America to Slovakia - Expat Interview With Katie

Published: 12 Dec at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Slovakia
Katie Perkowski is originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area, but she spent about five years living in the Lexington, Ky., before moving to Bratislava, Slovakia. She has lived in Bratislava for about three months, working as an English language instructor at a bilingual gymnasium (high school). She hopes you will follow along as she navigates a culture different from hers, discovers new people and places, and of course, has many funny moments along the way. Katie blogs at Just Skating By (see listing here).


Just Skating By

Here's the interview with Katie...


Where are you originally from?
I am originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area, but for the last sixish years (before moving to Bratislava) I had been living in Lexington, Ky. I graduated from the University of Kentucky (Go Cats!) with a journalism degree and then worked as a local government reporter at a newspaper nearby.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am currently living in Bratislava, Slovakia. Referred to lovingly as the "little big city," it is the capital of the country and has about 500,000 people.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have lived here since the middle of August 2012, so for about three months. I am planning to stay for at least a year, but maybe longer.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I decided that I was moving to Bratislava about two months before I made the move, when I found out that a church's mission program had an opening for me as an English language instructor. I teach everything English at a bilingual gymnasium (high school) in the city. My favorite part to teach though, is the literature. I decided to leave my life in the states, because I had long ago caught the travel bug, and I was itching to discover more of the world, while also (hopefully) making a difference serving as a missionary.

Just Skating ByDid you bring family with you?
I did not bring any family with me, but I have discovered a different type of family during my experience in Bratislava. It consists of my colleagues, both Slovak and American, and friends I have met since being here. A great family I have grown into is made up of the people of the Bratislava International Church (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bratislava-International-Church/190995617524), where you can find church service in English every Sunday at 9:30.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I have definitely had my fair share of frustrated moments, and I have definitely felt the extreme exhaustion that comes from moving to another country (just from doing everyday things like grocery shopping, getting from point a to b, and even doing laundry). But overall, I have made a smooth transition into life in Bratislava. I think I have been able to do that because of the great support system that I have, and by branching out through expatblog to meet new people. Anyone who moves to another country should really get out there and make an effort to meet new people.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Expatblog made it a lot easier to find and meet new people, and I continue to use it as a social network. I would say that I do mainly socialize with other expats, who have come here from all over the world. I do enjoy socializing with Slovaks, too, though.

Just Skating ByWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
My friends and I like to visit new pubs and check out different areas of the city when we go out. We really enjoy Dubliners, Slovak Pub (especially their Bryndzové Halušky), and anywhere else with good prices. I would recommend branching out to places outside of Old Town, because you will be pleasantly surprised both by the interesting crowd and the lower prices. Also, make sure to try all the different kebab places!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I have really enjoyed meeting all of the different people who come here from all over the world. You really never know who you are going to bump into next, and it feels like a small world of expats in Bratislava. There is also so much culture, you just have to put yourself out there and go discover what the city has to offer. People often call Bratislava just a "suburb" of Vienna, but I am glad that I live here and not in Vienna, because Vienna seems too perfect. Bratislava has a little bit of an edginess to it, and it has a special character and charm because of that.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The cost of living here is a bit steeper than where I was living in the states, but it is much cheaper than almost anywhere else in Europe, and so for that I am grateful.

Just Skating ByWhat negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The only negative I can think of to living here is that for being a capital city, not as many people speak English as I thought would, although that just creates more possibility for humorous lost-in-translation moments and adventures. If you approach someone who is under 30, they are more likely to speak English, though. There is also a lot of trash in certain parts of the city that could be cleaned up a bit.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
When dealing with the visa process and the foreign police, just take deep breaths and expect to do a lot of waiting. Bring a good book, maybe an iPod, and just enjoy the humorous moments you will witness while sitting in the waiting area. Save yourself the frustration, and do not try to ask why. Just accept that that's the way things are.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The hardest aspect of my expat experience so far has been keeping in touch with family and friends back home because of the time difference. Also, I have had to find a balance with "keeping in touch" and "being present" here. I do not want to be so concerned with what people back home are doing that I am not fully enjoying my time here, so I have made an effort to be conscious of that. It is also sometimes difficult to relate to people back home who have not had experiences like this, because they ask broad questions like, "How is it over there?" and "What's it like?" With those questions, you never really know where to start, and after about 30 seconds, most people are done listening anyway, so it can be frustrating. And then of course, it was also difficult missing the 2012 football season (Go Bucks!), and it will continue to be difficult missing basketball season as the Cats go for No. 9.

Just Skating ByWhen you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I am not really sure when exactly I will return home, but I imagine it will be difficult for the first few months, especially adjusting to an atmosphere where I can understand all the conversations around me again. I think it will seem much noisier and a much quicker pace. I have heard people who have done things like this and then gone home, say that their "body returns home much sooner than their soul actually does," and I think that will be very true.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Accept that a lot of things will be out of your control.
  2. Learn to find humor in all of the little mishaps.
  3. Learn a few basic Slovak phrases (hello, how are you, good morning, thank you, where is the toilet, etc.) before arriving.
  4. If you have time, look into books about Slovakia's political history before arriving.
  5. Get a head start on meeting people and sign up for different expat sites and groups before arriving.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
With my personal blog, I have been trying to document my everyday experiences in Slovakia, when it comes to being a first-year teacher, living in a foreign country and the unavoidable mishaps that come with it, traveling to new cities, and self-discoveries I have made so far along the way. I try to maintain it so that friends and family members following back home can have a sense of what I'm experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I can be contacted at kgperk2{at}gmail{dot}com.

Katie blogs at http://kyvoice.com/justskatingby/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Just Skating By has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here, so add some blog love and support her at her ExpatsBlog.com listing! If you appreciated this interview with Katie, please let her know by leaving a comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Lucy wrote 8 years ago:

Hi Katie, it was interesting to read about your experience and I wish you a lot of luck and happiness in Bratislava. I totally understand what is it to live as an expat in totally different part of the world. On the contrary me, my husband and our three kids moved from the Czech republic to Columbus, Ohio and even after two years it's sometimes a challenge but at the same time we enjoy it. Slovakian as well as Czech people are very very friendly, just give them time, we are not as "fast approach" people, but later you may find the best friends and feel as part of the family. Definitely easier to find friends there than here :-). Good luck!

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