Beyond Our Borders
Brittany Brinkman

Beyond Our Borders

Brittany Brinkman December 05, 2017 Posted in: General

I recently had the exciting opportunity to travel to Europe for two weeks with some family and friends. It was breathtaking, eye-opening and sometimes exhausting. Spanning eight countries, the journey left us with many fantastic and unforgettable memories. It also helped me realize how many of our experiences are connected with my daily work as an Actuarial Analyst. 

We began our trip in Luxembourg, then headed to Switzerland, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We jumped from town to town, visiting many famous places, but the countryside was my favorite. I had never seen so many waterfalls, cascading from all sides of the massive, steep cliffs. The bright green grass quickly turned to snow on the picturesque peaks. We stayed in Switzerland for a week and were able to drive, hike and bike through the mountains. The hills were full of cows and sheep, all wearing bells around their necks that filled the air with a unique kind of music. 

We tried a lot of the local cuisine, consisting mostly of cheese and chocolate. It was interesting to see the many countries that influenced each town. You could tell which cultures shaped them based on the house designs alone. Road signs changed from French to German to Italian within a few short miles. The variety of cultural influences within such close proximity of one another is akin to the array of projects we property/casualty actuaries work on each day. One of the benefits of being in consulting is that the work is always changing. When our time in Switzerland ended, we detoured down to a small town in the northernmost part of Italy for some dinner before heading to Lichtenstein. 

Next it was on to Budapest, Hungary, where we soon realized we were in a vastly different culture. We quickly had to learn the new monetary system, Hungarian Forints, or HUFs. The conversion rate is about $1 to 250 HUFs, so we joked about having thousands of “dollars.” This mystical rate, combined with the name and monopoly money colors led to us calling HUFs “Hufflepuffs” instead. Prices in Budapest were very affordable – a relief after Switzerland, where food was shockingly expensive. Here, we loaded up on goulash and fried foods. We learned Hungary has a very laissez-faire attitude due to its rough history of conquest and occupation. 

Our tour guide joked about how the Soviets “forgot to leave for 100 years” and that it is “best to choose the side Hungary is not on during a war.” The city quickly grew on me as we learned about Budapest’s Jewish, Communist, and blossoming Democratic history. Here again, I drew comparisons with my career choice. I greatly enjoy learning, and working at Pinnacle provides me with the opportunity to work with several renowned industry leaders who share their decades of knowledge and thought leadership with me. 

After leaving Hungary and a short layover in Slovakia, we moved on to Austria. We arrived in Vienna to take in its historical architecture, including a cathedral tower in which we climbed over 300 steps, the world’s oldest zoo (along with its two baby pandas) and the Vienna Opera. It must be something getting dressed up in formal attire to hear an event of Mozart within those walls. We also took a day to explore Salzburg. You know the movie, “The Sound of Music?” This was where it was filmed, and it was every bit as beautiful as it was portrayed. 

Our adventure ended in Germany, where we saw palaces and castles, a concentration camp and experienced yet another new culture. We walked where kings walked, and the most memorable castles we saw were those inhabited by King Ludwig II. He had extremely elegant and expensive taste. Ludwig built a castle inspired by fairytales called Neuschwanstein, across the valley from his childhood home Hohenschwangau. This brilliantly white castle is filled with exquisite woodwork, paintings of King Arthur and swans. It is, however, nothing compared to his Linderhof palace. Although smaller in size, it is over the top. Every room is painted in gold leaf and it also includes a room full of mirrors, a dining table that rises up through the floor and countless Meissen porcelain items.

My primary objective in Germany was to visit a concentration camp, so we went to Dachau. Being there was the most humbling experience of my life. Most of the buildings were reconstructions, but one still felt the terrifying feeling the prisoners must have experienced while incarcerated. It was bleak, stark, hollow and haunting – very much like the black and white film, “Schindler’s List.” The camp was full of facts, pictures and memorials. I saw the prisoners’ living quarters and walked their paths. The most moving moments were seeing the original crematorium and gas chamber. Learning about these camps in school does not remotely compare with seeing them in person. Needless to say, we left that day feeling very solemn. 

My favorite part of Germany was the culture. The streets were filled with people wearing traditional German lederhosen and dirndls. Each night at dinner, we sat at a large table with strangers from all over the world. Some of them spoke English; others, not so much. We talked with them about America, Germany and our lives. We met a man who owned a private island, a U.S. Marine, a gentleman from Munich, a group from Italy and many others. It was amazing to meet so many people from around the world and experience their friendliness. No matter where we were from, almost everyone would stand up and sing when the band played a popular tune. We somehow found a way to communicate, even if it was in some broken second language or by the use of crazy gestures. 

We concluded our trip with a soccer game between Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg. The stadium was full and the fan section cheered for the entire two hours, making for an unbelievable atmosphere. So ended my eventful two-week, eight-country trip, packed with people and stories I’ll never forget.

The diversity we experienced reminded me why I chose to pursue a career as a consulting actuary. I love learning and enjoy new challenges. Each day I seem to encounter something new and have to think outside of the “borders.” I acquired so much knowledge each day of my trip, as I do daily on the job. No day is ever the same, and consulting always brings new questions and interesting twists. The variety of places and cultures I experienced during my journey reflects the variety of each company’s risks and concerns, and I hope consulting will afford me the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world, as have my travels. It was fun to hear and learn from everyone’s stories, and I strongly encourage everyone to travel across the world at least once to experience other cultures, sights and sounds.

 

Brittany Brinkman is an Actuarial Analyst with Pinnacle Actuarial Resources, Inc. in the Bloomington, Illinois office. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Brittany has experience in assignments involving Loss Reserving, Loss Cost Projections and Group Captives. She is actively pursuing membership in the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) through the examination process.

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