Being an expat for a year is a little different than moving one’s entire life to a new country for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s undoubtedly much easier. However, I think I packed a good attitude about living in a new place which also made our year easier than it might have been.
This entry in the WSJ Expat Blog lists 5 Steps to a Successful Expat Experience which I read about a month ago, and I was happy to see that I had actually already incorporated these steps into our experience.
1. Drop any pretenses about how things ought to be. Even though Switzerland is not as different from the US as, say, India is, I was still very happy that I had read about the culture before I moved so that I could be prepared. I knew to keep to myself when out and about. I knew about sharing a laundry facility with neighbors, and to not play my violin too early or late, or during lunch. I knew to follow the rules about trash and riding the public transportation.
Being home, I am constantly amazed at how friendly complete strangers are. When we went through customs and immigration in Chicago, the helpfulness of the people who work there stood out.
- Get busy and reach out. This was probably the most important thing for me. I am so glad that I not only joined the American Women’s Club of Zurich, but even more glad to have been part of the Orchestra which gave me Swiss friends and music to practice.
- Go local. Yes, I bought local food and went without a real burrito for a year. This was easy to do since I knew when I would be coming home. I discovered new recipes using ingredients I could find in my local Coop, and now I will be making them here, too. I’m sure they’ll taste different.
- Write a blog. Check.
- Laugh often. Well, that’s just part of my personality. I usually laughed most in the privacy of my own flat.
I would add two more. Don’t take anything personally. The Swiss are quick to tell you what they think. Like when I said that we were going to see the Matterhorn as a day trip, a Swiss friend said, “you can’t do that.” It’s not the Swiss way to go across the country and back in one day, even if the train ride was under 3 hours. We enjoyed our day trip and I just let her comment go.
Also, learn the local language. Even though I don’t speak Swiss German, being able to (mostly) communicate in the language made a world of difference in our year.