Ruth Coates is a British expat living in Vienna. Talented with languages (she majored in French and German), she's currently an English teaching assistant in Vienna. In this interview – as well as on her wonderful blog – she shares her impressions of some of the cultural differences she's noticed between the United Kingdom and her new home in Austria.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Great Britain
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Vienna, Austria
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Six months
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I graduated in French and German in summer 2010. For my year abroad I worked in Bischofshofen, Austria as an English Teaching Assistant and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it for a second year but somewhere bigger, which is why I came to Vienna.
About Vienna, Austria
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Vienna, how’s the quality of life in Austria?
A: It’s clean, the public transport is excellent and there is lots to do here.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The thing that I will never get used to is the fact that barely anything is open on a Sunday or late at night. Most of the time it isn’t a problem, but sometimes it is a bit frustrating. Apart from that the only things I miss are family and friends, but it’s easy to keep in touch with them online.
Q: Is Vienna safe?
A: I feel it is very safe, I am much more comfortable walking alone late at night in Vienna than I would be in the UK.
About living in Vienna
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Vienna?
A: I share an apartment with an Austrian friend. It is in a very central location. I would say that for a capital city the rent is very reasonable, I would not be able to find something as nice and as well located in London for this little money.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Austria compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Things like fruit and vegetables seem quite expensive to me, and it works out expensive if you want to buy supplies for just one person as most things come in bulk. Alcohol is fairly cheap, and it is also possible to get cheap tickets for most types of entertainment, you just have to go at the right time!
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I mix with both locals and expats. Most of the other expats I know are also teaching assistants so we have quite a lot in common. I sometimes find the Viennese a little rude, but I do like that they are very direct and to the point.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: It was easy to meet other expat friends doing the same job as me as there was an induction course at the beginning of the year. It is more difficult to integrate with the locals though, unless you do activities where there are no other expats.
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No, because I am an EU citizen.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Vienna, is there plenty of work?
A: I think it’s quite good in Austria, unemployment is certainly less of a problem here than it is in the UK. I would say that as an expat, particularly as a native speaker of English, it is fairly easy to find a well-paid job. Plus people are always impressed that I speak the language, they don’t seem to expect it at all. As far as I am aware there is no area that is particularly popular with expats. I live with an Austrian flatmate.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I would say it is quite different. Everything seems to start earlier, for example I work in two schools and have to be there ready to start work by 8 every day. However, it does not seem to matter too much if you turn up for things a couple of minutes late. The Austrians are very keen on days off and often protest at the idea of losing their Catholic Bank Holidays, even though many of them are no longer practising Catholics.
Family and children
Q: What are the schools in Austria like, any particular suggestions?
A: I don’t know anything about the international schools, other than that one of the biggest international schools here was the only school in the whole city to close when we had a lot of snow back in December. The Austrian school system is very different to the British one. Students can go to a school for a specific subject from the age of 14/15. One of the most important differences I would say is that there is no central examining body, all exams and tests are set and marked by the teachers at the school. Another thing is that in a lot of schools, all classes seem to be mixed ability as opposed to being divided into ability groups for certain subjects. Of course, a lot of this depends on the school.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Austria?
A: I have no experience with the healthcare system, though from what I have heard from other people it is pretty good and most costs are covered by health insurance.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Make the most of any experiences you are offered, don’t be afraid to admit you need help and remember that no matter where you are, it is going to take a while to settle in.
►Interviewed in March 2011