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We are sitting here in the very spacious and modern premises of the Expat Center Vienna. What was the reason for establishing the Expat Center in this form?
Through its work, the Vienna Business Agency (Wirtschaftsagentur der Stadt Wien), which initiated the Expat Center, has maintained ongoing close contacts with international business people in the 30 years of its existence. In the course of time, it became evident that in particular people from abroad often find it hard to properly deal with the very extensive service offering of the City of Vienna.
The City of Vienna wanted to bundle the broad range of services it offers to international employees under one roof, and thus create a central platform for companies and their highly-qualified staff. On the one hand, we focused on the existing offering of other cities. On the other hand, we integrated the experience of expatriates who are already living in Vienna.
The quick, simple and unbureaucratic availability of information and support is continually mentioned as a crucial factor. Accordingly, the Expat Center Vienna operates in line with the “one-stop-shop” principle. A team of experts offers individual, tailor-made consulting to expatriates and their family members on all matters of every life and all the initial information they require for their start and stay in Vienna.
Why did the Expat Center Vienna attach so much importance to a high class and modern appearance in designing and fitting out the premises?
We also want to ensure that the first impression people get is precisely what we offer. We are open, modern and represent the City of Vienna. It is absolutely crucial that these factors are reflected in the design of the Expat Center, so that expats will want to come here and above all stay here. Despite the state-of-the-art technical equipment, our talks take place in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. We also put a lot of emphasis on making sure that we did not create a conventional office situation but rather a feel-good ambience. Since the opening in September 2010, we have had quite a lot of positive feedback about our offering and also the premises, which is naturally very gratifying. However, we are also aware that we have a long and challenging path ahead of us, and we will certainly not rest on the laurels of our initial success.
What are your personal reasons for taking part in this project?
From the very beginning, after I took a closer look at the ideas underlying the project, I clearly saw that the whole thing is an extremely exciting undertaking. What could be more interesting than developing a brand-new service and gaining a deeper insight into different areas: real estate development and cooperation with architects, contact to top companies, serving highly interesting people, forming networks with the service hubs of the City of Vienna, planning events, designing the Website from Day One, and much more.
I am motivated again and again by the diversity of these issues to resolutely press ahead with the path we have chosen, and to successively add one module after another.
At this point I do have to add that it would never have been possible to get this far without my colleagues. When it comes to the really important things, the information, consulting and networks, we benefit from our own experience living abroad for longer periods of time. This is the only way we can really put ourselves in their shoes and understand the needs of expatriates.
I myself spent a lot of time in Italy and China. I frequently wished I could have taken advantage of a comparable offering, in order to get somewhat easier access to the supposedly simple, everyday things one needs. I can still remember quite well how much time I invested, with a dictionary in my hand, to open up a bank account in China. This was after five friends recommended five different possibilities …
We're continually striving to expand the way we view things. This means not taking things to be self-evident but being open to every question.
Where does the Expat Center stand now, four months after it opened?
Time just flew by during these first four months. From the very first day numerous expats have come to us with their questions – by telephone and email but also on location at the Expat Center. Also many domestic and international companies here in Vienna have approached us to clarify open issues and to pass on information about our networking activities to their “own” expats in the future. In short, our consulting services have been used from the very beginning and demand for our services is steadily increasing.
We are particularly proud of a major milestone which involved close to nine months of work, namely our Website. It is available in German and English and provides assistance on all issues dealing with living and working in Vienna. Due to the extensive feedback we have received, we are continuously expanding what is online, and are developing targeted fact sheets on frequently asked questions and topics of interest. An online calendar with all events is also being planned.
What are the next steps you are planning? What will happen over the next four months?
Our next major goal is to organize networking activities together with partners from the business community, international organizations, associations and the City of Vienna. In our talks with people they often mention how nice it would be to exchange views or spend time with people having the same interests, how important it is to integrate family members who have come and how much potential networks offer. For this reason, we have decided to place particular emphasis on this area. Here we will manage to get some things going together with cooperation and sponsoring partners.
What are the long-term objectives of the Expat Center Vienna?
On a long-term basis, we would like to create a linked expat community, which is optimally connected to each other as well as to the Viennese population. The city should become even more an international “place to be”. For me it is also important to increase overall awareness of “expatriates” on the part of the Austrian and particularly the Viennese population, in order to enhance the understanding and acceptance of international employees. Domestic companies should also understand more than in the past the enormous value of employing expats in their companies.
In the future, I see the Expat Center as an internationally established, central competence center which at the same time serves a popular and gladly used meeting point for expatriates and their families.
Vienna is a cosmopolitan city which is full of opportunities. Our aim is to have expatriates convey this image throughout the entire world.
Interview with Caroline Rainer, MA.