I was invited by Veronika of IES Vienna to talk to her American students about my experience living abroad in Vienna, Austria. Her students are on an exchange program and have the opportunity to work part-time in Vienna while taking college classes. When she e-mailed me to talk to her students, I was initially very excited but as the day approached I became nervous and unsure of myself. I didn’t know if my story was any more special than the interesting reports I’ve heard from other Americans living here, or whether I could give enough information to the students that would benefit their visit to this foreign city.
The day before I was to present, I took the time to write about the main points I wanted to share: Why I was here, what I had been doing , and what cultural differences stood out to me. I thought that those were the best things to talk about.
The day of my presentation I had everything planned out: I was going to leave work at 3pm, get home quickly and prepare for the talk (shower + dress up) and then go. But what actually happened was that after I left work, a water pipe burst near one of the tram lines I had to take, so public transportation got severely delayed. I panicked. Time started to fly by. Fortunatly a bus that was provided as a substitute came instead of my tram (that’s the cool thing about Vienna — if there is a transportation problem they solve it quickly by providing an alternative for the people). I realized my ideal plan of going home and preparing beforehand was not going to work. I called Veronika to let her know I wouldn’t make it in time, and despite my lateness, Veronika welcomed me warmly to her class.
As I stood there in front of the class wearing clothes that were perhaps stained from the kindergarten I work at, I took a breath, smiled and started my story:
First I shared my little story of how I met my husband and the eventuality of getting married and moving to him in Vienna. I explained the stressful process of paperwork and applying in New York City for my visa, and how my now-husband and I lived with his family while we went looking for an apartment… sharing about the competitive market yet providing resources available to find one.
Excitedly, I talked about how Vienna is completely different from the small town of Connecticut where I’m from. Here, there is always something fun to do with new events going on during the weekends, and how the best resource to these exciting events are the online English-magazine Vienna Würstlestand.
I shared about my struggles finding a job in Vienna, and how important it is to go out, meet people, make connections and have them assist you to find a job here, because it was through people/connections that my husband and I got our full-time jobs.
I also suggested that if they had any additional questions about life in Vienna, or life in general, to check out some specific Facebook groups, one of them being Women of Vienna for the ladies, a resource and community I co-founded with another American woman, and Americans in Vienna, open to all who are from or like the USA. I offered my e-mail address to anyone who needed assistance from me. What I wish I could also mention was how helpful the Expat Center of Vienna is, where knowledgeable people are willing to assist foreigners or Americans like me with questions about life in Vienna (like how to stay here legally and paying US taxes while abroad).
To lighten up the situation, I suggested some great brunch spots to check out, and answered students questions like:
Where can I buy the best doner kepab?Restaurant Kent — the meat is grilled over open fire
Where to get the best Wiener Schnitzel?The tourist-friendly Figlmüller and Plachutta
I shared the interesting Viennese stereotypes (not to be taken so seriously) that resulted in laughs. ”The waiters can be grumpy — it’s cultural…,” and that ”people love their dogs more than their own children. ” I gently complained about the stores closed on Sundays and that finding little things like vanilla extract or packed brown sugar (for making chocolate chip cookies of course!) are not found in typical grocery stores in Vienna, but at international shops.
Not to mention, the lifestyle of sitting in a Viennese coffee house for hours chatting with friends, reading the newspaper, or doing work on your laptop while eating cake and sipping coffee, is one of the customs I enjoy the most in Vienna. This was a major point I wanted to bring across to the American students — a meal out in a restaurant or cafe in the United States can sometimes feel a bit rushed or make you feel pressured to eat and go. This is especially true when the server asks if you want the check right after you have completed your meal. In Vienna, it’s the opposite — the servers will leave you alone so you can appreciate the time there, and only you ask to pay when you are ready to pay.
From all of this, sharing my experiences and providing insights about living in Vienna to American students was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am looking forward to speaking again in Veronika’s class in the autumn to assist her new students with insider tips on living in Austria’s capital.