Tag Archives: Switzerland

by Tracy Hope

When I was 22, I moved from New Zealand to California’s Santa Cruz, from one ocean-loving, laid-back community to another. I was young, I was excited, I was a newlywed on an adventure, and I couldn’t imagine the culture shock that I was going to experience there.

It was only years later, when I had moved back to New Zealand and was preparing to move yet again, this time to Zürich, Switzerland, that I really took the time to analyse why returning to NZ from Santa Cruz was such a relief. I never found my niche in California, and it never felt like home. I made few friends there and had a permanent sense of being a fish out of water. And that was in a country where I spoke the language and grew up watching Californian TV shows and movies; the thought of living in a culture with another language (or two) with no prior experience was both exciting and terrifying, and I decided I was going to enter this new adventure with a firm plan to make it home.

 

There were many reasons why that first relocation felt like a failure. Don’t get me wrong: I loved living there and the opportunities I had for travel and new experiences. But I had expectations from TV and media that left me disappointed and disillusioned, and the culture of forming relationships with others was vague and confusing to me as an outsider. I read books and articles about life as a foreigner in Switzerland and set my expectations low when it came to making friends there.

 

I bought novels and biographies, learned about the history of the country, followed blogs and instagrams and researched my husband’s new employer, a global tech corporation with a large European headquarters in Zürich. We spent hours trawling through the company’s relocation tips and processes, and finally one day he pointed me to a page announcing a network just for spouses and partners of employees. Nervously I registered, noting the strict protocols to confirm that I was indeed married to an employee and therefore wasn’t joining just to learn company secrets. When my registration was confirmed, I was given access to a whole world within Zürich that I would never have known existed: a community of women and men in the same situation as me, learning to get along in a new country.

 

I read every webpage, browsed every topic in the mailing list archives, found the answers to questions I had and conversations that reassured me that everything would indeed be OK.

 

By the time I arrived in Zürich, exhausted and hungry on a snowy Tuesday evening, two children and a husband and a wagon full of suitcases in tow, I had already planned playdates with other families and had tips on how to get from the airport to our temporary apartment. Within two weeks, we had solved all of our new-arrival problems from registering at our local Gemeinde and choosing public transport passes to finding an apartment and buying new furniture. As soon as we moved into our new home (and assembled our Ikea furniture), I opened our apartment up to the community. Ten women came to introduce themselves and offer me their support and advice. Within a month of arriving on the other side of the world, I had found my home.

 

Having something with as much value as this built-in support network has been the most valuable tool for my relocation, and it’s turned me into something of an evangelist for plus-one networks for internationally relocating families.

 

There may be nothing more useful to a new arrival than this existing support network, made up of people who have already experienced what you are experiencing, and can give you not only helpful advice but the reassurance that it is survivable.

 

International HR researchers and RMC’s such as Brookfield publish extensively about this topic. They have found that more than 80% of international assignment contracts that fail, do so because the employees’ spouse or family is unhappy. Having a strong support network for spouses and partners of a company’s employees can drastically reduce the number of cancelled contracts.

 

The purpose of a plus-one network may vary wildly depending on the country and the community itself. My own community provides support for job seekers, language support, financial advice, social events and even regular welcome activities for new arrivals, giving them answers to the questions everyone has in their first months. The community can serve as a bridge between the company’s culture and the culture of the country, finding ways to connect foreigners with locals and open communications.

 

It seems unlikely that something so crucial to a successful family relocation can be so hard to find, but there it is: in the city of Zürich, a hub for international companies’ European offices, only one company and one university boast a network just for employees’ partners. In the case of the university, an entire department exists to support families of employees, while the company’s Plus-One network was founded and is managed entirely by volunteers within the community.

 

And here’s my point: anyone can make such a community exist. Whether in the financial, pharma, or academic sector, any like-minded group of partners or spouses of employees can create something that will boost the chances of a successful relocation, and hence the success of a company’s international employee contract. With solid support from HR, a company can increase the likelihood of their international employees’ contract lasting the distance. When the family is settled and happy, it should go without saying that employees are settled and happy.

 

A small amount of time and energy can go a long, long way towards happy relocations.

 

Want to learn more about how to create a Plus-One network? 

About the Author

Tracy Hope does not consider herself a “trailing spouse”. She finds new ways to support recent arrivals in Switzerland through integration events and small business support, and teaches English to children on the side. Kiwi by birth; community builder, writer and teacher by vocation, she will try anything once. Her business, Language Plus, is an English-language school for Swiss and bilingual children, but its boundaries are limitless.

Hiking and writing

Hiking and writing are similar. You start with a regular writing practice and move on to more elaborate content afterward. One of the challenges of the writing process is that we are not always in the mood. Well, I’d like to compare it to hiking. Maybe you are not always in the mood for hiking either, but when you have been outside even for just half an hour and you moved your body, breathed fresh air you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after your hike, your muscles are warm, your brain works better and you can handle more stress.

With writing it is similar. Once I completed my early morning writing I feel a lot more accomplished and ready to tackle the day. Mostly those pages are random. They are not worth reading again. They sometimes just list lose ideas and connect the associations in my head. Often I express a wish or two for the next day.

I stood on the Uetliberg (that’s the house mountain of Zurich) when I noticed that sometimes we walk up a mountain without knowing where the top is. We have no clarity how far the top is and what the top will look like.

We are not sure, what we will find there. For example, I expected there to be a restaurant but I did not expect it to be so full that I would walk out again right away without even considering a bio-break. Or I did not expect a water fountain up there where I could fill my water bottle, which was helpful.

If you consider your first year on an international assignment to be an uphill hike which takes your breath away and makes your heart pound faster than a “Geigerzaehler”, then you probably cannot wait to reach the top.

From the top you expect to have a view and your pace will be easier. You expect to walk along the top plain or you could just hike down. During my last hike I noted a few concepts that helped when I hiked up. I would like to share them with you for your support. Your current challenge could be that you don’t have a job in market you don’t understand or you have started a new role or you don’t know what 2018 will bring to your current role.

Stand at a safe space and look back down

We tend to forget what we have already managed, been through and survived when we only focus on the mountain top. Once in a while allow yourself a break and look back how far you have come already. What helps here is the weekly reflection exercise I recommend in the RockMe! App. You could also just take an A4 sized paper and write down “What is better than one year ago?”. 

You still need to hike at the top

Even when you are at the highest point of the mountain and would like to walk along the plains you still need to keep moving. As a manager you will still need to deal with people’s issues, as a Global Mobility Leader you will still manage special VIP cases, as an Expat Spouse you still have to take care of your partner and children.

You might expect too much of others

Expectations and disappointments are a normal part of human nature. If you want to move away from other people’s expectations and pressures, then you could try to write down and speak out wishes instead. Because with a wish you never know if it will be granted to you. And it’s ok to make a wish related to another person but it’s not okay that you expect anything of another person.

Hiking makes your muscles sore

If you are not a fitness-freak you might feel your muscles for a few days after you hiked the mountain. I also think it is the same when we have achieved an important aim. We often feel the after effects a few months later. Sometimes it is necessary that you remind yourself what you have achieved and you could allow yourself a small celebration too.

I recommend to celebrate with a Bratwurst at the top but that’s just a small instant wish. For your new team management, new project or first year on the international assignment you could celebrate. Invite your spouse, partner or best friend to a weekend treat.

Hike on!

Angie

PS: If you feel you need time out to reflect your experience and work on your next career or life steps in a safe environment, I recommend you enroll in our RockMe! Retreat.

Guest post by Lucie Koch

Lucie Koch has joined Global People Transitions for an internship and will be sharing her internship experiences in a regular blog journal.

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 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 is intern at Global People Transitions since April 2017. She is about to graduate 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 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 Blog by Larissa Hämisegger

I thought I was bad at learning languages.

Back in high school, it was mandatory for us to study French and my grades were pretty bad. I don’t like to learn things by heart, I need to understand the reasons behind something. And that’s actually how we learn languages in school. We learn to understand the grammar of the language. However, all I remember from these 8 years or so of French classes is the struggle I had with studying grammar and words and memorizing the exceptions – and there were a lot of them. Am I able to have a conversation in French now? No!

During high school, I had the opportunity to study abroad one year and I chose Sweden. I thought: they all speak English well, which would make it easier to find friends and a sense of belonging. Of course, it wasn’t. While they do all speak fluent English, conversation amongst Swedes is obviously in Swedish. Real social integration was impossible without being able to understand and speak Swedish. So I took lessons in Swedish but after 10 or so classes I realized it was taking too long to learn something I could actually use. Also, I didn’t want to spend my time with the other exchange students: I wanted to get to know the Swedish life.

So I chose to do the following:

– I had sticky notes all over the apartment with the Swedish words for all the things we had at home.

– I watched Swedish shows with Swedish subtitles.

– I listened carefully whenever I heard people talking – to the sounds, the melody, and tried to understand at least the topic, they were talking about.

– Whenever I heard a word several times I asked what it was or looked it up in the dictionary and since I heard it many times, it stayed in my head easily.

– And since it got dark very early there, I looked through the newspapers and read about what time the sun rises and when it sets.

What happened? After 3 months I had this click moment and I was able to understand most of what people were saying. A month later I was fluent. I applied Swedish as much as I could because my main motivation was to make friends and integrate. The Swedes were impressed and started to click with me because I used all their slang words. Of course, I had those words because I learned what people were talking through reality TV shows and listening to classmates. But it was exactly that, that showed I tried to adapt and didn’t learn the language from a book.

Recently I had a chat with a linguist and then the penny dropped. It is well known that we learn a language faster by listening and imitating and not by studying grammar and vocabulary. We are not bad at learning languages, nor are they too difficult, or our brains too old – we just mostly learn the wrong way.

So here’s what do you need to do to learn a language fast:

– listen attentively and often

– imitate and repeat what you hear

– listen to and read about topics you care about

– practice, practice, practice

– incorporate the language every day

So my suggestion is, get yourself some radio podcasts or, even better, watch tv in (Swiss) German with German subtitles and do that as often as possible. Write down the words you hear often and then translate them. You will not understand much in the beginning, but you will get a feeling for the language, which is more important than anything else. Through hearing the same words and sentence structure over and over again and understanding in what context they are used, you will extend your vocabulary and your grammar. And speak as much as you can with everyone you meet and don’t worry about making a lot of mistakes because nobody cares about this but you.

 

Larissa Hämisegger is Founder of UNUMONDO, a company that supports non-German speakers living in Switzerland to learn (Swiss) German by facilitating real life exchanges and learning opportunities, rather than in the classroom. She combines her background in business management and organizational development with her studies in Yoga and Meditation to find ways for people to find a sense of belonging and connect through language.

 

Guest Blog by Reinild van der Vecht

It’s been three years since I moved to Switzerland following my husband, who got a great job here. For him going to work every day was business as usual. My challenge to make a happy life here has been quite a struggle. I was going to three changes:

  1. The career I had back in Holland needed some reviewing; it felt right to leave and start orientating on new possibilities.
  2. I was pregnant with our first child.
  3. The relocation itself: starting over in a new country.

I started on the third part: integrating in Zurich by taking intensive language courses and following the women’s integration course organized by Stadt Zürich. I enjoyed it! In the meantime I had my medical files translated and changed into the Swiss system of pregnancy controls. Via my husband’s company I became part of the International Dual Career Network (IDCN), where I started orientating on the Swiss job market. Also, I was quite busy organizing our move and the administrative tasks. These first months I had lots to do and to discover.

Then after almost 6 months, our son was born. Finding a new rhythm with the baby kept me quite busy, not to mention all our family and friends visiting us. I made new friends, new moms like myself I met at the “Mütterberatung”, at the integration course and at the “Rückbildung”.

Three months after the birth I was making plans again: I was visiting network events, getting my B2 German diploma, I planned to send out applications and I put my son on the daycare waiting list. By the time he was six months, I remember I felt like he was strong enough to be in daycare and I really needed time for myself. I wanted to be seen as Reinild again, not as ‘just’ someone’s wife or mother.

That’s when the real challenge started.

I applied for several jobs, tried to have a daily and weekly routine with my son and friends, but somehow I felt lost. Looking back, I didn’t really accept the situation I was in. I enjoyed the time with my son, but was missing my professional life. The applications I sent where too different, not very well targeted.

And to be honest, I didn’t send that many…

I decided I needed help. With a coach I researched my situation, my strengths, skill set, ideas and dreams. We brainstormed what jobs and companies would fit and I checked on additional education possibilities. Following an additional educational program at a Swiss university made the difference. My son went to daycare (he was 18 months by then) and I had time to go to school and to study. It was hard because the program was new to me (I was changing industry), everything was in (Swiss)German and making a real connection with the other students was not that easy. But I managed and eight months later I received the certificate and was eager to find a job.

This time, I really took it seriously. I started telling friends what I was looking for. I asked some of my colleague-students for lunch to discuss their careers and companies. It helped me to figure out what I wanted and which job titles and companies fit to that. In the meantime I followed a very hands-on workshop on how to apply and get hired in Switzerland. With a big portion of luck I found a job and I love it!

My lessons learned, which I hope will help you:

  • Take your time to relocate physically and emotionally.
  • Acknowledge your situation and accept it.
  • Make a plan, set achievable goals, be confident that your competencies are valuable wherever you are.
  • Broaden the way you look upon your life and career. I once read an interview with a Swiss director saying: “Es sei nicht tragisch, wenn man seinen Traum nicht leben könne; es gebe immer eine gute Alternative.”

 

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Reinild van der Vecht works as Process Manager at a Swiss cable company. In 2016 she successfully completed the CAS Logistics Strategy and Supply Chain Management at ZHAW School of Engineering. She lives with her family in Zurich, volunteers as treasurer in her local Turnverein Fluntern and is an active member of the Powerhouse Network.