Our family just celebrated our first year of living in Switzerland. We are first-time expats. So as far as modern-day continental transitions go, I have no frame of reference. But, my life experience and hard-won mom-skills tell me we are all thriving.
Before I jump into another year, I review what worked and what didn’t so I can consciously create anew. I do these “new year” reflections all the time. It’s a formal effort to make the most of life or Live Your Jam. Reflection also allows me to look at how I rolled with life’s twists and turns because most of what we think we can control is an illusion anyway. (I know. Bummer.)
We all experience many new years throughout a calendar year — job, wedding, birthday, lifestyle change, etc. Go to this link to get an idea of what questions you can ask so you can perform your own review.
My gratitude in 2019 for the opportunity to move from the United States to Europe, now in 2020, has blossomed into daily blessings. And, while I thought we would enjoy living here; we are falling in love with this efficient and enchanting country. So, in the spirit of what is working…here’s what I’m grateful for this past year living abroad.
“Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”Eckhart Tolle
The Swiss aren’t an extroverted culture as a general rule, but our neighbors did not get that memo. All of our neighbors have been welcoming and gracious. One year later our relationships with each of them have grown naturally due to a mix of openness and mutual interests. Our children play together, some of us hike in nearby woods, some of us ride bikes together and all of us enjoy seeing each other. We have a real sense of community in our Swiss hood. We left a neighborhood in California where all the children played together on the street and the adults genuinely liked one another. I didn’t expect to create a similar experience in a new country. For this, I am grateful.
In Switzerland, there are four recognized languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansch) We live 8 miles outside of Zurich (north-central region). Public school here is taught in German. But, most Swiss speak Swiss German which is a dialect, (not a recognized language), at home, and to one another. French is the spoken language in Western Switzerland (French Region) and, Italian in the Southeast (Italian region). Romansch is spoken by the largest canton called Graubünden (Southeast).
If all of this is a bit dizzying because there are so many languages for a country with a population of the state of Virginia. I’ll break it down. In my experience, most Swiss speak at least two of the above-mentioned languages or dialects.
To my delight, many Swiss speak English and enjoy speaking it. I thought the language barrier would be a real challenge and it is not. Recently while out hiking, I attempted to communicate in German (about my dog) to a fellow hiker. She listened patiently, and replied in English, “It’s okay, speak your language.” This is not unusual. Often, if I begin a conversation speaking German, the Swiss will respond, “What language do you want me to speak, German, English, Italian?” My family teases me that my German is so bad that the Swiss simply can’t bear to hear it and that’s why they graciously offer another language. I think there is some truth to that!
The Swiss, understandably, appreciate it when an Ausländer tries to speak their language. For me, it’s a sign of respect. A law was recently passed that foreigners have to pass an A1 Level German class to help them integrate. I agree! And, luckily, I have some cushion while I’m learning because the Swiss, who are fluent in many languages, also enjoy speaking English. For this, I am Grateful.
School is an anchor for families — especially those in transition. Housing, commute, and many other life decisions are based upon schooling. International schools, like the one our sons attend, focus on creating community and making you feel like you belong. Students and parents are a part of an integration process that is well-thought-out throughout the year; not just at the beginning. Students are required to learn German so they can integrate into local communities. And, for parents, there are so many clubs to join and create community. When home learning began due to COVID-19 just seven months after school began, our boys mentioned many times how much they missed seeing their school friends and teachers. For this, I am Grateful.
It’s only natural the pace of life slowed due to our move. It takes time to rebuild. In our case, instead of trying to re-create the life we had in the US, we decided to ease into our new life to see what unfolded. Our kids didn’t join sports teams, we didn’t pressure ourselves to make friends, and I didn’t pressure myself to get new clients. All this equals less rushing about and more time together. There are cultural differences that helped, too. Eating out is an exception, not a rule in Switzerland. So, there are many more family meals and time to be together – even before the pandemic. I was able to implement many of the practices from my two favorite fields: psychology, and spirituality. I have been able to consistently meditate, practice mindfulness in nature, or even while I’m cooking. The slower pace coupled with the daily practices of freeing my mental mind has allowed me to access my creativity.
I think it’s the same for many of us. We have all become so attached to being busy, that our creativity is stymied. You can see the impact of the slower pace in the creative outputs of those of us who were fortunate enough to be healthy and quarantined. There is space to remember and relearn ways of creating that were left behind as life got too busy. Leadership Development expert Manfred Kets De Vries says, “The unconscious mind needs enough time to wander, pursue fantasies and assimilate information collected from diverse sources. When we engage in activities that make us relaxed and happy, dopamine is released in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps the mind to wander, activating the creative process.” For this, I am Grateful.
Switzerland is known for a world-class transportation system; it is a reputation well-deserved. We have one car here and are rarely in it. We ride trains, trams, funiculars, buses, boats, gondolas, ferries, cable cars, T-bars, and chair lifts regularly. Our boys take the train to and fro school — it’s an easy, efficient, and safe seven-minute commute. Transportation really does run on time – we call it “Swiss Magic”. For this, I am Grateful.
The natural beauty of Switzerland is astonishing. In the summer, the blue-green alpine lakes shimmer and reflect the mountains that rise up from the ground. In the winter, the snow-capped Alp peaks etch a silhouette that is breathtaking.
We wondered when we first moved here if we would become presumptuous with Switzerland’s beauty — we have not. Nor do our hosts. I see the smile on the old Swiss gentleman’s face as he sits on the bench looking out into the fields of yellow rapeseed with a backdrop of mountains illuminated by sunlight. Depending on the time of day it seems as if you can touch them. Truly Awesome. Feeling small in the face of nature, while perhaps fleeting and hard to explain, helps us all feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.
What’s even more awesome than the natural beauty of Switzerland is the country’s relationship with it. Nature isn’t just to be admired, it’s to be explored. If there’s water, you swim, paddle, float or ride on it. If there’s a mountain you climb, ski, sled, bike, or ride it. It’s the keen accessibility to nature that is a marvel here. The Swiss invite you to nature to explore, enjoy, entwine, and esteem.
They are welcome almost anywhere: restaurants, hotels, transportation, and nature trails. Along with the privilege comes the responsibility that dogs are trained, registered, chipped, and owners abide by the leash laws specific to each canton. Chester, who meets all these practical criteria, has been welcomed all over Switzerland! For this, I am grateful.
July 4th, the US celebration of Independence is just two days away. Since we left the United States on July 1, 2019, it seems our divisions as a country have grown larger. We are a country embroiled politically in dualistic thinking which seeps in and poisons our humanity. On November 8, 2016, we elected a national leader that lives in an “us vs. them” world and has divided us further. The outcomes have set us back; there is no doubt. There is a vital revolution afoot for equality for black people in the United States that requires all Americans to demand action. 130,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 due to an administration that claimed the virus was a hoax and blown out of proportion by political rivals. There is much despair. But, there is hope.
We have a chance again on November 3, 2020. All Americans need to be more willing participants in our elections — at all levels. The United States has faced adversity before. It is my sincere hope that we can overcome again to fulfill our potential and promise of “with liberty and justice for all”. For hope, I am grateful.