She also works closely with American study abroad students throughout the year and provides them with chocolate chip cookies when their homesickness sets in. Holly writes a blog called Comedic Grievances.
Why did you move to Austria and what do you do?
It was my dream! I studied abroad in Vienna for three months during my sophomore year of college and returned forever changed. I was determined to get back to Vienna and dreamed (or cried) about it all the time but lacked a practical reason to move there until the chance arrived in my inbox one day in 2011.
A non-profit team based in Vienna needed additional help, so my husband and I sold everything and moved to Vienna seven months later. We continue to help run the non-profit organization which focuses mainly on community outreach. I help teach English and coordinate other programs such as craft nights for women and various types of seminars. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made.
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
We hit a few bumps along the way at the very start of our transition. Since people are constantly pouring into Vienna, housing is difficult to come by and it took us two months to find the apartment we live in now. But after we got settled and made a home for ourselves, everything fell into place.
Austrians are amazing, helpful people which only added to the ease of our transition. We took several intensive German courses once we got settled and just knowing a few phrases opened so many more doors for us. All in all we had and still have a really great support system of people, and the city is an incredible support system in and of itself.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people?
We immediately got involved with a local church group when we arrived so it was like we had a family already waiting for us. This was wonderful in so many ways and considerably lowered any feelings of loneliness. Plus, we weren't afraid to practice our German with them which was another great way to learn the language.
However, I will say it took us about a full year to create our own circle of Austrian friends made up of people within our age group. I don't think it's difficult to make friends in Austria, but I do think it takes time and patience. I don't know too many expats because from the get-go I was determined to develop friendships with locals.
Holly and her husband Will at Schönbrunn. Photo: Holly Kooi
What are your favourite things to do in Vienna?
My top favourite tours are of Palace Schönbrunn and the Imperial Apartments at the Hofburg Palace. These tours help to fill you in on important figures such as Maria Theresa, Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Sisi which is good information to hold onto as you walk around Vienna.
If you're a big art fan, don't miss the grand Kunsthistorisches Museum. If you're like me and love natural history, then walk over to its equally grand neighbour, the Naturhistorisches Museum.
Go to every park possible, eat gelato downtown at Zanoni & Zanoni (specifically the Coffee and Biscotto flavors), and drink coffee in one of Vienna's famed traditional coffee houses, like Café Central or Landtmann. And eat a Wiener Schnitzel.
What do you enjoy most about living in Austria?
The people. I can't get enough of them and their culture. Their generosity and caring hearts are refreshing and something for which to be immensely thankful. The people are the reason I want to stay. I simply can't imagine parting with them yet. I also love the efficient public transportation, the gorgeous and well-kept gardens, the coffee culture, and walking by huge old palaces like it's not a big deal.
How does the cost of living in Austria compare to home?
My husband runs the checkbook and tells me it's more expensive. Housing and food are certainly higher, and clothes are as well in our opinion. The high costs aren't miserable though. We don't stay inside and eat Ramen to get by. It's definitely doable.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Austria?
The only downright negative I've found, and this mainly concerns the ladies, is the extreme difficulty in finding a hairdresser who is trustworthy and affordable. I had never had a bad haircut until I moved here, and since then I've had two! If you go to someone cheap, it'll show in your cut. If you go to someone who's "of average pricing", then it'll feel like you're dumping your savings for a single haircut, and even then you're not sure what it's going to look like. It just stresses me out.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Austria, what would it be?
Learn the language! It'll benefit your life immensely. Things get done a lot faster if you have at least a beginner's knowledge of the language, and the people will appreciate all the more for your attempts. Plus, it helps with making great friends!
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I think the surprise of how fast I got tired day to day was the most difficult. You don't realize it when it's happening, but your brain goes into overdrive even just doing simple tasks like going to the store. What was simple to me suddenly became tiresome with all the translating and the learning of various tasks.
Holly's top five tips for anyone planning to live abroad.
Be purposeful about learning the local language. You'll be glad you did (and the locals will be, too).
Don't attempt to live in the country you just left and the country you just entered at the same time. Live where you are!
Reach out to the locals. Making local friends will help you to feel more at home and give you a sense of belonging.
Give yourself permission to rest when your body and brain need it.
Be sensitive to and aware of the culture around you. Respectful observation is key!
Want to share your expat experience of living in Austria? Email us at [email protected]
Holly spoke to expatsblog.com, and this text is a condensed version of that interview.