Expat Interview With Julie - American Expat in Slovakia

Published: 19 Mar at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Slovakia
Julie is a 30 year veteran of corporate America currently living and working in Bratislava, Slovakia with an imminent move to Budapest, Hungary planned. She is joined in this adventure by her husband, Pat, a fellow wanderer and – more importantly - a photo buff. With their home, car, and most of their “stuff” sold, the world is their oyster. The intent is to settle down, making new friends and becoming part of the local community, before moving on (or not). The travel instrument of choice is a microscope not a telescope. Her three grown children wonder when this itinerant life will conclude. Frankly, she does too. Julie's expat blog is called The World in Between (see listing here)

Meet Julie - US expat in Slovakia
Meet Julie - US expat in Slovakia

Here's the interview with Julie...

Where are you originally from?
The United States – most recently Colorado though I was born in New Jersey.

In which country and city are you living now?
Bratislava, Slovakia.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been here for 18 months and will shortly relocate to Budapest, Hungary for two years.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I relocated for my work. I work for a large US based company with offices around the world.

Julie with Igor and Vlasta Hiking in the High Tatras
Julie with Igor and Vlasta Hiking in the High Tatras
Did you bring family with you?
My husband is with me. Our three “children” are back in the US. Our youngest was 19 when we moved and is a college student. The other two are grown and working.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The first two weeks were awesome – a European vacation. Then, the reality of not going home hit. I had a rough couple of months. Everything felt hard; language barriers, grime and graffiti, block housing, limited food choices. We adjusted. Now, we love it.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We have no friends who are expats and never tried to engage in the expat community. All our friends are local. My husband is gregarious and makes friends easily. We meet people in shops, restaurants, and around town. Our best friends, Igor and Vlasta, are two of the nicest people we know. We travel together and see Slovakia through their eyes. They have enriched our time here immeasurably, and they have connected us to the community.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Bratislava (and of course the neighboring Vienna) have a vibrant classical music culture. Nearly every night there is a symphony or opera. And in Bratislava, it is all very affordable. The center of Bratislava has a beautiful old square which hosts festivals though out most of the year.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The accessibility of everything. We are a five minute walk from our favorite restaurants and cafes, shopping, the symphony hall, the opera houses, and old town square. If we want to go further afield, we are less than a two hour flight from all of Europe.

A musical fund raiser in Bratislava at the Albrecht house
A musical fund raiser in Bratislava at the Albrecht house
How does the cost of living compare to home?
Bratislava is cheap. This is especially true if you approach life as a local; eat in local restaurants and buy locally produced foods.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Most people in downtown Bratislava know some English, few are conversant. Outside the city center, few speak any English. I've learned to like not understanding the language - except when I need directions or information. And there are still scars across the country from 50 years of communism.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Learn to see the positives in everything. I could write pages about the negatives. Yet we love it here.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being so far from our kids, family and friends. That, and the lack of large organic grocery stores which carry all my possible needs.

A symphony at the Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia
A symphony at the Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Right now, we have no plans to return home. Eventually, I'm sure we will. With friends and family largely in the United States, I expect when that time comes we will welcome it. It is a bit unsettling to no longer feel completely at home anywhere. And I'm sure we will have some things we'll need to get used to again. Yet I hope the best of Bratislava and Budapest and wherever else we live comes back with us; enjoying leisurely dinners, walking as our primary means of transport, and slowing down the pace of our lives.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Find the “glass half full" side of the country. Be relentlessly positive.
  2. Practice empathy. Learn a bit about the history of where you live. The history of Slovakia, from empire to communist state to EU member, is incredible and humbling.
  3. Live locally. Use public transportation. Eat at local restaurants. Tip small. Make local friends. Support a local charity.
  4. Blog, write, journal. It both helps you to remember – and it drives you to actively seek out memories.
  5. Take a language class or two - any language. I take French. Most of my fellow students are learning their 4th or 5th language.

The graffiti of Bratislava
The graffiti of Bratislava
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
After 30 years with a large US corporation, I am focused on transition to retirement, hopefully in two years when my commitment to Budapest ends. Part of living here is exploring eastern Europe – with it's rich culture and bargain prices – as a retirement option. Bottom line, we are looking for an affordable retirement that is stimulating and enables us to travel (or live) globally. I call this phase of life “the World in Between”. It is a time of life which can be as interesting or as boring as you make it. Fortunately, my husband is a great photographer and adventurer. Through the blog we capture reflections on life and its transitions, travel and living abroad, and the local culture of wherever we are living. Blogging focuses our free time and hopefully provides valuable information to others considering eastern Europe – for a vacation or a more permanent move.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me via my blog (see link below). I'd love to hear from anyone considering eastern Europe. Better yet, we would love to meet for a coffee on old town square.

Julie blogs at http://worldinbetween.wordpress.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. The World in Between has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Julie, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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