TAKING CHANCES

 

TAKING CHANCES

 

May 2019
VIENNA, AUSTRIA

When the gorgeous American, Amanda, met the handsome Viennese Christof, she knew immediately the relationship was there to last. In our conversation she recounts all the wonders and struggles that life throws in your way when you move countries for love.

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"I walk through the door, he stands up, looks right at me, and literally from that moment I knew that we were going to be together."

It is a clear-skied Sunday in mid-December when I rush to the bakery to buy a few pastries to bring along to Amanda's flat. She tells me Christof, her husband, will be out of town, so we'll have a girls' "day in" on the couch and chitchat. There is something very pally about her, and I can't help but accredit this to being an American. We don't know each other well, through a mutual friend, but she happily tells me about the details of her marriage to a handsome Austrian who she moved countries, well, continents for five years ago. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, Vienna is the biggest city she's lived in so far. "Actually, by American standards, Vienna is the size of the third biggest city in the US," she reveals to me enthusiastically while we make ourselves comfortable on the couch.

She is radiant and looks the part: wavy blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and a beaming smile. And yet, she doesn't feel particurarly good today. "We had a few drinks yesterday at the Christmas market, so I am a bit hungover," she admits. But she quickly collects her thoughts and is ready to go, she says, handing me over her pink slippers - a sign of true Southern hospitality. I wonder, does she still get homesick?

"I do still get homesick occasionally, when there are major life events happening in my family and I can't be there. This year I'm particularly sad I can't be home for Christmas."

She sets the scene effortlessly and I immediately feel transported to the Christmas celebrations at her family home, which sound like a replica from a Hollywood Christmas film. It's quality time for Amanda and her mother.

"We get up early, ... maybe not early, but we get up on Christmas Eve day and spend it getting ready, baking and prepping food," she explains. "We'll pop some Champagne, [C]hristmas music is playing in the background. It's a high-energy atmosphere and I love that."

The Austrian Christmas is quiter and bit more intimate, which she  appreciates, but once in a while homesickness - understandably - takes over. "Sometimes, I just wanna have some stuffing and a mimosa!" she exclaims. Can't blame her.

Does she bring any American traditions to her Austrian home? She gives me the answer I anticipated.

"Thanksgiving has become a really important holiday for me,  because it's very American." "
I [d]o the whole spread, like everything you can imagine. I actually try to make it as much like Thanksgiving is at my parents' place down to the drinks that we drink, the types of food that we cook, I try to make it just as it is at home," she explains.

Ironically, "I am usually the only American", she says half-laughing, referring to a table full of Austrian guests - her husbands' friends.

"We still weren't totally maybe ready to be married, but we were ready to take that on for the sake of getting to be together."

She met Christof at a pub during a semester she spent in Salzburg. They immediately hit it off and ended up doing long distance for three years.

"I am really the one that made this relationship happen," she admits. "He was not so sure if long distance was such a good idea. I think what helped us get through those three years was that we kind of always had our next meeting planned."

Nonetheless, the affects of being apart for months lingered. "You want to be able to talk when you want but you can't because of the time difference and we were both busy. It just gets tiring, you've gotta maintain your life that you're living but you've got someone else who is also part your life and you've gotta find time to squeeze in those interactions and communication."

This went on until being apart wasn't sustainable anymore.
Once, they went four months without seeing each other. "[When we reunited] it was a little bit awkward at first because it had been so long. I think it was after that that we said we are done with the travel. Our options were me going back to school, which I did not want to do, or getting married."

So, obviously, they opted for the latter and Amanda started planning the move right away. It's always been implied that she move to Austria because she had already graduated college and a job she was happy to get out of.  It's her decisiveness that she credits for getting things done.

"I've always been a very confident person as far as my decision-making. I don't think about it too long, I just decide and go for it. This whole relationship has been like that," she says. "We still weren't totally maybe ready to be married, we were ready to take that on for the sake of getting to be together."

"I find myself, like, almost rehearsing scenarios in my head, because I wanna be prepared for what's gonna come at me, because I wanna make sure I can respond in the appropriate way."

Many things have changed since she moved, bringing along a whole new set of struggles.

"Communication has been a big subject since I moved. I never thought twice about how I'm gonna communicate with someone when I was living in the States. Now it's a constant obstacle, okay, how am I going to say what I need to say? I find myself, like, almost rehearsing scenarios in my head, because I wanna be prepared for what's gonna come at me, because I want to make sure I can respond in the appropriate way."

Before she moved to Vienna, her German was basic, enough to get by, and Christof's English (which has "dramatically improved" in the last few years), wasn't fluent either. The lingustic barrier caused a few too many fights when the little nuances in the word-choice would be enough to be misinterpreted.

"And when we finally figured out what the other person was trying to say all along you realise this fight didn't have to happen in the first place and then you're just exhausted," she laughs.

She speaks confidently and clearly, almost as if she had rehearsed the entire conversation before meeting me. She is surprised when I tell her that she seems to have her shit together perfectly.
"That's funny that you say that because I find myself to be an overly emotional person," she says and I can't hide my astonishment.
"I think I just put out this vibe of like 'I don't give a shit' to help me not just lose it during times when I feel really vulnerable or sad." So what makes her feel bad?
"...When I've left someone down," she responds as-a-matter-of-factly. She brings the example of speaking German to her husband and feeling like she's failing if getting too many corrections.
"When I feel like I'm not doing enough or I'm not living up to like some kind of  standard or potential that [I've] set for myself or I think someone else has set for me, [i]t'll just kind of paralyse me almost and just make me really sad.
"I'll cry at anything. Commercials, really sad movies just bring me to tears, but with life
things that would normally make other people really emotional, I have a really hard time being sad or showing emotion in those periods."


"I'll cry at anything. Commercials, really sad movies just bring me to tears, but life things that would normally make other people really emotional, I have a really hard time [with] being sad or showing emotion."

As most would, I ask her about her childhood in hopes she'll reveal what could be the reason for this seemingly distant aproach to life changing situations. She recalls a particular incident when her parents informed her they were getting a divorce.

"I was completely unemotional about the whole thing. I was kind of like 'Okay, what are we gonna have for dinner tonight?!' [I] knew my dad wasn't leaving town and I knew my mom was gonna be there. [M]y dad doesn't have to physically be in this house for me to be okay,  or for the family to be happy. So I really just acccepted it and moved on and I think that's definitely what I did when I decided to move to Austria. I accepted it, did the things that I had to do and then I left."

She may not usually be the type to show emotion, but she does get candid about her struggles with confidence. She freely speaks about the inevitability of having to rely on other people's help with mundane things because of the language issue. Scrolling down her Instagram feed, you'll get to notice a tendency towards healthy-ish lifestyle, smoothies and workouts, that's her lane. But her work is where she finds her independency.

As the conversation organically wraps up, I ask her what home means to her today. She takes the time to collect her thoughts and, when she is ready, gives me a well thought out answer.

"Home is somewhere that I feel safe and accepted. Whether that's physically safe because I've got a roof over my head and a locked door or emotionally safe, because it's somewhere where I can be vulnerable or can make mistakes or do something wrong and it not be held against me. [It's] where I can be who I am with someone who come from a totally different background than I do, but that's okay [because] we accept each other as we are." A beautiful thought to end the conversation with.

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What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you and me.

What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you and me.