Meet Our Members: Maria Ciliberti

The Twenty-first Century Woman:  Anything is Possible


I love watching “Outlander,” “The Crown,” and “Game of Thrones.”  It’s fascinating to see what life was like for a woman in the 1400s, 1800s and mid-1900s.  In spite of the allure of times past, I believe there is no better time to be a woman than in the twenty-first century.  

We can be married or single. We can be married with kids or single with kids. We can be stay-at-home moms, full-time working women, or part-time working women. We can be self-employed entrepreneurs or empty-nested, loving wives. I can’t think of any option not available to us these days.

In 1981, I studied chemical engineering and financed my degree while working full-time. Scarce financial resources and lack of free time didn’t allow for much fun, but I believed such sacrifices would pay off.

After university, I got married and worked in a paper mill. Three years later, I changed companies and simultaneously started an MBA program. Working full time in  a position that required business travel while attending university at night, I once again had chosen a hard road. After finishing my MBA, my career options expanded tremendously, opening doors to marketing, sales and business management.

For career growth, I accepted positions in cities 2 hours away from my home. This became especially challenging when my son was born. When he was 2, I took a position with General Electric Plastics in Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands. My spouse was based in Cologne, Germany, so childcare solutions were difficult. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,”  and I made it work. I drove 3 hours a day to and from daycare providers, had little sleep and felt the continuous pull on my heart that I was missing key moments in my son’s childhood.  This was probably the most difficult time in my life, but again, I thought these sacrifices would pay off in the future.

Several years later, I took a better position in Europe that involved significant overnight travel. As a single mother of a 12 year old boy, I once again faced the problem of suitable childcare. An American expat male colleague offered overnight supervision. He was a complementary role model during my son’s teenage years and became my husband and partner for life.

Juggling it “all’ was not my only challenge. Being the only woman in a business meeting, earning the respect of male colleagues and superiors, and numerous other aspects of business life needed to be overcome. Some of these challenges prevail for women who choose the working-woman lifestyle. Today’s women are not only surviving but are thriving, no matter which life style options they choose. It’s great to be a woman in the twenty-first century - loads of options and anything is possible!

Meet Our Members: Susan Mikes


Whenever hiking the Wienerwald, I  like to spot plants of healing qualities, remedies to locals in need. Growing up as a pharmacist’s daughter, I felt an early calling to beauty and health. After highschool I went to college at Suffolk University in Boston, MA where I studied Philosophy and was active in the performing arts.

Promoting health, beauty and wellness has always been a part of me. My Mom told me that as a small child during nap time, I would sneak out and secretly go to her closet and vanity and play dress-up with her clothes and makeup. Following my move back from Boston to Vienna, I joined the family business, trained as a PKA and make-up artist. My artistic sensibilities affect everything in my living situation, beauty and health pull it all together. That‘s how I bring harmony into every day  and that is what drew me into the family profession. Zen studies and meditation plays a  major role  in my daily  life now.

My whole childhood I was aware of the AWA. My mother was a long time member and I was always inspired by her enthusiasm for the community. I am naturally drawn to international communities and looking forward to volunteer and join in on events. Week-ends I go on long walks with our family dog and spend time in nature.

Meet Our Members: Sangita Wilk-Sanatani

Journey to my roots by Sangita Wilk-Sanatani

Sangitas Photo in India-min.jpg

October 2016: I sat on my bed in my ancestral home in Bengal looking out the window and vividly remembering images from previous journeys. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I reviewed my past experiences and then asked myself: What is THIS journey about? Neither child nor mother, just myself here… in search of my roots, my heritage... my Bengali heart!

 I arrived in the comfortable home of my cousins in Kolkata before moving on to our village home where one of my main ambitions was to learn Bengali, of which I only knew a few phrases. I easily got in touch with villagers, and during evening walks sang with children and practiced simple conversation. Sitting on the train to Santiniketan, in the process of typing a message: “On my way to the home town of Rabindranath Thakur (our national poet)..”, when I was filled with emotion. Where did this sentiment come from? Who within me sent and who received this sudden wave of love and devotion

 I originally planned returning home for Christmas, but as the time approached, my heart cried so badly that I needed to seriously think about extending my stay for another 2 months. I struggled against feelings of guilt and the opinions of both my Austrian and Indian family! Finally, I surrendered to the Greater Heart and, looking back, it was actually in these last two months that the transformation really happened!

 Frequent reflection of my family history – between Kolkata and Santiniketan -I journeyed through waves of enthusiasm, disillusionment, and finally a sense of integration.

„Me in Bengal“ and „Bengal in me“ had become One.

 On the morning of 25th February 2017 my suitcases were packed, and I knew I was taking a flight back to Europe. Still, it didn’t FEEL as though I was leaving. I felt as though I had always been there and would remain there. After nearly 5 months, I had mastered the language to a confident level … a beautiful experience of self-guided learning.

 I still had time for a last day trip and I set off for the botanical garden in Kolkata. The great banyon tree was calling me! It is awe inspiring to look at something that resembles a forest and imagine this is one tree… so many stems growing out of one central root: Doesn’t this say something about us as humans? I finally understood that I had roots in Vienna and in Bengal and it was possible to be two and more at the same time.

The anecdote of this final outing: Different tickets were sold – whether you are a foreigner or a local. The chap behind the counter examined me and asked “Where do you come from?“ I replied in Bengali, giving my (Kolkata) home address... He handed me the ‘local’ ticket, and with a feeling of deep gratitude I realized I had been accepted!

Meet Our Members: Monika Sautner

Everyone who visits the AWA office comes face to face with a beautiful work of art: a bright tapestry of swooping green and orange curves, fashioned from intricate geometrical patchwork. Yet few know that this design was fashioned by one of our very own members! Monika Sautner tells us a little bit about herself and her creative craftwork.

My parents were from Vienna, but I was born in 1940 in Nuremberg, Germany, where my parents had moved to look for work. I was only a small child during the war, but I remember fleeing our burning house when I was only 5 years old. I can still hear my mother telling me to jump over a pile of glowing embers.

We moved back to Vienna after the war. Things were difficult at first. At school, we sat in the classrooms wearing winter coats and gloves as there was no heat in the building! – and we had no supplies to speak of. My mother made me my first notebook by hand, she did this by sewing together sheets of baking paper! Nowadays kids have so many books, notebooks, computers… but it seems like they’re not learning anything.

I trained to be a social worker, helping families in difficult situations. I had a super boss: a woman who always gave us little handcrafted gifts on special occasions. I loved her creations and thought “I could do that too!”. That’s how I got started with crafting, really. After my second daughter was born I stopped working outside the home. My crafts made being a housewife more interesting as my hobby really brought joy to my life. You should see my flat now – it’s so full of crafts it’s like a bazaar! I only need to ensure I manage to clear a space on my bed for sleeping!

I also used to volunteer at the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes, in southern France. I’d go for several weeks at a time, often meeting the same group of fellow volunteers there, year after year. Because I can speak five languages – German, English, French, Italian and Spanish – they could always use my help in the office, giving information to the pilgrims, and helping with the lost-and-found.

The AWA is a great place for me to keep up my languages – speaking English to everyone, going to the Italian class – and I also teach the beginners’ German class on Tuesday mornings. I love helping out with the crafts – I donated some lovely wreaths for the Easter Affayre event – and if anyone is interested in buying a patchwork quilt, please get in touch!

Meet Our Members: Tova Marr

My name is Tova Marr and I am a Canadian. I have lived in Vienna for over 16 years: the first
stint was for 4 years living with my parents here in the 90s.

I wasn’t a fan of the city then so that meant, of course, that I would end up meeting an Austrian a few years later and moving back in 2004 after our elopement in Niagara Falls in January, in Canada, with snow. Years later, I am now smitten with the city and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Meet Our Members: Tammie Perdue

Hi ladies, I'm Tammie! I am from the southern United States and was born in West Virginia. I met my husband, Darren, in high school. After dating for six years, we were married while attending Marshall University (famous for the Matthew McConaughey movie, 'We Are Marshall').  After graduation, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. We will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary next year! I have also lived abroad in Madrid, Spain, London, UK and currently, Vienna, Austria!  



Across the European alpine regions in summer, cattle and other farm animals feed on alpine pastures high up in the mountains to fatten up on the rich alpine grasses before the colder months.  When the cattle are herded back down to the valley at the end of summer, locals (and holidaymakers alike) celebrate the herd's safe homecoming by dressing the animals up in ornate headdresses, garlands of flowers and ribbons, and with bells attached to heavy leather collars.