It doesn’t feel like it’s been 5 months, but as I’m typing this, I’m on my way to Milano, the train is rolling south through Switzerland, there are Alps outside my window, and there is no denying it – it’s warm, it’s late May, and I’ve added another month to my experience in der Schweiz.
Last time I went to Milan, I lived in Mannheim (Germany) for a year on a student exchange. I remember looking at the map in my student dorm and always wanting to go as far and as exotic as possible – trains, planes, buses – the method of transportation and the length of the journey was not important, as long as it was student-cheap and could be squeezed in, with all-nighters and all, into a long a weekend.
But now, as I was passing the Swiss-Italian border, I thought “how nice it is, that this is such a close and comfortable trip, that it doesn’t even feel like a trek, and I can be back home in Zürich at any time”. No time differences, no long exhausting travel, no night time connections – just a hop, a skip and a step, and I’m in Italy.
I always wanted to live in a central place, and that was one of the biggest downsides of Vancouver, which is as beautiful, as it is far away from everything. So now that I am older and ever more appreciative of short distances, I’m so grateful to be living in such a central country and such a well-connected city.
When parents visit
One of the big events this month is that my parents are in Zürich for a visit and having them here feels like two different worlds are colliding. My childhood and Canadian life, and now my grown up new Swiss life. Parents don’t even realize how much they bring a particle of another world with them. They think they are just on a nice vacation, but you look at them and think about your home country, think about what you left and where you are now, think about your future, to what extent you’ll ever feel at home, and conversations of comparison are inevitable – where is it more expensive to live, where is the weather nicer, where are the milk products better.. 😀 (this may be an Eastern European thing..)
I think there was a part of me that wanted to somehow show them my integration progress – “These are my favorite shops, and this is my favorite spot by the lake, and this my morning routine, and, and.. did you hear me speak German just now?” (did anyone watch “Enchanted” when the little chipmunk does an explanatory performance for Prince Charming in the restaurant, and in the end, thinking he obviously did a great job, stands there with his little arms open, breathless, beaming and excited to get praise? It’s kind of like that :))) Like a little kid who wants to get a good grade after an assignment well done. I think maybe it’s also a way of trying to show them “I’m OK, I’ve got this. No need to worry about me being 8,000km away.”
Checkpoints & medals
The moving process is not a gentle upwards curve, often it’s more like a stock market graph, tons of mini ups and downs that when mapped over time, slope up, but in the moment don’t feel quite as smooth. Sometimes you could be telling a friend – “yeah, everything is great, I feel good here” and then the next day you get hit by a wave of homesickness or make some kind of small and silly cultural mistake that feels big and important, and then for the next three days you’re in a weird mood.
I didn’t do these monthly checkpoints when I moved to other countries. It was always a similar process – a lot of thinking and reflecting in the beginning, when things were new and overwhelming, and then growing comfort and busy schedule would take over and the more familiar things became, the harder, in a way, it was to write and reflect about them. So I’m actually quite grateful for this blog and the incentive it gives me to stop and think about where I am as time goes on.
Also, coming back to the theme of parents, visitors, integration progress and tying this in with checkpoints – the truth of the matter is that no one will give you a medal for moving abroad and doing it well. Even though people will kindly and politely inquire “how is Switzerland?” and support you through the good and the bad, in the end, you, most of all, have to give yourself credit. You have to check in and realize how much you achieved since day one; you have to appreciate that even if things are not as you wanted them to be, already getting them to this stage took a lot of work; you have to know when to give yourself a pep talk and when to admit that you could’ve done a better job. Moving abroad is a personal project. Being an expat is a personal project. You’re not just living, you’re growing, you’re changing, you’re fighting big and little battles. And this builds a stronger character, a more open mind, a sort of resilience, street smarts and cultural sensitivity that no other project can give. So it’s a good idea to keep track of it, and to have an honest conversation with yourself as it goes on.
Excited for the summer
With May came hot weather and in hot weather, Zürich opens up like a flower. There is all of a sudden a million more things to do, a million excuses to always be outside – swimming, walking, tanning, drinking, socializing, partying, eating, reading, working, exercising – all of these can be done somewhere in the city, in the fresh air. With summer approaching you really notice how well equipped the city is – the basketball courts, the parks, the sports fields, the table tennis tables, the myriad of pathways along the river or the lake where you can run, all the badis where you can swim, the cool open bars, the terraces – it’s a city that really knows how to do warm weather, so May was about discovering that, and getting reaally excited for at least three more months of it.
Funny how five months in the country feel like both such a long and such a short time. I know so much more now and still feel like there is so much to know.
Photos from a late afternoon/evening stroll in Zürich 🙂