Josef Prelec, Washington, D.C.
How did you become the Austrian consul general in Washington, D.C.? What’s your story?
I joined the Foreign Service 28 years ago, in 1987. After various postings all over the world, I recently ended up here in Washington. For me, it is somewhat ironic, as I was supposed to be sent to Washington as my first training post in 1988 - but then the Ministry was looking for somebody to go to Afghanistan, which I accepted. So, one could say that I was always meant to come to Washington and my arrival just got delayed for 27 years.
What were your previous posts?
As mentioned, my first post was in Kabul. That embassy was evacuated when the Russians left and never reopened. As a sort of “reward” I was sent to Libya, where I spent 3 years from 1991 to 1994. Between 1994 and 2002 I worked on less dramatic postings in Los Angeles and Canberra. Then I went back to Austria for four years, where I worked in the Press Department and was responsible for the Ministry’s website, among other things. Later on, I returned to Australia for another four years and was transferred to Zurich in 2009. When the consulate general there had to close its offices, I moved back to Vienna, again to the Press Department where I worked for the last four years before being selected for Washington.
You said that you spent time in LA: Are there any other previous connections to the United States in your life?
Only in terms of family. An aunt of mine used to live in Illinois. Apart from LA, that was my only U.S. connection.
How is your first impression of Washington as a city?
A very positive one. It seems to be a good place to live, good quality of life. The only negative thing I can say after my first few weeks is that traffic can be pretty bad. But I’m here with my family and it appears to be a very family-friendly city. So, I’m getting a good vibe.
And compared to Los Angeles? How did you like it there?
At that time it was a very interesting city and I really enjoyed living there, but my personal background was different, as I didn’t have a family back then. At this stage of my life, I prefer Washington.
Even the weather?
Good point! Well, the climate in Los Angeles was indeed more pleasant, not as humid and of course they’ve got great beaches.
Based on your stay here in Washington, or even on your time in LA: What are the biggest differences between the U.S. and Austria, if you had to name three?
Well, coming straight from Austria, one of the first things you notice is the traffic situation. Especially compared to Vienna, public transport is a bit of a stepdown and not really an option in Potomac, MD, where we live now. So, it’s still very carcentered. The second point is, as I already mentioned, the weather. I haven’t spent a winter here yet, but they can be challenging too, I hear. On the other hand, shopping hours are a lot more consumer friendly here in the U.S. I’m still in the process of getting acquainted with our consular district, namely what it involves, where the hotspots are, where the main challenges lie. This is a really interesting task, which will also allow me to deepen my understanding of the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Austria. Of course, compared to some of the other countries I lived in, the way of life does not present drastic changes.
You mentioned the consular district: Which is the one city or place or state within your consular district, you are most interested in visiting?
Probably not looking forward in terms of sightseeing, but one of the hotspots is definitely Miami, because it’s a very popular destination for Austrian travelers and obviously involves a lot of work for our honorary consul there, and consequently a fair amount of work for the embassy as well. So that’s definitely a focal point and a place that I’ll have to go and visit rather sooner than later, I would say. Other than that, we have a number of honorary consulates to look after and they are all located in cities that I haven’t been to, except for Miami. All those other places are still new to me and all interesting in their way, I’m sure. But if I had to pick one at the moment, it would be Miami.
Thank you very much for the interview and best of luck for this exciting new assignment!