I am an American writer of historical fiction novels on the women of turn-of-the-century Vienna. I have lived in Vienna for over 15 years and first fell in love with the city while studying abroad as a student. I am a certified German-English ...
Where are you from, KC, and what are you doing nowadays?
I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I spent a semester abroad in Vienna during my studies and ended up here again afterwards. After living in Vienna for several years, I returned to the States and lived in North Carolina, a place I've come to consider home as well. In Vienna, I have a day job at an office in a management position and I write and blog as much as I can in my free time.
As a US national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
I first came to Vienna years ago and the whole procedures were quite different back then. Originally, I came over on a student visa because I also did post graduate studies at the University of Vienna. After that, I acquired a resident visa which allows me to work and live here.
How long have you been in the country?
I have lived in Vienna for over 15 years total but not consecutively.
What has attracted you to Vienna?
I love living in an international city smack dab in the middle of the heart of Europe that is safe, boasts a high quality of life, tons of cultural events and green places to chill. I also love living alongside so many other folks from around the world.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
It's been a while since then but there are some things I will probably never get no matter how long I live here.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?
It wasn't and isn't hard to find accommodation in Vienna, but when you choose your district in Vienna, you are definitely making a neighborhood choice that will play a role in the flavor of your local shops, neighbors and how people interact with one another. When I returned to Vienna for post-graduate studies, I moved into an apartment in the 2nd district and chose to live there again when I returned to the city for a third time. I love the 2nd and also wrote about it on my blog. For those first coming to Vienna, I would recommend moving into a Wohngemeinschaft - meaning sharing a place with other people. I would do that the first year at least until I could get a feel for where I wanted to be.
What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
Jobs abound and I think that years ago finding a job was more difficult. That being said, you definitely have to be tenacious. I sent out over 30 CVs when I first came and that didn't lead to my first job. Obviously, if you are from the EU, the whole job search is much easier. The level of fluency in German also plays a big role. Another factor is English. If you come from a place where English is the native language, there are a lot of opportunities here. Whatever you do, don't give up. Small assignments can lead to bigger and more permanent things. If you have a skill but no job yet, consider teaching a class at one of the Volkshochschulen. Also, be open to enrolling in classes to improve language skills or just to get out of the house and have a routine until you find a job.
How do you find the Austrian lifestyle?
As mentioned, I really love the Austrian lifestyle. Naturally, there have been things that I didn't appreciate at first that I definitely get now and I wrote about it on my blog.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
I think I've managed to adapt rather well. At least, I don't think that I am the not-so-quiet American. Knowing German and being social plays a large role in this and I think I am usually treated in my everyday life as any Austrian would treat his or her fellow Austrian.
What does your everyday life as an expat look like in Vienna?
Well, that largely depends on one's willingness to adapt and be open. I've blogged about this topic as well. In general, though, people should realize that the X-ray machine at customs when you leave your home country doesn't magically transform you into the person you always wished to be and wahla - you grab your carry on, fetch your suitcases, exit the baggage claim doors and "Well, hello there new life, hello new me!" Naturally there is the opportunity to change yourself when you change your location if you are committed to doing so, but generally if you were negative and miserable back home, you are likely to be negative and even more miserable abroad. If you were curious, upbeat and generally a positive person back home, once you give yourself the time and space to adjust, you will be that again abroad and perhaps even happier because there is something new to discover each and every day. Kind of like the folks who win the lottery being the same amount of happy or miserable they always were within a few months of winning.
Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?
So many over the years and since I blog, I share them often. Some of the best moments are the most mundane - I try to remind myself the importance of consciously celebrating the wonders of everyday life. One time, for example, I was on a street car and this guy starts preaching. At the moment, I could be annoyed or amused. I chose amused. Another similar time occurred one day when I was out running and noticed a riderless horse race past me.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Vienna and in Austria in general? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
A simple answer for a complex and very individual question - housing is extremely affordable here for a major international city due to strict rent controls. Vienna is not nearly as expensive as places like New York City, London or Paris. Taxes are high, but higher education is free (small fees for foreigner) and with universal health care (once you get a job), you are not one medical diagnosis away from bankruptcy and enslaved to repay college debts for the first decade or two after you graduate from college. So if you are an academic, you are probably going to earn less each month than you might back home, but you will enjoy a 13th and 14th salary every year, five weeks of vacation and benefit from living in a welfare state that takes good care of the large majority of citizens. If you are in a high pay class, you will maybe have a city apartment (and if you're lucky a small place to escape in the countryside) but you won't have five thousand houses, a boat, and an island. That being said, if you are an average earner, you will still be able to afford vacations abroad and will manage to make ends meet without too much difficulty.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Writing, reading, running (slowly), writing, traveling, and writing (besides visiting museums, cafés, theaters, talks, etc). I can very happily report that my first book, "Women and Wild Savages" just came out at the very end of December. Set in Vienna in the early 1900s, the historical fiction combines my love of Vienna with my love of writer. The book takes readers into the world of Viennese coffeehouses and intellectual salons. It's the first book in the Vienna Muses series and focuses on Lina Loos, a young aspiring actress who marries the famous architect, Adolf Loos. The book took me more years to write than the Loos marriage lasted but was well worth the hours in the Vienna City and National archives.
Any favorite local dishes?
Wiener Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel, Gulasch, duck with red cabbage, Apricot Knödel, Palatschinken, etc (the list is never-ending). Try some Apfelstrudel yourself - it's easier than it looks and the smell of it baking in the oven will score you major brownie points.
What do you like the most about the country?
The charm, self-irony, and perseverance of the people as well as the Viennese Gemütlichkeit and Schmäh. Christmas (and other holidays) feels like Christmas here. The kind you imagine when you look at an old Christmas card and see stockings hanging on a fireplace or fresh tracks following behind an old snow sled. And who can resist Krampus? I love going to Heurigens and coffeehouses and just sitting and talking with friends without being hustled off the table by the unrequested appearance of the bill or being forced to compete for face time with thousands of TV monitors hanging from every wall. Since my blog is about Vienna, I have tons of posts on things I like. Though I have no talent for waltzing, I love going to the balls here - so many for every thing you can imagine. Highlights have definitely been the Kaffeesiederballs and the Lifeballs and I've blogged about these over the years as well.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I miss the sweet North Carolina evening thunderstorms in summer - how the air stays warm and the lightning shoots across the sky. I love to listen to Back Porch music (Blue Grass) during these storms and open my window to the smells of the rain-soaked earth. I also miss real southern down-home cooking - spare ribs smothered in barbeque sauce, mac and cheese, Brunswick stew and sweet tea served up at the local barbeque pit with a smile and a "Here you go, honey." Not to mention the fresh salty smell of the ocean, the sounds of the sea gulls and crashing waves, the beauty of the lighthouses and the endless horizon at the Outer Banks.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Austria?
Indeed and it is all here in "Expat 101" - the top 10 things I would advise soon-to-be expats to do.
What are your plans for the future?
Travel, write more books, consciously enjoy and appreciate the precious sweet-nothings of everyday life.