11 October 2017

Cornelia Miedler - Expat in the USA

Cornelia Miedler - Expat in the USA

We’ve had the chance to talk to Cornelia Miedler, 39, an Austrian-American expat who moved to the USA with her first husband. Ms. Miedler who lived there for ten years, now works as a writer and is back in Austria where she lives with her second husband. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born in Austria and grew up on a farm in a small Alpine Village.


Q: What made you move out of Austria?

A: I moved to Germany on a whim after visiting a friend with only 16 Deutsch Marks in my pocket. I lived there for 3 years before moving to Los Angeles, California after meeting an American boy.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I am back in Austria now after 3 years in Germany and 10 years in California. I moved back to Europe because I lived through the financial crisis in the US and thought that I would be better off in Europe once I get older and may need a social safety net. The homeless population in California exploded at the time and a lot of the homeless people were older. I got scared that I may end up on the street if I were to lose my job or become sick.


Q: How long have you been living in your host country?

A: 3 years in Germany, 10 years in the US, now back in Austria for 6 years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my Austrian (2nd) husband (I was married to an American for most of the time in the US). I met him after moving back to Austria. He has never lived abroad and has a difficult time understanding my homesickness for the US although I am not a natural born American.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I miss my friends in California. We try to stay in touch through social media and WhatsApp but there are often gaps in the communication of several weeks/months. The only way for me to get over my homesickness is planning a trip to California. 


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I have a difficult time adjusting to the Austrian lifestyle, which seems very ‘negative’. People here take pride in being honest and grumpy not realizing that this can be hurtful to others. They also are not very open to people who don’t speak German. As for me as a repatriate – people don’t really show any interest in learning about my experience abroad. In terms of my career, I even seem to get punished for it. Employers rather give the job to someone who studied in Austria and only was outside the country for a semester or up to a year. They also seem to not ‘believe’ me when I correct their English writing (which they ask me to do) because it doesn’t seem logical to them for some reason. It’s very frustrating.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in your host country? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: I have never had a hard time making friends. I am fairly outgoing and don’t mind going to events where I may not know anyone. Nonetheless, my circle of friends is almost exclusively immigrants and expats. I have a difficult time connecting with locals who don’t share the same experience. Locals prefer to hang out with people they have known for years.


Q: How does the cost of living in the US compare to your home?

A: The cost of living was much higher in the US but so was my salary. Nonetheless, I can save more in Austria than in the US.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Around €3.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Around €10.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Around €30.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: A good bottle of wine at a store can start at €7 and at €25 at a restaurant. I don’t smoke


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in the US?

A: I did not have any issues opening a bank account in the US, however, I have some advice for Americans wanting to open an account in Austria. Austrian banks often decline US customers because there is so much reporting to the US government involved. They only bank I know of that still takes on American clients is Erste Bank. US citizens have to file taxes every year even if not earning any money in the US. They also have to declare how much savings they have. 


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: As a dual citizen, I do not have any problems. However, when I got my first work permit in the US (before becoming a citizen), no one recognized that document, for example as an ID at bars, as no one had ever seen it before.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in your host country is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Austrian public healthcare is free. You have to work for a certain number of months to be eligible for it. And when you lose your job you are still covered. It’s a great feeling knowing you don’t have to worry about getting sick, whether you have a job or not. However, if you want more personalized service you are better off paying a private doctor. Dental care, unfortunately, is expensive as Austrian healthcare doesn’t cover any preventative measures like teeth cleanings.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Austria or the US?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I can’t speak to this as a citizen.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to the US? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: When I moved to the US, I shipped everything with the postal service as I only had about 10 boxes. Big mistake! Only one single glass made it. Everything else that was fragile broke. So when I moved back to Europe, I used a shipping company for my boxes. I did not ship any furniture. Everything arrived in perfect condition. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the moving company. One of their rules was that they will only ship things in boxes, therefore I could not take my bike unless I would have put it in a box somehow.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: When I arrived in the US, the biggest challenge was adapting to a culture that celebrates individualism. People who are ‘different’ and have a story are welcome. Coming from Austria, a country where fitting in is preferred, I felt very boring and unspecial when I arrived in LA where everyone is so colorful and likes to talk to strangers. Now that I’m back in Austria, I have the opposite problem. Everyone wants you to fit in – and if you are Austrian, also expects you to. That might be one of the reasons why Austrians are not interested in learning about my experience abroad because it differs from what they know and therefore don’t want to learn about it. People think I’m trying to show off but I should be allowed to talk about my life just like they talk about theirs. 


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in the US?

A: The great thing about living in the US was the positive attitude everyone had. If you have a business idea? Fantastic! Go for it! If you found a new restaurant? Awesome! Let’s try it. The negative part about Los Angeles, in particular, was the flakiness of people. They will make plans with you and not show up. And don’t get me started on dating…

In Austria, the great thing is the safety here. Not just in terms of ‘feeling safe’ but also a lot of stuff has to happen for you to end up on the street. If you lose your job, you still have a roof over your head and healthcare. The negative part about Austria is, well, the negativity. People are never satisfied and never get excited about things as if being happy and expressing it is a crime. Also, women in the workplace are still treated as second-class especially when it comes to pay and opportunities. If you are in your mid to late thirties good luck finding a job in middle or upper management.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: In Los Angeles, my favourite things to do include hiking up to the Hollywood Sign, going to a free late show taping (i.e. Jimmy Kimmel) and riding my bike from Santa Monica beach to Venice beach.

In Vienna, I enjoy hiking through the vineyards, which are within the city limits! There is also a lot of stuff that is offered for free like a music festival on the Danube island in the summer. A great advantage of Vienna is also the central location in Europe. You can fly to any other European country within 1-4 hours and to some, you can even drive to within an hour.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: At the moment, I am planning on staying in Austria. I recently got married to an Austrian and he is trying very hard to make me feel home in Vienna, which I appreciate. However, you never know what will happen. I told him, if he got a job offer abroad, I can pack within a few days. 


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: For the US: be open-minded, make an effort to meet people, buy a car (!) and enjoy the different cultures and experiences

For Austria: don’t take it personally if people are more reserved, find groups that share your interests and take advantage of the central location (travel, travel, travel).


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the US?

A: For the US, enjoy the various tips on Discover Los Angeles. I would also like to offer my book as a resource ‘LAlien-From the Austrian Alps to the Hollywood Hills’. I write about cultural differences and how I adapted to them or somehow ‘made them my own’. I also share my feelings of loneliness and not belonging and how I turned that around.

For Austria, I recommend the blog Austrian Adaptations, Vienna Würstelstand and Secret Vienna. There is also a great Facebook group called Women of Vienna that allows you to ask questions about where to find things you miss from home or to just connect with other foreigners who can relate to you. You can also stop by on my blog misseuroblogger.blogspot.com for some local tips.