Gretl Goes: Vienna - Meet our Alum of the Month!

Today, you can find Fall '04 Vienna alumna Gretl Satorius living in Vienna, pursuing a master's degree at the University of Vienna, and working on her next smartphone tour app (her first, Gretl Goes: Vienna, is currently the only 5-star-rated Vienna tour app!). 

So, how'd she get there? Our alum of the month shares her journey with us.

IES Abroad: What led you to Vienna for your study abroad experience?
Gretl Satorius: I remember my study abroad advisor really pushing me towards programs in Germany, since my school (The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago) had some connection there and would transfer credits more easily—but something about the imperial character of Vienna really pulled me in.

Seeing as how I was working towards a BFA in Dramaturgy and Criticism at the time, I wanted to go somewhere that offered an active and accessible performing arts culture. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where your big dilemma as a poor student is having to choose between the free outdoor Philharmonic concert, the free outdoor film festival, and the free live feed of world-class opera on the square. Plus, the coffee is abundant, varied, and an “Intangible UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.”

IES Abroad: Before studying abroad, did you have any career ideas in mind for after college?
GS: I had imagined myself staying in Chicago, working in the theatre scene as a freelance dramaturg—possibly also playwright and director—and eventually doing postgraduate work. I thought I’d probably end up either in Chicago or New York, possibly teaching at the university-level and writing on the side.

IES Abroad: How did studying abroad change or influence your career choices?
GS: Actually, I think the biggest consequence for me wasn’t from a particular experience I’d had, language skill that I’d developed, or contact I’d made—all of those are invaluable, of course, but what ultimately had the largest impact on my career and life choices was probably just a major broadening of my perception.

In practical terms, when I first got back from my semester abroad, I didn’t expect that I’d be able to afford to return to Vienna anytime in the near future. I graduated the next semester, and started to poke around Chicago for work.

I had been working in an auction house for about six months when I was contacted by one of the close friends I’d made while studying abroad—she had taken on the position of Student Assistant [in Vienna], and mentioned that they needed someone to jump in as her partner on short notice, probably for just a semester. I leapt at the chance and was back in Vienna within about a month. After the spring 2006 term, the staff asked if I wanted to stay on, and I ended up working there for another two years.

IES Abroad: What was it about Vienna that inspired you to want to live and work abroad?
GS: One thing that struck me about Vienna when I was here as a student is how totally dynamic the Austrians’ relationship is with the city itself. On the one hand, it’s like living in an interactive outdoor museum with endless exhibits—some of which are more than 2,000 years old. But, on the other hand, people here are willing to change and restructure this environment to accommodate their priorities and interests.

And it translates to a pretty high quality of life; public transit is ubiquitous, the city is packed with parks and gardens, markets and grocers are on practically every corner, the mountains, rivers, and lakes are pristine and easy to get to, the food is cheap, high-quality, and ethnically diverse, health care is universal, efficient, and inexpensive, and university education is practically free for Austrian residents and quite affordable for foreign students. (That was a big factor in my decision to stay and get my master's degree at the University of Vienna; actually, my tuition just doubled, and it’s still only about 750€ a semester. And really, what better place to study opera dramaturgy than here?)

IES Abroad: You recently released an app, Gretl Goes: Vienna. What led to the app’s creation, and how did you go about it?
GS: My interest in the app's content was inspired in no small part by the experience I had at IES Abroad in Dr. Beatrice Ottersböck's Austrian Art and Architecture class. She constantly took us on tours through the city, and her enthusiasm for the material was absolutely infectious. This motivated me to do a lot of my own research, much of which I got a chance to recount to incoming students when I worked as a Student Assistant.

I ended up also conducting city tours—both by bike and on foot—which, in turn, motivated me to come up with more tour routes and more thorough content to flesh them out. In order to share all of this information with as many people as possible (and once I got over the general discomfort of listening to my own voice), I began recording it and emailing it around to friends who had visiting relatives in town. I figured maybe one day I’d make it available as a podcast, but then a much more compelling option presented itself.

Through a mutual friend—another IES Abroad alumna, operatic soprano Anne Wieben—I met the dynamic globe-trotting duo who would become my programming team (Chicago-based Adelante). Over the course of about six months, we figured out our priorities (well-organized and compelling routes and content, a sleek, simple, and easily navigable design, and interactive offline GPS-enabled maps), worked some long weekends, and released it at the end of February.

It’s only been out for about two and a half months now, but we have pretty solid daily downloads, and have already gotten quite a lot of positive feedback. At the moment, it’s the only 5-star-rated Vienna tour app out there.

IES Abroad: What’s been the most fun thing about working abroad?
GS: Friends and family coming to visit! I love so many things about where I live and work, and I really enjoy any chance I get to share those with the people I care about. The best, though, is traveling to new places and exploring with other people—something that’s really easy from Central Europe. That may be one of the reasons I really enjoy working with tourists and students visiting Vienna. When people travel to places that are unfamiliar, they’re particularly receptive to new experiences and ready to find adventure. Sharing that openness and excitement is just a blast.

Photo credit: Catherine Margaret Photography

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