Expatriates: The Austin Polish Society

I am interviewing different interesting creative internationally minded people here in Austin. This time my target is Mary Gawron who has been very nice to work with on any occasion I have ever run into her. She is a wonderful President for the Austin Polish Society.

The Austin Polish Society – Who We Are

The Austin Polish Society (APS) was created in 2005 by a group of Polish Americans who wanted to use the power of Polish art and film to bridge cultures and to educate, entertain and inform Texas audiences. After obtaining non-profit status with the IRS in December 2005, the APS established a program of events reflecting Polish arts and culture, based on its objective and purpose:
– To encourage, and further knowledge of Polish culture, traditions, history, language, arts, current affairs, and local events through cultural activities, classes, seminars, and any and all appropriate means;
– and to foster friendly relations between the American and Polish people.

Who APS Serves

The APS represents the Austin community – Polish-Americans and Americans – in central Texas who are interested in learning more about Poland and Polish arts, culture, history, films, language and more.

What is your role with the group?

A Board of Directors directs the APS. There are four officers on the Board: a President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. I am the President and Angelika Firlej is the Vice-President; the Treasurer is Anthony

What does your group want to accomplish?

The APS wants to be a resource for community and to serve the cultural and social needs of Polish-Americans and their families. The APS does this through concerts, films, food, holiday celebrations, language classes, literature, poster exhibits and lectures. A major accomplishment has been the establishment of a Polish Studies Endowment at the University of Texas at Austin. APS also reaches out to those who want to learn more about Poland and partners with other cultural organizations in Austin to support the international community.

What would make you really happy as an accomplishment with your group?

The Polish Studies Endowment was a major accomplishment for APS. The endowment funds shall be used to support 1) study or research in Poland by students of the University; 2) study of Polish culture, history, or language at the University; talks and events related to promoting Polish Studies; 4) scholarly research related to Poland; and 5) instruction of the Polish language.

How do you think it is working out, what are your biggest obstacles and the best surprises that have come along?

The APS is a busy, energetic group that has attracted a lot of positive attention and support. Based on attendance and ticket sales for events, our audiences are satisfied.
Our biggest obstacle is learning to maximize social networking to inform our current and potential audiences.
The best surprise has been the genuine support and appreciation from many who had no idea that there is a Polish organization in Austin and how many people are impressed once they learn more about Poland. Another great surprise is the respect we have earned from other cultural organizations in the US and in Poland for our organizing efforts and unique and friendly approach to promoting Polish arts and culture. The Austin Polish Film Festival is our biggest event and is well attended every November.

How many Polish are there in Austin area and how is your membership?

We believe that there are about 15,000 people of Polish ancestry living in Austin (population=1,874,000). In Houston (population = 6.2 million) there are almost 20,000 of Polish ancestry. In San Antonio (population = 1,360,000) there are more than 14,000 people of Polish ancestry. Our APS membership is at 80 and we are always looking for new members!

What kind of activities do you do and how do you fund the groups activities?

The APS has a regular calendar of events established at an annual Board meeting in January of each year. In addition to these regular events, we always have requests for a variety of additional events, primarily concerts or dramatic presentations. The APS has membership dues, charges for many of our events, and we have wonderful members who donate, volunteer, or find a venue for our events. APS also applies for grants and we are currently funded by the City of Austin for the annual Austin Polish Film Festival held each November.

What is the most captivating thing about Austin for you?

The people are the best thing about Austin, followed closely by the weather, natural beauty, educational opportunities, the diversity, business opportunities, arts, culture and music!

What would you tell a visitor not to miss in Austin?

Don’t miss the Broken Spoke Dance Hall on North Lamar!

Where do you go in Austin to chill out?

Barton Springs, Emma Long Park, Zilker Park, Mount Bonnell, Lady Bird Lake, anywhere along the Colorado River on a raft or canoe.

What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you in Austin?

Our two sons were born here in Austin and I graduated from UT-Austin.

Is there something that annoys you about Austin?

The traffic and street names that suddenly change!

What is your favorite restaurant/s? And is there any place I could get Polish food here – what is it to you…

Unfortunately there are no Polish restaurants in Austin, but we have some of the best Polish chefs in the US living here in Austin and they are members – so join us and get to know good Polish food.

How would someone from abroad benefit by coming to Austin for a few years?

People from abroad can benefit from the relaxed Austin attitude and the hospitality – Austin is very open to new ideas and people and makes you feel at home. It is a friendly city and all who visit have positive experiences.

What do you miss most from your own country?

I miss my family, especially my son who is living in Warsaw. Also, in Poland the food is delicious because freshness and being in season is still important. For example, you can only get the fragrant, small strawberries in the summer. There are also many local specialties that are not exported and cannot be duplicated. The bread is always good and the pastries are delicious!

When is the best time to visit?

Every time of the year is the best time to visit Poland! Skiing in the winter, beautiful green springtimes, balmy summers with excellent beaches in the north, and golden autumns with mild temperatures.

Have you connected with the other international groups in Austin (in addition to EuroCircle)?

Yes, APS has coordinated with several international groups, including the Austin Ukrainian Group, Austin Intercultural Network, and the Austin Jewish Film Festival.

ASP Website: www.austinpolishsociety.org
ASP at Facebook: www.facebook.com/austinpolishsociety
CONTACT: Mary Gawron, mmwgawron@gmail.com; cell: 512-423-1815

Expatriates: Americans in Vietnam – Meet Elliott Price

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be living in Vietnam, and maybe even considered joining the EuroCircle Trip with Sherry in September 2013, this article is for you. Elliott Price is an American who has been living there for a while. He was born and grew up in rural Missouri in the United States. I would say that is about as different as it can get! He has also lived in Seoul, South Korea for a couple years as well as in Kaohsiung, Taiwan when he felt it was time to move on…

I am personally super interested in Vietnam and Southeast Asia – partly as Vietnamese community became very close to me in NYC when I lived there – and I ate mostly Vietnamese food for years.

Photos for this article are courtesy of An Nguyen, check her awesome Flickr page

You (and your wife/kids?) are living in Hanoi, Vietnam almost 10 years – do you think you will be staying there for the time being?

I’ve been living in Hanoi since 2004 (and in Asia since 2000). I live with my wife and our two children. Our son, Walter, is about to turn four, and our daughter, Evelyn, turns three in a couple months. We consider leaving Hanoi or Vietnam from time to time, but given that my wife is a Hanoian, we’ll always maintain a home here and return regularly. At this point, I’d say we’ll still be in Hanoi for at least a year or two, as much of our work is based here.

So you are now in your early 40s, right? How and when did you decide to live in Vietnam which is probably not the most likely place for an American to live?

I’ve just turned 38, actually. I decided to move to Vietnam while I was living in Taiwan. I was working on a music and art coop that a friend and I started in the city of Kaohsiung. In that sort of environment, you meet a lot of creative and interesting people. In the course of doing so, I met several who had spent some time in Vietnam. When the time came to move on from Taiwan, I’d built up a sense of what some years in Vietnam might be like. Of course, I had no actual idea what it was really all about, but the right characterizations had sufficiently accumulated for me to take the step to head this way. I spent about a month traveling the length of the country to get a sense of which region or city I might want to live in. After about half a day in Hanoi, I knew it was what I was looking for.

Is it hard to get a visa or a working permit in Vietnam – does it make any difference where you are from as far as you know?

While Vietnam has fairly standardized visa and work permit regulations like you might expect from many countries in the region, the enforcement of those policies is actually quite fluid and inconsistent. The result is that many who live here employ an ever changing strategy for staying in the country and working.

At the more professionally oriented end of the expat spectrum, work permits and residency cards are the norm. Responsible companies will handle the majority of the process, and it should be pretty painless. On the other hand, many English teachers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers deal with a very different visa economy where many work on tourist and “business” visas that entail frequent visa runs and inflated renewal fees through indirect channels. Much of it it isn’t strictly legal, but still remains commonplace.

As an American you might have been concerned about medical insurance before you went there or at least when you first arrived – medical costs can be sky-high in the USA. How is Vietnam?

The cost of medical care is one of the primary, practical benefits to leaving the U.S. Access to top notch health care and health insurance can be had at a fraction of the expense of what Americans typically endure. To say that the American health care system is “broken” is a massive understatement. I’m very, very happy to be rid of it.

Generally speaking, Hanoi’s actual health care facilities are adequate, though many expats find it necessary to head to Singapore or Bangkok for more involved procedures. If you speak some Vietnamese and are familiar with the culture of Vietnamese bureaucracies, then the locally available hospitals aren’t necessarily the horror show that some assume they must be. The most local of them don’t make the greatest initial impression, as they are terribly overcrowded and visibly rundown, but many newer, private facilities are opening up that are becoming real options.

Generally speaking, access to affordable, quality health care isn’t one of my greater concerns while living here, and my wife and I have been been through some pretty serious health matters with one of our children. We’ve managed fine.

How do you make your living in Vietnam and coming to stay in Hanoi enhanced your work experience?

I run a social media platform
for English speakers living in Vietnam. It started out a pet project for a friend and I and matured into a much more substantial part of what I do on a day-to-day basis. We work with a local Vietnamese partner. I mostly advise them on the business outreach aspects of those operations and with community building.

There’s no question that my life in Vietnam has enhanced my professional experience, and the work we’ve done on our site is a big part of that. One of the great things about working on it is that it allows us to get involved with so much that goes on in the city. It’s a fabulous point of entry into a range of industries, fields, communities, and activities that I’m just not sure I’d have been exposed to in such an involved way if we hadn’t started and operated our site.

Do you have any other plans for the future (work, business)?

Once you get a foothold in the Hanoian community of Vietnamese and expat small business developers, the opportunities to diversify your participation come quick. Deciding which to get involved with and which to let slide is one of the biggest challenges. If you enjoy entrepreneurship and the problem solving that some comes with it, Hanoi (and Vietnam, in general) is a fabulous place to be.

In addition to my work with the site we’ve developed, I tend to get involved with consultation on small business development, online marketing & brand building, and helping to broker business partnerships around the city.

There’s nothing quite like a city undergoing such a transformative period of economic growth. It’s not all positive. There are a lot of quality of life and ethical challenges the city faces. A culture thousands of years in the making is being forced to adapt to an unprecedented urban scale, and do so now. Unintended consequences are everywhere. Emergent phenomena threaten to overwhelm every form a planning attempted. And yet, if you can keep your head, trying to accomplish simple, definable goals in that sort of setting can be immensely rewarding. It’s part of what has kept me around for so long.

Since your native language is English and many people speak it anywhere in the world have you bothered to learn Vietnamese? Does it make a difference if you do speak the local language?

Of course, any native English speaker is very lucky to be born in a time where the world is making such an effort to learn our own mother tongue. It’s a massive advantage that too many take for granted. There are many, many things that a new arrival can manage to get done without picking up much of the local language.

That said, it would be unrealistic to say that speaking the local language makes no difference. Of course, it can convey massive advantages upon someone who takes the time to develop those skills. Many would tend to focus on the immediate ways it can further participation with those around them or the ability to communicate in ways that dissuades others from taking advantage of you. While those are certainly of value, I personally think the greatest value it confers is in being able to test and falsify assumptions I make about my social environment. It is all too easy to become a creature of habit anywhere, but intellectual habits can be a fatal hindrance when dealing with a new culture or business environment.

Even if I never actually used one bit of Vietnamese language in a formal business setting (and allowed Vietnamese partners to handle the majority of that), the ability to listen to random social interactions and interject passing comments leads to innumerable revisions of what I’ve assumed is going on around me. These may not seem directly related to the work I do, but I’d be crazy to think they don’t inform it in important ways.

We all miss home and family sometimes – how do you deal with those feelings? Vietnam is a long way from your home.

I was just thinking about it the other day, and I’ve very nearly lived in Hanoi for longer than any other single place in the world. Even my “hometown” at this point is about to move into second place on that list. In many ways, Hanoi is home at this point.

I very, very rarely miss my native country in a generic fashion. There are specific people, events, and things I do occasionally notice that I’m sacrificing time with, but all decisions in life involve some sort of sacrifice. I can live with that.

This is an incredibly interconnected era. While it may not be the same as having those random moments together or spending time in one another’s homes, I do manage to keep in close contact with those I miss most.

I also get the wonderful experience of being a tourist in my own native land when I do return. That’s really a fantastic time. There are plenty of things I don’t enjoy about living in the U.S., but I truly adore visiting the place. I did a good job of traveling around it before I went abroad, so I feel informed and able to enjoy three or four week trips when I make it back every few years. Showing my family and friends around is great fun. There’s so much to see and do, and it is so much easier to tolerate the absurdities of the country when you know you’re leaving before long.

How do you (and your wife/family) live – have you bought, or are you renting a home? Do you feel ok to tell us what are the general costs to buy/rent in Hanoi?

We purchased a small house on the outskirts of the city about five years ago. It’s not really the outskirts so much anymore, as the city has more than grown to us. It’s now just a nice quite neighborhood on what was the western side of the city.

At the time, I wasn’t convinced it was such a great idea. It was a very difficult experience trying to find a place that was affordable and remotely livable. Real Estate prices can be extremely high in Hanoi. Many of the places we looked at were hundreds of thousands of dollars (for modest homes), or so tiny and run down we wouldn’t consider it even.

After about six months of looking, we ended up finding a reasonably nice first home for around $65,000 (32m2 of land, with a five story townhouse built straight up on it). To give a sense of how crazy the market was at that time, three years later we were being offered around $175,000 for it. Luckily for anyone looking for a place today, that bubble burst enough to bring things back to earth a bit. Apartments are the main type of unit that have come down in price, so there are a lot of options out there for that. Actual houses with land haven’t come down nearly as much as apartments, but at least they aren’t increasing in value at an entirely unsustainable rate.

One of the hidden values of owning a home in Hanoi was the degree of social acceptability it brought to my wife. Given that my wife is a Hanoian, she is subjected to pressures that I can often only initially appreciate at an abstract level. While I had no qualms with being a renter, her failure to have her own home was a major point of stress. Her standing in the eyes of her family, friends, and peers literally changed overnight. One day, she’s just playing around at being an adult, and the next day (with a property title in hand), she’s considered a real woman. The gravitas of land ownership for a Hanoian is that substantial.

What is the general cost of living in Vietnam compared to other countries you know?

It all depends on how you want or are able to live. Many things are incredibly cheap. Other things are much more expensive than we’re accustomed to.

I know one friend-of-a-friend who decided to take a cafe management position in a small, Vietnamese joint and insisted on doing so at a typical Vietnamese salary. He lived for six months on less than $300 a month. To do so, he had to forgo many of the things a large part of the expat population consider “essential”, but he had a great time doing so.

An average English teacher would probably make $1500-$2000 a month and live very well. They could get their own modest apartment or share one of the large, beautiful houses that litter back alleys throughout city. It’s a common experience for single, teaching/traveling expats to come to Hanoi and make enough to go out frequently, get to know the place, and still save enough to travel internationally for long periods of time.

Equally, though, you’ll find expats spending $4,000-$5,000 on a villa, paying a more than 100% markup on an imported car, and hiring live-in domestic help for their kids who are going to international schools that cost more than $1,000 a month per child.

It’s all down to how you want to live.

What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you in Vietnam?

My children were born here. I don’t think there are many things that can compete with that for life events. In particular, our daughter was born nearly three month premature. Seeing her fight for life and pull through after a four month hospital stay is impossible to forget or even effectively communicate.

What is the most captivating thing about Vietnam – Hanoi for you?

This list could go on forever. For someone who enjoys problem solving and trying to figure out the social dynamics that are going on just beneath the surface, it’s just such a compelling place. However, if I had to pick one key characteristic of the place that I’ve just never found elsewhere and which I’m not sure I’d want to live without at this point, it is this: Hanoi is the only place I’ve ever been where you can be sitting in one simple, solitary spot and be overcome with both the immensity of activity that is going on before you and simultaneously feel that nobody in your immediate vicinity is really in a hurry or expects you to be either.

It’s a very strange contrast, and it took me months to even notice it was there. I had this strange sort of uneasiness that I couldn’t pin down, and it was this duality of street life in Hanoi. I’d called some very laid back places home, and I’d lived in places that were driven by ambition and very public expressions of work ethic. Some of the places I’d lived in had times to relax and times to work. Hanoi? It’s all good any time of the day or night. Want work your ass off? There’s no shortage of things to get involved with and people ready to come along. Want to randomly decide to walk out of the office at 10am and drink coffee for three hours? You won’t be the only one doing so.

I’ve just never encountered a place that is so accommodating to both the manic and the slacker in all of us. I don’t know if I could ever go back to place that expects you to pick a side and behave accordingly. It’s far more fun to make it up as you go each day.

How do you feel about the Vietnamese people – I know they are very different in their demeanor than Americans are?

It’s important to note that Vietnamese people vary a lot from region to region. On top of that, there’s a massive generation gap in the country with a huge portion of the population under 30 years of age. Throw in the rural vs. urban dichotomies and the massive amounts of movement going on around the country, and you can see some of the difficulties involved with characterizing even portions of the Vietnamese population.

On top of that, it’s really Hanoi that I know best. The city is just changing so quickly, but there does (at times) feel like some root sensibility is still present and at work is what you see on the streets each day. It may just be a passing phantom of a past time, but most of the Vietnamese people I know certainly operate under the impression that Hanoians do have a particular character type. They are often thought of as very stubborn and skeptical. While they might come across as initially cold or indifferent to a stranger, they are anything but that to close acquaintances, family, and friends. Get over that initial hump, and in no time you’ll be invited to weddings and holiday parties until you beg for mercy. There’s a distinct sense that you’re either in or your out. Once you’re in, Hanoians can be some of the most loyal and supportive people you’ll ever know. You become like family, and as long as you uphold your responsibilities as a reverent family member, they’ll do the same.

This is also one of the most fascinating parts of living in Hanoi at this time. This is a city of more than seven million people, and it is growing by the day. For most of my time here, we’ve joked that it really feels more like a metro-village than a city, but the pressures of rapid urbanization are taking its toll. Traditionally, Vietnamese people have very different ways of dealing with family, acquaintances, and strangers. All one has to do is think about what a huge shift has taken place in the daily interactions of a Vietnamese person over the last 50 years. Where just some decades ago the vast, vast majority of interactions were family and some acquaintances (and very few strangers), those ratios are getting all turned around. Not only that, they are getting changed a pace that precludes the possibility of the local etiquette having time to catch up and adjust in a comfortable way. Seeing that all play out is remarkable. Most of the Vietnamese people I know are just about as unsure of what it means to be Vietnamese as I am stumbling through this question. The fact is, what is means to be Vietnamese is an open question working itself out on the street every day.

Is there something that annoys you about Hanoi or Vietnam? (the positive vs. negative )

I think any place you feel deeply about or try to accomplish something in will have ways of annoying or disappointing you. Hanoi is certainly no different. The only people I know who haven’t expressed some form of exasperation with Hanoi are those who literally don’t care what happens to them on a day to day basis. My father, for instance, comes out to visit for a month or so at a time, and he just rolls with whatever comes along. He has no specific plan for a day, so nothing can interfere with his enjoyment of it.

Many of us start out in that state, just enjoying the experience of being here. Almost inevitably, that enjoyment leads to a level of attachment and a desire to live a certain way. We start to plan and scheme on ways to exist here that we think will further our romance with the place. For many, this is the beginning of the end. As soon as you dig your feet in and try to get something done, you can really feel what a chaotic swirl of forces are at work in even the simplest things. Many burn out, some love the challenge, but the city never becomes less of a puzzle.

In fact, I think it is fair to say that Hanoi is not the easiest place to get along. The traffic is intense, the weather far from temperate. Some feel targeted by an endless steam of touts and scammers. Even those who deal with English-speaking Vietnamese often find that their approach to communication can be very roundabout or obtuse. Schedules and deadlines are more like formalities than true working parameters. Hanoi is stubborn, but from where I’m sitting? This is a big part of what makes Hanoi great. It smiles politely and does it its own way. Sometimes it doesn’t even bother with the smile. Those who can’t take it, leave quickly.

The proximity of places like Saigon or Bangkok where life, while still interesting and foreign, is much more straight forward is a big draw for those who don’t want to deal with the nuance Hanoi insists on injecting into every transaction. Those who stick around? I’ve found them to be an interesting bunch.

What would you tell a visitor not to miss in Hanoi?

Street Food. Coffee. Middle-of-the-Night Markets.

If you are a queasy sort who doesn’t want to step out of comfort zones when it comes to food, you’ll miss some of what is best about Hanoi. Phở, Bún Chả, and Bún Bò Nam Bộ are some of the most popular ones with expats and you’ll see them written up in a lot of travel guides. However, there are dozens and dozens of other types and countless variations. I recommend doing some homework before you come. Figure out which dishes are prevalent or renowned in which cities, and then plan to seek those out. It can give your city treks a bit of casual purpose. On top of that, just drop in some random places that appear to be popular with the locals and figure it out as you go.

For coffee, I think two essential points must be understood to get in the right frame of mind for the experience:

1) The coffee being drunk by the Vietnamese you see in most cafes isn’t the same sort of bean or roast most coffee afficianados in your home country seek out (nor is it trying to be). Vietnam is a major producer of robusta beans and has been for a long time. It’s adapted its own consumption to that availability and developed some roasts to suit climate and available technologies. It’s strong, bitter coffee typically had with sweetened condensed milk. Go in looking for a new take on your cherished espresso or latte and you’ll be disappointed. Dive in and appreciated it on its own terms, and you may find yourself hooked in short order. Many of us do.

2) Cafes in Vietnam are about far more than coffee. They are the modern day communal houses where all the neighborhood gossip is exchanged, business is conducted, and relationships are forged. They are the archetypal vantage from which one should take in a proper Hanoi street scene. There are a whole range of new styles of cafe popping up all over the city, but I recommend you take in the classics: Cafe Duy Trí, Cafe Mai, Cafe Nhân, Cafe Lâm, Cafe Dinh. Every one of these places has stories, with new ones being made daily. They are social institutions.

For the markets, you can get up yourself and go looking for them or you can get a tour service to help you out. Hanoi tends to be a very safe place, but blindly wandering the streets of any major city after dark has its risks. What’s great about these markets is that this is where all the street markets and vendors you see all day get their supplies. it’s the source. It’s trucked and biked in in the middle of the night and spread out in the most dazzling arrays of produce you’ve seen. This also helps you get a sense of context on what is going on when you wake up every morning. Hanoi is a incredibly early rising city. If you get up at 6am and step outside, you’ll feel late to the party. It’s all already in action. Time things so you can hit these markets in the wee hours, head to a lake and watch the pensioners going through their morning exercise routines, and then get a bowl of Phở just after dawn with the rest of the diehards. You’ll be on the real pulse of the city then.

What is your favorite restaurant/s in Hanoi?

Given that you considering a trip from half way around the world to visit Hanoi, I’ll assume you’re mostly interested in Vietnamese cuisine. On that point, again, you’ll really want to dive into the street food. When it comes to street food, there are certainly places that are good enough to consider as destinations in their own right, but much of the joy found in that type of eating comes with exploring the neighborhood around which you live or work. Your locals are an essential element of your quality of life, so they hold a disproportionately important place in your thinking. You wouldn’t necessarily seek them out on a visit, however.

One thing you can do is check out the Sticky Rice blog. The author of it is a long time resident of Hanoi and does a great job of giving you the lay of the land. His writing is both knowledgeable and accessible, and he also is part of an operation that does street food tours.

For non-street food options, I often take friends out to any number of simple Co’m Bình Dân restaurants. These are really just simple working class restaurants that serve a wide range of food. They are as authentic and everyday as you’re going to get in Hanoi, but often end up feeling like a very impressive display for relatively newbies to the cuisine. They are cheap, hearty, and omnipresent. Any hotel staff member or travel office employee will be able to point you in the direction of one, though they may be surprised that you’re asking for one. They’ll assume you want something with a bit more polish. Stick to your guns, ask them for their favorite one, and you”ll rarely be sorry.

There are many big Vietnamese restaurant operations that tourists are often funneled to (though they are increasingly popular with Vietnamese as well). Quán Ăn Ngon and Sen Tây Hồ would be a pair of examples. I don’t particularly recommend either one. There are not only better places to get all the individual dishes served at these restaurants, but there are also better restaurants basically doing the same sort of thing. One example is 37th Street. It’s in about the last place I ever expected to find a quality Vietnamese restaurant serving up lots of traditional dishes (it’s in a new generic shopping center), but it’s actually very good. It’s basically a large, modern, clean restaurant serving up a couple hundred street food dishes. You wouldn’t say their versions are the best around, but they are consistently above average and all in one place.

When you’re needing a break from Vietnamese food, I often end up recommending places where the local cuisine and a foreign influence have combined in fun ways, such as French restaurants La Badiane and La Verticale or the Czech-style beer halls like Hoa Vien, Goldmalt, or Pragold. The French influence in Hanoi is obvious, but the Eastern European beer making tradition dates back to the Soviet era of involvement in the country (and more importantly, the era when many Vietnamese moved to Europe to find work).

Do you have any tips – or words of wisdom – for our readers about living or travelling in Vietnam?

Don’t take it personally.

Something is going to happen that annoys you or threatens to get you to lose your cool. Just keep it in the back of your mind that the odds are overwhelmingly great that it is just a run of the mill cross-cultural mishap. If you blow your top, you’re likely to find dozens of sets of eyes looking back at your completely unaware of what could possibly warrant such a reaction. Just roll with it, chalk it all up to another Hanoi street experience, and move on. It’s not worth souring a day or afternoon over.

If our readers look for Web sites or blogs about Vietnam for example the upcoming trip in Sept 2013 to Vietnam – what do you suggest and why?

Sticky Rice: A long time street food blogger who will do more to get you up to speed on the local cuisine than any other online source I know.

The City That Never Sleeps In: This was one of my favorite blogs on life in Hanoi. The author has moved on from our fair city, but all of her previous posts are there and well worth reading. She had a very healthy and productive take on the city.

Hanoi Grapevine: This is an excellent site on arts and culture events going on around the city. You can cross reference it with the dates you’ll be in town and find something to attend.

Elliott’s social media platform: http://tnhvietnam.xemzi.com/

I also asked what Elliott thinks his wife thinks of Americans living in Vietnam and he said that his wife and him have both been pretty busy, so he haven’t had any real time to get her in-depth opinion on whether she sees American’s as having any special trouble here. In fact Elliott noted that generally speaking, Vietnamese are very welcoming to Americans. He said that “I’m a thousands times more likely to get some verbal abuse from another expat for my being American than I am from Vietnamese. In nearly nine years of living here, only one (very, very drunk) Vietnamese person has ever even slightly intimated at any animosity toward me for my status as an American”.


Expatriates: Living in a Remote Town in Finland As An Expat

I wondered what it would be like to be living in a small town in Finland – not in Helsinki or any of the cities with over 100,000 population as all of those would have other expats. I begged someone I know – it took me some time to persuade him to answer my questions. He does not like publicity and preferred his name & photo not to be published. We usually do not do this for many reasons but I really wanted him to answer these questions – so here you are. There are exceptions for everything.

Where are you originally from and where are you living now?

I am originally from Israel, a small town called Pardes Hanna. Currently I am living in Finland in a small town on the southwest part called Uusikaupunki. It is has a population of about 17,000 including some small villages around that are part of the municipality.

When did you move here and from where (by yourself)? Planning to stay long – or return to your own country?

I have been living and working in Israel all my life. This is my first experience working outside of Israel. I am divorced with 4 kids – the youngest daughter is 12. I moved here by myself but I travel about once a month to visit and be with my kids. Usually for just a long weekend and occasionally for longer.
I moved here about half a year ago (in November), so I got just in time for the height of the Finnish winter.
I am here working for a Finnish company as a Finnish resident employee EXPAT and I intend on staying for as long as the job is interesting.

Why did you move; what do you do?

I am a seasoned professional in soybean processing here to help start and run a new, Greenfield plant to be started the end of this summer 2013.
My title is Process director. I hold an EU passport (my parents are Irish) so having a local contract enabled me to apply for residency (social security, tax number.. etc).
This position is a great challenge on many levels. First, this is to be the first and only soybean processing plant in Finland, so it is a great professional challenge to see it built, have the operators trained and getting the good quality products the Scandinavian market requires. Secondly, there is the language and cultural difference compared to my home country – I would say that in many respects it is a 180 degree change. And thirdly – the different climate and out of the way location. It makes- it a bit harder to adapt and there are a lot of small day to day issues coming up all the time.

What do you enjoy most about your current city, how’s the quality of life?

The main advantage in Uusikaupunki is its proximity to my work. Other than that – the best thing about it is the road to Turku (The closest bigger city for the readers who do not know Finland).
I like the quiet, the trees and the Finnish nature all around. I have a beautiful view to the sea from my home but being alone in a small place makes socializing even more difficult – meaning compared to what it is anyway in Finland.

Any negatives? What do you miss most about home (or where you moved from)?

The lack of leisure culture in Finland is the thing that bothers me most. No proper cafés with a variety of coffees and cakes to just sit and enjoy life. Also the Finnish night life at least in Uusikaupunki is a bit pale relative to what I am used to. I am not here with a family – and every event here is celebrated with the close family at home.

Is the city safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?

Not too much I can say about that. The place is very safe and easy going. Everybody is friendly and nice. I have not had any negative incidents on a personal level in any way.

How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?

I own a company car so I can’t comment on that. Just a general comment that taking into account the distances between places here and the cost of cars and petrol I would have assumed the public transport (especially trains) to be much more advanced than what I know it is.

How would you rate the healthcare?

Luckily for me Uusikaupunki, being a small place, has good public health service with no queues at all.

Which are the best places to live in Finland as an expat in your opinion?

It seems to me that everything that is happening, is happening in Helsinki and the cities around it (Espoo, Vantaa). Outside Helsinki area and the major cities it would be harder to find English speaking people.

How do you rate the standard of housing in Finland?

I have no idea how to compare. In general building regulations are very strict so the houses are never “bad” but some would be of course better than others.

What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

In general the cost is more or less the same. On one hand it is possible to do cheaper shopping here but most household products are slightly more expensive. Restaurants are definitely more expensive, and recreation activities – taxi, train, entrance fees and so on are by far much more expensive.

What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats or also locals? Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

I have not met any other expats in Uusikaupunki. The locals are very friendly but fairly shy. So I have good friends at work but next to none after work hours.
Finns will avoid speaking English if they do not feel they are 100% perfect in it. And usually if they think they are making grammar mistakes they just don’t speak it at all. So making conversation just off-hand in a bar or something like that is quite difficult. The exception is of course when they are drunk – which may happen slightly too often for some of them – but then I prefer not to talk to them at this stage. (NO KIDDING!) It is definitely not easy to make friends and meet people. Although Finns are friendly and welcoming, they ARE shy and keep to themselves. I have great colleagues at work I get along with very well. However, outside the office one needs to be super social to get a conversation going. Most people will not just come up and start one on their own account.

How does the work culture differ from home? (different customs, work culture, how people treat each other, can you trust people, do you feel safe, racial/ethnic/religious issues, culinary differences etc)

It is totally different from what I am used to. First of everyone here seems to take their responsibilities seriously. If someone is told to do something, it can be considered done. To the extent that if you ask twice you are considered a nuisance. On the other hand everyone stays within his job description so that if something is not within his job duties he will not get involved. This took some time from me to understand and communicate at first efficiently knowing what they hear and what I meant.
In general interpersonal relations are frank and straight forward. People are not very much occupied with what the other guy is doing – they take care of their job and that’s it. Social rules are followed by work places and in general the laws and regulations are strictly followed. Regulations are of course numerous and demanding.

Is there anything else you would like to share with EuroCircle readers? For example anything that really surprised you positively or negatively. Feel free to be open about it.

I was not aware of the true remoteness of Finland – and the general rural way it is built. There are long drives to get from one place to the next and in between there is very little around Uusikaupunki.
Finland is a quiet andvery safe country. The crime rate is low and property crimes are not an issue at all. Education is superb – so these are the greatest factors for families thinking to relocate to Finland.
However, if you are single and moving alone, you may want to take into consideration that any city outside Helsinki maybe a few of the larger cities is rather remote and difficult for an expat (unless you speak Finnish).

Kaisa’s comment: I feel he is so right about the Finnish people’s social attitude. I used to invite some people to visit our country house in the middle of nowhere, made friends even in Helsinki with mainly Americans who could vent their bad feelings freely to me about the Finnish ways. But – I come from Savo, close to Kuopio, about 500 km northeast from Helsinki. People there are much more outgoing and curious! I love my country, I love Finnish culture – but we really could sometimes think a bit more what it is to live there as a foreigner. We all might learn something!
City of Uusikaupunki: www.uusikaupunki.fi/galleria/

Houston – May 25 2013

For all our EuroCircle soccer lovers, please join us for all German final at Midtown’s German themed bar.
Arrive early as we expect a full house.

Host: Clement Kilembe

This is what Bar Munich says about themselves:
We’re a bar serving good German beers and simple food. In fact, we have Houston’s largest selection of Deutschland imports both in draft and bottles. Our most popular beers, Hofbräu and Spaten, are served in liters! Not a beer enthusiast? No worries, we have a full bar. Be sure to try a Beermosa or Munich Bomb, both Bar Munich originals and fan favorites. Did we mention Das Boot?
We’re sports fanatics…college football, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, even alpine skiing. But we really live for soccer. In fact, we open early in the morning a lot to show games. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on early open soccer schedules and drink specials. We’re a proud Pub Partner of the Houston Dynamo and host many team events.
We’re a fun and refreshingly low-key kind of place where new friends are made and old friends hangout. So if you’re interested in hosting a group event or happy hour, email us and we’ll gladly work with you to set it up.
Old world fun, new world style…a liter at a time, PROST!”

Chicago – May 22 2013

EuroCircle & Smart Bar present

You know we love a good dance party like nothing else! If you love to dance, and we mean really DANCE, then this event is for you.

Smart Bar gets back to its roots featuring a night of classic underground house music.
80s & 90s house by Curley & Buxton

RSVP – **Comp Admission all night with password EuroCircle**
3730 N. Clark
10pm-4am | 21+ | parking/valet available

Austin – Adnan Khaleel

I wanted to interview Adnan Khaleel, as he is probably by far one of the most helpful Austinites we have met – he’s always there when you need him. And he has been so crucial for EuroCircle Austin by inviting Europeans to join us, sharing local tips and so on.

Tell us about yourself – who are you and what would be the short story of your life?(where are you from, where did you study, how did you come to Austin etc)

Ny name is Adnan Khaleel. England is where I consider home. My dad had a job that required him to move around quite a bit, so growing up we lived in several different countries. I was born in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain in the middle-east, and by the time I was 10, I had lived in at least a half dozen places in Asia and Africa. At that point my parents decided to end their kids’ nomadic lifestyle and enrolled us in schools in the UK. So travelling the globe was instilled early in us and is still something I like to do wherever I can.
I’ve been in the US for about a decade now. Initially it was to work on a temporary project in Austin, Texas right after my undergrad. I had no idea where Austin was or what it would be like but I did think it would be something like the Wild West with cowboys. I know, ignorant! After I got here, I liked it so much that I decided that I wanted to stay longer. At that point, I enrolled in college and I received an M.S. from Texas A&M and more recently, an MBA from Univ. of Texas. I currently do business development for a technology firm called Cray Supercomputers. It’s a pretty cool job. I get to travel a lot, meet really interesting customers and try to solve their data analytic problems.

What is THE thing about Austin captivates you the most?

Austin is a rare gem that you really have to experience by living here and it’s really hard to describe why it’s such a great place to tourists. It’s the way of life in Austin that makes it so special. It’s laidback, relaxed, friendly, lots of live music and outdoor activity and healthy living. Even though the rush hour traffic is bad, it’s bearable. There aren’t that many places to visit as far as tourist attractions go but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of things to do: like the multitude of restaurants, food-carts, bars and pubs, running and kayaking on Town Lake, cycling through the various beautiful and scenic routes around the city. Austin is really known for its live music scene and you can always find a venue for that. It’s hard to keep track of the various events and activities that happen every day. Suffice it to say, we’re spoiled for choices for things to do. What I find especially interesting is that Austin is in the cusp of developing into this major city and we’re witnessing this transformation as it happens. That’s exciting.

Do you think living in Austin has in any way enhanced your work experience?

I know it would be unfair to compare Austin to a major international city like London or NY but what I do miss is the multicultural diversity that those other cities offer. Austin is definitely getting there, especially now with the F1 track. SXSW is also shaping out to be a very international affair in some senses. The UK Trade and Industry consortium held a very successful breakfast meeting at SXSW interactive and I’m sure this trend is going to continue to grow as more people become aware of how great of a place it is. It’s really nice to see Austin blossom in the time I’ve lived here and I think it’s moving in a very international direction that’s going to differentiate it from almost every other American city.

If someone asked you what I should NOT miss while in Austin, what would reply? And what I really SHOULD miss….

That could be a long list but some of the things are definitely the Night life downtown and the lakes (well they’re actually rivers but for some reason they call them lakes). South Congress is a very interesting place on first Thursday with lots of people walking around and exploring the various shops and restaurants. During summer, the bats at Town Lake are quite a sight and I think they’re best experienced in a boat rather than at Congress Bridge. I really like the UT campus and the UT Tower so no tour of Austin is complete with a visit to campus or the State Capitol in my opinion.

What do you do in Austin when you feel like you just want to chill out?

Austin is just perfect for that. There’s any number of places that offer a great view of the city where you can kick back and enjoy a margarita or a glass of champagne and have a beautiful evening with friends. The terrace bar at the Stephen F Austin Intercontinental is one of my favourites. I really like being near the water so places like Hula Hut, Abel’s on the Lake or Mozart coffee shop are where you’ll find me just hanging out quite often.

Anything truly memorable that has happened to you since you have lived in Austin?

I’ve met some amazing people and made plenty of really good friendships that I’ll always cherish, and as an adult that’s always hard to find. That really is a testament to type of individuals that Austin attracts. As for bad, I’m not quite sure if I could specify anything particular … I’ll just keep my fingers crossed on that one 

What really annoys you about Austin – or maybe nothing does?

I always forget how hot it can get during the summer and every year I relearn. Spring and Fall are so beautiful that you just forget the heat. The traffic isn’t too bad and most of the time one can avoid it if you’re organized and plan ahead. I really do wish however that Austin Bergstrom had more direct flights domestically and internationally. I travel quite a lot for work and flying through a major hub every time gets old rather quickly.

What do you miss most from your country…in addition to the family and friends?

My family and friends are obviously at the top of my list but I try to travel to Europe as frequently as I can. I do miss some of the cultural aspects that I’ve become so accustomed to, like an afternoon of cricket and tea, both of which are such revered English traditions. I do miss taking weekend trips to different countries around Europe and perhaps I’m most envious of my friends back home when they tell me of the various countries they will be visiting every month.

Do you have a favorite Austin/area restaurant? Why….what is the good and bad about restaurant culture in your opinion in Austin.

Austin has several up and coming restaurants and I’m always surprised to find new ones popping up all the time. One of my favourites is Wink. It’s a very cosy, intimate setting and the food is prepared with a lot of attention to detail and incorporates delicate flavours. The staff is also very attentive and friendly. Another one of my favs is Justine’s. It’s run by Frenchmen and has a very unique bohemian atmosphere, something like what one would expect to find tucked away in the bowels of Paris. They throw amazing themed parties which really set them apart. It’s a bit out of the way but it’s well worth it. When I’m there, I always forget I’m still in Austin.
Austin has a very vibrant food-cart scene which is great because there are all these creative chefs around and it’s easier to sample their fare without waiting for them to start a restaurant. I love sampling the various food carts all over downtown and south congress.
Austin is still growing up as a city and I think that culinary diversity is still lacking in some respects but with the influx of so many people from all over the country, it will be amazingly different and diverse in a few years.

Do you see there are benefits for someone from abroad to come to Austin for a few years?

Yes and No. In many respects Austin is a very safe place to start exploring the United States. You may not get the diversity that a larger city may offer but you don’t have any of the downsides of living in a big city either. Coming from Europe especially, the thing that most people notice is the lack of an efficient public transportation system. I’m especially drawn to cities that have great educational institutes and that is another benefit of being in Austin is the close tie it has with the University of Texas at Austin. It’s a distinguished world class institution, very diverse and open minded and in a large part, responsible for giving Austin its eclectic character.

What do you think about the cost of living in Europe vs Austin, TX – and the standard of life and life style?

I think it’s amazingly more affordable to live here compared to a lot of places in Europe, especially London. I always have a bit of a sticker shock when I’m back in Europe. In addition, the quality of life is quite high too. Austin really promotes a healthy lifestyle in that there are so many outdoor activities that one can avail off so easily. The jogging track is within walking distance of downtown. Within a 10 minute drive, you can be in serene bucolic settings with fields and cattle and these are great places to explore on a bicycle. There are several ranches even within the city where one can go horseback riding as well. It’s incredibly easy to keep physically active here since the city and its residents promote this sort of a lifestyle.

Anything else you feel you’d like to share with us about Austin or yourself?

I love it here but I still like the idea of being in Europe with my friends and family. When I first came to Austin, I wasn’t quite sure how long I wanted to stay, and close to a decade later, I’m still undecided. There aren’t very many places in America I would choose to live besides Austin and I don’t think I’d want to leave anytime soon either. Even if I did choose to move back, I’m sure I’ll always continue to come back and visit the wonderful friends I’ve made in this beautiful place.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/adnan.khaleel

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/adnan-khaleel/0/b53/ba9/


Lithuanians in Madrid and Helsinki – Meet Vaida Vaitekunaite

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be living in Madrid… or Helsinki, Finland, we happened to know someone who moved fairly recently from Helsinki (she was an expat there) and now she is an expat in Madrid. Her name is Vaida Vaitekunaite and she is a lovely young lady from Lithuania.

Tell us about yourself – who are you and what would be the short story of your life – we know you lived in Helsinki for 2 years before moving to Madrid? (where are you from, where did you study, how did you come to Madrid/when etc)

I have always had a travelers spirit, I probably used all possibilities to escape my geographical comfort zone since I was 18. I have lived abroad with programs like Work & Travel, Erasmus, Erasmus Internship, so as soon as I graduated my business degree I felt that I am free to do whatever I want, to go wherever I want and to decide on my own when I want to come back. I have always been career oriented so thought that international experience would contribute to my professional and personal development significantly. Finland in my mind has always been a country with high quality of life, economically strong, organized and systematic with culture that is not so much different from my homeland- Lithuania.

To everybody’s but mine surprise it took me just few weeks until I found my dream job when I got there. I tend to believe that you can always get whatever your mind can create and if you believe in yourself and are determined enough not to give up on the way it will come sooner or later. This job was just what I wanted- I was hired to work in one startup at the stage when there was just an idea of the product that was being planned to build. I didn’t even had a name of position- opportunity to touch it all and to experience it all. It was a chance for me to use all the knowledge that I gained during my university years and get beyond of it when I actually got myself involved entirely in operations of creating a startup. It shaped my understanding of what a job should be- always challenging, always encouraging to learn, where mistakes also mean progress, the one that is open for innovation, flexible and fun!

I spent in Helsinki 2 years until.. it started to feel too comfortable again and a desire for challenge happened to turn my life upside down again- I landed in Spain. I was lucky enough to keep the same job that I love while Spain was being shake by harsh economical crisis. It’s already 438 mornings since I’m waking up with Spanish sun

Do you think living in Helsinki enhanced your work experience – and why did you move to Madrid?

Firstly, I would say that Helsinki is a city open for foreigners. People are very tolerant there and what actually matters there are the skills or potential to gain these skills that you have rather than of what nationality, ethnicity or other external features you possess. Worklife in general is not too stressed, it is not that usual to work until late in the office like I imagine it is the rule rather than exception for example in London or New York. They are really efficient there, I enjoyed doing business with Finns as everything goes without many manoeuvres around, for example you want to talk to a CEO of some company- you just call him and he picks up, if by any chance there is a secretary in between it doesn’t mean her role is to make the CEO look hard to reach. Conversations are facts based so no need to search for anything between the lines. Finland taught me the value of honesty in business relations- agreements there sometimes can be made by word and nobody questions that- as trust and responsibility are thriving values.

Madrid has a completely different business environment but it has always been the place for me which made me feel extremely good. I must admit that the atmosphere here is not that much pushing to grow in a fast pace but it all depends on personal motivation and determination. I find that Madrid can offer a perfect life-work balance.

What is THE thing about Madrid – or Helsinki – captivates you the most?

I love how honest and tolerant are people in Helsinki. Even though it’s not that easy to make friends with Finns, but once you get to that stage- you will be friends for life. I enjoy the beautiful green landscape that Finland is rich of, thousand lakes and summer huts, Finnish saunas that you can find in every building (The part of jumping in the Baltic ice cubes bath is not in my list of favorites though).
It’s not possible to mention all the things that I love about Spain The same as it’s not possible to say what is THE thing about paradise hahaha I love the local food, wine, openness of people and that they live completely enjoying life, laughing a lot, interacting a lot. You need to learn how to ignore certain things here, which is probably called adapting to the local culture, but once you do that you will not want to come back to the Nordic way of life.

If someone asked you what I should NOT miss while in Madrid vs Helsinki, what would reply?

Oh Finnish sauna is a must-do and reindeer meet is a must-taste while in Helsinki. If we talk nationwide- Lapland is place which you cannot miss. It’s where the world’s childhood lives.:) And if you get lucky to see Aurora Borealis- it’s view out of this earth!
In Madrid you should definitely take the most out of its nightlife- it has much to offer for all tastes.

What do you do in Madrid when you feel like you just want to chill out? What did you do in Helsinki in comparison.

Madrid has amazing terraces created exactly for that, not to mention that a swimming pool is possible to find in many apartment buildings so no need to go too far. Invite over couple of friends and you have a perfectly relaxing Spanish day.
Helsinki is full of green spaces, picnics in the park start as soon as it gets bit warmer, so around the mid of July. Kidding.. There are few amazing cafeterias on the coast of the Baltic near the Kaivopuisto park.

Anything truly memorable that has happened to you since you have lived in Madrid – Helsinki?

This definitely comes to the unbelievable people that I have met here and there.
Or can we skip this question? All that comes to my mind is so personal.

What really annoys you about either city– or maybe nothing does/did?

It would be comparing more north and south but I really cannot stand 6 months living with a snow and rather short daylight hours. There are weeks when you go out in the morning still with darkness and when you come back home it’s dark again, even though it’s only 4 PM. It effects on the energy level, on your mood and everything. This is something that is difficult to get used to if you were not born with that. What was also surprising for me when I came to live to Finland was a really strong sense of feminism. When talking to Finnish women – you can forget your gentleman manners. Don’t let her go first through the door, don’t open her the car doors, don’t help her to dress the coat, if you do that- you are under the threat to be slapped to your face. Women always demonstrate how much they are equal with men or even a bit above. (Kaisa’s comment: true with many women. I worked with top level management in Finland and the gentlemen behavior is expected in there. Many of those men have an officer/gentlemen attitude..moi – I loved it)
What I am still trying to get used to is the schedule that Madrileños are accustomed to. To have dinner at 10-12 PM on the weekends and go out at 1-2AM is the time when people in Helsinki are used to come back home after the party. Quite a drastic change for me and not necessarily the one that I like very much.

Do you have a favorite Madrid restaurants and why? Helsinki…

I love the Cheese Bar in Madrid that offers the long list of all possible kinds of cheeses and dishes made of cheese together with great selection of wines. There are lovely brunch places around Madrid as well.
I could hardly call Helsinki the best place to go out, however to enjoy the full experience it’s definitely worth it to visit one of the nearby islands where you can find the restaurant called BoatHouse. Beautiful place!

Do you see there are benefits for someone from abroad to come to Helsinki or Madrid for a few years?

Definitely, I believe both of them can give great experience and both of them have things to offer. It depends of course on what expectations you have but I think all cultures have something great and the experience of living abroad is invaluable as much for professional as for the personal growth.

What do you think about the cost of living in other countries vs Madrid OR Helsinki– and the standard of life and life style?

Not sure about the other countries as one can hardly feel it while visiting for few days and my comparison might be far from reality but if comparing Madrid with Helsinki I would say it’s close to two extremes among European Union countries. To put it more clearly- I think to maintain the same standard of life in Helsinki as you have in Madrid you need almost double more money. In Madrid, the cost of dining out, public transport, clothing and entertainment is really rather affordable and makes living here a lot of fun! However these years the salary levels are far from the ones of other nearby European capitals, this creates one more topic to discuss around the dinner table. Spaniards like to complain but interestingly they are not too stressed about it- stressing out is nowhere close to the national hobbies.

In Helsinki I think the salary level is rather adapted to the cost of living, so most can have a comfortable life. Some things like transportation for example is priced really high for such a small city, however the infrastructure is excellent so you pay for what you get.

World famous education system in Finland, electronic government services, all parts systematic and organised of course gives much credit for the whole picture of Finnish standard of life. While in Spain it’s a constant test of your patience when you need to visit some governmental institutions.
Finns are rather reserved and like to spend much time with families. It is not that usual to go out for drinks after work, while Spanish culture is built on lots of communication, many coffee breaks, after work drinks and late evenings out. Interesting fact – Spanish don’t leave the office before the boss. If boss states till late, the team will hang around as well. How effective is that remains an open question.

What do you miss most from other countries or cities you have lived in before? Favorite city all times.

The truth is that when I moved to Spain I realized why Spaniards are not really big travellers. They have all what you may look for in their country! Wonderful beaches, grand cities, amazing nature, many heritage places- seems like there is something interesting to see in every village you pass by, incredible! So when living here I have all what I need. Family and friends that are left in Lithuania are the ones that I would like to transfer to Madrid if that would be possible.  Oh I quite miss the summer rain as well, never thought will tell this!  While I have lived almost my whole life in a country of rain it seems like it should be enough for a lifetime, but when there is not a single drop during the entire summer or longer, this is when I really start appreciating it and missing it a lot. As much as I love Spain and Madrid, I will always enjoy coming back to Amsterdam or Florence or Dubrovnik or San Francisco, it’s hard to pick one.

In your opinion what is the best time to visit Madrid – or Helsinki?

Madrid is gorgeous in the spring time! The weather is already fantastic, but not too hot, it’s still green while in the summer time the landscape tends to turn yellow from the burning sun.
Helsinki is completely different in winter and in summer so depends what you want to experience. Certainly when visiting during the wintertime you will get to see Finland as you probably have always imagined it- with tons of snow and frost on your eyelashes.

Anything else you feel you’d like to share with us about either city, your job or yourself?

I would like to encourage everybody to get yourself out of the comfort zone and choose a city where you feel cosy to be in and settle down there for some time. The experience is invaluable and nobody told that you necessarily got to live in the country where you have been born. The world is borderless. Take the leap of faith!

By the way, where do you think you like to live most of your life?

I wouldn’t mind to spend several years in US before settling down however, Spain is already in my heart and will be there forever. I can see myself living here for a lifetime.

Vaida at LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/vaidav

Vaida at Twitter: @vVaida


Philadelphia – Ana Vizcarra Rankin

I am interviewing different interesting creative internationally minded people here in Philadelphia. This month you will meet Ana Vizcarra Rankin – let’s find out what she says about herself.

Ana, Tell us more about yourself

‘I am Ana Vizcarra de Rankin, a Uruguayan American visual artist living in Philadelphia. I have been in the US since 1989 and lived in Oklahoma and North Carolina before arriving in Philly. I am a painter and a sculptor; as a creative, I believe that my calling is to record what I see, while also imbuing it which the whimsy and wonder that I experience as I “make”.

What inspires you?

Travel. So much of my work is about migration, pilgrimage and nomadism that anytime I’m on the road or the water or in the air I feel compelled to record those experiences. I have even perfected my watercolor “traveling studio” so that it is TSA approved. And my large map paintings fold down to carry-on size so I can take them with me on the plane or ship them in a pillowcase sized envelope.

What is your artwork about?

My artwork is about where I live; specifically, I use of maps oriented with the South at the top. This can be seen as a reference to the seminal image by Uruguayan constructivist painter Joaquin Torres Garcia, and also as an invitation to reconsider our relationship to the planet and its ecosystem; the possibility that an upside down world could perhaps be a better place. Some of my maps are celestial, dealing with ancient navigation methods that used the constellations as well as taking into consideration our future in space exploration.

What materials do you work with?

The large map paintings are aqueous media on unprimed, un-stretched canvas. I use watered down acrylics to dye the background, and then I start laying out the landmasses or star groupings in charcoal (depending on whether I’m doing a terrestrial or celestial map). After the initial layer, I use gesso to block out areas of interest, and acrylic washes to create more layers. Some maps have a dozen layers of gesso, acrylic and line work, which I do in charcoal, oil pastel and paint pens; I often cover up areas knowing that I’m going to sand them down later to unearth what was underneath. This way, each painting is a sort of archaeological dig, with bits of land or stars fading into the background or coming to the foreground based on the order they were painted and whether or not I have sanded down or scrubbed off recent layers to lend them importance or “push them back”. My tools include palette knives, brushes, rollers, and an increasing number of sponges or various sizes and textures ranging from large and soft to thin scourers. I also paint small detailed oils on wood panel, which are popular with collectors wanting work for small spaces. I call these small paintings are star scapes; they look like tiny windows into space.

What challenges did you face when you first moved to the USA and how did you resolve them??

I was very, very lucky to be constantly surrounded by the arts and creative people during my early childhood in Uruguay. My uncle Oscar Garcia da Rosa is an artist and would babysit me before I started school; he put a crayon in my hand when I was just as likely to eat it as draw with it, and once I did start school, which is only 4 hours a day in Uruguay, I was sent to an after school art program at La Casa de la Cultura, where children are taught various music, visual and performing arts. I see that as the beginning of my art education. I learned charcoal drawing, watercolor, and egg tempera painting, while surrounded by kids learning to play instruments and dance.

The move from liberal, beach loving Uruguay to conservative land-locked Oklahoma was a huge shock for me. I was treated as an unwanted, uneducated foreigner (in spite of the fact that both my parents are university professors and I was in the top 10% of the school at mathematics, science, and even made it to the top five in the spelling bee (after speaking the language for less than a year). Once I made it to high school, I had a wonderful art teacher, Ms. Boren, who kept me sane during those hormone fueled years of culture shock and transition. I tried going to college for painting but ended up in architecture design instead – almost graduating in 1999, but running into financial issues due to my visa status etc. Almost ten years passed before I went back to school, but I kept making art the entire time, for a while even securing gallery representation.

When I did return to school in 2007, I received my BA in Art History summa cum laude from Tyler and then my MFA in studio art from PAFA, winning the Caldwell purchase prize for the Academy’s permanent collection in 2012. I feel that my non-traditional approach to education and career has made it possible for me to maintain a high quality of life in spite of the ongoing struggle of making a living through art. I do what I love, which is priceless.

How has your life as an expat influenced your art?

You could say my entire oeuvre is based around the fact that I am and expatriate. Since I moved in my early teens, I feel that I am both Uruguayan and American, but also neither. This state of continuous liminality is actually one shared by many artists all over the world and makes it possible for my artwork to evince empathy in a growing number of people displaced due to changing job prospects, politics or simply a desire to see the world and meet the “other”.

What have you learned from being an expat?

I have learned that home is where the paint is. One learns to relax into the constant feeling of transition and live in the moment instead of constantly pining for something that was, or hoping for something that may never be.

What’s the best food discovery you’ve made as an expat?

Spicy food. I learned how to cook using only the smallest amounts of salt, pepper, garlic etc. so when all my American friends kept assuming I would like Mexican food (because everyone in South America eats Mexican, right?) I tried it. And fell in love. I eat the hottest stuff – not just Mexican but Thai, Vietnamese, you name it- if it’s hot and spicy I will probably love it.

Ana’s Website: www.avrankin.com
Company Name: AVRankin
Email: paintedfoot@gmail.com

Houston – May 21 2013

Come meet Anna, a creative artist with fantastic ability to capture the moments with her camera. Come see her photographs and decide for yourself while mingling with other globally minded EuroCircle members.

Our May event is at Batanga, a newly opened tapas restaurant which has brought a more modern aesthetic to the traditionally Spanish fare.

“Read Anna’s interview and get to know her better!

Houston – Anna Veselova from Russia

Remember when you wake up in the morning and there is a slight memory of some fairy dream that fades away? I love that feeling and to catch the moment was always the biggest mystery for me.

I’m involved in photography as long as I remember, but I never really tried to express myself through taking pictures until I saw a lot of talented photographers on Flickr 5 years ago. Then 2 years ago it became really serious after I almost suddenly moved from Moscow to Houston. It wasn’t the easiest time for me and I wanted to show not what I saw through lens, but what I was searching for.

Everything what was behind the subject became my subject. At the same time I started self-photography (some make it as project 365). I ended up looking at the absolute chaos in pictures full of lights, blurry subjects and emotions. But I knew I caught my fading moment then.

Socrat dog came from another big dream. Like Nutcracker he has his own toy life full of adventures. Sometimes he shares his stories with me and I make these little fairy tales on my photographs.

I don’t really know who Socrat is (this dog of mystery even has a twitter!), but he does look like a dog and so I teach him some dog commands (just in case), also he’s pretty good in mathematics and geography. We really make a good team together and I would call it a perfect human and dog collaboration.

I now also involved in doing photography for Houston Cinema Arts Festival (HCAF). This is an absolutely amazing experience to me: I can do what I love the most and I have the opportunity to meet talented filmmakers, and actors who generously share their views and ideas with the audience.

Last year HCAF invited Robert Redford, and Christy Turlington and the year before it was Ethan Hawke with his new movies. The good news is that everybody can be the part of the festival just by subscribing to the newsletter http://cinemartsociety.org or simply become a member. This year’s dates of the festival are: November 6-13, and I’m so looking forward to be the part of the team again!

NOTE: this article is provided for us by the Houston team member Shahla Mohammad and Anna Veselova! Thank you ladies!