Monthly Archives: March 2014

What do you do when you already have a bad day or you are not feeling up to your normal standards?Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

You start an emotional discussion on a chat until you want to smash your phone in the nearest shop window. The advantage is you can do this on the train. The disadvantage is that your conversation partner might not get the message. If you speak on the phone he or she will hear your tone of voice. I observed a woman getting engaged in a discussion using her other free hand to show her frustration. She seemed unwell. Yet, she went to a meeting. (I had done this so many times in my corporate life that I could relate to her feelings.) She was chatting with her boss and I could tell she was close to crying or shouting out loud.

It also reminded me of my own behavior the day before. I had agreed to do a resume update for a friend but was frustrated because he needed it the same evening and in print. My day was already a bit annoying and then I got angry at myself for lowering my standard and not attending my weekly brain & body remedy (a Bollywood dance class). I skipped the class, went home, did the updates and brought the print-outs to my friend. He was happy. My evening was ruined and my mood as well.

Sometimes we feel that we let other people (relatives, friends, clients) take over our schedule. We do not set clear boundaries and then we are angry. We often cut corners because of “time pressure” or “external circumstances” and then we hate ourselves for not saying “No” earlier.

With clear principles and a bit of distance we can work this out better:

1) Take care of your health first. If you are sick or unwell stay at home and turn off your communication devices. Distance yourself from the stress.

2) Once you feel better see what damage has been done. Was the conference call really that urgent? Did the presentation really save the world?

3) If you know you tend to express your emotions in emails use the “draft” function. Re-read what you wanted to send a few hours later. Tone it down.

4) Delete apps that encourage you to chat unless you want to develop an ulcer or remain in this condition for the rest of your professional life.

Let me know how this went.




by Monica Shah

**This article was first printed in Mothering Matters, February 2014 – guest blogged here with kind permission of the author.**

Immersion and consequent cultural integration for our children seems simple: we move abroad and our children can embrace our ‘living abroad project’ by attending a local school and guess what, they will become fluent in a new language, which brings them unique skills and status compared with most kids back home. They are likely to develop enduring dexterity in switching languages, according to the research, that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. They could learn other languages quicker, and even stave off Alzheimer’s once they are over 50. There are obvious advantages from learning another language. But is it as easy as it seems to adopt a new culture and language, and what is the cost to our family culture/s and identity?

Cultural integration is difficult to achieve without speaking the local language. Fluency also provides evidence that a child has gained something tangible in compensation for the complications of living abroad. But it cannot compensate for being away from family and long- standing friends or losing one’s ‘roots’ (the importance of this varies according to your family’s previous global mobility). You might also be sacrificing established networks that help children in less tangible ways, and more worryingly, jeopardizing their educational success. Is it worth immersing our children? Only if we are prepared to immerse ourselves, the parents, too, or play the role of an inter-cultural translator to help our children hold onto their international culture too.

Moving to Switzerland with an international company used to be a 3 to 5 year project and in this timespan parents could be sure of an unforgettable cultural experience as well as a chance to make real local friends while here. International schools ensured the children did not lose out too much from having to move schools a few times in the course of their education. It was not considered realistic to learn a new language fluently without losing one’s own culture or language.


However, nowadays more families are willing to throw their culture into the global pot. Indeed, the world seems smaller. Cultural imperialism is out, cultural relativity is in. Why should my child grow up harking back to a previous national identity that seems barely relevant to global nomads? Schools also seem comparable despite the language differences. And when families stay longer than 5 years, those with two or more children have to face the fact that that their children’s entire education might be in Switzerland, which results in quite a different perspective on their futures.

There are many cultural dimensions to ‘going local’ and those who marry into a Swiss family are likely to have the greatest understanding of intercultural differences. Although speaking local Swiss German in this part of Switzerland is essential for any real integration, learning this dialect

does not hold all the answers for children’s future prospects if they do not speak standard German and understand the difference, as many English-speaking parents are discovering years after going down the local route. Standard written German is quite different to local German and in Zurich children do not embark on the official school language until they have left kindergarten at 6 or 7. However they might already need by the age of 8 to be showing talent and some capability to read and write in standard German – a version of the language that even their Swiss friends find strange. This is because many local teachers are already mentally dividing children in Zurich state schools into ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ groups for 4th to 6th class (leading to the Gymipruefung, the test to enter academic secondary schools :Gymnasium).

In my own son’s case, he did not get a place in an international school so he attended a local school for three years. Once he was fluent in Swiss German his English at home did become a little accented but more importantly he started to see himself as incapable of learning in English despite being an enthusiastic reader of English books. One day he brought home from school a comment about foreigners in Zurich and I wondered if I had sent him backwards culturally by giving him more linguistic advantages. In mono-linguistic but multicultural London there was widespread discussion about tolerance of difference and how to ensure anti-discriminatory practice which I found entirely lacking in our local Swiss state school.

Cultural differences abound just below the surface of what children can discuss at home, so here are my key tips for helping your children adjust to living in two or more cultures, or moving between them regularly:

1. Talk about the tangible differences you can observe in the street in the new and old place.

When you are walking down the road, notice the colour and meaning of road signs, which way the traffic lights change, what sound barriers look like on the motorway, what public transport is like, what people hang in their windows. Next time you are home or looking at books from home, compare with how these things look here and there. Your children will become observant and able to link differences with what they show about people in different places.

2. Identify cultural and linguistic differences and share them with your child.


When people greet each other they shake hands here, when they say ‘cheers’ they use each other’s name, in England flats do not share a laundry room, at your grandparents’ house they put all their recycling in a big bin and do not tie it in a bundle….

Middle school age

In German ‘Bank’ is a bench and a place to put your money, in English it is for money and a ‘bank of sand’ is a pile along the edge of a road or shore.

Older children
In Switzerland the country is governed by a multi-party committee, and the leader can be from any party, back in the U.S. we have two main parties and only one can hold the presidency.

3. Make a family tree showing the cultures and places of birth as well as year of birth. Show it to your friends and neighbours who could share their many cultures with you too.

4. Clarify what is a helpful generalisation that enables us to think what characterises a particular society, versus an unhelpful cultural stereotype that limits our thinking.

For example, Switzerland is famous for its clean streets and punctual public transport which are generally verifiable. The rural Swiss are not just simple farmers, this is a stereotype. Britain is a historic and traditional place but the British are not necessarily conventional or old-fashioned. America is the land of the automobile and the car industry started there, but Americans do not all espouse car driving instead of public transport and many do not own a car.

5. Notice cultural differences in teaching styles and systems: if your child attends a Swiss or bilingual school (many bilingual schools are majority Swiss) this can help them to feel you understand and respect their experience of straddling different worlds.

Parents’ comment: “The Germanic system seemed to motivate by endless testing, but without that, my son lacked any real desire to succeed. I told him at an English-speaking secondary school the teachers might be nicer but he would have to work out of respect for us paying his fees and at a Swiss school he would have more tests and stricter discipline at school.”

One problem we all have identifying cultural differences between teachers and schools, and articulating them with any confidence, is caused by the fact that we only see one or two schools, preventing us from developing a broad view of Swiss education. Keep talking to friends, tapping into forums online and exchanging information to get the most out of your years in Switzerland. And don’t forget, no matter how much research we do and how much care we take, a certain amount of what happens in the future is simply unknowable. It helps in the moments when the wonderful cultural experience we have given our children feels like a cultural minefield.


Monica Reppas Schmid

Angela Weinberger

Join the Families in Zurich Yahoo! group moderated by Carmen Crenshaw-Hovey

Tours of Zurich in English by Bill Hovey, History teacher at ZIS

About the author

Monica ShahMonica Shah is the founder and head of Children First Association in Zurich.

Monica Shah Zeeman, Head of Children First Association:
Monica came to Zurich in 2005 after three years in Bern, where she integrated U.K. Early Years teaching practices into a Montessori classroom at an international kindergarten, and taught English to older children and adults. Monica’s interest in working with children started when she worked in the
Oxford refugee community in 1987.
After graduating from the University of Oxford she worked to build school-focussed community partnerships between public and private sectors on an American model and then worked with schools in the UK as an advocate for disadvantaged children. Mrs Shah also initiated The Mothering Project as Director of a women’s counselling service in North London, where she worked until moving to Switzerland in 2002. Her specialism, Young Child Observation, is central to
quality provision, and ensures that children’s social and cognitive skills are individually monitored. Monica Shah’s textbook for the Heinemann management series  ‘Working with Parents’ (2001) presents her research on how to achieve good communication with parents.
Monica Shah Zeeman was born in London and educated at Wimbledon High School and Marlborough College. She graduated from Magdalen College in 1990. Monica has a son, Haresh.

It’s a rainy Sunday. Maybe time to review your résumé. You’ve heard it all before but I like the concise way the message is presented in the slide share below. Feel free to ask me random questions.

7 Ways Your Resume Is Boring Just Like Everyone Else’s | CAREEREALISM via @po_st

Many of my clients are stressed and anxious. Moving to a new country is one of the top ten stress factors in life.

Birds relocating

I recommend you learn progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a guided exercise where you tense and release muscles in your body either sitting or lying down. It is proven to have a healing effect on the body and helps you into deep relaxation. The effects range from better and deeper sleep to better concentration and in some cases better relationships on all levels. It is important that you make Progressive Muscle Relaxation a routine. I recommend to practice after lunch and before you go to bed.

Why I recommend it

Most of you have to learn 101 new little details every day which is one of the hardest challenges when you move abroad. You often also have to take care of several family members. Your own needs often fall behind. I perceive most of you as tense, nervous and many of you report that you do not get enough sleep.

Often in a new location you also change nutritional habits and your weight often goes up. Being heavier increases your stress level.

Where to find short teasers

You can try out PMR with these videos before you buy a CD >> CD in English.

Let me know what your experience is with this technique.

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailInspiring clients and communities

Recently, I co-hosted an event with around 80 women in Zurich and surrounding areas. One of the speakers almost made me cry because she has made such a leap since we met first in this community about 1.5 years ago.

Why is this group so inspiring?

It has to do with all of us. How we are when we are together. How we connect.  It’s not really important “what you do”, if you are a mom or not, if you are married, single or divorced. We just like each other and give each other credit. That’s why I love to work for this cause. It’s pure love.

Social Media helped us build the community spirit

Contrary to common opinion we started a group on Facebook (after we already had a LinkedIn group) believing we need a shared space that is only open for members. I know that some members still prefer LinkedIn but let’s be honest: When did you last post a discussion in a LinkedIn Group without being worried that you make an idiot of yourself?

Have you never worried that your peers would look down on you? I am constantly worried about what I can say on LinkedIn and what I can’t. On Facebook it’s less critical, more honest and a different circle.

Social Media is the real world.

We need cheerleaders. We need tweeps who love what we tweet, we need friends who share and overall we are not successful unless we put in a lot of time and / or money.

For my business I have outsourced Social Media because I know I can get lost in it. I want to focus on my clients and the least thing my clients need is to follow me on Twitter. They have enough stress to adjust to Switzerland, learn German / French and search a job. They get one or two posts per week (to their email account).

Don’t worry too much about Social Media. If you focus on serving your community and your clients you will work it out along the way.