Tag Archives: Expat Life

Guest post by Lucie Koch

I have been in Zürich for a few weeks now and I am starting to adjust to swiss city life. I am amazed every day by how cosmopolitan Zürich is with all the languages heard in the tram. It’s wonderful.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how entry into professional life was one kind of culture shock. I have started to adapt to the professional and Swiss cultural frame. Working for Global People Transitions is a very interesting experience, especially since I get to be involved in very diverse tasks, from administrative paperwork to exciting business development projects. I am discovering how many gearwheels must be activated and maintained for the business machine to work properly.

While I expected to have to adjust to the professional culture, I wasn’t quite prepared for the general culture shock that I experienced in Switzerland. As a child who grew up in France with parents from the cantons of Zurich and Luzern, and many family ties in Switzerland, I have been exposed to Swiss culture throughout my upbringing. I spent a few holidays in Switzerland when I was younger and identified quite strongly as Swiss. But then this month, I found myself suddenly confronted with cultural and structural enigmas: What is the deal with these expensive trash bags? Why do people eat so early? I also found myself confused about how to greet new people properly – do I offer a handshake? Should I do the ‘bise’ (kiss)? – which resulted in some awkward moments of hesitation and embarrassed smiles. It turns out, I might be more French than I thought.

These experiences made me think about the topic of mixed cultural identities, especially in the case of expatriation and specifically about the children of expatriates who grow up abroad.

Indeed, when you grow up in a country as a foreigner, especially in an area of low cultural diversity as it is the case for the French countryside where I grew up, the Swiss identity makes one stand out, especially for children. You don’t understand the other kids’ popular culture references and you speak another language with your family. The scarcity of Swiss items like cervela, landjäger, and swiss chips or mayonnaise turn them into ‘precious’ objects for the expat parents and to expat children, they appear as relics of Swiss-ness that you get to share once every other month in a kind of family tradition.

In the end, as a ‘born-expat’, one gets a reflected image of the parent’s culture. Indeed, a born-expat’s understanding of the ‘culture-of-origin’ is imagined (through the information absorbed from the media, short stays in the country or from the family’s opinions and stories) and not experienced. Therefore, young expats born abroad have an incomplete picture of a culture with which they strongly identify. The resulting culture shock, when the born-expat realizes how different reality is, can be very difficult, especially since it touches the perception of one’s own identity.

Children of expatriates are a very interesting focus of study when it comes to intercultural competence and how culture affects one’s identity and life. We are quite aware of how being an expatriate family is complicated logistically, emotionally and mentally on all members during the first years of immigration or how tricky it can be to raise children in a country in which we are not completely familiar with the education system. It is, however, important to consider that expat-children may face identity struggles when they grow up and to actively address the issues of identity and nationality during the upbringing.

Have you experienced any issues related to identity as an expat? Do you know a good way to address the question of identity with expat children?

I hope you enjoyed the read, I’ll write again next month.

Until then, have a great day!

Lucie

Lucie Koch was an intern at Global People Transitions GmbH in Zurich, Switzerland. She graduated from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to a Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.

 

 


Guest Post by Valerie Priestley

Moving country and within a country has become a way of life for me. Along the road I learned first how to adapt to the employment market: going from a city to a little province town taught me the importance of researching employment possibilities and thus being able to make an educated decision: Could I only work in a market research consultancy specialized in the construction industry or was I agile enough to embrace a career change?

My next big move forced me to consider my family as a whole and decide what was best for us as a unit. The advantages of opening up to a new culture, mastering a new language, thus giving a huge life advantage to our two daughters, moving forward the career of my husband largely outweighed my newish promotion as a branch manager. This move which started as a bit of a dare soon evolved into a project which had to be led successfully. The integration of 4 people depended on it. The financial aspect came only second to the improvement of quality of life.

Working in the financial sector obviously helped me enormously to fathom out what our financial or taxation situation would be; i.e. no double taxation within the EU. We got help where needed to correctly appreciate the remuneration package that was laid on the table, for example to try and evaluate the cost of living, renting levels (1st item on a family budget),… We both activated our networks to gather as much information as possible before accepting the relocation. The head of HR of a big international company explained the different items they offered their expats. Other expats we got to know gently offered their time to walk us through their integration.  Their experience raised more questions, forced us stop and think about what we expected from the change in our -until then, very rewarding life, to examine what education we wanted to give our daughters, the effect on both our careers.

I took a huge amount of time and effort to get to know  where the schools were, how they operated, how easy it was to travel by public transport, what social life we could have, how the social security system and health insurance work and cost, where to find a GP, health specialist, shops… These every day details have to be taken into account to decide where you would like to settle down. This should not be underestimated: I have witnessed families failing to integrate because of a lack of prior questioning and knowledge.

Relocation agencies, are they worth it? The answer to that question relies not only on the quality of the provided service but also on the allocated budget. Their knowledge of the local market is an undeniable asset. But the last move unveiled yet another reality: some landlords are reluctant or totally against dealing with relocating agencies. So be prepared to have to roll up your sleeves if you want to make sure you live where you evaluated would be the best spot for you. Priority setting is a must: location versus cost of rent for example, this needs to be agreed upon by all involved in decision making.

Choosing a new home could be turned into a great opportunity for younger ones to feel involved in the decision-making process: before making visits our daughters were briefed to take care of certain missions. Each one was to concentrate on assigned rooms, take pictures and make note of what she liked most about it or what would make it hard for her and us to consider living in the property. The debriefing turned into a lively conversation and in the end help towards the success of the relocation.

I took the opportunity of each move abroad to master a new language: without a budget for it at first – I learned on the job. English then became kind of my second mother tongue or family language.  Language courses designed for expats or even better a one on one course should be included in a relocation package as speaking the local language is not only a question of politeness to the locals but also a passport to finding a job specially for the accompanying spouse or partner, a necessity to be understood by your new car mechanic, GP etc.

With the move the honeymoon period of the project finishes, the hard work of making a nest, joining communities starts. Join existing clubs to meet your new best friends.  Truth be told with each day you are given new opportunities to learn something new. I could not live without that challenge.

During this phase, discover and make the most of the new surroundings as you never know how much time you have to enjoy it. Life is full of surprises. No matter how well you planned your career, for example going back to university to retrain and find your dream job – my case, some economic or personal parameter changes and throws a spanner in your well-oiled system – my case !

And it is time to start afresh…new experience, new excitement, new opportunities to learn something…

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Valerie Priestley

Valérie Priestley is an experienced professional with a focus on HR and a background in both financial services and the marketing sector. Her thirst for knowledge and desire to help others grow led her to return to university and successfully gain a Masters in training in 2014. Bilingual French-English she rose to the challenge and now works in German.