Being an expat in Vienna doesn’t necessarily mean turning your back on all things home
Often, it isn’t until you live outside your native land that you begin to see its culture. Things you assumed were universal turn out to be idiosyncrasies; what to you is normal, others find strange. Confronted by difference, you see yourself. Gradually, you realize that culture is not something you have, but something you are. And it matters.
One example of rising to this challenge is an American-Austrian family who arrived back in Vienna from Tokyo in 2000 with a three-way cultural challenge. After Cynthia Peck and Martin Kubaczek spent 10 years in Japan, their two young sons had never lived in the home country of either parent and were about to lose the only cultural identity they knew. In Vienna, the kids had to switch their primary language to German, keep learning their “mother” tongue of English, and somehow hold on to the Japanese cultural identity.
The family found a Japanese playgroup through a local Volkshochschule (VHS) and a summer session at the Japanese School. Eventually, it made sense switch to an Austrian school. Still, they cooked Japanese food, watched videos, read comic books and played computer games – all in Japanese, while the kids spoke English and German with their parents.
These kind of international lives are complicated. Travel brings adventure, but also dislocation and loss and how this all balances out has a lot to do with finding the right context. In Vienna, there is an enormous range of opportunities to find people from your own or other cultures, where languages and traditions are shared far from home.
The key to a culture is, of course, in the language, and finding the right support and companionship for yourself, and lessons and playgroups for your children in your native tongue, can make all the difference as to whether you feel at home in Vienna.
Vienna has a vast offering of foreign language classes through the VHS, the “people’s high schools” launched in the 1920s to offer culture and enrichment to the city’s working class.
Today, the system is still thriving, with branches in nearly every district, with hundreds of offerings, and languages at the top of the list.
The most extensive program is at the VHS Brigittenau, in the 20th district, which offers courses in 60 foreign languages, at moderate prices.
National cultural institutes
Another good place to start is at the cultural institute of your home country. They often have language classes, playgroups, family events, concerts, art openings and traditional celebrations on a regular basis. In Vienna, you can celebrate the New Year of the Fire Monkey with the Chinese or the Holi Festival of Colors – dedicated to equality and tolerance – with the Indians.
If you let them know you’re here, you might celebrate Bloomsday with the Irish, Robert Burns Night with the Scots, or the Queen’s Birthday with the British. Or attend one of the many events at the Institute for English and American Studies at the University of Vienna, where you might catch a program on Celtic music and story telling or the Vienna years of Mark Twain.
The French Institute has a particularly rich program of talks, discussions and social events, as well as language classes and a wonderful library and Médiathèque.
Similarly, the Hungarian Cultural Institute has concerts, lectures, films and art openings as well as a fine “urban bistro,” Pilwax, open weekdays to the public and featuring live jazz by touring Hungarians.
International sports and clubs
You can find many of the sports you miss in Vienna’s parks, particularly the Prater, where kids can play cricket, tennis, baseball, American football, and other activities. Vienna also has Little League teams at all levels, full of enthusiasm and with far less parental pressure than some clubs in the U.S.
Or you could join the Fédération Autrichienne de Pétanque to play boules in the Augarten, at the Museumsquartier or at Strandbar Hermann. You can go hiking (in English) with the Alpine Club Vienna, or cycling on day trips with Bike Ride Vienna.
And there are folk dance and music groups among others in the Serbian, Scottish and Bulgarian communities. The Indian community also has strong ties to the dancing tradition, with the well-loved Radha Anjali. Additionally, Irish dancing classes for kids are available at places like the Shamrock Dance Company.
So make yourself at home!
Keeping Home Alive
Integration is key to feeling at home, but kids who grow up understanding and valuing their heritage get the best of both worlds. They’ll thank you later. This is a small selection of the cultural groups available. Contact your country’s embassy or consulate for contacts within the community.
Language Schools & Cultural Institutes
Volkshochschulen offer affordable courses in over 60 languages. vhs.at
The Japanese School offers language classes for children.
African and Asian Institute
The go-to place to find groups and activities in these cultural spheres.
Celebrate the Holi Festival on July 23rd.
Language courses and cultural events for children in Farsi.
U.K., Ireland and U.S.A.
The Institute for English and American Studies hosts many events.
The catchall for Serbian organizations in Vienna
Sports & Dance
Cricket & Tennis
Baseball & Softball
homerunners.at (little league)
The kids league of the Vienna Vikings, ViKiddy teaches the rules of the game through flag football, starting at age 5.
Hiking (in English)
Explore the Austrian Alps with others.
Cycling (in English)
Bike Ride Vienna.
The traditional French pastime can be nurtured from a young age.
The community has a vibrant traditional dance club.
Radha Anjali offers Vienna’s most popular traditional Indian dance classes.