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To Canada and back

Gaining experience abroad and advancing your professional career: At K+S, this is not only made possible but expressly encouraged. For geologist Dr. Stefan Höntzsch, the three-and-a-half year stay at Windsor Salt in Canada was a special experience in many respects.

Zielitz, Saxony-Anhalt, on a warm Monday morning in September: 39-year-old Stefan Höntzsch has just arrived at Germany's most northern active potash plant. Leaving Kassel in the dark, the trip took him about three hours by car. In Zielitz, Höntzsch is now starting his third professional career within the K+S Group. As twice before in his still quite young career, he is curious about the future challenges.

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The agile Saxon studied at the prestigious TU Bergakademie in Freiberg. "Rocks have fascinated me since I was a child. Therefore, the direction of my future profession was obvious to me at an early age", says Höntzsch about his motivation to take this particular career path. As part of his studies in 2006, he left Germany for the first time for a few months to write his diploma thesis at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Later he received his PhD at the University of Bremen. With his excellent educational background, he started his career in the Geology department of K+S in Kassel in 2011. Initially, he was engaged in potash and salt exploration, the assessment of raw material reserves in K+S mines and the geological risks in mining. Furthermore, he was responsible for the Neuhof-Ellers site as Plant Geologist.

Buying a house in the south of Kassel together with his wife, he also settles into his private life in northern Hesse. In 2014, Höntzsch becomes father for the first time. "Nevertheless, I have always hoped for the chance to work for K+S abroad one day." At the beginning of 2016, the opportunity arises when he is asked by Frank Hunstock, former Head, to join the establishment of the Technical Center North America. As Senior Geologist, he relocates to Canada to work for the Windsor Salt subsidiary. In Windsor, located directly on the southern border to the United States opposite the city of Detroit, he and his colleague Dr. Hagen Jeschke are to set up the new department. It is intended to ensure a better knowledge transfer as well as the exchange of experience in salt mining between the German and Canadian sites. "We practically started from scratch, since the function created was completely new. Looking back, it was very exciting: I had the opportunity of professionally developing myself very well and contributing my own ideas right from the start". The kindness of the new colleagues in Windsor was a great benefit for him. "I experienced the people in Canada and the USA as very open and friendly. I quickly made new contacts and therefore didn't have any difficulties in adapting to the new circumstances." 

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One month later, his wife and two daughters follow him to North America. Daughter Mathilda was born in Germany but grew up in Canada. "Exploring a new country together with the little daughter was very exciting.” The family continues to speak German at home to ensure that the children remain familiar with their native language. During this time, Höntzsch is traveling a lot on business, as he is responsible for six Canadian and US mines. He gathers extensive data to assess the potential and risks of the salt sites in North America. “From a geological point of view, I think the most interesting mine is the Morton Salt mine Weeks Island in Louisiana, because of the complexity of the rock formations differing a lot from other mines."

When asked about his favorite places, he also mentions the name Mines Seleine, a very remote salt mine on an island in Quebec in the very northeast of Canada, where mainly French is spoken. His most exciting project during his time in Canada was the planning and construction of a new cavern field for salt extraction in the middle of the Windsor downtown area.

"My private life also worked really well in Canada, as my wife speaks fluent English and we experienced many great things together with the children." His wife, Susan, who studied Personnel Psychology in Germany, becomes self-employed as a career coach for expatriates during their stay. "I personally think it is very important for the partners of expatriates to also establish themselves professionally abroad, otherwise a stay abroad can quickly go wrong if the partner does not feel comfortable."

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Stefan Höntzsch could also further pursue his great passion of marathon running in North America. In 2019, for instance, he ran the marathon in neighboring Detroit in just four hours: "It was a terrific experience to run a marathon through such a big city in the US. Everything there is one or two levels more emotional than in Germany!“

When it became apparent that K+S would sell the Americas operating unit including Windsor Salt, Höntzsch was asked to return to Germany. Back there, he finds an interesting job at the Zielitz potash plant. As the Coordinator for Resource Optimization and Grade Control, Höntzsch has now been working there since October under the direct management of production to find ways of obtaining more resource from the crude salt extracted in the medium to long term. "What is exciting about my new position is that I am not only working in geology, but also have to deal with technology and mechanical processes. In this way, I can gather new knowledge."

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Returning from Canada to Germany was not a culture shock for him: "I settled in here very quickly. In Zielitz, my colleagues have made things very easy for me from the very beginning and have given me a warm welcome". Soon his wife also found an additional job and now works at the University of Applied Sciences in Fulda as a coordinator for foreign students. For the two children, now three and six years old, the change is not an issue anyway, as grandparents and relatives are now much closer than before. Nevertheless, the entire family is already looking forward to a visit to their old home in Windsor soon.

His great commitment and openness to sharing his knowledge is also reflected in his voluntary work as a MINT ambassador for K+S. He frequently visits schools where he explains young people what they should know about the geology of salt. 

Since his home town of Kassel is too far away from Zielitz for commuting daily, Höntzsch now lives in a small one-room apartment in nearby Magdeburg during the week. "Of course, not being with the family every day is difficult. But the happier my wife and children are when I come home for the weekend!"

What is Stefan Höntzsch's advice to colleagues who are also thinking about working abroad?

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"Above all, you have to be very open for something new and very sociable and communicative.” In his current position, Stefan Höntzsch doesn't see himself at the end of the career path. "My next goal is to assume leadership responsibility one day.” At which place or country this will be, he deliberately leaves open.

Information about Stefan

Stefan Höntzsch, born in 1981, grew up in Großenhain near Dresden in Saxony. After graduating from high school, he studied Geology and Paleontology at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg from 2001 to 2007. As a so-called "Bergbaubeflissener" he completed many internships in the German mining industry, in hard coal, lignite, and at K+S. Afterwards, he completed parts of his diploma thesis at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins, USA. From 2008 to 2011 he wrote his doctoral thesis in Geology and Earth/Geosciences at the University of Bremen. His hobbies are marathon running, soccer, and photography.

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