Latvia - My Fascinating Country

Hi everybody! My name is Gundega Vāvere- Mikute and I am a proud Latvian! We, Latvians, tend to think about Latvia as a small country, but no… from a statistical point of view it is a middle sized country with a territory of 64,589 km2 and around 2 million inhabitants. In comparison, Latvia’s territory is just a bit smaller than Austria but with four and a half times fewer inhabitants. As you can imagine, Latvians are used to a big personal space. 56% of the country’s territory is covered by forests and there is definitely lots of space to go and just be by yourself. Latvia has a land border with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Our capital city Riga, a former Hanseatic League member, was founded in 1201 and its historic centre “Old Riga” is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also recognized by UNESCO that Riga has the finest collections of Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) buildings in Europe. We call this part of city a “quiet centre”, because it is mostly a residential area with a lot of embassies.

2018 is a very important year for us since Latvia celebrates its 100-year anniversary! It was established as an independent country on 18 November, 1918 and, although there was Soviet occupation after the Second World War for several decades, all three Baltic States managed to keep their legitimate powers in exile. For us the Latvian language is important. Long ago there were many Baltic languages, for example, Old Prussian, Semigallian, Galindian and Selonian but only two of them exist today, Latvian and Lithuanian. Historians say that Baltic languages are one of the oldest of the remaining Indo-European languages and we feel responsible for keeping Latvian alive for many more centuries. There are many reasons why people like to go to Latvia. One in particular is Nature. There are many possibilities for recreation, bio/organic food, silence therapy, open-air sport activities and more! And don’t forget about the forests covering more than half of the territory, with over 12,500 rivers, 3,000 lakes and the Baltic Sea within the Gulf of Riga. Yes, we are rich with water. We are used to going swimming after a hot summer day, which literally means - every day. Many tourists, though, find our summers not very hot and the water colder than expected, but it is a northern country. Latvia has the widest waterfall in Europe – Venta Rapid in Kuldīga which has a free natural spa underneath, and 500 km of sandy seaside beaches to walk along or lie down on. You can easily find a place where nobody disturbs you – with just you, the sea and the sand. Very relaxing, believe me! When you are close to the Baltic Sea, look for freshly smoked local sea fish - definitely worth tasting. You may have heard of the Amber Road which passes through the Eastern edge of Austria but you may not realise that the Baltic Sea is called the Amber Sea. It is true – wait until a big wind blows and then go to the seaside and look around. Indeed, there it is - amber, sand and amber again! Feel free to collect it, it is our northern gold. I would say it is even more beautiful. Only amber from the Baltic Sea contains amber acid [called also succinic acid], which is really good for health. Already in ancient times people recognised it and it was transported to the Mediterranean on the Amber road.

Latvia’s flag is divided in three coloured stripes: carmine-red – white – carmine-red. The current flag design has been in use without any changes since 1280 and that makes it the second oldest in the world (only Denmark’s has been around for longer). Very often it is mixed up with an Austrian flag, but there are differences both in colours and proportions. The legend about the colours is the same – human blood on white background. Obviously, however, Latvians and Austrians have different colours of blood!!

If you look for official information about religion in Latvia, you would see that the majority of people are Christians. It is true but there is an interesting mixture with paganism. On Christmas Eve, for example, we go to church for religious rites and then come home and start to follow ancient traditions, wearing masks (budēļi) and eating grey peas to avoid tears of misery the following year. Our biggest festival is Midsummer Night which is connected with fertility. The whole country is preparing for several days before with green markets and concerts, special songs and dances, with people in national costume everywhere. During the actual Midsummer night everybody goes outdoors – into the countryside, in city centres, on top of hills singing and dancing next to bonfires. Hmm, and strangely enough, even nowadays, nine months after Midsummer night the biggest number of babies are born in Latvia…

All in all, I hope I managed to raise some interest about my country – Latvia. You are most welcome to visit! And an additional incentive for those male readers who will read this article - Latvia produces more female models per capita than almost any other country in the world.

Contributed by Gundega Vavere-Mikute

My Estonia - Small, but Successful

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Estonia is a small country in Northern Europe bordering Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Russia. To the north and west, surrounded by the Baltic Sea and, along the east bordered by the Peipsi Lake, Europe`s 5th biggest lake, Estonia is one of the least populated countries in Europe and one that is full of natural beauty, having a territory of 45,000 km2, (the size of Denmark) but only 1.3 million inhabitants. There are plenty of unspoilt areas to retreat to along the main shoreline plus the 1500 islands, many of which are uninhabited, with the two main islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, being most popular. In addition, the forests and wetlands of middle Estonia or the hilly countryside on the south, where the highest point in the Baltics, proudly called Suur Munamägi (Big Eggmountain) 318 meters high, provide different environments for nature lovers. The weather is pleasant in summer, around 20-25 degrees C, but can be as cold as cold as -25 degrees C in January or February.

The Estonian language, belonging to the group Finno-Ugric languages, is closely related to Finnish and, with its 14 cases as with Finnish, can be a challenge. Russian is widely spoken as well, as only about 70 % of the population is Estonian with 30 % “Russian speaking “with actual Russians making up 25%. In some places, like the capital Tallinn or North-Eastern Estonia the percentage of non- Estonians is noticeably higher. The reason lies in our history. Ancient Estonian tribes have been living in the area since 9000 BC, but, with Christianity arriving in the 13th century via the crusaders, there began a long period of foreign rule, firstly German and Danish, then Swedish and Russian. Estonia first became an independent Republic in 1918, so this year we are celebrating our 100th anniversary of the Republic. De facto, of course the Soviet Union occupied Estonia after World War II, but de jure Estonia`s state continuity was preserved by the government in exile, recognized by many western governments, including the USA. Estonia regained its independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Of course different rulers left their influence and imprint on the country and the people, but it was the Soviet occupation for almost 50 years with its resettlements of people of other areas of the Soviet Union that reduced the percentage of Estonians in their own country from 90% in 1939 to 61% in 1989.

Sometimes I have been asked, given all the history, how did Estonians manage to survive? Estonians feel very strongly about their heritage and traditions. I think that this unites the families to come together at Christmas and eat our traditional food of blood sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes or light the bonfires and celebrate Midsummer. The capital city of Tallinn, with its beautiful medieval old town, has 450,000 residents, but is empty of people, except tourists, on June 23rd as everybody leaves for the countryside to celebrate Midsummer with family and friends.

Every five years the whole country comes together to celebrate the Song and Dance Festival. The tradition goes back 150 years, when several, then male, choirs came together in the university city of Tartu to sing patriotic songs in peaceful protest against the tsarist Russian rule. Ever since, also during the Soviet times, every five years some 10,000 dancers and about 300,000 singers gather together at the Song Festival Grounds with over 100, 000 people watching and singing along. Estonians love to sing. There is a saying that where three Estonians come together, there is a choir. Perhaps you have heard of the Singing Revolution? In 1987-1991, hundreds of thousands gathered together for spontaneous Song Festivals to sing patriotic songs in protest against Soviet rule, demanding independence. The high point of the Singing Revolution was the “Baltic Chain” in August 1989, when about 2 million people formed a human chain of 675 kilometers from Tallinn to Vilnius, holding hands and singing.This sign of unity did much to help the fall of the Soviet control of our country.

Once you have strong identity and roots, you can build on it. And Estonia has done so in the last 27 years, being one of the fastest growing economies in Europe through the 1990s and 2000s. The GDP per capita has tripled from 1993 to 2017 and the average monthly salary has doubled in last 11 years. Estonia, a member of the EU and NATO since 2004, joined the Eurozone in 2011 and ranks highly in the Human development index, which weighs indicators such as income, education and life expectancy (30th in the world in 2018, in comparison, USA ranks 13th and Austria 20th). And in the PISA Test which measures the skills of 15-year old students, our students have caught up with the world front runners from Finland and even passed them in the category of science in 2015. Estonia also scores highly in international measurements of economic and civil liberties and press freedom. Known as a home of Skype, a free Internet communication tool for calls and chats, Estonia is one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. An e-government concept, developed in early 2000s, has resulted in 99% of public services being available online today. It is not a joke that you can register a company in Estonia in 10 minutes. We were the first country to hold elections over the internet in 2005 and currently around 30 % of Estonians vote online.

In 2014, Estonia introduced the unique in the world concept of e-residency, a transnational digital identity card that enables access to Estonian public e-services and therefore we are able to do business from anywhere in the world. The first e-resident of Estonia was the British journalist, Edward Lucas, and one of the last ones, in September 2018, was Pope Francis. Now, of course, not everything is perfect, there are plenty of challenges too: income levels, although rapidly growing, are still only about 70 % of EU average and the regional differences in incomes between the cities and the countryside particularly,remain a problem. The pensions for elderly are still too low and the inequality in pay for man and women too large, but holding together, like we do at our Song Festivals, these challenges are manageable. Estonia has come a long way in last quarter of the century, we just have to keep going.

Contributed by Maiemajak-Knöbl


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Finland is often called the Land of Thousand Lakes, a modest name considering that there are, in fact, 188,000 lakes in the country. The size of the lakes, on the other hand, is so vast that Finland has most water in relation to land mass of all the countries in the world and the water is also some of the cleanest. Finland’s coast boasts the world’s largest archipelago, difficult to get an exact number, but there are at least 70,000 islands, with over 20,000 of those being large enough for a small cabin or summer house. It is also a land of thousands of forests with over 70% of Finland being taken over by forest – more than any other European country and it covers an area larger than UK or Italy!

One of the most remarkable features of Finland is light. The endless sunshine of summer Midnight Sun, when the sun stays above the horizon for over 70 days in the northernmost parts, gives way to dark winter when the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) appear like magic and lighten up the sky, appearing on 200 nights a year During the winter months, temperatures can drop as low as –35 degree Celsius. Luckily, this is not the norm as regular winter temperatures fall somewhere between –50 C and –150 C with snow in northern and eastern Finland. The snow season in northern Finland begins in November and lasts at least until April-May. In the summer, it can be as hot as 300 C, sometimes even more. Normal summer temperature, however, is just over 20 degrees. It is common to have up to a 70-degree difference in temperature between January and July.

This year Finland topped the World Happiness Report, in which 156 countries were ranked by happiness levels, based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption. A Finnish term, jokamiehen oikeus, everyman’s right, means you can walk freely in the nature: you can pick wild berries and mushrooms, but not someone’s apples or plums. You can go canoeing and camping, but not too close to someone’s house. In many areas, fishing requires a permit. In the rush and crush of modern life, the simple things are what makes the Finns happy, such as space quiet and time, oma aika. Finns feel good in the forest. Not alone, not lost – the forest provides protection and peace. Berry-picking is something nearly all Finns do, regardless of age, wandering in the woods, deep in thoughts, filling baskets with blueberries, cloudberries and lingonberries. It is a Finnish kind of therapy for the soul.

A lakeside cottage, kesämökki, is an essential part of Finnish summer and most summer activities take place around water, such as swimming and going to the sauna, fishing, canoeing, rowing and sailing. It is estimated that there are over three million saunas, with a population of only 5.5million, in Finland. Coloured lights, aromatic fragrances and relaxing music have nothing to do with Finnish sauna; real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, there’s no smells except for fresh birch and natural tar. It is a place for physical and mental cleansing, and many suggest one should behave in a sauna as they would in church.

Finns say the sauna is a poor man's pharmacy. If a sick person is not cured by tar, spirits or sauna, then they will die," ("Spirits" here means strong alcohol, while tar was historically used as an antiseptic). Still only a few decades ago, the sauna used to be a gateway in and out of this world: Women gave birth in the sauna because the walls of traditional smoke saunas were lined with naturally bacteria-resistant soot, making them the cleanest room in the house. Upon a person’s death, the body would be given a final wash there.

Since 1938, the Finnish state has provided all expectant mothers with a beautiful, durable box with clothes, sheets, nappies, toys and a mattress – making it an excellent bed for a tiny newcomer. All mothers get to stay at home with their baby for almost a year with full salary or excellent benefits. When a parent with a child in a buggy uses public transport, they travel free of charge in most cities. Finnish education system is one of the world’s best and schools are free of charge, providing lunch, medical care, counselling for free and even taxi service if needed.

Santa Claus comes from Finland. His official hometown is Rovaniemi, Lapland, where he greets visitors all year round. On Christmas Eve he visits Finnish children in their homes. Finland is also home to the mysterious little creatures called the Moomins. Created by the talented Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson, the Moomins’ presence can be felt and seen – both in places such as the Naantali Moomin World or the Tampere Moomin Museum. Finland is a true design nation. Some of the world’s most imitated and admired designers and architects come from Finland from Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair as James Bond’s favourite seat to Marimekko Poppies worn by Jackie O. The Angry Birds were a Finnish invention; Clash of Clans also comes from Finland, as do most of the greatest mobile phone games ever invented. Finns are also a bit crazy when it comes to contests and events. Ever heard of the Wife Carrying, Air Guitar Playing or Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships? Whether an event “makes sense” or not, does not matter. What’s important is that you let yourself go and have fun! Perhaps it has something to do with the coldness of winters – the Finns just love their coffee. Finnish people consume more coffee per person than does any other nation in the world.

The Finnish language has 15 cases, no articles, lot of suffixes and any Finnish noun can have up to over 200 different forms. Try pronouncing “Äkäslompolo” (name of a village), which is easy and “hyvää päivää” (good afternoon) is normal. The longest word is: “epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän” – quite a tongue twister for some – but not for the Finns!

Hei, hei! (Bye, bye)

contributed by Helena Schasché

Meet Our Members: Sue Meyer


My first visit to Vienna was a look-see trip for 3 weeks in March whilst my husband, Bob, and I searched for an apartment and prepared for our permanent move in late April. Having worked in the Oil and Gas business for 40 years with most of the major Oil Companies, Bob started a new job in a new location with a new company, OMV. Hopefully, this will be his last gig.

As an Expat in the UK, I was a member of both the American Women of Berkshire and Surrey (AWBS) and the American Women’s Club of London (AWC). These international groups provided me the opportunity to meet so many ladies and enjoy all the events and outings.

I was so happy to Google find an AWA in Vienna. I met some members at the Welcome Coffee on Wednesday mornings, and I had the chance to embrace a little of the Vienna life style and culture for what will be our new home for the next 3 to 5 years.

How I ended up in Vienna

A little bit about me! I was born in Newcastle and raised in North Yorkshire, England, where I also ran a Freelance Hairdressing Business for 15 years and started a family.This is my 11th overseas move in 19 years. Starting in 1999, I moved from the UK to Newfoundland, then back to the UK where Bob and I married. We shuttled back and forth between the UK and Houston, Calgary, London, Newfoundland, California, Maryland, and now Vienna. Along the way Bob and I have bought homes in Paradise, Newfoundland and Bordeaux, France which we are now renting out whilst being based in Vienna. We still have to decide where we will base ourselves when Bob retires.

Family matters

Bob and I have been married for 12 years and have 5 girls between us; Bob has 2 who live in London and Huddersfield and I have 3 living in Newfoundland, Houston and Bordeaux). We have 3 grandchildren and 3 nephews.

How I keep busy

I am 57 years young- age is just a number to me- and I love yoga, having discovered Aerial/ Anti Gravity Yoga, a combination of Pilates, Yoga poses and dance, all with the use of a hammock. I also go to the gym and run, completing 3 half marathons, and play golf and tennis. Listening to live music, dancing, drinking wine, eating out, visiting theatres, museums and art galleries, plus walking, hiking and travelling keeps me very busy. I love a new challenge but within reason-I would not bungee jump or parachute!

And so to more fun here

Now that I am back from Newfoundland where I finished packing up our personal items and have moved into the new apartment in the 7th district, I look forward to meeting new people, making new friends, and enjoying life to the fullest.

Meet Our Members: Kirsten Detrick

Woman in the 21st Century: 8 Lessons for 2018

Kirsten H. Detrick



In 2016, my career in the bio-pharmaceuticals industry brought me to Vienna. As Managing Director of Central Europe and Austria for my Japanese-headquartered firm, I am responsible for various businesses with nearly 700 employees, juggling this role with that of wife to Herb and mother to our son Hadley (18) and daughter Lucie (15). Here are eight lessons I’ve learned that might be of interest to other women of the 21st Century.

Pursue your passions. My interests are diverse. Chemistry and Creative Writing are disciplines with little overlap, but I centered university studies around them and have never regretted the decision. Despite their divergence, each activity brings great pleasure and satisfies my intellectual needs in different ways.  Although I am not a scientist, I still apply logic and analytical rigor at work. One day, I’ll write my 1,000 page novel, but until then, I communicate creatively in writing at the office.

Reach for the improbable. In 1990, I had 6 months between the end of my job as a health care consultant and the start of business school. My dad encouraged me to seek a health policy job in Washington, D.C. My chance of landing this kind of a role was somewhere between remote and impossible. To prove how crazy Dad was, I wrote letters to ~ 400 politicians, then wore out a pair of shoes walking around Capitol Hill, cold-calling senate and congressional offices to present myself and my credentials. To my astonishment, I received several offers, and ended up working for the Senate Majority Leader.

Practice humility. During business school, I developed a love of marketing, a discipline I had never heard of before starting my MBA program. Desperate to find any kind of a job in the packaged goods sector, I applied to dozens of companies and eventually landed a job with a major pharmaceutical/consumer products corporation, working on an antiperspirant/deodorant brand. Marketing deodorant is far from glamourous, but it formed the foundation of my business career, by introducing me to strategic fundamentals and business basics.

Take the Road Less Travelled. In 1992, I was thinking about traveling in Europe for a month with friends, even though I had been there several times before. My parents encouraged me instead to visit Japan and China, even though doing so would require solo travel. I decided to give it a try and years later, this experience opened doors for me professionally and personally.

Accept Imperfection. When my husband and I were building our family, we both held fast-paced, stressful jobs. Finding good child care was a challenge, mostly because we wanted Mary Poppins for our nanny (it turned out she was already employed). We “settled” for day care and it was a spectacularly positive decision. My children learned socialization skills, made friends, and enjoyed every minute of the day. Keeping a perspective on what’s essential vs what is “nice to have” has been critical in allowing me to successfully juggle work and family obligations. As a wise colleague and mother of older children counselled me: “…although you might miss the time when your son eats his first Cheerio, there will be thousands more to follow – and you will enjoy them just as much.” Her lesson taught me to shift my focus from moments missed, to moments shared.

Accentuate the Positive. In 2013, after a difficult product launch resulted in numerous job losses at my company, I was moved to a part of the firm considered to be “dead-end.” At the same time my career was derailing, my parents’ health began to fail precipitously – a “perfect storm” of problems. Ironically, being out of the corporate spotlight enabled me to throttle back on work…which, in turn, gave me time to be fully attentive to my parents’ urgent healthcare needs. Today, with them both gone, I realize that my 18 months of career deflation was actually a priceless opportunity for more time with my parents.

Trust Your Children. We moved our then 13- and 10- year old children from California to Zurich in 2013. Although a transatlantic move was challenging, the kids integrated cheerfully and grew to love Switzerland. Three years later, I was given the opportunity to have full P&L responsibility in Austria. I asked my son, at that time a rising high school junior, how he would feel about moving in his 3rd year of high school. In response, he said “Well, it sounds like a good career move for you, Mom, so I think we should go.” Both kids looked at the opportunity as an adventure, not a burden. Nearly 2 years later, they adore their newly adopted hometown of Vienna and have demonstrated resilience, tenacity and optimism in re-adjusting to a new city.

“ABCD” - Always Be Chasing Dreams.  After a first year spent acclimating to my work and helping my family settle in to Vienna, I am once again pursuing new personal goals. For example, I ran for the Executive Board of the American International School in Vienna last year and was subsequently asked to become Chairperson. I take weekly German lessons in a quest to improve my conversational skills.  I continue to volunteer as a guest speaker at a variety of venues focusing on women in business. And yes…I’m still chasing the elusive dream of publishing my great 21st century novel.


Meet Our Members: Diana Rodolsky


Although born in Vienna, I lived in Germany, Switzerland and Austria for the first years of my life. After these years of unrest, I finally found a real home in Philadelphia at the age of nine. However, with an Austrian mother I never felt entirely American, and in my early twenties I gave in to my nomadic tendencies and moved to Rome. Later, I began to feel curious about life in Russia, since I had begun to immerse myself in the splendid literature that was created in that country.  Perhaps I was naïve, but I was convinced that life in Russia would be adventurous, and so I packed my suitcase and travelled to St. Petersburg where I studied Russian for about a year.  After returning to Philadelphia, I once again packed my suitcase sixteen years ago to return to the city of my birth. In essence, up until my move to Vienna, my life was a struggle between leaving cities and returning to them.

As the granddaughter of a Jewish Viennese psychoanalyst, I became interested in Freud’s writings shortly after my move to Vienna. However, my international background also influenced me in my decision to become a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist. Although my numerous moves caused me to endure many hardships, they also helped me to better understand cultural as well as individual differences. They taught me not to overestimate my ability to understand foreign cultures and people. With a broadened horizon, I became fully aware of the individuality of human suffering. Working with patients has taught me how diverse approaches to life and ways of thinking about one’s personal history really are.  I believe that psychotherapy can be compared to a journey that not only reveals a new way of relating to one’s past, but also helps discover new ways of integrating previous experiences into the present.  It is a process of learning not only for the client, but for the therapist as well.

Although my family was originally from countries that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Vienna is now my final home, I have come to realize that I need a connection with other English-speaking women. When I found out about AWA from an elderly lady who was once a member, I decided to join. What I like most about AWA is the great diversity of the members’ cultural backgrounds. Thanks to AWA for offering such an opportunity!


Meet Our Members: Teddy Weyr


Teddy Weyr

Vienna. This city on the Danube is a part of my soul. My roots run deep here. This is where I was born, though I grew up shuttling two hours by train along the Hudson River between my father’s home in New York City and my mother’s in Hyde Park, NY, FDR’s hometown.

I spent my junior year abroad in Vienna and returned here 10 days after graduating from Skidmore College with a BA in German and English. I started out teaching English and doing translations (I also took courses at Webster University here) before following in the journalistic footsteps of my father and his father before him. I was blessed with wonderful mentors who helped me get started freelancing, which led to a job at The Associated Press. I worked for the AP here for 10 years, also covering Eastern Europe and the Balkans during the fall of the Wall and the wars in former Yugoslavia.

I was a member of the AWA then and recently rejoined after returning to Vienna 20 years after I left to continue my journalistic career in Baltimore (with the AP), Washington (Voice of America) and, most recently, Germany (with Stars and Stripes). In 2007, I completed a Masters in Publications Design at the University of Baltimore. 

Late last year, I made the difficult decision to take a risk on making a fresh start. I quit my job and returned in February to the city I love with a passion. My desire to share that with others led me to the course to prepare for the rigorous exam required to be certified as a Vienna tour guide. The three-semester course began in September. In the Spring, I took a diploma course in Event Management, also at the career development school here, BFI.

I said my roots run deep. My grandfather, Siegfried Weyr, wrote extensively about the city, its history, its legends, historical figures from all walks of life, famous and not. He, too, loved Vienna and returned immediately after the war. He, my father and grandmother spent the war years in London and the United States, finally settling in New York City. My father, Thomas Weyr, also has written about Vienna, how it suffered under Hitler and his memories of his childhood and his return as an adult after the war. My grandfather’s uncle, Rudolf von Weyr, was a sculptor whose works, including the lions in Nussdorf, are scattered about this city. 

My husband of 17 years, Mike, (also a former journalist, now retired) has supported me through every transition and allowed me to follow my own path. We have no children, but two cats.

In between studying Vienna’s history, art and legends, I want to do some freelance editing, writing and translating, and to put my new event management skills to the test. 

AWA was a welcome source of support through my previous years in Vienna, and I am glad to be back in its fold, looking forward to getting involved, networking and making new friends

Meet Our Members: Laurie Richardson



I've been involved in AWA for so long, most people know who I am – but since we have so many new members, I'm delighted to introduce myself. I came to Vienna in 2006 from Washington, DC with my Austrian husband Friedl, our son Lucas and dog Daisy. I love this city and everything it has to offer. Our son will be leaving the nest next summer to study at an American university, and we'll always go back to my home country to visit family and friends, but Austria is our home now.

When I arrived in Vienna, I spoke German and had several Austrian friends. My sister-in-law gave me a copy of Living in Vienna, so I knew about AWA, but I thought I could go full-immersion into Austrian assimilation. When I realized that I needed a connection with English-speaking women, I found my way to an AWA meeting in September 2007 and signed up to work on the team researching and writing the 2008 edition of Living in Vienna. I wound up being co-managing editor, and found a circle of international friends at AWA. I had the privilege of being AWA's Vice President for Programs (2008 – 2009) and then President (2010-2012).

Through AWA, I got involved in FAWCO, the global network of American and international women's clubs with 64 member clubs in 34 countries representing around 12,000 women. I have been FAWCO's UN Rep in Vienna since 2012, and served as FAWCO Vice President for Global Issues from 2013 – 2015. I am now FAWCO's UN Liaison, leading a team of 14 UN Representatives in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Athens and Bonn. FAWCO is a UN-accredited NGO with consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), so we can send delegations to UN conferences. Dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, we focus on gender equality, women's empowerment, human rights and climate justice.

I was born on United Nations Day and when I visited the UN in New York at the age of 7, it made a big impression on me. I did an internship at the UN Development Program in New York as a graduate student, and I applied to their management program, but they didn't hire any Americans for several years. Since I've wanted to work with the UN for as long as I can remember, my FAWCO work is the fulfillment of one of my life's dreams. I'm eternally grateful to AWA for leading me to FAWCO, and grateful for so many things in life!


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: 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!