Who are you?
I’m Holly Kooi, a 25-year old American expat living in Vienna, Austria with my husband, son and cat.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My little family and I moved to Vienna, Austria in May of 2012 to do mission and non-profit work with two other families who were already settled in the city and needed additional help. We offer English programs to a variety of ages, as well as Bible studies and craft nights.
What challenges did you face during the move?During our transition which probably started in January 2012, our life was a bit chaotic. We lived out of our suitcases for months and consistently felt in limbo. It was a challenge to figure out what to bring, what to leave, and what to sell. We wound up selling the vast majority of our possessions which was a good thing as a whole, but it did put a slight strain on what we could and couldn’t do, such as drive ourselves from one place to the next, cook, sleep on something other than the floor… Once we finally moved to Vienna, it took us a fair amount of time to get our daily affairs in order due to the language barrier. It was a while before things like cellphone plans and internet connection entered our world again. My husband dealt with that kind of stuff while I attempted to buy groceries with the help (questionable) of Google Translate. But after we found a place to live and were able to unpack, everything settled down and we found our pace (and immediately ran to German class).
How did you find somewhere to live?
Finding a place to live was an extremely slow process. Vienna is a popular city to live in of which we were reminded every time we looked at rental listings. While we lived from temporary housing to temporary housing, we spent hours scrolling through 7 to 8 different apartment/house websites. I wrote down the ones we liked and my husband called the realtors for availability. If an apartment was available, we would set a time to meet the realtor at the apartment. The realtor would give us a tour of the apartment and answer any questions we had. If we didn’t like the place for whatever reason, we’d try somewhere else. If we did like the apartment, we’d talk rent and make a decision.
Over the course of 2 months, we inquired about 56 apartments before we found the one we live in now, which we love.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We have a great relationship with the locals, mainly because we decided 2 things before we moved to Vienna:
We would dedicate ourselves to months of intensive German classes.
We would purposefully seek relationships with locals instead of other American expats.
Learning German gave us an immediate opening into the lives of the locals. Being able to communicate, in any capacity – whether it be at the store, in public transportation, at a restaurant, or just at a friend’s house – is hugely important and greatly appreciated by those you’re trying to befriend. It did take us about a year to make a concrete circle of friends within our stage of life, but we’ve felt we had a good rapport with the locals from the get-go.
What do you like about life where you are?
So many things. To start, I love the people. They’re loving, friendly and kind. Public transportation is near perfect and totally efficient, and it’s because of this that we will probably never own a car. Vienna itself is gorgeous and packed with festivals, history, music, fantastic food, and breathtaking architecture. My husband and I especially love the coffee culture as well as the great emphasis on being outside and active. Life in Vienna keeps us fit and busy, but also very relaxed so we can enjoy what’s around us and live in the moment.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It’s difficult feeling behind all the time. I’ve been very purposeful in living in Vienna by not bringing my U.S. life with me, so to speak, but that often results in missing out on a lot of news from home. Or what’s even harder is to miss out on life events like weddings and births. We’ve missed several of those which usually leaves us feeling bummed out for a short while.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The pace of life in Austria is much more relaxed than any pace I’ve experienced in the U.S. Several weeks into my new life in Vienna, I was window shopping in the city with my language partner. At one point, she brought me to a halt on the sidewalk by suddenly grabbing my arm. She looked at me right in the eye and said, “Holly. Slow down. We relax here.” That moment completely changed how I saw myself living in my own life. Now I fully appreciate the slowness (of most things) here. No one rushes you out of the restaurant. Stores are closed on Sundays. Holidays are celebrated past the actual date. Waiters won’t approach you unless you raise your hand. Coffee is sipped slowly and enjoyed of the course of hours. People here are productive and hard-working but know how to fully enjoy their time off and time with others.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Embrace your new adventure and be purposeful about living where you are. Find out as much as you can about your new home prior to the move. Learn the language if you haven’t already as it will greatly, greatly benefit your new life abroad. The best teachers are the locals, but know that it’s okay to get involved in some expat groups for support and friendship. Observe your surroundings and do as the locals do. And most importantly, be respectful of the culture and its people.