Where were you living prior to Vienna and what brought you to Austria?
Prior to Vienna I lived in Greece, and before that I was living in the States, working in public schools. I wanted to travel and I realised the only way I could afford to do that was to work at an international school. So I got a job at an American school in Greece and worked there for two years, then got the job here in Vienna. I chose Vienna because it's the musical capital of the world.
Did you speak any German before you arrived and what level was required by your employer?
German isn't a requirement for my job whatsoever. It's completely English-speaking. I did two years of German in high school, but that hasn't benefited me very much at all. I've taken German classes since I got here and I'm up to B1 level, but I'm still struggling daily.
What do you find most challenging about living in a country where the first language isn't English?
I can speak a little German if I have to, but I can't get across what I'm really trying to say, the inflection that I could use in my native tongue. You can't be funny, you can't be emotional, you're just trying to get information out there. It's frustrating because you've never had to do that, you've always been able to have your personality behind everything you say and suddenly you're just trying to get a sentence out.
What are the most commonly asked questions when people hear that you're American?
Well, the first is not so much a question… When people find out that I'm from Kentucky, they always say, "Kentucky Fried Chicken". They just say it. Every time. And they're very proud of themselves for knowing it.
I get a lot of Obama questions. Do you like Obama? Did you vote for Obama? I get a lot of comments about war, which I totally understand. Not so much questions, I guess, but comments about it. We do, we go to war way too much, I know that.
What do you enjoy most about living in Vienna?
The ease of everything here. I feel spoilt, living here after Greece. I never have to stress that a bus is going to be late or that things will be closed for no reason. The water is clean, I know that the electricity is going to work and the internet here is super-fast. I can walk everywhere, instead of having to take a bus for half an hour. Maybe if it's really far away, but usually from my apartment I can walk most places. It's relaxing, it's a good feeling.
What do you miss most from home?
Living in the States, everything is open 24 hours a day, everything you need is in one store, you don't have to really work too hard to find anything. There are new inventions constantly – the newest gimmick, I'm a sucker for it. This holiday I bought a cup that has a snack-holder attached to it, because it's awesome. I don't need it, but it's exciting to buy it when you're home. If I lived there I wouldn't buy it, because I'd say "well, this is silly", but because I know I can't get it here, I get excited.
How has working in international schools changed you?
I'm not sure. Teaching children who have English as a second language, I've learnt to appreciate that maybe people don't always understand you so well. Kids pick it up quite quickly, but when they first come to school and they speak no English you see the frustration in their face and I have that same frustration when I'm in the grocery store trying to get 200 grams of beef to take home and I end up with 85 pounds of beef because I can't relay the information.
Children pick it up so fast though. A kid will arrive one day with no English and two weeks later will say "Miss Gaines, may I please go to the toilet?" with perfect fluency. They're so comfortable with it, it's amazing. It has made me wish that America would focus on teaching languages more. Everything in our country is English and Spanish so it's kind of ridiculous that most of us don't speak Spanish. Seeing kids that can speak five or six languages, the way they communicate is incredible. I wish that my country would embrace that a bit more.