Truth be told, when my husband first approached me with the idea of moving to Switzerland, I wasn’t even remotely interested. Moving to Switzerland called for a big CHANGE and I was not blind to it. This move would require me to reset my life in every way possible – starting with quitting my six-figure salaried job, losing a great friend circle, letting go of a well set up lifestyle. But (and there’s always a but), I was always an adventurer at heart and the thrill of the unknown was much stronger than the comfort zone.
So we bought three one-way tickets and arrived in Switzerland with five suitcases and a head full of dreams. Since arriving, there have been many tears and laughter, highs and lows, but after a couple of months, we finally felt like we belong. We had enrolled my daughter in school, my husband took to his job and I decided to enrol into a Masters (MS) program. I have always believed that for an adventure to begin you have to run away from home and I did exactly that! I wouldn’t trade this invaluable experience for anything else. Scroll down to discover how to become an expat in Switzerland.
On finding a place to to live:
The best way to find a place to live is through websites and the Facebook market place. My favourite website for this is FlatFox since it covers all the listings on Facebook for faster communication and conversions. My first apartment was through a website ( Homegate ) and our relocation agent had helped us vastly but the second time around, I did everything on my own: applications to agencies, movers and cleaning agency, establishing myself as the tenant of the century, contract closure and lease deposit. If you want to save money, I suggest you go about finding a place to live on your own – Google translate and your local social circle is your “go-to-support-system” when finding a new apartment.
Finding your way around:
Public transport in Switzerland is phenomenal and a way of life. In the city
of Basel, I travel from any point A to point B in trams/buses and in between cities I use the trains – intercity/inter-region etc. Having a tram pass and a half fare Swiss pass are essentials, also always be on a look out for the day passes and super saver tickets for travel within Switzerland. Public transportation might be convenient, but it is also expensive.
Mastery of the language:
The native language in Switzerland (Swiss German/French based on the Swiss region you reside in) is your superpower (no kidding). And, superpowers are tough to attain! The first steps to learning the language are by using the free gift coupons from the Canton during the time of the registration process. This offer gives you a basic German course which is great to get you started, apart from that observing people, reading labels, switching the language on your favourite shows on Netflix and participating in knowledge exchange free sessions are extremely beneficial. Apart from that, apps like Google Translate and Duo Lingo help you get through language barriers on a daily basis.
On going back to school!
Studying abroad is always a brave step; it involves an investment, both, in
terms of time and money. However, if your intent is clear, it’s worth a short! Here are a few pieces of what I learnt: a master’s of science is not the same as “continuing education”, a resident permit (for eg. B, C and not L) reduces your tuition fee by a factor of 10, writing papers and carrying out research is a constant and switching between full time and part time is possible but not practical.
Dealing with the inevitable: The Culture Shock
To be honest, one can’t really prevent culture shock or avoid it, but one can definitely cope up with it. There was a 180-degree culture difference between our lives in India and Switzerland! Integrating with the locals and the expats, both played an important role coming up with this new life. With the locals, one learns or familiarizes themselves with the new lifestyle, but you tend to have a stronger connection with expats who are going through a similar journey. Staying social, open to changes and remaining super busy was my coping mechanism.
The crowd’s favourite: Swiss Food
While Switzerland is the house of cheese, chocolates and potatoes, quick checks on food/travel blogs help a lot in order to identify the right places for the right kind of foods. Your palette has to be open to trying out foreign food, as this also constitutes to overcoming cultural barriers. Organizing and attending aperos (Aperos typically combine drinks and starters and are stand up/walk in get-togethers on a small/large scale) are quite common in Switzerland. What I have seen is that people embrace all cuisines, not just Swiss for that matter. Also, since many people are now moving to vegetarian/vegan foods, it is no longer a food market limited to meat eaters.
Your family away from home: The Expats Community
There are enough and many forums to get connected with the expat community; provided you are looking. For me, it was a tad bit easier, as I was doing my masters in English (which meant a lot of foreign students), my daughter was enrolled in an International school (hence, the parent community) plus I joined some Indian coffee meets. And after a year or so, I already had a big social circle and some really close friends. But, you do need to put yourself out there, it’s not natural to everyone but this is something that has to be done. Attend meet up events over topics that resonate with you, tap into your own community (this is always easier), enrol in language lessons or any other form of classes. The point is to put yourself in social situations, things fall into place after that.
Now that I can handle anything, roll with constant change, and embrace imperfection, I’m pretty much indestructible. Moving abroad has taught me how to step out of my comfort zone and to have confidence in doing it too. I have no other choice but to expect the unexpected and trust in my skill set to handle any issues as they come.
I have loved everything: the challenges, the opportunities and the changes. I
have definitely become more independent and self-reliant in a DIY society like Switzerland. It’s a great feeling when you have this realization that “there is nothing that you can’t do”. That feeling for me is the most empowering takeaway from living the life of an expat.
Do Check out Western Union’s How to Become an Expat blog post for more information and to see my feature!
*This is a sponsored post for Western Union.