“That’s when I ‘proposed’ to Miglena,” Ditzov recounts, laughing. Well, not that kind of “proposal.” She was already informally giving legal advice to help Bulgarians deal with everyday life in Vienna. Hofer was part of an organization for families abroad, helping mothers to cope with parenthood and Austrian administration. The two friends decided to join forces. And in 2016, they set up the non-profit organization Austria for Beginners.
“At first, we thought it would just be a side project, as we had other commitments,” Hofer remembered. But everything happened very quickly. In just three or four months, their phones started to ring around the clock. While there were Bulgarian consultants in Vienna, they discovered, there were no Bulgarian lawyers, and public legal aid was difficult to access. A lot of people needed their help.
Today Austria for Beginners is open to the entire international community in Vienna, committed to easing the integration process of foreigners and those with a migrant background, by ensuring that they are well informed about their rights and know how the administrative processes work in Austria. Through their practice, they meet “a lot of intelligent people from all over the world who cannot use their skills here,” Hofer said. Foreigners often have difficulties with legislation and language, so “for many of them, the way is not to be hired as employees, but to start on their own by using their skills.”
Hofer and Ditzov decided “to give a home to all these people.” In 2019, they founded the Collaboratory Co-Working and Events Space where international people can share their professional knowledge. “We help people feel local in Vienna,” says Hofer.
This is also the only co-working place in Vienna that allows parents to bring their children to work. Both of them are mothers and they understood the importance of a place where they could work and still be with their children. “As a foreigner,” Hofer said, “it is easier to do something on your own than to try to get hired.”
In Vienna, the two young mothers found new possibilities and the freedom to experiment. “Legal education in Bulgaria gives you a very specific plan for your professional life,” Ditkov said. “When I moved here, I met other people who gave me a different vision”