James, Tyrol

Who are you?

Hello! My name is James and I am a 35-year-old microbiologist from Canada.am originally from Montreal, which is in the French speaking part of Canada. I am most known by my friends for my cooking, my frequent travels and for my famous cat (lol!).

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I decided to follow an amazing career opportunity back in 2017 which brought me in the Tyrol region of Austria. I really wanted to live an adventure and found the mountains of Tyrol really took me out of the daily scenery I had back in Montreal.

What challenges did you face during the move?

So many challenges you wouldn’t even dream of suddenly appear when you make such a big move across the ocean. The bureaucracy involved in getting the appropriate visas is gargantuan, even when you are supported by your company. Coordinating the sale of your things in your original country while trying to find a place to live in your future country can be very headache-inducing. I also brought my cat with me on this experience and this was definitely a challenge!

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I first arrived in Austria, I was staying in a temporary residence while I started looking for a more permanent home. I took a few days (weeks!) to myself to get accommodated to the area and then I rolled up my sleeves and got to searching.

I downloaded some apps to help search for apartments, asked anyone who would know people looking for tenants, etc. I ended up looking at the window advertisements on the real estate agent offices in town and really fell in love with an apartment they were trying to rent. From there, I visited, met with the landlord and made my offer on the place. I have now been in the same place for more than two years!

Are there many other expats in your area?

I was probably luckier than most with the fact that I am surrounded by a multitude of other expats who live in the same small town as myself. I have met some at work, met others during the many Austrian festivals, and even met one who randomly heard me speaking English in a very North American accent and introduced herself to me in the middle of the evening out in the town! This support group of other expats was crucial into finding a circle of like-minded individuals who all went a through similar experience as I did.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Regardless of where you decide to live, I believe you will get treated in a similar way to how you decide to treat the locals. If you cultivate nice relationships with people and realize that you are a stranger in their land, you get on very well! Most locals will definitely open up to you if they see you try to accept their culture and language. I’m sure I would not have had the same experience if I decided to stick with English only and kept to myself!

Life pro tip: Invest time in learning the local language!

What do you like about life where you are?

I live in a small town, as such I definitely appreciate the small local life that surrounds me. Going to the same baker, the same grocery stores, seeing the same locals while I go through my routine. Love it!

But the best thing is definitely the mountains. Being this close to the alps really takes your breath away and make you realize that you can’t take this experience for granted.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I am probably not the first expat to say this, but the hardest thing about the expat life is leaving your friends and family behind. It can feel like your life is on pause while they go on with theirs. I miss them a lot. Ultimately, try to go back home a few times a year in order to see your friends and family again. Oh, I also miss French-Canadian poutine so much!!!

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Life here is a lot slower paced than back in Canada. I feel that people in Austria really protect their work-life balance and really make sure that they take time away from work to enjoy nature and family. It was hard to get used to this when I first got here as I was accustomed to the “rat-race”, but now, I don’t know how I will be able to adapt to the lifestyle back in Canada again!

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

Well the food here is definitely healthier than what I was used to. That’s good news for my health, but not so much for my taste buds! While I really enjoy a nice plate of käsespätzle or the occasional warm bretzel, I really miss French Canadian cuisine, the occasional Chinese take-out or even a nice spicy Mexican meal. If you know of some places in Tyrol, let me know!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

I would definitely advise anyone to really think if this is something they really want to do. It feels like an adventure, but the feeling of being homesick can sometimes hit you several times a day and never really goes away.

Once you decide this is for you, be prepared to plan everything! Don’t let your future be decided by chance or by other people, drive for your results and you’ll achieve a lot.

Make sure you also have good hobbies to keep yourself busy in your first months abroad, where it is easy to want to isolate yourself sometimes. For me, I bring my cat everywhere! Hiking, visiting towns and castles, and so on!

What are your plans for the future?

Well, right now a new adventure is awaiting me! In a few weeks, I will be moving from Tyrol to Vienna, to live another experience with my partner, whom I met over here (another expat, can you believe it?). I definitely plan on improving my German to gain a new level of proficiency, and I need to learn how to make my own bretzels soon!

You can follow James' adventures with his cat on Instagram or at www.thehvmnd.com.

Would you like to share your experience of life abroad with other readers? Answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!