varvarin Voće, is based in Varvarin, a small village with around 2.000 inhabitants. Beside the large and very modern production halls, there were two well-equipped apartments, of which one was destined for me.
What did I have to do?
The first few days, I accompanied one of the two owners, named Vera, together with two employees from the German IQF fruit producer I mentioned earlier. The two employees are responsible for both Purchasing and Quality Assurance. After a brief personal introduction round and exchange of business cards, we visited the fruit plantations. In front of me I could see huge fields laced with raspberry and blackberry plants, from which we tasted some fruits.
impressions of the raspberry plants and well-ripened fruits
After examining the quality of the raspberries, we moved over to the house of the agronomist and got homemade raspberry juice. Here the Quality Assurance Manager, auditor from the customer, checks several documents, such as those for hygiene, working conditions and used spraying agents such as herbicides and pesticides. The most important thing I learned here is that preparing and organizing audits are the basis of efficient working, because at the examination of the documents by the Quality Assurance Manager, not every document was prepositioned and translated into English or German. Be that as it may, in the end everything was approved. On the same day, we looked at a new harvesting machine for sour-cherries. It was specially designed so as not to damage the fruit, so the best quality fruits can be guaranteed. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the harvesting machine in action, because the cherries were not ready for harvesting, but I was allowed to see certain other things and therefore I stayed in production for one and a half week. Here I made friends with some interesting people: Marijana, Boban and Milan were the people who integrated me into their daily life as a factory worker.
Also, they introduced me to the factory, in which I should learn and work in the following week. It started at the entrance hall, where the fruits were washed and put into a hammermill, to roughly crush the fruit and separate it from its stone if necessary. In this section, my job was to make sure that every fruit landed in the machine and that no objects like heavy stones could come into the hammermill and cause damage. Unfortunately, one time it went wrong and a large stone fell into the mill and blockaded the pump, which could not work properly anymore. Since the stream of fruit juice was interrupted, we had to stop production for a moment and replace the hoses to another pump. Luckily to us, it did not take very long, so we were able to quickly start production again. I can't explain the whole process, because it is complicated and each fruit has its own system to go through, depending on if the final product is puree, concentrate, juice or even flavor. In total, the fruits, which are used in production, amount to around 20 different kinds and vary from little strawberries to big watermelons. Furthermore I also had to clean boxes for the fruits, transport containers, fill barrels with concentrate and a lot of other things. I was even allowed to drive a fork lifter, although the factory was brand new at only 1 year. I was always a bit scared of breaking something, however, I managed to learn it very quickly and I'm a lot more self-confident with driving such a vehicle now. In another section of the production, called the IQF section, it was up to -28°C cold. This temperature was meant to keep the fruits' taste and texture as good as possible. At a too high temperature, even -27,8°C, the fruit could be damaged and make delivery hard, so it would not pass the quality standards of a customer.
Since the difference in temperature between outside and inside of the factory added up to 56°C, it was almost impossible to avoid a common cold. Thankfully, the cold last only a few days, so this time I could continue my work in the laboratory. In this section the quality of the concentrate was checked. Therefore among other things, the employee at the laboratory, Aleksandra, checked the Brix, a measure norm, for testing the quality of the fruit. She could explain a lot of devices to me and taught me some formulas to calculate certain things like Brix. She also asked me, if I would like to do some experiments together with her. Of course I agreed and so we for example separated all elements of plum concentrate with a centrifuge and after much of calculating, we were happy to say that the concentrate was acceptable. Furthermore we checked the pH-value with an instrument. Again the pH-value was fine too, so everyone was satisfied with the produced plum concentrate. I only stayed with Aleksandra for two days, so my next and also my last part was in the office.
Straight from the office...
Jasmina, a colleague responsible for Office Administration and Logistics, showed me her working place. Like all the other staff, she was very kind and told me everything about her job. Before she worked at Fru Com Handels GmbH in Serbia, she had a job in Germany, so I could speak German with her very well. She even went to a commercial high school in Germany, just like me.
As you can see I talked a lot with her about daily things, but it goes without saying that we had to work as well. I was allowed to finish some cases together with her. Since I have a subject in school, called correspondence, which I need to become a correspondence clerk, I could finish some cases too. Making invoices and bills of delivery was exciting for me, because this was the first time for me to get a look at how it is done for real. In school we also make invoices and so on, but only on paper. Now I had a proper reference and a bit of a more serious case. Although it seemed difficult at the beginning, I have to say that it was not bad at all. I realized pretty quickly how the system generally works. After a few days Jasmina showed me a bit of accounting too, which was honestly a bit different from what I have learned in business studies. Every posting was written into the computer and was set in the right account automatically. I was really grateful that I was allowed to see an office operating, because I had never really seen something such like that before.
- Free-time activities
Of course, I did not have to work all the time. The directors of the company told me I was free to do whatever I want, but that I had to feel well during my stay in Varvarin. As a result of that, I was allowed to eat in a restaurant twice per day.
Eat something new...
The other director of the company, Zoran, introduced me to the owner of the restaurant, who is called Goran. First I was skeptical, because he could not speak the best English. In the end it was not as difficult as I had thought it to be, because we managed to communicate with gestures.
One of the best meals I got in Serbia was Pleskavica, also known as "Hacksteak" in German. It is a really big Burger with two large pieces of bread with it. Speaking about bread: in Serbia they eat a lot of bread! With almost every meal you got a small basket filled with bread and a salad bowl with raw onions. For me the bread was ok, but raw onion is not my favorite kind of food. Another meal I tried was Pasulj, which was a traditional Serbian bean soup. Pasjul, the bean soup Pleskavica with bread, salad and fries
For the rest, they also had tomato soup or other daily meals we have in Germany too.
I did not have to work at the weekend and as Varvarin is a small place, in which you cannot do many things, I planned a trip to explore some cities. The first city I decided to go to was Kruševac. With approximately 60.000 inhabitants there was a lot to do. I went through the centre of the city and looked at some shops.
The city was not like other cities in Europe. It looked poor, just like Paraćin. It was not as bad, because it was a bigger city, but it was definitely not comparable to a German city of this size. All in all I very liked the trip, because I got to learn a new, interesting place.
"živeli" is like the German word "Prost". As Boban and Milan, the factory workers, became my friends very quickly, they took me to a summer party in Varvarin. It was a bit of a pool party, except that the pool was very small. One of the things I noticed there is that the security at the entry did not ask the ID at all. Everyone was welcome, so younger teenagers under 18 years were at the party too. They were able to buy alcohol, which I have to say, was not expensive at all for around 60 cent for 0.5 l of beer. Anyway, the party was fun and we drank and danced a lot.
The next day I also got invited to a barbeque at Boban's home. His father is a butcher, so the meat (pork, cow and chicken) was produced by his father. The food was very delicious and it was also interesting to eat, because I never had a meal, which was prepared on the way they did. In the evening Milan and his girlfriend Aleksandra joined us. The Serbians sang karaoke later in the evening. Unfortunately, I did not participate, because my singing skills are not that great.
After I had a wonderful two and a half weeks, which passed rapidly, I had to go home. It almost was an emotional farewell, but I could keep them calm, because I will come again to Serbia. This finally leads me to the conclusion.
All in all I have to say that this internship was really worth it. I met new people and I got to know a new culture although my first thoughts were skeptical, because of the poor image of Serbia and my little knowledge. I got a completely different impression than I expected. Although I thought that it would look a lot nicer, I did not regret going there at all. I am very thankful that the people there gave me the opportunity to learn something from them and they made a comfortable time for me, which I will never forget!
I think that my skills definitely improved with this internship. From driving a fork lifter to accounting, there was enough for me to learn and to do. But also knowing that people are living in poorer conditions than we do and that not everything is a matter of course for them, helped me to better understand the feelings of other people compared to mine.
Since I also made new friends in Serbia, I will go back there for sure!
Finally I would like the “Förderverein BWV” for its financial support in this activity!