Interviews with members of our Women of Vienna group.

Meet Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn has been adding sparkle to Women of Vienna events and our discussion group since day one. I can’t imagine the group without her energy and silly comments. But, for as goofy and lighthearted as she can be, Kaitlyn is also a really driven, inspiring woman. She is absolutely a BossLady and gets things done and gets them done with class. I hope you enjoy her quirky sense of humor as much as I do!

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Betsy

Kaitlyn WonJung Chang

I was born in Seoul in South Korea, but I grew up here and there. My dad served in a few diplomatic roles in his career, so we moved around a lot. I spent most of my childhood in the States near the DC and New York area. It would be like three years in DC, three years back in Seoul, three years in New York, three years back in Seoul, so it was completely hectic. I finished my studies in Seoul and then started working there. After about 10 years, I applied to a management training program at my company that sent employees abroad. The country you got sent to was completely random, and for some reason they decided to send me to Austria. I was not expecting that at all. Whichever country you’re sent to, you are supposed to learn the language, learn the culture and be prepared to do business there. And you really get sent anywhere. You could have been sent to Nigeria, or the deepest part of Africa, (to Darkest Peru!), or to China. Anywhere. There were people who got sent to Ivory Coast or Congo and I thought that’s really cool, super Indiana-Jones! And Austria did sound a bit boring in the beginning. I must confess, I didn’t know where exactly Austria was on the map. I thought, “That sounds somehow European,” but I couldn’t pinpoint where it was. I didn’t even know they spoke German here! I know, ignorant me. But still, at the end I was quite excited because I had always lived only in the US and Korea, and as a result had this really cheesy fantasy about Europe. So that’s how I first ended up, quite by chance, here in Austria.

For the program you are supposed to come to the country completely alone, by yourself. Even if you have family you are not supposed to bring them with you. And you are supposed to spend a whole year by yourself, really adapting to the new country. It’s really intense. But it was great, it was really great. For one, you don’t have to go to the office every day, and your job is really to learn the language and to learn to get around. You have to figure out completely from scratch, things like how to get a meldezettel and a visa and everything else. So that’s how I spent my first year in Austria, learning German, travelling all over Austria even to the smallest towns, being an organizer for TEDxVienna, taking photography and art history classes, volunteering in galleries, writing for the Vienna Review, meeting awesome new people. By the end of the year I’d completely fallen in love with Austria; all its subtleties, contradictions and complexities rolled into one.

After that year I went back to Korea for a little bit less than a year. Then I came back, I was lucky and things worked out in my company for a job position in Austria. This is now my fourth year in Vienna and close to three whole years living here, but I wouldn’t call myself a Vienna veteran at all. But I also wouldn’t call myself a novice. I’m somewhere in the middle. Which is exactly the same as my German level, which by the way has been the same forever. German!

Vienna. I like that it’s a city, but it’s still not too big. Where I grew up, it was always too big, too many people, too crowded. On one side I miss all that excitement, all that hustle and bustle and, for instance, in Seoul, 24/7 you find something, everything is open. Then you come here and all the shops close at six. Like, what the fuck? That took a bit of time to get adjusted to.

I like how the Viennese really know how to find a good balance between work and life, city and culture and everything in between. It’s definitely not like that in Korea. I am the only Korean expat in my office and my coworkers are always joking like, “God, do all the Koreans work like this? This is why you have the highest suicide rate in the world!” You just push yourself; you can always do one more thing. I’m learning a lot in order to have a better work life balance. I’m definitely not there yet, but I’m trying. It’s coming.

Especially because I am working and I am in the position to lead a company, I find it quite hard to be a foreigner, and on top of that being a woman, and to do business. I think that’s the hardest part. Especially since Vienna is a close-knit society; so much is done on a personal relationship basis and deals are done outside of the office. Oftentimes things happen because you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, and I started out knowing no one. And no one wanted to know me anyway. On top of that I didn’t speak German fluently so it was really hard. Trying to find my way in was quite a bit of a struggle- it still is. But it’s getting slowly better and better. I think that’s really the Austrian-ness of it. It doesn’t become better all of a sudden, it gets slightly, slightly, slightly one step better and I’m learning to appreciate that now. In the beginning I would go to these industry events and I would know no one and no one would talk to me. Now at least I know some people.

I think for me it was double trouble. On top of me being a foreigner, I think a lot of Austrian relationship based business still happens in a quite male-centric way. That’s why it is even harder to break into that circle. But what I found at the end of the day is if you just keep thinking “Oh, they are the Austrians and I am a non- Austrian, and I’m also a woman,” then you will never get anywhere. You just have to open up. Then you get to know people and it becomes a bit easier, even if it takes time.

What I actually do is I am the managing director of our agency here in Austria. What we do as an agency is advertising in general, with a focus on digital. The main client we work for is Samsung, but we of course work with other Austrian companies too. A normal day in the life of me would be filled with meetings; I would say an average day is six to seven meetings in a day. On worse days I have over ten. It is really, physically, quite strenuous. At the end of the day I need to be the one making the final decisions, so I’m always trying to find some time to work at my desk and have some time to think, but the majority of the day is completely taken over by small and big meetings and calls and business trips.

Some are stressful, like new business pitches, and some are really interesting, like recruiting new people who you get to know for the first time. Some others would be internal meetings, which is actually the best fun because it’s just our whole group full of weird crazy creative people. I myself didn’t major art or anything, but I have always been somehow ‘circling around’ art, because I love creativity in general – I love raising questions and trying to think a bit different, thinking a bit weird, a bit unexpected, challenging with a bit of crazy, and discussing that with a bunch of interesting people who come from completely different backgrounds. So those are the meetings I like the most and I enjoy them a lot.

Life? Who knows about life? I have to think about it. As of now I think I am quite happy with my role and I don’t think I am good enough at the moment. I think there is still so much to learn. In every aspect, especially being a female entrepreneur in a foreign country, I am learning a lot. So in the future I hope I become better at what I am doing now.

In the very far future, like in 20 years maybe – I have always wanted to do something more directly related to art. I have played the piano since I was four – and as every stereotypical Asian girl, I was quite good. I have always loved painting, studied art history after university and am a licensed curator. I don’t work as a curator now because I found out I am actually not super good at it, there’s so many awesome supergood curators out there. But doing something with art has always been a dream for me in the far future. I don’t know. Maybe in 20 years I’ll have my own gallery of my own stuff. Or, completely random and probably much more realistic, I always thought when I become a grandma, I’m going to be that grandma who goes to kindergartens and reads storybooks to kids. Like Roald Dahl books. When I was a kid I used to think Roald Dahl must be God. I think I could be one hell of an awesome grandma because I’d be acting out every single part and making stupid fart noises all the time.

I’m quite open, but at the moment I am more or less planning on staying in Austria. Let’s see what the future brings. I don’t know. All my life I have been in and out of this city and that country, and every single Korean fortune teller I’ve met used to tell me that it’s somehow written in my fate, to be moving around all the time. Maybe in a few years I will feel like, oh you know, I want to go to another country. Who knows? For people like me, I think we’re somehow like a “third nationality”. I see myself neither as purely Korean nor Korean-American, and on top of that now, my Austrian boyfriend has completely added to the cultural identity complications! But I think in people like us, globe-trotters or expats or however you want to call it, there is always this double-sided longing, to experience something more different, more exotic – and also of course the other, completely opposite longing to settle down somewhere and have roots, because you never really have that. You’re a floater. And hell, I’m starting to realize – if that’s the case then you might as well just roll with it.

Meet Andrejka

Let me introduce you to Andrejka, a lovely lady with a passion for travel and a fair amount of spunk! Her faith that things will work out and her desire to make the world a better place is inspiring to me. You can practically feel her optimism in the air around you, encouraging you to also think only positive thoughts. She is quick to smile and will instantly put you at easy with her welcoming presence. I hope you feel her lovely disposition through this interview!

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Betsy

Andrejka Lipska

I am from Budapest, but I didn’t come here in a straight way. It is only 300 kilometers away, but it was actually four years and three countries before I came here. The thing that also really surprises people is that I am 31 years old. When I take off my glasses and put on proper make up I look a lot younger. I’m actually proud of my age, I feel good about it. I also feel good about being single, it’s ok. But sometimes some people are really hard about this, they are like, “Oh you are so old and you don’t have your own home, a real career behind you.” In Hungary it’s still these traditional things like owning a house, and having a family and having children which matter. It is not acceptable for many people that you are a vagabond and you don’t really need a fix home.

In Hungary I had a very bad job- marketing, sales kind of job. Which for some people is ok, but I found out that with my personality it is not really ok. It wasn’t really working out and in the end I was really heartbroken. I thought, “I need to get out of here”. I really believe it was fate pushing me out because I always felt like I didn’t really belong there. But I was afraid and it was just comfortable to stay there, to sit around. It was an ok job; you have your family and your responsibilities and all that. Then I had this push and I went to my European voluntary service, which is a one year volunteer time financed by the EU. I went to Germany, to Leipzig, which is somewhere I really knew nothing about.

It was one really hard year though, to find myself personally. That year I saw and read Eat, Pray, Love and I had a real feeling that something similar was happening inside me. In the end it was a really long journey, inside myself. I stayed two more years because my boss really liked me. She said, “You can stay but we don’t really have the finances for you, but if you are a student we can offer you a student job.” I believe in fate, the kind of fate, that if you are supposed to do something, you get help. I got accepted to university. I didn’t have any idea how many people applied, but later I found out it was over a hundred applicants for the eleven places they offered. For me it seemed really easy to get in and one of my other friends helped me to get a scholarship. Between that and my small salary I was actually living better than in Hungary with 40 hours of a proper job.

I spent two years working and studying which I am really proud of because it was not my native language. I finished university, did a thesis, did exams. I was also working and actually had a busy social life. I think it was my best two years. There were sometimes big meltdowns and sometimes big hops. But I was really, really lucky to have met the people I met and to have to job I had and the boss I had, who is still one of my really good friends. I still have contact with her and I am really grateful for everything she did for me.

I was actually able, because she was so flexible, to go abroad for one semester to Poland. I tried to learn Polish, but it wasn’t working out. I also tried with Russian, but it also wasn’t working out. Now my new plan is French. I would like to work maybe one day for the United Nations or something similar where you can save the world. And there you always need French besides English. I was resistant until now, but I have to give in and learn French.

My current job is finding internship placements for Erasmus students with Erasmus plus funding from the European Union. They are between the ages of 16 and 20, usually, depending on the country. They are in secondary school and are learning a job so they will become a waiter or an electrician or something. If I am lucky they speak at least English or at least German. Some of the two languages. If I am unlucky they speak a little bit of one. And if I am really unlucky, which happens often because they are socially not in a really good place, they don’t speak any languages other than their mother tongue. And sometimes they don’t even speak that correctly, but it’s a really big chance for them to get out. Most of them are abroad for the very first time in their life. With sixteen, seventeen, I cannot imagine that.

I was always traveling with my parents. They took me everywhere with them. I was used to traveling around even though we were in the Soviet bloc so you could only travel to a few countries, for example Bulgaria. So for me, being sixteen or seventeen and not having been outside your village, it’s unimaginable. It’s hard for them too because they think that everything is the same here as it is at home- that they are the stars. That they are known, that they have their status- but everything gets turned upside down, because that’s not how it is. I think it’s a really good experience for them because you get to figure out at a young age if you like being abroad or not.

It’s interesting. There are so many different people and so many different personalities. It’s amazing. These kids are sometimes coming from really bad economic situations. One time my coworker told me, “You have to watch out because this girl is half gypsy”. I didn’t ever really have to deal with gyspies. You see them on the streets and in Hungary they have a really bad reputation unfortunately. I was like, “what do you mean? How should I behave toward her?” Because I was planning on behaving normal with her, if she was a bad kid I would deal with her like she was a bad kid, I don’t care about her skin color. I hope I don’t care about her skin color. I just hope I can handle it well. There is always a first time.

I’m in Favoriten. Everyone tells me, “Yeah, it’s not so nice”, but I like the flat and my flat mates. I am actually between two parks. It’s really great. And it’s on the border of the 5th district and is five minutes by bike from my work. It’s very green and most of the houses are nice. The flat is really nice. It’s like finally feeling like, “ok I’m staying”, and I can start to really think about what I want to do.

The two most important things for me are having a bike and having a library card. I finally got them. When I have these things I have my secure points and I can start to build up my social life. Like going to Facebook group events or Couchsurfing events and language exchange meetings. If I had the time of course, but I am working crazy hours and that makes me tired. I sometimes even bore myself because I think I talk about work too much, but that’s ok. It’s what I do. If I had a child I would talk about my child. My child is my work.

I would like to go back. I think it will happen if and when I find a partner, for long time. I feel bad, but I would like to have a family, I would like to have children. I don’t want to have children just to have children. I imagine there is a point in a relationship where you trust the other person so much that you want to have something with together with them. It would also depend on him and also very much on my job. I love to travel, that is really essential for me. And I actually like to feel a little bit special. Like being abroad. When you are a foreigner living in a different place you are special- a little bit outstanding. And I like that. But maybe not Hungarians in Vienna, there are really so many.

I like that it’s a big city, but it’s still really, really comfortable. And not slow, but really calm. It’s really ok. If you take a stroll on a Sunday in the city center, it’s really nice and beautiful. I also really like that it’s full of green. There are so many small green places that you discover and are like, “Ah-ha!” And I really like the summer here. I always find that people get friendlier here in the summer. You can sit out and enjoy the sun; I think Vienna is perfect for that.

I also like that it is a really multi-national, multi-lingual city. It is still a little- not racist- but you can feel the disapproval. Especially when you are pronouncing things in German. You must speak ordentliches Deustch. It’s sometimes hard to be someone from abroad because you will never speak the language perfectly; you will always have an accent.

I think that the best way to describe these past years for me is that I left little pieces of my heart around Europe and its really great because I can go almost anywhere and find friends and feel at home. It also really sucks because they are never there at the same place in the same time, but I think I would do things exactly the same.

Meet Tania

Today I would like to share Tania’s story with you. Tania comes from Latin America and had an intriguing journey to end up here in Vienna. She has been a part of Women of Vienna since the beginning and has also been working on her own project which features the stories of multi-cultural couples. I’d encourage you to check it out!

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Betsy

Tania Pilz

I was born in a really, really small town Nicaragua that is so small that if you look it up in google maps you won´t find it. . You have to travel a whole day by bus to get to any major cities. My father is from Austria, even though he is my step father, I don’t see anybody else as my father other than him.  He was doing social projects when he met my mom and afterwards they decided to be together and to form a family. And he took us as his daughters, so to say. Ever since then they have been together and that is how my whole traveling around the world started. My father was not really happy, well, he liked Nicaragua, but he didn’t like it for us, for the girls, he wanted us to have a nice education. So the first years of my life, until I was five, we traveled around Nicaragua doing social work. Then my second sister came,.

We travelled around a lot and until he noticed that it was enough of Nicaragua. He wanted to come back to Austria because of our education and because he wanted my grandparents to meet us and so on. So we came to Austria for one and half years. It was not that much. We were in Linz, I was there and was in school and made some friends. I was actually the one who could talk in German the most. But then my father found a job in Guatemala, in Central America, and it was a really good position. So we went back and we lived there for ten years.

Guatemala is the place where I can say I grew up. I went to school there and I even graduated there. It was an Austrian school, so I got my Matura actually. Eighty percent of the classes were in German, even math and chemistry. That was the worst for me. In 2010 I got the Matura and I was expecting to stay in Guatemala and to start college there. I was used to it, I was used to depending on a car and my parents and how everything worked there. But the contract was over so my father decided either we would go back to Austria or we would go to Nicaragua. My father said, “But your mother is from Nicaragua, why don’t we give Nicaragua a chance.” So we went to Nicaragua.

I was really down. I was so used to Guatemala. I had everything in Guatemala, I had this picture that I was going to be in Guatemala for a long, long time, I had friends there, and my whole childhood was there. I had a boyfriend. Nicaragua to me was like a small town. I had been there, but I didn’t remember what it was like to live there. I just had this picture of me being born in a small town where there was nothing, not even college, not even cell phones, nothing. And college didn’t start until March and we had arrived in December. My little sister went to school and my parents were working so I was at home alone the whole time doing nothing and chatting on Facebook with my friends in Guatemala. They were asking  “ when are you coming back?” and I had this idea in my mind that after four years I would go back.

My parents came to Austria in that summer, but I was in college so I couldn’t come. My father realized how amazing Austria was. They were here for a month and he saw how my sister could go out and not have to worry about if she would come back. So he realized that he was not that happy in Nicaragua. So he gave me the chance to choose whether I stayed in Nicaragua and finish college or come to Austria. If I came to Austria, I had to come by myself for a whole six months. When they came back to Nicaragua in the summer I was in Guatemala visiting my friends. And my father told me, “If you decide to travel to Austria, you have to come tomorrow from Guatemala to Nicaragua because you are flying in two days.” I decided to go. I went to Nicaragua by bus and we talked that night, I packed my things and I came to Vienna. In two days.

I only came to Austria for holidays or vacations, so I didn’t have that many friends here. When I visited I was just with my grandparents traveling around the country. I liked Austria a lot, it’s beautiful. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be here. I had the Austrian Matura though so getting into the university wasn’t that hard. Some of my friends from Austrian school in Guatemala where already here too. But it was hard because I didn’t have many friends and if I did have friends, they were male friends. My sister is like my best friend and I was really missing her a lot.

I came here without knowing anyone, without knowing the system, without knowing how things work. And it was not even the career I wanted; I wanted to study graphic design or photography, but in Austria you have to be really good to study it. I didn’t even get the chance because I wasn’t prepared. In Guatemala you just choose your career, you pay the tuition and you get in. But here in Austria it’s different, if you haven’t had the preparation and you haven’t been working on it for a whole year, you don’t have any chance.

University was another thing. I was used to university being small groups. You know everybody, you get along with everybody. Here, on my first day, there were 700 people in the auditorium. It was impossible to get to know someone. You saw the same people just once or twice during the semester. And Austrian people are hard to get to know, so it was really double trouble for me in the beginning. If they asked me something they were always like, “Where are you from, what is your story?” They never asked anything else. That was it. That was enough. They were just being polite.

The first month I was really happy because I hadn’t had the freedom for years of just going out at night. Nine in the evening I could just take the bus and go out and do anything. In Vienna, I like that everything is thirty minutes away. It was really the first time I felt free. But It actually took me a lot of time to think about what I was going to do with my life. If I am here in Austria, I want to get to know the Austrian culture, the Austrian people, the Austrian way of life. That’s when I actually decided I was going to finish school and start being involved in Austria and start doing something for my life.

At that time I had met a boy, a Hungarian boy. We have been together for two years and he actually changed my life, changed my way of seeing Vienna. He was not that happy with Vienna either and had the same kind of problems I had of coming here. When I met him I changed my whole idea of being in Vienna. We hate Vienna and love Vienna at the same time. We love that we can go out and do something fun like go and watch the cinema outdoors. Or take the bus for thirty minutes and you are in the woods. We enjoy that a lot about Vienna. But there are other times when I want to pack my things and go. Leave Vienna. This is not my country, not my culture, not my people, not my language. I miss my language. I miss just being able to express myself and not having to think about what I am going to say. But actually, I am very grateful to be in Vienna. Everything that happened to me, it happened for a reason.

My entire life has been really multi-cultural. I grew up with an Austrian dad and Nicaraguan mother. Both cultures were mixed at home. I say Danke, or Guten Morgen or Guten Nacht. I don’t use Buenos Noches, I use the German words. But at home we speak in Spanish. My father wanted to talk to us in German , but he didn’t feel comfortable speaking in Hochdeutsch and didn’t want to teach us dialect.  We are constantly living in a dilemma if we want to live Austria and be a part of it, to try to be a part of the whole system. Or we could go back to Nicaragua or Guatemala where we can feel more at home. But on the other hand you don’t have the opportunities that you have in Vienna. The doors are open for you to try whatever you want. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve done so many things that, in Guatemala, I think I wouldn’t have done. Like right now I am doing a free radio show. And I’m starting a master’s in journalism. I didn’t imagine that my career would have such a turn. Vienna really opens up with doors for students to really be someone in that field, not just study to have a diploma.

My whole life I have had influences of both cultures. I never imagined having a boyfriend from another culture. So it’s a third culture in my life. I was thinking about it once, if there are many couples who have the same problems as us. Not big problems, but problems with communication. I can speak three languages, but I can’t make myself understood. It’s so complicated. And he speaks Croatian, Hungarian, English and German so between us we have five languages and it is still hard. I asked him once, “Do you think there are many couples who have these problems, these problems with communication and culture where you just don’t get each other?”

That’s how my project started. I started just posting on Facebook and many couples came to me. The first couple was from Austria and Mexico. And one was Michelle, from Bosnia and United States. All the stories are so amazing. I can only post little details from their stories in my blog, but I have so many little things in my head that they told me. Such cute little things that they do to make it work. Even though the language may be trouble, they still fight for their relationship.

I’m in search of a home. In the future I plan to have a house and be stable and not travel around. When I tell my story sometimes people think I am trying to brag,” Yeah, I’ve been there and there and there”. But somehow this moving around has had an influence on me. Sometimes it’s not so easy. Like making friends and having to leave them.

I became an adult here in Austria. In Vienna. I realized it was time for me to grow up. But it’s really hard to grow up when you don’t have someone to share that with. I cannot say, “oh yes, were going to meet with a childhood friend of mine,” or something because they are all on the other side of the world. And when I tell my boyfriend we are going to get married, he asks me, “Which of your friends are you going to invite?” and that is hard to answer because my real friends are back in Guatemala or Nicaragua. I know many people, but there’s no one person who is mine, who I would want to have in my wedding or something. But I try to stay positive and to get to know people. For example, we have been hanging out a lot with one of the couples I met through my project. She’s from Greece and he’s from Turkey and I never imagined that we would get along with people from such different cultures so well. But they had the same problems as we did. She told me that when she gets upset, she wants to yell at him in Greek, but she has to stay patient because he doesn’t understand her. And it’s the same problem we have. It’s nice to have friends who understand.

Meet Reinet

Today I would like to introduce you to Reinet. She was born in South Africa, but grew up in England, Argentina, and the US. She was in New York for the last two years before coming to Vienna to pursue her dream of being an opera singer. Being around her energy will brighten your day and make you want to pursue being creative yourself, because she has such a passion for opera and the arts. I hope you enjoy!

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Betsy

Reinet Behncke

As a kid it was difficult. Now it sounds very glamorous, very exciting. But it was really hard to be far away from family. It was really hard to adjust to one place and then have to go somewhere else. And as an adult it has made it very hard to conceptualize staying in one place forever. I have no idea what that feels like. And feeling at home has never been a consistent thing. But of course, the benefits were getting to see a lot of the world and learning different languages and gaining experiences that I absolutely would not have had otherwise. So of course there were wonderful, wonderful things about living in so many different places too.

I was supposed to end up here, in Vienna, two years ago when I finished my masters degree, but some things in my life changed suddenly and very unexpectedly so I ended up in New York instead. And at the time that was very difficult and I was very unhappy. But now I am happy for it because New York really confronts you with who you are and I came away from that experience being a very self-aware person, being a very assertive person, and being absolutely ready to be here in Vienna. And you know, I really appreciate the time I had in New York as well. The timing was just right. I came here to pursue my opera career and everything just sort of came together after being in New York and I was finally ready to move over here.

This is now my fourth month here in Vienna, I’m a Vienna baby. And I love it. I first came here when I was 17 years old and I fell in love with it right away. And this city has really always been one of the great loves of my life and I have always known that I wanted to live here. Though it’s been very exciting and very inspiring, of course it has been difficult as well. I really thought because I had such an international childhood and I moved around so much when I was young that this would be really easy and really manageable. It turned out to be quite difficult. It wasn’t until a friend put words to it that I realized that, when making a big international move, you experience a kind of grief. Your body and your emotions really react with grief for everything you had before and all the people you were friends with and everything you’ve left behind. So I’ve definitely felt a sense of that as well and that was very difficult. I had about a two week period where I asked myself what on earth I’d done and what I was doing and why did I come here? It took accepting that this was a big transition, even when I didn’t expect it to be, to kind of settle. There’s a word in German, ankommen- to arrive, and I really think in German it has a connotation of settling and growing some roots. I kind of feel like I’m doing that now, which is good.

Overall, and the reason I came here, is because there are so many more opportunities here and the arts are such an important part of the culture here for everyone. I have been exposed to that since I arrived. When I first arrived in New York I really hit the ground running and I did every audition I could and I sang for everyone, but I really burnt myself out really quickly. So I knew I didn’t want to do that there. I have certainly been out there auditioning, making contact with people, and networking and I am now starting to get work, slowly but surely. But I have also really forced myself, this time around, to take the time to settle, to focus on my German, to focus on my vocal technique, to adjust to life here instead of trying to cover that up with being busy and not dealing with it. Because I think that affects yourself as an artist, if you don’t deal with what you are living right now. I am very excited to see what happens here and how things progress.

Be patient. It’s going to take a while to feel completely comfortable speaking German, its going to take a while before you figure out the ubahn system, it’s going to take a while before you make new friends and you know, build your own community here. But that’s ok. And try to enjoy this incredible place while you are doing that. Because this really is an amazing city. Just be patient with yourself and the differences you’re experiencing. I’ve been very lucky to meet a community of musicians and others who have all been in my shoes before; they’ve all experienced being a new arrival to this city. They’ve been very welcoming; they’ve shown me around and they’ve introduced me to other people. There’s a friendliness and sense of community that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world so that’s been very positive.

I am really very hard on myself and that has really manifested itself in feeling like a failure because I’m not “at this point right now”, but you really have to remind yourself that everyone else is also struggling. Everybody’s in the same place and the time is going to go by anyways so you have to just keep going and something will happen. It’s really easy, in my field, to compare yourself to what someone else is doing and their successes. But you have to realize that that doesn’t change your talent at all. Focusing on what someone else is doing doesn’t make you a better singer. And getting caught up in that and wondering why you aren’t at that point also doesn’t make you a better singer. So I’ve noticed that if I’m just patient and I feel working hard and I keep trying to perfect my craft, eventually things start to come back to you. I’m starting to see that now and that’s really rewarding.

I have a very long list of dream roles that I will hopefully get to play and work my way through at some point. Mozart is the reason I decided to become an opera singer. I first heard Mozart’s music when I was four and that’s when I decided this is what I wanted to do. So anything by Mozart. He wrote one of his most famous operas “The Marriage of Figaro” here in Vienna and you can actually go visit the house where he wrote it, which is incredible. I also love the music of Richard Strauss. “Der Rosenkavalier” is incredible. I actually got to cover the role of Sophie in that in New York, so hopefully someday I’ll actually get to perform it.

I think the issue of opera’s future is a big one, not just here but also in the States. In the States we’re seeing a lot of major opera house close. As a person who was seeking work in the United States in opera, I was seeing less and less professional opportunities. I think that is something people here are worried about too, but I have to say that, as a singer, the art form is definitely not dead. It is evolving, it is really evolving. Singers are finding ways to bring opera to different audiences in different ways and I think that’s an important thing. I think that as long as the art form is not dumbed down and cheapened, that it keeps its integrity and we do introduce it to new people, I don’t see the art form slowing down. Especially here, I see it progressing.

Vienna really has this incredible juxtaposition of old and new, of past and present, which I have yet to see anywhere else in the world. And that allows for an environment of creativity. And I see that here, I see this blurring of genres; I see the art form being taken in different direction that I haven’t seen anywhere else, even in New York. And that gives me a lot of hope and a lot of other younger singers hope. There is a common misconception that you have to be wealthy and older to go to the opera and enjoy it. People forget that some of this music, in its time, was so controversial and created so much debate and was so fought over. And the themes in these operas are still very relevant, very controversial, and very difficult to swallow at times. Opera is not just a thing for a few people and there is a favorite opera out there for everyone, I really believe that.

This is something I think about often, I think being a young person today is very difficult no matter where you are, let alone in a big city. And I have found myself at times, here and elsewhere, really wanting to stay in my comfort zone instead of facing what’s scary. And I was really lucky when I moved here to be introduced to Clara Blume who is a singer and songwriter here in Vienna and she has a song and the lyrics go, “I’d rather love and starve than live in sorrow”. I love that and I really try to live by that. Because I think it’s much more worth it to push back on the fear instead of running away from it. Being new in Vienna and facing a lot of new and scary things that is something I have really had to urge myself to do. But I really think it’s worth it. Especially in a place like there were there really are so many opportunities and so much to see and so much to enjoy. It’s always worth it to kind of take a step into the unknown and keep going. I think Vienna is the perfect place to do that.

Meet Artë

Today I met with Artë from Kosovo who came to Vienna to do her masters in Political Science. Arta has a very mellow, straight forward outlook in life which is refreshing and real. Even though she has had some trouble finding her place in Vienna, she keeps her head held high and pushes on to meet her goal. I find her to be one of those people who you know, given the right opportunities, will make big changes for good in the world.

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Betsy

Artë Selimi

I had a friend who had come to Vienna as a student and he told me it was a good idea to come too. Why not? I looked in Norway, but it was really, really expensive. I was looking in Canada, but it was expensive too. But Vienna was a good opportunity for me. It was not so expensive and it was not too far from home. So it’s a good thing in every way. Not too expensive, not too far, a good university. I came here. I got my visa. It was really good- happiness. I felt good. But I hope the other years will be better.

In my bachelor’s program we studied the science of politics, how everything works. But here in my masters I have to choose a field to specialize in. We have 7 or 8 fields and we have to choose which one we see ourselves best in. So I was thinking that I can make something like public administration. It’s a job that I want, and I worked it in my country. I have experience in it. I love it. Becoming a politician is not my goal, but in life you have to never say never. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it yet. Public administration is my field and I really want to specialize in it. I didn’t think about anything else yet. The opportunity to study at The University of Vienna- it’s a really big thing, it’s a wonderful opportunity. And it’s not so easy of course.

Two weeks ago I was in my country visiting. Going there on the bus I met an old man who was going back home after visiting his children here. He told me, “It’s a good idea that you are in university. I like it. I like when people try to do something else.” His children, they don’t have a university degree, they don’t want something else. They just have a job and they work and work and work to get money and nothing else.

So he was like it’s a good idea and stuff. And he was asking me, “How many languages do you speak”. He was confused and shocked when he learned that I know four languages and that I’m here to study and that I will maybe go back to my country after this. He was happy and told me, “This is great that you can come back to Kosovo, we need young people. We need people like you.” Everyone knows the situation in my country, the old people have to leave and young people have to come. We need to bring our experiences back. We were here and we did more, we saw more, we learned more, but a lot of times we are staying. So it’s a big chance if I go to my country and can contribute to my country. I could bring it back. And I hope to. I mean why not. I can really say I love my country and I would love to see changes there. I don’t want to see it like this. I don’t know. People are disappointed. There are no jobs, nothing, the economy isn’t good. Sometimes I think I should go back. But sometimes I think it would be really hard. I don’t think I can change anything because it’s difficult. I’m two-minded.

It was a really good experience. I just decided randomly. When I was young I used to sit on our swing and sing and sing and sing. Everyone knew from when I was a child that I had a good voice. In that year, when I was on X-Factor, I was staying at home. I had finished my bachelor and didn’t have a job yet. A friend of mine was in X-Factor 1 before me and he told me, “Why don’t you just try it? You never know! It could be a good thing”. And I was like nooooo. I was shy because of all the people. But without trying you never know. So I just decided to try. I was speaking with my father and said I wanna go to X-Factor. Just to try. Because a jury was coming from Albania to Kosovo to pick up people who were better and send them to Tirana in Albania.

I just went that day, yea really, I just went. I didn’t prepare. I knew a song, but I never made exercises. I didn’t care. I just went there. I didn’t even wear something special, it was like every day. I went there and the guy was there with the jury and he was like “Good thing you came! You should be here.” After that I said ok, I’m gonna go inside. I sung an Adele song; it’s called Don’t You Remember. I sang the song and the all the jury were shocked. I was like wow. I couldn’t believe it was myself. Sometimes you just need something to open your eyes and say “hey you are here”. I really liked myself in that time. I had never tried something like this…

When I was in high school I was a part of a choir, but this was so different. They accepted me and I went to Tirana. My father couldn’t believe me. And my mother was looking at me like, no you are joking. In Kosovo it is different. When people are 18 19 they make a lot of stuff but when you are older- I was 23- but they said, I think you are too big to go there. But I went to Albania. I won the first round, second round, third round, fourth round. I was a semi-finalist. I liked that. It was a good experience. After that I came back to my country and people were like “wow, you were great”. Everyone as watching. After that the municipality- the president- he called me in his office and gave me a certificate for a good new artist and I got a contract to sing at events and things. I was like wow, if I had known it would be this good I would have gone earlier. But it was that time, it was meant to happen at that time.

You can find a video of Artë‘s X-Factor performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrKhBlmLtsE

It’s really hard. In the beginning, I can say it’s not so easy. It’s not like people think. I said earlier, I haven’t found anything like I thought I would. I thought it was better here, everything is perfect. They have a lot of rules here, and I like that. It’s really different form my country. When the law speaks it’s over. Probably there is more justice. Some things are better, but I don’t know. As a student we have permission to work, but it’s really hard to find a job. Of course you have to know German really well, but I thought maybe I could find something with English. But you have to know German and nothing else. It’s really hard. I applied and applied and checked and searched. But like always they said that yeah I’ll take your CV and I’ll call you, but they never call. Still nothing. To tell the truth, I’m not choosy. Whatever it is, I just need a job to have a job. Then later when I am more fluent in German then I can choose, but not now. And the country you come from is really a problem.

I know some people have done bad things, but one person does not represent the country. In Austria, in America you have good people and bad people. In my country too. Often the first question is “where are you from?” Is that important? Is it important where I come from or how I work? I don’t understand, really. When I came here they gave me 20 hours to work, of course I want to work. I want to care for myself; I don’t want my father to have to send money from Kosovo every time. It’s a difficult situation in my country too. So I need to work. They could just say no you are just a student; you can only study and then go back to your country. Not give you every opportunity to come here and then deny you. I know some Albanian people did bad things here, but this is not me. Kosovo is small, but all the people are not like this.

If I think of the differences between my country and here, there are a lot of good things about being here. Here you have a lot of things to do. A lot of activities, a lot of concerts, a lot of organizations, a lot of good stuff for young people. In my country it’s not the same, you have a lot of things but it’s hard. And the opportunity to study is so nice. It’s the best thing I can mention. It’s not an easy thing but it’s the best thing that could happen in my life. I don’t know. There are a lot of good things here. Vienna is really beautiful. You know, everything is in its place, every road, every building. It’s so old and classy. I love this style. That’s why I found myself here. It’s a beautiful city. It can be inspiring.

Meet Katherine

Today I would like to introduce you to Katherine, a central Kentucky girl who ended up teaching English to Austrian secondary school students in the town of Eisenstadt, the capital city of Burgenland which is about 45 minutes south of Vienna. Katherine has inspired me for a long time because she is the kind of person to never let anything bring her down. When things get tough, Katherine gets tougher. I hope you can enjoy this interview with a strong woman of Vienna!

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Betsy

Katherine Caldwell

Adventure. I mean there’s a whole world to see, so why limit myself. I can always move back to the US, I can always move to California or New York, so why not try to live away as long as I can? I feel like I am very well suited to living abroad. Like we were talking about earlier- the more I am abroad, the more people tell me I am calm and relaxing to be around. I am starting to realize that, in a way, is very true. Being abroad you learn to kind of let things roll off your back. The first time I went to the grocery here I bought fabric softener instead of detergent. And my laundry was  really soft, but totally not clean. You learn to let it not mess with you. You just go with it. You just go, “Ok, so my clothes are really soft and I have to wear them today, but tomorrow I will buy laundry detergent and make it better”.

I will always remember all of my teaching experiences, even the kind of shitty ones. They stand out because of the things I learned from them. Compared to when I first got here, I talk to people much more easily. I can pretty much talk to anyone now and I’m not shy. If I like fall on the street, it doesn’t bother me. If I have my fly unzipped, it doesn’t bother me. Because once you’ve done all of those things in front of 15 year olds its fine. Go through an entire class with your fly unzipped and no one tells you. Once you’ve done that, I mean, what can get you down? I’ve gained a little bit of self-confidence and a little bit of a lack of caring. I mean I care, but if it’s not going to bother me in a week or it’s not going to bother me in a month, it doesn’t bother me.

All the people I’ve gotten to know through tutoring in Eisenstadt and getting to meet the grandmother and the aunts and the uncles and some of the cousins and getting to have home cooked Austrian food. Because the Austrians are hard to get to know- the people I have gotten to know will definitely stick in my mind. Also experiencing weird culture events like the wine days or the balls and not really understanding them or why people do them. Like Kirtag- which no one has been able to explain to me what it is or why it is celebrated. But I still experienced it! I don’t know what it is, but I experienced it. Just kind of having the acceptance that you are not going to understand; I think people who haven’t lived abroad don’t get that. If you’ve never lived abroad in country where you only kind of speak the language or you don’t speak the language, you don’t understand how difficult and also how rewarding day-to-day tasks are. I am still really happy excited when I make small talk or can actually manage to like get the food that I want exactly how I want it. It’s still exciting even though I’ve been here two years. It’s this ability to let go in a way.

I live in Vienna, but my heart is in Burgenland. Eisenstadt is like my second home town. Going there feels like home. Seeing people who maybe you know them, maybe you kind of know them, maybe you’ve seen them somewhere. It feels like home. Vienna, its comfortable here, but it still feels foreign. And maybe not because it is foreign, I mean to me it is. But it doesn’t feel cozy like Burgenland does. Vienna has this kind of edge to it- and not in the way New York is edgy- but really this kind of wall you have to fight to get past. And in Burgenland it’s not there. In Vienna I feel like I get this sort of, “what do you want from me, why are you being so nice?” Sort of that going out of your way to help people. Yea, I feel like that’s what you have in Burgenland that you don’t have in Vienna.

I like how multi-cultural Vienna is. I like that there are so many people from so many different cultures and in a way it sort of meshes really, really well. And I like all the opportunity that is here. It is really like an international city. And also I like the history. Around every corner there’s something. You don’t know what’s there until you walk around the corner and then “BAM” there’s this palace. I guess I like the fact that Vienna really wears its history. You can see that something used to be a bakery or you can see that something used to be a restaurant or this or that. It’s really obvious. In the US you have to ask or just know. But Vienna really wears its history on its sleeve. It’s there. I feel like every time I go to Kärtnerstrasse or somewhere I see something new. The first time you are just looking at the stores and maybe through the tenth time you are doing that, but then you start to look up and it’s this whole other world up there. Murals, frescos, statues and god knows what.

SAMSUNG CSC

So in the fall I’m starting a master’s in human rights at the University of Vienna. And besides that, I want to change the world. I don’t know. I don’t know what my exact future plans are- I know that there are certain things I want to affect like poverty law, LGTB rights, immigrant rights, particularly rights for people who are like traditionally transient peoples. So like the Roma or plains Native Americans who traditionally travelled. Because there are a lot of people who are not being represented, not getting what they should get from the government where they are citizens or they just have no citizenship. I want to be helpful in some way for the world. I don’t want to get old and I don’t want to die knowing that I haven’t done anything productive.

Meet Katie

For this week’s Women Wednesday I met with Katie. She hails from Philadelphia and is here on a Fulbright grant to study film and teach English. She’s been the life line in our women’s pub quiz team because she will always know that random fact and she has never gotten a film question wrong. We met a couple times during the week because the rain kept foiling my plans for photos, but in the end I think Katie really expressed that feeling many of us have towards Vienna. The sort of cynical love for this city. After our discussion I kept playing Billy Joel’s song titled Vienna on repeat and enjoyed the rainy day.

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Betsy

Katie Robinson

I wanted to major in film. They didn’t have a major for film at Agnes Scott though, they only had a minor. So I have a major in philosophy and a minor in film and creative studies. I tried to create my own major, but it didn’t work. I chose philosophy basically because it seemed hard. That was my reason, which is a terrible reason. But that’s why I chose philosophy.

I took a philosophy class my first semester and I hated it. I absolutely hated it. It was one of the only B’s I ever got in college. But at the end of the semester it was the only class I felt like I had achieved something in, like I had learned something. Philosophy’s a really difficult thing to do. Logic usually gets everybody. They’re not kind. They use the Socratic method to basically destroy you. Now I appreciate what philosophy did for me. I learned a lot about decision making and in terms of speaking, I was pretty quiet when I went to college and that’s something you can’t do. You can’t be quiet. You have to be able to argue your point.

Sometimes the mood of Vienna was a big challenge, especially in the winter time. But I think that’s also why I was attracted to it. It’s like that broody guy that you are supposed to like. You think “oh he’s so broody, standing in the corner, looking really interesting”, but when you are actually talking to him he will depress you. That’s what Vienna is like for me. Sometimes I think “Oh stop being so serious”. And as soon as I would leave Vienna I would be fine. I’m just living my life, but in Vienna everything seems so serious. It’s like a five alarm fire. I’m compelled to drink a black coffee and smoke in a café. I was talking to someone in the very beginning about how Vienna is a very performative city. It’s like New York. When you are in New York you are performing the idea of how it is to be in New York. And in Vienna is like that as well. You are constantly performing being Viennese. You are constantly trying to live up to that. I like that sometimes. Other times it’s very constricting. I don’t want to contemplate my life and eat cake. I’m done with the cake.

I mentioned Hawelka earlier because that’s where I was like, I love Vienna. I lived in the 1st district for a while and I would go there all the time. The one guy always kisses my hand when I leave and tells me how he is glad to see me again. That will stick with me. Because I feel like a part, a little bit, of that broody culture. Like sitting in the corner with my book and getting to know the waiters.

I’m going to graduate school. I almost stayed in Vienna, but I’m going to California actually, to University of Southern California. I will be studying film. But if I hadn’t come to Vienna I would have continued with philosophy. So it did divert me. I think it gave me time to think about what I really wanted. I think I will come back. I don’t think I’m done with Vienna. As I am facing the end of it, I’m like, you know, it doesn’t feel quite like the end. It will be waiting for me.

Meet Undine

 

Welcome to our very first Woman Wednesday!

Undine is one of our original members and has been to several events. She’s always got a smile on her face and her sunny disposition makes you want to smile yourself. I met with Undine at Wirr Cafe the other day and we chatted a bit about her experiences with Austria, Vienna, and life in general. I hope you enjoy and can walk away from this post with a smile, just like I did!

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Betsy

Undīne Ozoliņa

I joined a theater group when I was in Salzburg. I was definitely not brave, I was really scared. At the first meeting I was like “I can still go away, I can still go away, I can quit it”.  And for the first month I was really insecure, I was really thinking about quitting it. But once, in the workshop we had a really good improvisation where I actually got a little praise. And I though “ok, maybe I can do this”. Even if I kept being insecure, it’s in your mind. It’s challenging, you get out of your comfort zone. But it’s good.

It makes me think of my creative times. I even used to write poetry and I felt like such an artist because I was published in the local newspaper. I often think, I’m studying literature, what if I wrote something?

Do I have such really big life changing goals? Of course not. Because how can I know what will happen? This is what I am really scared of, that I will make this plan and something will happen, you know, that will change it. So I don’t make such big goals. Maybe for the next few years or so. I always try to think; ok, well, I’m studying so I want to finish my studies. Ok, what will be the next step?  Maybe my next step- I want to work in tourism. But I don’t think too far ahead because, how can I know? And maybe this next step will change something in my mind. So sometimes really tiny small goals, like the next step, that’s nice. And again I think it’s not a time anymore  where people make some big life goal and go for it. We have so many more opportunities, so many more chances. It changes, we do one thing, and then we have to do something else.  In today’s world we cannot make one goal.

I usually meet people through things like Yelp or Women of Vienna, something fun like this. That’s what I like about Vienna, you’re always discovering weird little spots. It is big but there is always something going on.