Meet Soraya Leila Emery, co-lead of our WoV Fitness subgroup! As a professional dancer
Interviews with members of our Women of Vienna group.
Hello, Hello! It has been a while since my last interview with a badass lady of Vienna. As some of you know, our little group has grown to be HUGE in the last months and my free time has been spent helping it grow. But summer is here and I was inspired by everyone’s encouraging words to start interviewing again! I have a few awesome interviews in store for you, but to kick it off, I give you Sara- a historian turned filmmaker who won’t let anything keep her down! Enjoy and happy Woman Crush Wednesday!
Sara Logan Hofstein
I am from the US- originally from Los Angeles, California. When I was little we moved away for a little while to Germany when my father was making a film in Munich. Then we moved back to the US and to Savannah, Georgia where my father was a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design. For college I moved away and went to Columbia in New York. I stayed in New York and where I had met my fiancé. Two years ago he moved here and a year and a half ago I moved too.
I come from a film family. My father is a director of photography and director. My mother is a stunt woman and they have their own company. Growing up I didn’t want to work in film. But in college I realized, “Why would I want to do anything else?” I loved stories growing up and that hasn’t changed. My degree is in medieval studies and people are always like, “What are you going to do with that?” But medieval studies is all about stories. I realized I have always loved story telling and film is a medium of storytelling.
Foreigners don’t realize how big the US is. Having lived in LA, in Georgia, in New York- yes they might all have the same language, but they are extremely different culturally. I lived in Germany too so I adapt very well and very easily to new places, but- I’m trying to think of how to say this nicely- I’ve never felt so discriminated against as a woman since I moved here to Vienna.
In an interview I honestly had someone say, “We like to do things the Hollywood way and not hire women on set.” Like he even knows what the “Hollywood way” is. People have asked, why don’t you report him, but how am I supposed to? It’s not in an email, he verbally told me that. At the same time, I’m conflicted because I really love Vienna- Yes, I don’t get catcalled here and there are many great things about Vienna, but I would rather get catcalled than feel like I am being sidelined in my general life, if that makes sense.
I’m conflicted because I really love Vienna- I’ve never been catcalled here, the public transportation is so much better than New York. There are so many good things about Vienna. The social system here- these are some of the reasons I never want to leave, but there are other things that do make me really want to leave.
I was in LA in November and it was shortly after the bombing in Paris, the refugee crisis was still going on. I was thinking about myself as a Jewish women and I was thinking about all the things that make me uncomfortable in Vienna as a Jewish woman. The flak towers- these behemoths of World War II, just standing there. I was thinking about the things that were and are happening. The pictures of refugees being guarded on a train, waiting for the train to go somewhere. That picture seems very reminiscent of World War II- people being carted onto trains with guards standing outside.
Other things have happened since then that are also very similar. I think it’s in Switzerland and Denmark maybe, if refugees come with more than one thousand euros of valuables the government takes whatever is left over. They would do the same things to Jews and whoever was taken to the camps- it wasn’t just Jews. The one that scared me the most was Faymann stepping down, because it felt like very similar circumstances to when Schuschnigg stepped down because of the rise of a far right party- the Nazis- and Faymann stepped down, I think, because of the rise of another far right party. There is graffiti around the city that says “Ausländer raus” which is so similar to “Juden Raus.” All these things, it’s these echoes of the not so distant past.
There have been studies about cultural memory. Say someone lived through the Depression; they will pass on the traits that they internalized to their children, their children’s children. Not just the physical effects, but also the psychological effects. It’s the same way with people who lived through the Holocaust. They will transfer on those traits to their children. There is this cultural memory of being Jewish. Natalie Portman even commented on it in a 2004 interview with Inside the Actors Studio where she- I watched this in 2004 and I will never forget her words- she said the sounds of the sirens in Europe freak her out. They remind her of the Holocaust. I doubt those sirens have changed in decades. That is what inspired this film.
It’s about a Jewish woman who moves to Vienna to work for the IAEA and she meets a man in her building who is an Ethiopian Jew and a former refugee. He came to Vienna about 25 years ago- he’s no longer a refugee, he lives here and he is a citizen now. It’s their shared cultural history of being Jewish that they bond over and he helps her understand what is going on with the refugee crisis. And to be able to move past the Holocaust history into the present and realize that Austrians- not just Austrians- yes this film is set in Austria, but it is applicable anywhere in the world. But, we can do better and we will do better than our pasts.
I came up with the idea and then my father and I wrote it together. We launched an Indiegogo campaign a little over a month ago. So far we have David Wurawa as the Ethiopian lead actor. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts our lead actress is no longer in the project. She got cast as a lead in a feature. I’m super proud of her. So we have decided to switch tactics, we’ve actually decided to try to find a famous actress to play her. Right now we have the script out to Yael Stone from Orange is the New Black. We will be doing a casting here in Vienna as well, but the hardest thing is finding an Austrian actress who can speak with an American accent.
We’re shooting in the fall and want to have it all edited and finished by early 2017. We will start sending it out to film festivals and go from there. Short films tend to not make money so the most we can hope for is doing the festival circuit and to get it on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, you know, the video on demand platforms, maybe pay per view, Amazon Prime to try to monetize it and if that doesn’t work eventually we’ll just put it on YouTube. But if it does well at film festivals it becomes a calling card. When I do move back to the US I can say, “I made this film, I didn’t waste my time in Austria.”
I was very much looking forward to this move. I’m very used to moving all over and this is the first time my fiancé and I have ever lived together. I was excited about a time to focus on bettering myself and perfecting my craft as a filmmaker. But I am sacrificing to be here, I’m definitely sacrificing. I’m sacrificing my career at this point and I’m hoping that everything I’m doing here won’t affect my career back in the US. You know how they say in the US, to get a new job you have to already have a job. You can’t be unemployed, ever.
Everyone I meet who doesn’t work in film has this impression that it will be easy for me to get a job here because I speak English. But for some reason- I speak German, but not fluently- I can’t find a permanent position. All I’ve said to companies here is I just want to be useful, I just want to be helpful. I’m not here to take anybody’s job, I want to share the knowledge I have acquired working in the US film business with you.
That’s what I’m most afraid of, that I will have sacrificed my career for this move. But it has long been a dream of mine to move to Europe. When this option came up I said, “Yes! Let’s go! I’ve been in New York a long time. Let’s just do this.”
I was really afraid after moving here. I thought it would be easier to get a job than it has been. But I was really afraid that after a few months went by that I was just ruining my life. That’s when I remembered, “Wait, I came here to better myself as a filmmaker and that’s what I’m going to do.” Especially when I was told that I couldn’t be hired by this company because I was a woman. It’s so frustrating and discouraging. My thought was, “Well I’ll show you what I can do.” The New Yorker in me kicked in and it was like that moment in teen films where it’s like, “Screw you all I’m going to be awesome.”
I was very depressed for a while though. I wasn’t even getting out of bed because, what was the point? The low point was October of last year. Then in November I went to LA and this fire was lit underneath of me. Now we have full sponsorship from ARRI Rental Hungary for the equipment and BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Amma Asante has expressed her interest in the film and she is one of my favorite directors. She directed Belle and other things. But if you haven’t seen Belle you should see it. It’s so good. Coming on as an associate producer is Arcady Bay Entertainment. They produced Bridge to Terabithia if you remember that. The Vienna Jewish Film Festival came on board and Women in Film France came on board. So we have all this interest from the international community, it’s exciting.
I’m so excited to get on set. Right now it is so many moving parts, it doesn’t even feel real. First day on set I’m going to be so nervous. I’ll probably throw up that morning from nerves like it’s the first day of school, but I’m so excited to start shooting.
It’s been an experience living in Vienna. I do have to say I love to take advantage of the slower pace of life here. It’s really wonderful to live so close to so many other places as well. Being in Central Europe makes it so easy to go elsewhere. I think that’s the benefit of living in Vienna, how easy it is to leave and go somewhere else.
You can support Sara’s project here!
Hello and happy fall! I met Martyna a pub quiz this summer and her spunk and enthusiasm made a huge impression on me right away. This is a women who set goals for herself and makes sure they happen. She also has an honest, giving spirit and is always willing to help and make sure people around her are comfortable and happy. But she will also always speak her mind. I hope you will enjoy hearing the story of how Martyna came to join us here in Vienna!
The story starts in Poland in a small town called Ostroda with around 40,000 people in the Polish lake district. I grew up with beautiful surroundings, lots of lakes and forests, spending a lot of time with my parents exploring, fishing with my dad and so on. I lived there until I was twenty-three. I studied and graduated with a degree in teaching English as a foreign language. After my last year, I really needed a break. I had two jobs and had to commute to school, do my dissertation and it was really intense. After that I thought, I need a break. Why not?
At that time a friend of mine was in Amsterdam. I went to see him and kind of stayed for six months. I didn’t expect to stay that long. I stayed with him for three or four nights and in the meantime I walked to pretty much every hostel in Amsterdam. The trick is that sometimes you can have you accommodation and breakfast for free if you work for them for a couple hours a day. Housekeeping or something like that.
After those six months of absolutely loving Amsterdam- cycling everywhere, getting lost in those little streets, exploring the bridges and cafes- I thought, ”Ok, it is December, it’s getting cold and rainy. I can go home.” So I went home. After a few months I realized there is no way I could live in Poland anymore. Seeing how people live, what life was like living with my parents again after six months of being completely on my own. It was like, “There is no way this is going to happen”.
People’s mentality is what made me want to leave, I would say. For a lot of people there, especially in my home town, once you get a job you kind of get stuck with it. And you work it for like thirty years. Simply because the market isn’t good so once you land something, you don’t give it up.
It was the third of March, 2006 when I moved to the UK. It was two days before my birthday, that’s why I remember. I was thinking, maybe a year, maybe two. Six years later, I thought “Ok, six years is definitely enough to experience a country and their language and their people and their weather”.
During those six years of doing so many things really- I also worked in cafes; I worked in a drop-in center for Polish people who don’t speak English. There was one year of interpreting during my last year there for NHS, the national health service in the Southampton area where I was staying. Then I started looking for work as a teaching assistant because I thought I should get back to teaching. At least something in that environment. I started applying for jobs outside the UK as well. Thinking that “Ok, the UK isn’t the end of the world; there are more beautiful places out there, time to start exploring”.
It was really funny because one Friday afternoon I got three job offers. Two of the jobs were in the UK as a teaching assistant and the other was to be an English teacher in Brno, the Czech Republic. I thought,” Martyna, you have been here for six years. What else can happen here? Come on! Let’s just do it!” So I took the job in the Czech Republic and moved there in three weeks. I had to finish everything, my whole life, in three weeks.
Again, the Czech Republic was only supposed to be for a year or two- I always say a year or two- but I stayed there for almost three and a half years. It was one of the best times of my life; Brno is a really, really nice place. Czechs, once you get to know them, are really nice. They are a bit reserved at the beginning because they are really family and friends orientated. Even living in Brno or Prague or Ostrava, every weekend they would go back home and spend time with their family and friends from primary or secondary school. They don’t build new friendships so much anymore after they’re twenty-five or so. Some of them keep friends from the university, but that’s about it.
I really enjoyed my time there. I had great students and a great school which looked after me. I really appreciated it. So that was the Czech Republic. When the third year came I was like, “Martyna, you still like the place so maybe now is the time to leave. Because then when you come back you are really going to enjoy it rather than feeling like oh my God I’m here again”. That how I felt about the UK before I left, I wanted to have all those nice memories and no bad ones.
I was actually thinking of going to Asia to teach there simply because my parents are still in good shape. They’re healthy so I thought if I do it now for a year or two then I won’t feel bad. Because in a few years they will need me near. I would need to be a phone call away and pretty much one plane trip away. But now would be a great time to explore and I know the conditions for teachers in Asia are great. They cover a lot of expenses and so on so you get to travel a lot within Asia. And then, I met a man.
The decision was made and he asked me to live in Vienna, so I said ok. You know, you don’t turn an opportunity like that down. Funny thing, Vienna had never ever, ever, been on any of my destination lists. Yes, to come here and see the beauty of the country, the beauty of the city, definitely. But never to move here permanently. After Asia there was Spain, Greece perhaps, Portugal, the southern countries. But not this part of Europe anymore. But there you go. Here I am.
I officially moved here on the first of July this year, so it’s been nearly four months. I’ve started learning German again. It was the timing in my life that helped me decide to settle down. All the other trips and places were about me moving on my own. Yes, I met men there, I was in relationships, but I had never, ever in my life before Joerg, moved to a different place, to a different country for a man. It was always just me and my books.
I guess reaching thirty, thirty-one, you kind of start to look at your life a little differently, seeing what you’ve achieved, who you are, and at least you know what don’t want. You may not know what you want, but you’ve at least got the list of things you don’t want. I guess the other thing was that Joerg was- I have a little image of the man I would like to be with, the man I imagined being with- and Joerg broke all the rules, or rather I broke all the rules for him. Every single one of them.
First age, I never expected to be with a guy that much older than I am. There’s nine years difference between us. I really wanted to be with an English speaking guy, or Polish. Someone who I would share a native language with. No, he’s from German speaking country. And many, many, many other things. But then perhaps what you think is best for is not actually what’s best for you. So why not see what will happen if you follow a completely different path, which is completely new to you? You kind of explore together, discover things as they come.
He first invited me to come to Vienna after talking for three days only. I was about to say yes when he said, “You know, no, let’s do it differently. I’m going to come to your place. It’s your grounds, you feel familiar and safe, I’m going to be the gentleman and come there.” No one had ever done anything like that before for me. Treating me that way, so that was the first sign. That Sunday was really fantastic so I thought, “You know what, let’s give it a go and see what happens”.
We lived in two completely different cities so first we had to see if it would work that way. And it worked out well. He knew about all the doubts, I told him about it. He slowly worked his way through them. Language wise, he was working really hard on improving his English so we could communicate better. And many other little things that made me think, “Damn you. I had such a fantastic plan and there you go, ruining it.”
Also, the fact that he really gets on well with my dad helps. I think he is the first man I have introduced to him where they really just hit it off straight away. The way I see it is as long as I’m happy, they should be happy for me. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy for them, that’s how it works. I guess my parents also know that I can look after myself. They know I would not be the person to just sit down and cry. I would be like “Ok, so now moving on”. There’s nothing to worry about.
My mom had a period where she was worried I would never live in Poland again. My dad would probably kick my ass if I went back. My mom wants her kids as close as possible. She was concerned when I lived in the UK because they hadn’t visited me there. She didn’t really know what my life was like there so she was worried. But when I moved to the Czech Republic she came to visit me with her husband and she realized I can take care of myself. I lived in a nice place, I had a good job, I had nice friends so she was like, “Ok, now I’m good”. After that I think she also realized that there’s no way I can go back to Poland.
I would say a lot of people don’t really like changes. They’re happy once they have their work, their group of friends, their family. They find it difficult to understand that someone would just leave it behind after just a couple years and start over in a completely unknown place. When I moved to the Czech Republic, I didn’t speak the language. I had no idea what it was going to be like, but it sounded good and it was closer for my family.
My mom and sister also aren’t much of travelers. Luckily my dad is the opposite and I am a walking image of my dad. Both character and physically as well, there are many, many similarities. I’m my father’s daughter, daddy’s girl. He encourages me to continue being curious and adventurous.
That’s the good thing about my parents and that’s probably why I find it so easy to do the things I do. I know they would always support me and I can always count on them. I can call them just to chat, to get things off my chest or whatever, they’re there for me. If something happened and I would have to go back to Poland, I know there is space and a place for me there. So I feel secure from that perspective. Always at the back of my head, I know it’s there. I don’t want to go back, but that option will never disappear. It’s always open.
Another point on my old list was I wanted a man who would have a similar job to mine, or at least a job that would allow him to move from place to place. But when I met this gentleman here I said there’s no way he would ever, ever move from Vienna. This is it, this is his place and he’s never moving, damn!
I don’t know what it’s going to be like in a few years, I may change as a person. So far I get my itchy feet after a few years in one place, I want to see new things and meet new people. But once I get a little bit older, perhaps I will start appreciating the comforts of settling down. We shall see. For now we are definitely staying here. Vienna it is. It’s a good place because it’s easy to travel Europe from here. It’s a nice central point.
I guess this is the compromise for me; Joerg is a person who likes traveling as well. Maybe not moving your whole life to a new place, but going to new places once or twice a year. Going to Asia, or exploring Europe more, I know it’s an option.
I’ve been to Asia twice. The first time was last year in December; I went to Singapore with my very, very, very good friend Sabrina who is from Singapore. We went to go celebrate the Chinese New Year. We celebrated with her family so I kind of got to see all the customs and habits for the way they celebrate. And the food. So much food. Amazing food. We were never hungry and were eating just to eat. And the street food is so cheap and so good.
Since Singapore was family time for her I decided I would leave her with her family for a bit and travel by myself. I went to Thailand for a few days. I was in Phuket, which was really touristy, but it was nice because I was surrounded by people. I really liked it. And then I went back with Joerg. Two weeks in Thailand, Bangkok and ten days on the beach. It was amazing. It was just before summer season there so the beach was empty. There was nobody there. We basically had a private beach. We went in December because we both have always dreamt of spending Christmas and New Year’s eve on the beach. It was one of the things we talked about when we first met. So a few months in we said, what the hell, and booked the tickets. It was so worth it.
I would say for me, customer service in Vienna is hard. After six years in the UK and also working in customer service, coming to this part of Europe is a shock. You look around and think, “Is this really happening? What is wrong with you people?” But I think it comes from the language. I always tell my students that English is a very polite language because the people are polite, the culture is polite. I would say Czech and German are really straight forward languages. You don’t use all the coulds and woulds and pleases so much. It just doesn’t sound natural. So when that is translated directly from their language to English, it sounds rude to an English speaking person. I would say that’s still the biggest issue for me .
On the other hand, as I love cycling, Vienna is wonderful. I don’t want to say second best after Amsterdam because I still have a lot to learn here, but I love the fact that drivers are respectful, they pay attention. And you have the island so you can enjoy off street cycling.
I also love opportunities and the amounts of events. Honestly you could make a living out of going to all these things if someone paid you for it. You would never sleep. There’s always something going on. If in the evening you want to go do something, you will always find something. And you get to meet a lot of great people; it’s such an international city. But you still meet Austrian people out on the street; there aren’t many capital cities like that. They call Vienna the melting pot of central Europe.
Seeing the few places I’ve already managed to see, people usually ask me, “So which one was the best?” and my personal thought on that would be, there is no better or worse. Every single place is different because of different culture, different people, and different history and so on. It’s really difficult to decide which place is the best. I can have my favorite, which is Amsterdam, but that is because it’s very personal for me. And travel is continuously helping me to learn to not judge people and be accepting of differences. You never know what has happened to a person or where they are coming from. This is my lesson to keep learning.
After a bit of a hiatus because of work and my personal life, I’m getting back to interviewing! This interview with Michelle was so much fun because she has got the greatest sense of humor. She is still pretty new to Vienna, but is determined to integrate herself in the community as much as possible, as well as give back as much as possible. You can check out the amazing things she does with her camera here and following her on Facebook will make your day a little more fun! Happy Wednesday!
Hi. I’m Michelle and I’m in Vienna because my husband got a job at the UN. What I really should do when I introduce myself is tell people that I am professional photographer and that I work part-time for a company back in the states. But I never feel like that’s enough, so I often tell people the shorter version which is “I’m a trailing spouse. I just followed my husband over here.” But what I really am is a photographer, a part-time social-media manager, and then, of course, a trailing spouse.
I was first introduced to the term ‘trailing spouse’ a couple months ago through a book called the Expert Expat (excellent read by the way) and again through an article in the Wall Street Journal. The term ‘trailing spouse’ is a pretty generic, non-sexist title, I would say and it summed up where I currently was/am and the direction my life was going in. The term kind of resonated with me and I took on that title, that label, more or less. If you read the WSJ article, it sums up what a trailing spouse gives up, you know, the whole “I’m going to give up what I have here to follow you”. It’s about sacrifice. But it’s not always the worst kind of sacrifice, I mean, hello, Vienna! What a great place to relocate to! And of course, I kind of have a crush on him and I wanted to follow him here so I could smother him with myself, and of course so I could try the schnitzel.
I had backpacked through Europe while I was in college with a friend before, but this was my first time here in Austria. I think I had a better idea of what it would be like more so than my husband did (or so I thought). Prior to leaving, we had packed and prepared for summer in Vienna and on the day we landed the entire day was really cold, rainy, and drizzly (suffice to say I was not prepared for that!) However we had made the wise decision of staying in a hotel in the first district for a few days which made it feel more like a vacation and helped us forget the cold, rainy, dismal weather.
I was born in Jacksonville, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and went to the University of Florida for school (go gators!) After that I went out in to the workforce and soon after that, decided I wasn’t getting paid enough. So I went back for a master’s at Florida Atlantic University (go owls!). During that time in college, I met this cute boy at a party and pick-pocketed his cell phone to which he then decided that he loved me so much that he couldn’t live without me. So we started dating and then we got married shortly after I finished my master’s. That’s the short version of how I met my husband that I usually tell people.
The real, slightly longer, version is we were introduced at a party. As the night went along we broke off from the group of people were introduced to and me and my girlfriend, because we weren’t drinking and were very much sober, got kind of bored. So I told her I could pick-pocket people and because she didn’t believe me I, naturally, had to prove myself. The majority of the people at the party were enjoying their alcoholic beverages a bit too much so it was fairly easy to pick pocket items. So I just went around pick-pocketing people and he, the boy I was introduced to earlier, was one of the people I pick-pocketed. Side note: Whenever I pick-pocketed a cell phone, I would take a picture of myself and return it to the owner. So I started that selfie trend, I just wanna make that clear. That was me.
I originally went to school thinking that I wanted to be a big, bad journalist because I really enjoy talking to people and I’m incredibly nosy. Then I realized after graduating with my journalism degree you would start out making twenty-four thousand dollars a year. Four years of hard work for twenty-four grand a year to survive on? Nah. So I went back to school to study social networking because I really enjoyed it and was using social media profusely already. My research topic was based on Stanley Milgram’s six degrees of separation. My theory was that because we have a greater retention of our networks online, for example Facebook and Twitter, the six degrees of separation was actually shortened to about three. A couple months after doing qualitative research and positing this theory, another university released quantitative study on their research and I believe their number was something like 4.86. I felt that I got pretty close, and to see their numbers align so closely with my theory was pretty validating.
There are a few things here in Vienna that I haven’t quite gotten used to. Like the fact that some Austrians are pretty much bi-lingual, especially here in Vienna. For the first month and a half I was always asking “Excuse me do you speak English?” and they would kind of sigh and say, “Of course I speak English”. When I first arrived I was never sure and didn’t want to be rude and assume. But now I’m very conditioned to the fact that almost any Viennese you speak to here, in English, will more than likely understand you.
The other thing I haven’t quite adjusted to here is the unfortunate poor customer service at the majority of restaurants- that I haven’t gotten used to. I landed my first job when I was fifteen and it was at a coffee shop. It was an excellent establishment and it trained me on how to give good quality customer service. Then to come over here and adjust to a different kind of customer service which is not quite on par with the kind of customer service in the U.S., that took, and still is taking me awhile to adjust to. It’s a different way of life here in Vienna and my personality (I’m a type A personality) is learning to adjust. I like to always be going, doing something, or accomplishing a project. Being here has been a challenge for me. For example, major shops, malls, and some restaurants shut down on Sunday, almost everything stops. That’s a little rough for me because I always have some physical or mental list of things I’m looking to get done that day. And when you’re not able to have the freedom to access everything to get stuff crossed off your “To Do” list, you have to adjust. Thankfully I have adjusted by spending my Sundays watching Netflix.
The great thing about being here though, is it has really made me slow down and focus and think about what I want to do now. I have this time to kind of recreate or rebrand myself if I wanted to, so to speak. I’ve done wedding photography, I’ve done social media, I went to school for that, but what are my passions now? What do I want to be spending my time doing? And, surprisingly, now that I have time to answer that question, I’m finding that it’s a much harder question to answer than I originally thought. It hard to change and evolve, I guess.
When I took pictures of Kam recently, I realized how much I have missed photography. I’ve picked up my camera to do little things, but I haven’t really had the time to stop and think about the shot; what’s the best approach, how do I compose it, what do I want to incorporate or exclude? But I had that chance during Kam’s portraits and it was the most liberating feeling that I’ve had in a long time. As I was doing it, I realized I had forgotten how much I missed it; how much I love photography.
My intention when I moved to Vienna was to get more into film photography rather than digital photography. I wanted to go old school because I really like the look of film. But unfortunately, I haven’t made that a priority. Buying rugs and settling into my apartment is more of a priority for some reason for me right now.
I think I’m more extroverted online. I think people have an idea of who and what I am based on what I write on the internet, but I feel like I am actually much more reserved, introverted, and low-key. When I’m in large groups I get intimidated and usually don’t say very much. I also do a lot of self-censorship of the things I’ve said both during and after. So much after. For instance, when I went to Women of Vienna’s book club, there was so much that I said that later, when I was in the shower- which is way too much information- but often I’ll be in the shower or lying in bed and think, “Why did I say that? Were you not using a filter, Michelle? Why did you say that!?”
Also when I’m talking to someone in person, I think about what I’m going to say before I say it. I do that around people I admire a lot and it’s such a bad thing to do because then they’ll say something I wasn’t expecting them to say and then it takes me too long to find something witty or fantastic to respond back with. Consequently I’ll get distracted because I’ve been trying to think of something great to say and I don’t realize what they’ve even said.
Random fact about me? I can lick my elbow. I always tell people that. It’s a weird trick. It got me a lot of beer in college.
Also, I did date a con artist when I was eighteen. He had conned a doctor, who was part of Republican Party, out of almost a half a million dollars, if I recall correctly. I’m not joking. He told me he was from Harvard, but he wasn’t. He had the Harvard jacket, like the letterman jacket. He had the Harvard license plate and he had so much money so I always assumed it was true. But there was something about him that made me uneasy, something about him didn’t match up. I think it was just that in the end he wasn’t telling the truth. Just goes to show you should trust your gut instinct.
I met this con-artist when I was working at a restaurant. This girl and I were hostesses that night and we were working the front desk and made a bet with each other to see who would be the first one to get a guy’s number than night. So we flirted with the guys that would come in and I ended up winning the bet because I was the first girl that night to get a guy’s number.
I had seen him once before and people had told me he was a regular customer. So I had stopped by the table after I had seated them and asked if there was anything they needed. He said no, but that he wanted to take me to dinner. He gave me a piece of paper and said, “Here’s my number,” but I said, “No here’s my number and you can call my dad”. So I made him call my dad. He did it. I didn’t think he would, but he did. But that’s the long story of how I met this guy, who I found out later was a con artist.
Things I’ve learned. Trust your intuition. I learned to trust my intuition from that experience. I think a lot of women don’t trust or they undermine their intuition. You have that gut feeling that something’s not right and you think you’re being crazy, but I think we need to put way more stock in that. That was again reinforced when I met the man who is now my husband. I would date guys and it seemed like these relationships were a lot of hard work and something about it just didn’t sit well with me. I was always thinking, “Well he’s really nice.” Or, “He has the right background”. Or “He’s going to school, he’s doing something with his life. It should work.” “He’s got all the boxes checked”, but it always seemed like such a struggle to make it work out. When I met Todd, it was easy. Relationships should not be hard work, I mean, you’re going to have to work at it, but you shouldn’t have to swim upstream to make it work. And that’s what I felt like a lot of the times when I would date people. It just wasn’t fun, it was a lot of work; but with Todd it’s easy and fun.
Because of that experience, that would be my one piece of relationship advice to women: date somebody who’s easy to get along with for you. And only you will know what that is. If you do decide to commit and get married it becomes so much easier. If you are naturally on the same page and he gets you and you get him, it makes it much easier in the long run. Life is hard enough as it is, make it easier for yourself and date someone that’s easy to live with and fun.
Meet Amy, someone who I have SO enjoyed getting to know over the last year. She is our secret weapon in pub quiz night and always makes book club discussions fun with her passionate opinions. During this interview I learned more about what Amy is really passionate about; history, women, and community. It was so inspiring to hear her talk about her work on women in history and I hope you will be able to take some inspiration from her too!
With time and distance you often look back on your life and think, “Oh my gosh, it all makes perfect sense.” Even some decisions I made almost ten years ago have informed what my dissertation topic is now. There is no way to draw a direct line with personal experience, because, you know, it’s not what you study in exams and so on, but it still is significant.
I lived in a social-justice based intentional community for two years after college. During that time I formed really close relationships with people, learned what it was like to function with a communal identity and to be a part of a community. It was a very formative time for me and helped me solidify what I wanted to be as an adult and what I cared about. I think my passion for and appreciation for how difficult it is to form a community, maintain it and keep those relationships vibrant informed what I want to do with my study of monastic history and what I want to do with my dissertation topic.
For my Ph.D dissertation, I am looking at 14th and 15th century women’s religious communities in Central Europe. I am really interested in exploring how community is articulated, formed, and maintained over time. I want to find out how women- especially, but also men- express their communal identity in the documents that we have. I really wanted to work on women. I knew that there is a lot of work that needs to be done still on women in history- women as leaders and actors in society, but the community piece was something from my personal life. I think that was what attracted me to monastic history- these people living together and being a part of something. That intrigued me. Of course being in graduate school I also did many research papers and exams and read to prepare for my dissertation, but I think there’s always- in every approach to a topic and finding your angle, finding your voice- that guidance that comes from your personal life.
Women’s roles in history are a lot more complex than I think a lot of academics suggest. I think it’s less about affiliation with a particular political group or family group or religious order and more about negotiating these relationships . It’s about all of those things combined, religious convictions, political identity, family identity, language spoken, etc. All of these things- just like in the present day- you have to negotiate these things. Official roles and duties versus relationships with your family. You need to balance your family ties and then exercise your role as a leader. So, just as we have these negotiations of different relationships today, it was the same in the 14th or 15th century.
We can find kind of these layers of how these communities came to be formed and maintained. I think that’s a much more interesting question than asking, you know, why were these women affiliated with this one religious order or who were the men that were directing these women who had no voice and were enclosed in a monastery. That’s completely the wrong approach, I think, to studying women’s religious communities because these women were active, they were leaders, they had a voice, they had family relationships. They were inheriting lands and they were key donors and founders and doing all of these things that men were doing, but we don’t often have a clear record of these practices so it can be difficult to study.
You have to sort of peel away the layers and do this educated guessing- I won’t say that’s what history is- but there’s a lot of forming conclusions and putting together a picture. I think part of my process as a historian is to kind of look at history like a puzzle in that you have these pieces and you are trying to put something together to try to find a bigger picture. Sometimes the way I work is more forest for the trees. I’m not really good at the little nitty bitty details. I like to get a whole picture, a sense of what I am trying to put together.
I think my gender definitely influences my research interests. We have centuries of historians who have been mostly male and who have been neglecting the study of women. In the case of monastic women, only for about the past three or four decades has this begun to be remedied. Historical work in Central Europe that takes gender into account- it’s only recently being done. Gender theory isn’t particularly popular here, and there is a lot of work on women that still needs to happen. So I commit a lot of my research to locating women in history and giving them a voice- it’s frustrating to not have the scholarship that I often depend on to research also bear that goal out. So digging through these materials, I’m looking with an eye toward gender, with an eye towards finding women.
These are not new sources, this is not new history, it’s simply telling the story in a different way that’s highlighting what women were doing rather than their separation from decision making and society. I know that, as a woman, as a feminist, my interest in working on women’s history is directly informed by that. By feminist theory, by my own convictions and my own sense of self sufficiency and individuality- knowing that the modern women did not invent this. Women have been moving and shaking for centuries and centuries and centuries and it’s not just a famous queen or a famous religious mystic or a famous promiscuous woman. Those women were sort of put on a pedestal as exceptions for a while by historians, but there are a lot of common, every day women who are doing really cool things as well.
I think that more historians should try to integrate women better into the narratives that we present. I think that’s an important duty of historians. For me, I’m going to go teach in a college and it’s my role as a professor to make sure that women get integrated into the narrative and introduce my students to women in history through what they were writing and doing.
Teaching on women in survey courses like Western Civilization- it’s a big problem still. The way it’s been done is that teachers have a week or one lecture about “women” as a topic. Women are relegated to a little sliver of history, ostracized in a way- you could more generously say historians have tried to put women “back in” to the story by having them lobbed on in appendix form in their later published editions or in revisions to their lecture schedule. The narrative as it has existed for the last 100-150 years is so male centric and where women come in, when they do come in, it’s often through these really, really famous women only. And these famous women SHOULD be talked about- they’re great! But I think that there’s room for talking about women and thinking about gender that’s not in just one token week . Unfortunately, this is a bigger problem than how to talk about women–marginalized groups tend to get taken out of the narrative all together or siloed in to one lecture. We need to do better.
The people with the loudest voices and the best positions of power have been the people who have written history. So primarily white, western, male scholars. That has and is changing increasingly. Think about the lack of sources we have for finding women’s voices. Do you assume from that silence that women were not in important social roles? Were not active? Were not exerting their voices? Or was it just that the men who were for the most part the recorders and record-keepers didn’t deem it important to write it down or for whatever reason didn’t preserve documents by or about women ? I don’t think we should assume that these women we do see in written documents were exceptional because they were active in society. We’re fortunate to have fabulous written works by or about medieval women that are certainly worth studying. But I think that the women we don’t know a lot about were just not using the channels that history has come to recognize and understand as authoritative. They’re not absent. Absolutely not. Also, there are still more source documents out there to study. There’s very, very interesting stuff about women still to be found and talked about. You just have to dig a bit, or ask different questions. It’s an exciting time to be a medieval historian.
Playing with manuscripts is probably my favorite part about being a historian. I wanted to be an archeologist ever since Indiana Jones and Ariel from The Little Mermaid. But when I got to college I took an archeology course and realized that I didn’t really want to dig around in the desert with a toothbrush. I realized history- becoming a historian- was more up my alley. But I still love to investigate material objects and integrate art history into my work. Material culture is a huge part of what I’m interested in.
Part of the reason I’m so excited to be in Vienna this year is I can go and see some of the former sites and current sites of these religious communities that I’m studying. As well as going into the archives and looking at and playing with some of the manuscripts. And by “playing with” I mean being very, very respectful and professional in dealing with these old, old priceless books, of course!
I’m originally from Bismarck, North Dakota and I went to college in Minnesota. After that I moved to Chicago for several years. I worked with at-risk youth while living in the intentional community I mentioned. Then I got into a master’s program at Harvard and I studied the history of Christianity. After that I had a bit of an identity crisis and I didn’t know if I wanted to go on with academics or do something more socially active. I’ve always been really interested in social work.
So I moved back to Chicago and assumed more work similar to what I was doing before graduate school, working with at-risk youth. I was working as a case manager at a job placement non-profit and directed a tutor-mentor program for ESL learners. For a good six to eight years I was bouncing back and forth between working with at risk youth and young adults, and teaching and studying history.
I decided that I was better suited for an academic career; I got really burned out in social work. It was emotionally draining for me. Yes, the work load was very heavy at times and difficult, but for me it was the emotional load. I found I wasn’t great at detaching from what my clients were facing on a day to day basis and it was breaking me down. So I realized it wasn’t a sustainable career for me. I have so much respect for people who are social workers and counselors.
I still get to work with young adults as a college professor and guide them and be a mentor figure to them. That’s something that really excites me, not just the history. I had such wonderful mentors in college. And again, it’s come full circle. Having these wonderful mentors and then wanting to give that back. It’s something I’m really passionate about and I’m really excited to get started teaching courses. Now I’m entering my sixth year of my PhD at the university of Notre Dame at the Medieval Institute. I have a few more years before I finish my dissertation and I’ll be on the job market. So if anyone hears of any medieval history positions opening up anywhere let me know!
I was fortunate enough to get a Fulbright grant to study for nine months in Vienna and work on my dissertation research. For the last year I have been at the Institut für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung at the University of Vienna. It’s been a wonderful experience. The colleagues there are phenomenal supportive people and I’ve been working with a professor there whose academic interests and ideals are really in line with mine.
She’s really guided me in the ways in which I can put down my thoughts and craft this dissertation and make it my own voice. I’m really thrilled to have her help me think about my own work. One of the most valuable things about my time here was to have that guidance in how to make this project my own, how to give it my own voice, how to really focus on the things that are really important to me. Plus I want to make sure it is something that’s pushing the discipline forward.
Vienna, Vienna, Vienna. I feel like I need some distance from Vienna before I can really process my time here. In many ways I love it. It’s a comfortable, beautiful city that sucks you in and makes you think that all cities are like this and it’s just natural that there’s no crime and everything is beautiful and all your food is wonderful and everyone is polite and nice. Then you remember that is actually not the case, like in the US where I’m going back to in a few months.
On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever shaken the feeling of being an outsider, of being not from Vienna. It’s not a place that you are easily- you don’t easily become a part of the community. There, back to communities again! Yes I feel like I am a part of it in some ways, but I have been here now about a year, but I haven’t felt fully integrated . I’m still a visitor. That’s hard. Because of my nature, I like to dive right in and become really involved and be a part of my part of my neighborhood and form relationships with my neighbors and be active in politics. In many ways it’s been a struggle.
I think it’s been easier because I’ve had my dog here and that has opened my eyes to aspects of Vienna I wouldn’t have noticed. It’s a super dog friendly city and people are really, really friendly when you have a cute dog. That brings me l joy as well.
I met Anesu through a friend and was instantly drawn by her soft voice and quiet, yet confident nature. She has one of those smiles which starts slow, but is like watching the sun rise- you have to smile with her. I hope you will enjoy reading about her journey to Vienna and what she is doing here- just as I enjoyed hearing about it. Also, make sure to check out her poetry!
I originally came to Vienna because my mom worked for the embassy here. She left around 8 years ago and I stayed here. I’m from the Zimbabwe- there’s actually a weird story about our house. My mom bought the property really cheap, but it was because it was close to a prison. So we lived in the city, but at the edge, close to a prison. It was interesting.
I lived in Botswana until I was about 6 years old because of my mom’s work. Then I lived in my country for 4 years and then I came to Austria. I stayed here because I didn’t want to travel anymore, but now I miss travelling actually. As a kid traveling isn’t fun because you always know when you make friends that you are going to have to say goodbye soon. I was ten when I came to Vienna. When you are younger it is easier to learn a new language and we were basically surrounded by it, so I learned German the easy way, as a child. I feel like my home is in Zimbabwe. I’ve lived here double the amount of time I’ve lived there, but there’s just a feeling like you belong when you go there.
Now I am studying medicine. It was always something I wanted to do, even as a child. Ever since I was nine, I used to stich my teddies up with they had “injuries”- when the seams burst. I just always wanted to be a doctor. I actually couldn’t really decide between medicine and arts because I- sometimes I feel like I am of two minds because I love everything to do with art, but I also like medicine. In the end I chose medicine, but I still do art as a hobby.
I think another deciding factor of not doing art in university is that my mom would always tell me that I would have a hard time finding a job. That’s actually really sad because I think- I can’t describe it- but it’s much more free, much more freeing to do art. It has no boundaries- science has a lot of boundaries. I think everyone understands art. If you see a painting- there is no language, but everyone understands it. It may mean different things to different people, but it still has a message.
I’m really interested in spoken word poetry. I love to preform poetry pieces with music in the background. I haven’t taken part in a poetry slam yet, but I do spoken word performances in Vienna sometimes. If there was a poetry slam in English, I would do it, but I’m too intimidated to do it in German. I haven’t found anything in English yet, so I think I need to create something with a friend. I think it would be fun.
I tend to write about darker topics, but I think it’s because I feel more inspired when I’m sad. Sometimes I write about things I see in the news that affect me or anger me or irritate me. For example, one poem I wrote is about skin bleaching- it’s really prevalent. For example, in the black community there’s a lot of bleaching. Sometimes I write about mental illness or depression. Because sometimes I think mental illness is often treated like a taboo topic and no one really wants to talk about it, but it’s the same as any other illness. I also write about typical heartbreak and relationships.
My dream is- actually I have two dreams. One is to go back to Berlin- I visited it once and I fell in love with the place. I was on a school trip with a friend. I remember we snuck out once and we went through the city, the teacher didn’t know. And I just loved the city. I love it. It has such a nice energy. I would really like to do my specialization there. I wouldn’t mind working in Austria, but as a student I would like to go to Berlin. When I am old I would like to have a house on the beach in Mozambique or something.
What I like about Vienna is it’s such an easy going place, everyone seems so relaxed here and the quality of life is very good. There’s not much I don’t like- I don’t like the humidity in summer. But that’s about all. There is always so much to do. Also culture wise, there is never a shortage of things to do. There’s the opera, museums, they always have events for their citizens as well. I was actually watching an opera yesterday. I love it. Another thing is the Viennese humor. It’s this very dry, sarcastic humor and if you don’t understand it, like me in the beginning, it’s easy to get offended. I often wanted to start crying. But it’s actually a very nice dry humor, once you figure it out.
For clubbing in Vienna I like run down places- like those really shady looking clubs. Like Electro Gönner. It was an old electronics store and now they’ve turned it into a club. It’s seedy looking, but it’s nice. Or Werk or Flex. I really like this industrial, run down vibe. I can’t stand the posh places like Passage, I hate Passage. The canal is nice and the MQ is also nice in summer. Just to chill on the benches there.
Dating in Vienna is difficult. I think it’s easier to date a black guy, because they approach you more. All you have to do is smile and they’re like, “Hey, can I have your number?” With Austrian guys it’s not like that. You have to be more active and I’m really shy so it’s hard. And a lot of times I get the question, “Do you date white guys or?”
The first time I ever did a poetry performance was during a beauty pageant. I didn’t think people would like it because the other contestants were doing dances and singing and I just came up with a poem. But actually a grown man started crying in the crowd during my performance. It was a poem about how we should be proud of being African and forget the negative stereotypes and be strong. He was African too. He just started crying and that really touched me so I started doing more performances.
In the beginning, because I was so shy, I would have moments where I would black out. I would be so scared on stage. I’ve messed up some poems, but it’s getting better. The more I practice, the more I’m ok with it. I try to memorize the poems. The thing with spoken word is it’s not just about the poem; it’s how you deliver it. So I’m still trying to learn how to deliver the poem. I try to memorize the poems and practice at home so it fits with the music. Because if I have a blackout and the music keeps playing, the climax of the song comes and I’ve missed it.
What I feel is important when I read something or when I write something, I think the reader is important. No one wants to read something that is you, you, you. I think they have to be able to relate to it somehow. So when I write something personal, like about heartbreak or something, I try to make it in a way that it’s not about my, but in way that someone else could identify with it too. So most of it is non-fiction mixed with fiction. Inspired by real life.
When I was in high school I had no friends. I had a group of three best friends, but now one is in Amsterdam and one is in London. We still have reunions every once in a while. After high school though, it was like I blossomed and I started meeting a whole ton of people. But I would say they are more like acquaintances. My group of friends is still the same. A group of four.
I’m having horrible flashback memories of high school now. I was just really awkward. I remember this time I was in the library; there was a partition and my classmates were talking, but they didn’t know I could hear them. They were saying like, “Anesu will never get a boyfriend, she is so weird”. It was so mean. But my mom always said that there is a silver lining to everything. I think going through that, I am not afraid to be me now. I’m still shy, but I know you can’t please everybody, so you just have to be yourself.
I’m really interested in people. My mom had- my mom again- she had this analogy. She says people are like books. For example, if you meet someone and they are twenty-one, then they are like at chapter twenty-one of their life. To find out what the other chapters are like, you have to ask them and get to know them and talk to them. You have to learn about those other chapters. And once you know someone, you can experience the new chapters with them as they come.
Lorna is rather fresh to Vienna, but she has already started to make her mark. I first met her at one of our monthly brunches. She has since become a regular face at WoV events and a real friend. She has also been working on her own project featuring her experience of Vienna and photography. Her dedication towards doing something that makes her happy is insiring and her lighthearted attitude is refreshing to be around. I hope you enjoy this little conversation with her!
I have a really good friend here in Vienna who is a portrait photographer – Carola Moon of Rolaa Photography. In the past few years, I have visited her quite a few times and really liked it here. Also over the past few years I haven’t really been happy in my job – not that it was completely unsatisfying – it just maybe wasn’t the career direction I wanted to continue in.
I was working for an academic publisher and had a job as a marketing manager. It was a really varied job, I met a lot of interesting people, I got to do a lot of travelling, it was a really nice team, and a really good company to work for. Last year I was covering someone’s maternity leave and that was coming to an end, so I would either have to find a new job or go back to my previous job. I had been working at a higher level and therefore I didn’t really want to go back to my old job. I started looking around, looking at comparable jobs. I had a few interviews, but I found that my heart was never really in it. I just wasn’t excited about these jobs, and so I thought that that was a clear trigger that, no, this is not really what I wanted to do. When you are spending so much of your life working, why would you want to do a job that doesn’t make you happy? It ticked some boxes, sure, but it wasn’t enough.
Back in January I was having a chat with Carola via Skype, and she asked, “So what do you want 2015 to look like?” I thought for a moment and then answered, “You know, if I’m in this job in a year’s time, I’m just not going to be happy”. Something had to change.
During the course of the same conversation we were messing around with the idea of what it would be like to work together. I’d been interested in photography for a couple of years and had been photographing as an amateur. We were just joking around, but somehow it triggered a thought in my mind of, “What would it be like to move to Vienna and work with my friend?” So I talked about this idea with a few other friends and they said, “You know, you’ve actually been going on about photography for a long while”. It didn’t really surprise them at all, even though I felt like it was this huge, big, crazy idea.
I eventually plucked up the courage to broach the subject again with Carola. I wasn’t quite sure how she would react. Perhaps she would reject the idea and say, , “God Lorna, that was only a joke” and that would be the end of it there and then. There could have been multiple reactions, but what she actually said was, “Yep, why not!” It still felt like a really crazy idea, especially having just bought a flat 18 months ago, to then be thinking, “I’m just going to leave ”. But on the other hand I thought, if I don’t do it now, is it going to be one of those opportunities that passes me by and I later think, “Oh, I really wish I had done that when I had the chance”? Six months later, after I had organized everything, I came to Vienna.
It’s been just short of two months now, and I’m finding it quite easy. I think it it has been easier because Carola has been such a fantastic support. I also think it makes a difference to move somewhere in summer, because of the longer daylight hours and the weather is more ‘friendly’. Also, when I moved to Berlin back in 2008 – I don’t know if it was me just being naïve – but I don’t know that Facebook groups existed back then. It really surprised me that it’s not just an online platform, that these groups actually do stuff in real life.
Women of Vienna was the first group where I went to a live event. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it is a really amazing group. I am really touched by almost strangers’ generosity to help others. I am also impressed by how many nationalities are in this group – there are literally women from all over the world! You’ve already got something automatically in common with these ladies by all living in a foreign country, but it’s still very unique.
I have learned so much in these last few months. I kind of expected that it would be a steep learning curve, but at the same time, I didn’t really have a clue what I would be doing. I have learnt that photography is actually only about ten percent of the business. So yes, maybe it all started with Carola being an excellent photographer, but actually you really need to be a good sales person, a good marketing person, a good networker, you know, you need all these other business skills that I hadn’t really considered. It’s more multi-faceted than just being good at one thing. So that’s been quite eye-opening.
For me, when I’m in a group situation – especially the first time – I’m not a person who’s going to be first to speak or first to ask a question. I might be a little tentative or observe the conversation that’s going around me and after a while, when I’ve relaxed or am comfortable in the situation, then I might open up a bit. For me, meeting somebody on a one-to-one basis is much easier. Also, I think, if you’re going to make a more lasting friendship, you have a better chance if you meet on a one-to-one basis rather than in a group, as it usually takes three, four, five times before you think, ”Yeah, I really like this person”.
Since I only work with one person, clearly meeting people was not going to happen at work. So I wondered if there was a way to make some new friends whilst combining it with taking photographs, and also get to explore a bit of Vienna. I thought that would be fun. So that was when I launched my little project with the Women of Vienna. I created a post on the Facebook page offering a lifestyle photoshoot at a location of choice to all in the group. Initially I thought maybe one or two people would want to do it, but oh my goodness, there was an overwhelming response! I was really surprised and delighted.
I’m very much an experimental photographer. I’ve learned by doing. I think that’s why I have pretty much stuck with nature and architecture photography up until now because it is stable. You can choose something and go at it from different angles, change settings, and try different things. Whereas with people it’s never the same, and you have to say, “Can you move here, and now move here, and do this”. It’s very different. I’ve been learning a lot about different poses and tricks you can do. Often these poses can feel very strange to the person being photographed, and they might ask themselves, ”What in the world am I doing?” But on seeing the results, they then realize why those poses are so good!
I think I am personally quite awkward in front of the camera. I don’t come from a family were my mum was always taking pictures of us, or where every family event was photographed. So it still seems funny to be taking pictures of people in a really purposeful way. It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?
That’s what’s been really interesting about working with Carola. Almost every person who has come into her studio has been really awkward at first, they think they look really geeky and strange, or don’t like themselves in photos. I think the skill to being a good photographer is getting people to relax, and feel so much “in the zone” of following the photographer’s direction that they forget how awkward they feel about it. They’re just doing what they’re asked to do and when they see the results, their reaction is often, “Wow! I actually look really amazing and there was no need for me to be worried!”
Some people don’t even like their smile, but often they just haven’t seen it in a way that makes them feel good. It just takes seeing yourself in a slightly different way. The transformation is what’s so amazing to me. They’re not excited and often nervous at first, but when they leave they feel amazing, they feel pampered, and they feel really good about themselves. It’s great to witness that. I think that’s what’s so awesome about photography – to see people’s reactions. In so many jobs you don’t get the reaction you want to hear, you don’t get the credit, you don’t know that your work really means something to someone. And seeing what Carola does, her work really means something to those people. And then they have their fantastic portraits that they can keep forever to remind them of how beautiful they are. I think that is a really special gift.
What do I love about Vienna? Coming from the photography side – there is so much amazing stuff you can photograph in Vienna. I love wandering around all these streets, they’re just beautiful. And there’s so much to do in this city. Whatever your hobbies, you can find something that will suit you.
I also have a very musical background. I actually studied music at university, and that’s another real attraction to being here. There is so much music and so much professional music and yet also very accessible. Like the standing seats at the opera – they’re only three euros! That’s incredible! Lots of people have said to me that the Austrians can be quite unfriendly. I haven’t met that many Austrians yet, but I’ve met loads of friendly people here. Even just walking down the street, people are friendly. People say good morning to you. I get taken aback by that. I think it’s been a very friendly and welcoming place. As much as it is a big city, it doesn’t have that big city vibe. It’s very relaxed.
I first met Bosiljka a few months back at one of our very first Women of Vienna events and I knew I wanted to include her in my interviews. She has such a quiet strength about her, she does not need to loudly present who she is or her accomplishments. It was lovely to hear more of her story and learn about her love for yoga and sharing it with others. I hope you will be able to draw on her strength and enjoy this story of how she came to Vienna!
I come from both Croatia and Serbia because I have this connection to both places. For many years, since my parents moved from a small town in Croatia to Belgrade before the war started in 1991, for maybe 14-15 years, I still didn’t have a feeling of connection with the place I had been living in. It created this feeling in me that I don’t have strong connections to a place. I felt that I should leave again. I can easily be wherever I want or where ever is needed. I just have to be at a place for one day and I feel at home.
I came to Vienna for my doctoral studies, but it was, in fact, a good excuse to finally decide to take this journey. I was working a lot in Belgrade on great ideas regarding yoga in the Yoga Federation of Serbia and it was not easy for me to leave that, in a way. I had something, work, that was really important for me. But I finally decided that my PhD thesis was also important and sometimes if you want to support organizations, you also have to develop yourself.
I was looking for a mentor for my PhD in many countries, all over in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, but I finally found one here. So that was a reason for moving to Vienna. Vienna is close enough that I could travel back to visit my family and give lectures. For the first year I would go back every weekend. But I thought a lot about a message that a friend from the University in Bangalore told me, “You have to sit at one place in order to have your job done”. You have to keep your attention in one place as long as it takes to accomplish something. We are at the place where our attention is and if we move it a lot, the job will not be done. It happens in everyday situations, while studying, having a relationship, communicating with family, friends and colleagues, our attention very often is not there, we are just physically present. Yoga teaches us to be present and to feel ourselves at the place and moment where we really are, so we develop harmony with ourselves and with our surroundings.
I am doing a doctoral studying in psychology. My first idea was to make a connection between psychotherapy and yoga. My mentor accepted my general idea, but then she had some nice suggestions and finally we came to how yoga is connected to self-regulation in personality psychology. I cannot say that there is an influence. In science, you cannot say that something influences something, but you can say that there is some connection and which parts of something have a connection to other things. But when you practice yoga for many years you can feel that there is some influence. And you can see that in people who practice, especially people who have practiced for many years.
I remember we had a group of people who had jobs in human resources. There was a test that took four hours and then at the end, the last half hour was a test of how fast their reaction is in conditions where they are really tired. It appeared that the people who practiced yoga had a result that was something around two minutes and a half. The person explaining the results said that it was really amazing, that it was a really good result. So we were asking, “What is a good result, the usual result?” My thought was that it could be four to five minutes or something. Fifty percent faster would be really great. But then she said the average result was ten to twelve minutes. So it was five times better.
Yoga practice is often just seen as some physical activity which you do just for fun or some kind of recreation. It can be done like that, it’s true. But if we practice the techniques as it offers, with such an approach, it means that it should be done with your present attention. You have to be here and now when you do it. Then the change happens. There was research done at the University of Bangalore that shows that in aging people, people who practiced yoga, the aging process was slower. We are not completely aware how it changes us genetically, but it does. And since I am a psychologist, I realized it would be good to have research on this topic. People often say that it is enough that we have experience and we can then prove that the change happens, but if you want to show that to the scientific community you have to have some research and proof.
I can’t really decide if my first love is psychotherapy or yoga. Somehow it happened at the same time, though I was not completely aware of it. When I was in high school, I decided I was going to study psychology. At first, I was thinking that the science was my field. But it changed a lot over the years. Science then psychotherapy, science then psychotherapy. During those years I liked to go to the library, I spent many years in the library. One day I found one big book about yoga which contained all the details that were possible to find at that time in Belgrade. I borrowed the book and I extended the time you could keep it for two years. Eventually they stopped asking me about the book. So I started to practice yoga by myself. Then I went to university to study psychology and I still did some yoga by myself. Some postures and mediation. Finally I found a teacher who really taught me what I wanted to know and in the way I wanted to learn it. So my idea was to make a connection between the things I love and that is what I would like to continue doing in the future.
There are some psychotherapy schools of thought Wilhelm Reich- he uses a lot from yoga practice. He and Alexander Lowen and some others. There are always some resources in ourselves we don’t use, but as soon as we are able to become calm and peaceful and quiet, these resources come to the surface. That’s why yoga can be useful to anybody. Very often people say, “ I’m not flexible enough”. But yoga doesn’t require anything of you other than you and your will to do it. All other skills can be developed with practice. And stretching is, in fact, not the most important thing. Some of these people they say, “When I am able to put my legs over my head like this then I will stop practicing, but it will take me an age.” But you don’t have to do that at all. That’s not really the goal. People can also feel that maybe they’re not good at something and they don’t want to show that, they’re shy. The only goal is to give our maximum at the moment, at our yoga mat and in our life, and to achieve the level where we will be able to use the maximum of our inner potentials in our life.
We did yoga a lot in parks, it was advertised everywhere, people could practice many places. People who came to practice were teachers, people from businesses, housewives, doctors, architects, really different professions. They were coming to yoga to relax, to improve concentration, to improve their physical health. When I started to do it, it was open to everyone. You just had to have interest and be dedicated.
Somehow I knew that I would probably stay. I have been in Vienna already for one year and a half and I’m thinking about staying. It is a pleasant place to live. I like it. My new impression I have about Vienna is that it is really big- in the sense that it is a really big and important place in the world. It is very self-confident and self-content. That’s the impression I get of Vienna, it doesn’t need anything from the outside. However, it still gives a lot of opportunities for new initiatives. That’s wonderful to me. Also everything is in order. I like that about Vienna.
Today I would like to introduce you to Dina Lee. She has one of the most calming energies I have ever been around. Something about her just makes the craziness of the world stand still. I hope you can feel that through this interview with her. Be sure to also check out her photography page and her Facebook page as well! She does some beautiful work helping women realize their inner, and outer, beauty!
I am a Russian speaking Korean born and raised in Uzbekistan. I was born when the Soviet Union was still there and was raised in a multi-cultural environment. I consider Russian to be my mother tongue, Korean- it’s a different kind of knowledge- I can use it, but it’s not the same. Our Korean is different, we are Korean diaspora so the language changed a lot. And of course there was Uzbek, the local language, and at school- at university- I studied English and Italian. I came to Vienna in 2009 as a UN spouse. It’s been five and a half years and we’re still here. I am very happy here, very happy with my life. My son is Italian, but he was born here and he feels quite Austrian, he likes Austrian food better than our traditional food.
I used to have an academic background. I have two masters’ degrees from Italy. I was preparing myself for a secure office job, you know. Nine to five, well paid hopefully. But then here in Vienna, especially after my son was born, I kind of changed my whole perspective. Vienna helped me to risk my career path and help me to develop my artistic, creative career. I’m into photography now. I registered my small business. It’s going slowly, slowly, but it’s going.
It wasn’t a hobby for me. I was interested in photographs I guess- printed photographs. They have a kind of mesmerizing effect on me, but I never really planned on doing anything related to photography. Especially because I was preparing myself for an academic job. Here in Vienna, when my son was born, was when I really got into photography. I had started to shoot him and myself and realized it was fun. I really liked it and I also had time to learn different techniques and so on. Then I decided to do it professionally after taking a course.
I specialize in portrait photography for women. I call it beauty photography. It’s mainly portraits of women- glammed up style. The fun stuff. I really like it. I find that is very empowering to women to be photographed and to see themselves in the best light. We always invite a makeup artist who creates the perfect look. And I have a glamour wardrobe in the studio so it’s really like playtime. It’s fun. My studio is in the 7th district. And sometimes I shoot at home, in my home studio. It’s very flexible. That’s why I like it. It’s compatible with maternity.
At the moment I think I will continue with photography in the same genre. It’s really rewarding emotionally and creatively. I photograph different women from different walks of life, different nationalities, different backgrounds. At the beginning it was my friends. I was kind of practicing on them, poor them! They liked the photos though. Then I started participating in different expos. Most of my clients probably come from social media actually. Social media is very important.
Every shoot is fun because you really see the women how they truly are. They become so vulnerable in front of the camera. You really connect with the person. In fact, most of my clients are now my friends. We remain in contact. The one, though, which is particularly important to me was a women who had had cancer. She won a photoshoot give away we were doing at the time and when she came for the photo shoot she told me her story of how terrible the previous two years had been. But luckily she is now cancer free and full of life. It was just so nice to see her approach to life, which is completely different than mine. She feels on a completely different level. She feels life so deeply, and she shows that. This really was an eye-opening, mind-opening experience for me. The photos were really nice so she was happy too. She even wrote a book about her whole experience. In the book she mentioned the photoshoot actually and how important it was for her to see herself.
For me the transition was very small. I find Vienna to be very multi-cultural. And coming myself from a multi-cultural background, I feel very at home in Vienna. For example, before Vienna I lived with my husband as a UN spouse in Iran for almost five years. And there life was a bit different, quite different from what I was used to. It was still a Muslim country like Uzbekistan where I grew up, but it was quite different from the rest of my world. So the adaptation was hard. And here in Vienna was really, really smooth compared to other places. I like how uncomplicated bureaucracy is here compared to my country and to Italy. Compared to my countries it’s like speedy gonzolas to get things done. But everything is relative to your experience.
Iran was very interesting, so different, so unusual. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought in the beginning it would be. We had very lively social life. It was in the expat community, but still, it was quite lively. Much more lively than here in Vienna. In Iran your whole life was in some sort of closed environment. Here in Vienna you feel free to take a walk, go anywhere you want with people. There you had to be careful all the time. Although it was very safe, it was super safe. In Iran in five years I never experiences of theft or anything. Here in Vienna in the first months I lost my wallet twice- but it was my fault. I wasn’t being careful. Vienna is very safe. I feel very comfortable here.
I kind of let the German go here. Usually I am very controlled about the language. My background is actually in linguistics so, normally, when I study a language I want to study all aspects of it. I want to read, I want to write, I want to speak, I want to understand everything. I managed to do that in three languages; Russian, English and Italian. Then I have a little knowledge of French, German and a little Farsi. And there are my historic languages which are Korean and Uzbek. So I can use eight languages, more or less.
They say the more you know the easier it is to learn more, but it depends so much on your personality. I am also very controlled and before I speak up I really need to be sure I am speaking the right sentence. It’s a bit difficult to break that barrier. You know when you make a mistake and you feel stupid, but you consider yourself not to be stupid. That’s hard. People will judge you and how you speak. That’s the psycho-linguistics, social linguistics. It changes your position in relation to the other person. When you speak German with a German native speaker, they are in power. When you speak your language with a foreigner, you are. Ah, speaking German. It’s so funny. Languages.
I am happy that through photography I can use the universal language of images. With photography, you don’t have to sit there and try to find the perfect word, the best way to say something. It’s just there. There it is.
There are some cultural differences also in the image language, but they are so subtle. For example, in the Arab world they read from right to left but for us it’s the other way around. So in their world probably the direction of your gaze is different. The colors we use. For the Muslim world white is mourning and for us white is freshness, youth. For Koreans, their mournful colors are so different from black. It’s white or a combination of red and yellow. There’s lots of things to explore in photography. I personally like colors, very much. Especially in the face. I think it’s very important to show the color of your eyes, the tone of your skin, the color of your hair. Especially for a woman.
That was quite an issue for me in Iran actually. In public I had to wear the veil, hijab. Just in public, inside the house I didn’t need to. But still, it changed so much of how I perceived myself. All of the sudden I couldn’t feel the wind in my hair, it was so different. In the end you get used it. But I still remember missing the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. In fact, if you notice the Iranian girls, they are makeup experts. They accentuate every feature of the face, the face is everything. You present yourself to the world with your face. For myself, I felt so bleached. Because there everything is accentuated. Strong eyes, strong lips, strong brows. And in the end I felt so out of place that towards the end of the experience I almost decided to do a brow tattoo. These body imagine kind of issues inspired me to photograph women. I started to feel a kind of solidarity with women I hadn’t felt before.
Today’s interview is with Silja, a sweet Finnish girl I met in the very beginning of WoV. Sadly, Silja has returned to Finland already, but I was very happy to get to interview her before she left Vienna. We shared quite a few laughs and I loved getting to know her over the last few months. I hope you will enjoy this look into her life and appreciate her positive outlook as well.
I am from Finland, but I have been living here in Vienna for nine months. I came here as an Au Pair and it’s my third time doing that job already. My first time au pairing was in London, I was there for 12 months and then I went to Sweden for three months. After Sweden I wanted to start university, but I didn’t get in so I thought another year abroad would be good. I came to Vienna.
I absolutely loved London and England in general. The culture was not that different from Finnish culture and the people where quite similar. It was easy. The same thing in Sweden. Sweden was basically like Finland, except for the language. But here in Vienna I have had a bit different kind of feeling. I don’t speak German so it’s rather difficult to get in and get a grip on what is going on around you. Also the city feels different- I like it- but I haven’t really got any feeling of it. Like London, I want to go back there, maybe live there, but I don’t have the same feeling about Vienna. It’s hard to get to know this city, especially when I don’t know the language.
The family I work with is lovely. The parents are very laid-back, easy-going, down-to-earth. The mother is from South Africa, the father is from Austria, and they have two kids who are 12 and 9. The older kid has autism, so it has been a challenging year, I would say. I didn’t know what it would take to work with a child with special needs. I had to learn a lot when I first moved here and I would still say I can’t handle everything, but I have managed quite well. It also takes more, it’s mentally more difficult for me. When the child is in a bad mood he might say some horrible things about me and about everything, but I just have to not take that to heart. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes I’m also having a bad day and I take the things he’s saying personally, even though I know should not. He doesn’t mean it. Those days are hard and sometimes I even want to cry. But then again there are also very good days were we both laugh and have a very nice time together. Those days remind me why I’m doing this.
I haven’t actually met that many Austrians, mainly international students or Aux Pairs. That seems to be kind of a thing with Aux Pairs, they’re always meeting only other Aux Pairs. Because I’ve been meeting international people, I haven’t been speaking or practicing German. Now I realize I’ve been here almost ten months now and I can’t speak German, not even a single sentence. Time has flown by so quickly. It really feels like I just came here and started working, but now it’s already summer. But on the other hand I can’t wait to go back to Finland and see my family. It’s been a while.
I want to start university, I have applied for tourism management in Helsinki and I am having high hopes that this year I will get in. It’s really hard to get into university in Finland. There’s a lot of applicants, for one place there can be like 6 applicants, so the competition can be tough. And every program has entrance exams that have to be passed. There’s also a lot of international students because studies are free in Finland. This is actually my third year of applying. But there’s this Finnish saying that the third time shows the truth. Hopefully that’s true.
I would like to run a hotel, but I need to take small steps first. I have actually never worked in a tourism job, but I am a very outgoing and empathetic person so I feel like I have a good chance to succeed in this field. It also felt like my thing when I as scrolling through the options of what to study. And this program is taught in English so it will give my English a boost.
I have quite a few visions of this. Sometimes I want to have a hotel in northern Finland in Lapland and focus on wildlife in Lapland. Some days I want to have it on the Finnish coast line on some lonely island. Other days I want to have it in somewhere warm. A warm place where there are palm trees and white sand. I don’t have the exact concept yet, but I know I want it to focus on families and take children’s needs into account too. I’ve been doing this childcare for years now so it’s kind of stuck with me. I have three siblings and my family has traveled quite a lot inside Finland and the places we have gone- over all the places have taken children’s need very seriously and I liked that.
Never say never. Maybe I will visit Austria in the future, but right now I feel like I would not want to live here again. But who knows. I think it’s maybe just not my place. I actually had a few Finnish friends here who were Aux Pairs as well, but they left a few months ago. I mainly speak English here. The chances I get to speak Finnish it’s a relief to be able to express myself in Finnish, in my mother tongue. But some things actually are so much more natural to say in English. And some words I have forgotten in Finnish- I know the word but when I need to remember it, it’s gone. I can’t find it.
I love how there are so many green areas surrounding Vienna. Because I am from Finland- from a small village in the middle of the woods- I am used that there are green areas around and I enjoy going into nature. Here in Vienna it is totally different than what I experienced in London. In London you need to travel a lot to get in touch with nature. But here it takes 20 or 30 minutes and I’m in the woods. I can just relax there. It’s something which I have been really enjoying here. And there are so many nice beautiful hiking routes which are so easy to reach via public transport. I did 30km just a few weeks ago. It had a lot of uphill and downhill too of course and it was really steep at times, but I really enjoyed it. It was beautiful. I had this phase when I thought I was too busy to hike. But now I have been getting back into it. I used to be a girl scout so its sort in me.