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Guest Post by Balakirthika Jayakumar

Switzerland is considered a paradise on earth. Every human aspires to set his/her foot on the land of Switzerland. Why is it that one aspires to visit this place? It is the bounty of nature in this country that attracts people. Also, the high standard and quality of living.

The people of India are fortunate enough to have a glimpse of Switzerland through movies. It is a clichĂ© to have a song shot in this country to add richness to the movie. Either personally or virtually people have ideas about this country that is exuding “excellence” on all levels (including but not limited to chocolate and cookoo clocks).

These days, thanks to social media, we find resources on the net. Your search for any insignificant or significant details and you get them on the Internet. Thanks to the encouragement given by YouTube monetarily and/or intangible recognition that motivates one to share their knowledge and resources. It is up to the person looking out for the information to decide what he/she wants to look at.

I am a fortunate few who did not just read and virtually visit Switzerland but have been blessed to stay in Switzerland that too with a work permit. My husband works for a Switzerland-based company and after years of service in due recognition of his contribution to his company, he was asked to relocate to Switzerland and execute the responsibility globally from the headquarters. My husband is a self-made man with high aspirations felt blessed by the opportunity and with the most difficult dream becoming reality came a series of expectations to make this blessed life more blessed. 

The first thing was to give wonderful education to children. To our surprise, the education consultants in India never suggested Switzerland. They supported Germany, but not Switzerland. With determination, my husband put us all on our toes, and the whole family was geared up to find a way. The process looked tedious as we did apply to colleges, but got rejections from many. We did not know the reason though it was clearly stated. The simple reason was the requirement of Work Experience for entering college.  In India, we would work only after the completion of the first degree. This difference was not obvious to us in the beginning. Now anybody asks us, we would guide them.

One of the challenges to studying here as per our understanding was the high cost of living. The expense of education was affordable as the government supported the funding for all students. It was the living cost that one had to plan and be equipped with to pursue the education.

Another challenge was that for the VISA, the country gets approval from the student that he/she will not demand employment in the country upon completion of studies. A country that readily extended its helping hand to accommodate the student to empower through education unbiased does not assure employment. Unlike the USA, Canada, and the UK, which charge their students a huge amount, but paves way for their employment, here was a country that did not assure the same. Unless the student has the thirst to acquire knowledge and the willpower to sustain the knowledge, he/she would choose the easier destination of the USA and like countries.

If the family relocates to Switzerland these challenges are nullified for the family bears the expenses of stay which is anyhow a necessity. Such was the case for us. The first add-on dream of educating our children abroad got fulfilled. The education system is highly commendable with passionate, unbiased teachers willing to impart knowledge genuinely. 

Here the challenge was the pattern of examination. The examination was based on the understanding of the concepts learned. It was never reproducing the concepts. This was a part of the assessment in the education system studied by our children. Now when the whole assessment module revolved around assessing the understanding, it did look challenging in the beginning, but later children knew that the effort required was more and in a new direction and they accommodated themselves for the new system and started learning and implementing the same.

Life in Switzerland is fantastic if you have all the needed money. One had the potential to earn and equally had to shell money for a living. One cannot just casually lead a life. Things have to be planned. Certain commitments like insurance, tax, travel and accommodation are inevitable. A major portion of the earnings is spent on these inevitable. Like any expat, who relocates to Switzerland, we too have landed upon dreams to earn, spend and save for the future. This is an opportunity to create savings. With one person’s earnings, it is not possible to save as per the expectation.

The standard of living raises, the quality of life exceeds the expectation, and self-development increases. One tends to be more systematic and accountable. The trust one has in others is another marvel. The fitness quotient is another dimension that calls for appreciation and motivates one to be so. The dignity of labor is the culture of Switzerland that every country needs to acquire.  The discipline inculcated into one from childhood requires a standing ovation. The concern for the environment, the patriotism ingrained in each, and the support they extend for local produce is something amazing.

Having seen all these wonderful aspects of this country as an expat wife with years of experience in my home country, I aspired to render my services to this holistic country. I landed in this country with high hopes of fitting into the job market and doing wonders in this already magical country. With almost score years of experience, I was very confident that I will be quickly absorbed into a renowned company and that there will be great learning as well as a contribution from my side. I took a month’s time to settle and with great enthusiasm started applying for the jobs that were suggested by well-known job portals. There was a rejection the first time, then the second, and then the third. And when the 10th consecutive rejection came, I was shattered. 

Every rejection came with a sweet note saying that your experiences are highly appreciable but sorry to share that they do not fit our company requirements. My confidence was reduced and I was literally groping as to what to do next. I had no clue where I went wrong. All these years of experience I had created a mark for myself in my job domain and where did I go wrong? I was not even short-listed. How do I prove myself when not called for personal interaction?

This was when Ms. Sonia Meier, Managing Director / Immigration & Relocation Specialist, BECOMELOCAL GmbH who helped in getting settled in the country shared the details of a series of 3 free workshops to be conducted by Ms. Angie Weinberger, Female Founder, and Managing Director at Global People Transitions Ltd. This was what I was looking for. A helping hand to assist me. It came as a boon. I was a bit apprehensive. With an open mind, I attended the workshop. That was mind-blowing. It was organized so systematically with no strings attached that with no second thought, I enrolled myself in HireMeExpress.  This program was for 12 weeks interspersed with one-on-one sessions with Ms. Weinberger. There were many other people like me who were looking for scaffolding. I deem that we were a blessed lot to be part of the group.

I could understand the system that worked in Switzerland. I knew what I had to work on. Never did Ms. Weinberger judge me. She was and is always there to guide me. She seems to understand what goes on inside of me. She understands my state of mind. I have understood how to proceed and what is that I am looking for. With great confidence and determination, my search is on. I am getting a few leads. It is not easy for a locale here also to switch jobs or get into a new job. The same applies to me. But I have got a path now with the destination. Soon I will be there.

I feel instead of being on a mission not knowing how to proceed when we know that there is someone to lend their helping hands, bringing in the human touch to global mobility not merely by words, but from heart, one has to utilize the service and follow the process religiously to embark on the best for you.

I am getting to know the culture of Switzerland. I value their space. I value their beliefs a lot more now. With conviction, I am all set to become the Digital Learning Specialist who would create a mark for herself in the industry as a trainer touching the lives of many. I started working as a Freelance Editor, pulled together several anthologies, and organized a club of writers and my days are busier than ever. While I still look for a full-time job, I cannot stress enough the importance of freelancing to expand my skills and enhance my personal brand and portfolio. I am on my path and look forward to meeting you anywhere in Winterthur, Zurich or Delhi.

If you want to contact me please reach out via LinkedIn or contact me through angela@globalpeopletransitions.com. 

Goat Days

As I mentioned in an older post it can be a burden to be an interculturalist. The same kind of burden a Obi-Wan Kenobi experiences or Frodo Baggins.

We interculturalists perceive cultural differences in a way that go far beyond the stereotype. Our knowledge feels very limited even though we know more about cultural differences than the average president.

Being an “interculturalist” (which is not even an official word), you watch and observe the world with a set of “magical contact lenses”. These give you a clear sight into how the world works (and if this is not how the world works you construct the rest around it.)

Once in a while you wish you could go back to the Shire. You wish you could go back to the time when everything seemed blurry in black and white, when the world seemed easy to understand.

You want to be in that presidential mindset where you can polarize and put people in drawers. Those drawers you pulled with the half-knowledge you had about people, their cultural background, their education, their personal story and their personality.

I want to encourage you to have an opinion when it comes to intercultural issues. I stopped being “politically correct” on all media.  I don’t want to cry at breakfast tables anymore when people I hardly know share how they feel about bombing Palestine or about refugees. I don’t want to hide my personal life any longer because I am afraid I might lose a client when they know that I live with a Pakistani cook. I don’t want to care what people say when they see a female breadwinner who owns nothing but her inner happiness.

My heart has been with the underdogs ever since I grew up in the children’s home my parents ran. In high school, I was considered “too social” for a lot of people and I always thought of myself as a moral institution. I was going to go into the arts that I was sure of. But life came in between.

In university, as the president of our AIESEC local committee, I was once told I was “too engaged” for our cause of intercultural understanding. Like I did not have enough self-interest as a normal business student would have. I did not connect with many students in my class. Most of my friends were from AIESEC.

Working in banking and other companies of capitalist structures I often felt a bit out of place. I tried to find meaning in what we did. When we made staff redundant in Germany, we supported them to find another job at another company. When we outsourced to India, I saw the positive effect on the job market in Bangalore and Mumbai. I tried to tell myself that as long as individual lives get better through my work I cannot be on the wrong path. But more than once my personal values of fairness, equality and honesty were challenged.

One of my best managers told me, that I had high moral values and that this was probably why I sometimes struggled in the corporate world. It sounds strange but my moral attitude and tendency to humanism got in my way in my career (plus the gender I am born into as being female).

Also, the conviction learned in school that you have to be truthful and honest. Let’s say in the corporate world you have to be diplomatic and understand political behavior.

I went to my first SIETAR conference in Germany in 2002 and felt at home.  I met other “interculturalists” at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon. I will never forget the deep connection I felt with everyone I was having lunch with. It was a revelation. After these encounters, I understood that there was nothing wrong with how I saw the world. I understood that there are people thinking and feeling like me out there. I was probably just in an environment, that was not ready yet for a more humanistic way of working with people.

In the meantime, I have my own business grounded on intercultural understanding.

I have made a decision to drop political correctness and be the person that I am.

My clients appreciate, that I am honest with them. For a career in corporate this might be an issue but I am beyond that. I want to say what I want to say. If clients, companies or Facebook friends decide that they don’t like that I will let them go.

I want to work with clients who share my values. In the first years of my business, I was concerned that I could lose clients when I share what I believe in. I have noticed, that this is my fear of rejection rather than reality.

In intercultural training, we often tell people to talk about sports or the arts over dinner in other cultures. While this is a non-threatening approach and works 80% of the time, it can also get dull.

As a German I want to dig deeper. I want to understand what drives people and how they really think. I don’t want a glossy, shiny or otherwise manipulated version of the person I am sharing a meal with. I want them to be able to tell me their truth. If a friend feels racist behavior because she has brown skin, I want her to share this with me. I want to speak openly to my clients and friends.

I will continue to fight for minorities and refugees, migrants, gays, lesbians and women. And you know why? Because this is who I am and this is why I was born into this world.