Bloggers in Transition Project 2014: Finding yourself in Switzerland

By Rebecca Wheatley 

Rebecca Wheatley
Rebecca Wheatley

In 2010 when I first landed at Zurich airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I would love it or hate it – I had been told. I knew people spoke Swiss-German and that wasn’t the same as German, which I didn’t speak anyway. I knew people paid their own taxes and that the public transport was amazing. I came over with my job on a short-term assignment, so I was lucky enough to know that I would have somewhere central to live, help with signing up/in/out and would be going back in 5 months.

That was about it though. I won’t forget the fear that I felt waiting to be picked up at the airport, with my huge suitcase in tow. Going straight to register and then being dropped off at my new apartment, which I had not seen before, then going out to try to buy the garbage bags (in English!).

That was nearly four years ago and it’s unbelievable how much my life has changed. After a short stint back in the UK, I returned to Switzerland in October 2011 on a permanent, local contract with the same employer. It was my dream job – European responsibility, projects that interested me and exposure to the top of the EU organisation.

I moved into my new apartment – again I had not seen it before applying and being accepted. It was huge. I went to Ikea. I started to learn the lingo. But something didn’t feel quite right.

After 6 months back in Zurich, I had everything I had ever hoped for – money, job, friends – but I felt the most unhappy I had in my working life. I realised that this wasn’t what I wanted at all.  The only bit that made sense was being in Zurich and learning German. Everything else was completely wrong.

So by the end of 2012 my life had changed for good. I worked with my amazingly supportive company to take redundancy, unsure what that meant in another country and how I would survive as I’d had a corporate job continuously for 16 years. All I knew is that my gut was telling me to stay. I was on my own.


Enter stage left Impact Hub Zurich: A network of amazing professionals

Enter stage left Impact HUB Zurich. It was my first business interaction ‘outside’ and has benefited me from day one. I found a whole new network of amazing professionals who wanted to make a difference in the world. I spoke and heard more German and learnt how to feel comfortable just trying and risking making mistakes.

I learnt how to deal with anxiety, the unknown and to have faith in my own abilities, even if I wasn’t the best at shouting about them. I started to write and reconnect with my love of art and my creative roots. Most of all, I learnt the value of my skills, experience and personality and how well they actually fit in Switzerland.

Of course, every day is a new challenge. I may be able to administer my life and go to the Doctors in German, but I am yet to get to a point of holding a meeting. Local connections are priceless, but take a lot of time to develop. Luckily I am pretty patient – it’s starting to pay off after 2 years. The true value is the push it has given me as an English national and back in my home community and to revisit my value to the corporate world.

Through the Hub network, I am back working in the UK as well as in Zurich, which brings creativity and innovation to my work. I took back with me skills, views and experiences that can only be directly attributed to living and working in Switzerland. A friend mentioned to me just this week that my outlook and confidence now compared to 2 years ago is unrecognisable.

Learning a new culture, language and way of living life may seem a huge challenge, but I would do it again tomorrow, without a doubt. Coming to Switzerland nearly broke me, but at 35, it made me myself again. And that can only be a good thing.

Contact me

Rebecca Wheatley is Founder of Five Brand Communication – a business that works with teams across UK & Switzerland to build their brands from the inside, by engaging employees in their skills and creativity, connecting their personal and their brand’s identity and creating human-centered communication solutions.  She also blogs about her personal development and art projects over at Life in Zuri.

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One thought on “Bloggers in Transition Project 2014: Finding yourself in Switzerland

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