Looking back on 12 months full of ups and downs, adventures, and milestones in my new home.
Months 1-Month 6: January to June
In the first month, it was all about The Start. I went through the long list of administrative tasks: moving my furniture from Helsinki, setting up the new apartment in Zurich, getting a phone contract, opening a bank account, finding insurance, etc. I officially registered myself with the City of Zurich and found out that Stadt Zürich offers integration courses for new Zurich residents, so I signed up for a once-a-week, 4-month course in German and started learning the local history, customs, culture, politics, geography, as well very practical things such as the local administrative, school and health systems, specificities of the rental and job market – in other words, Switzerland 101. 🙂
Two months in, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited for the adventure and feeling as if I just started a new relationship. It was during this time that I gave up my Finnish apartment, my residence permit in Finland had ended, and there was no going back. It was scary, but mostly it was exciting. I found a German course and started going to classes every day, in addition to the integration course. Within a few months, my German improved significantly. I was still limping on the grammar side, but I picked up a lot of new words and was comfortable enough to speak with others, always starting the conversation with “Ich komme aus Kanada, also mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.. aber ich versuche”, in other words, “I’m not from here, so please be kind on my German skills”.
Somewhere around this time, I also wrote this passage in my journal: “I don’t want to travel any more right now. Every day feels like traveling already. Figuring out Zürich, understanding Switzerland, learning the language, meeting new people, each day is different and is an adjustment. Each day I can get the “wow cool” or “hmm interesting” or “what, that’s crazy” moment that one gets from going to new places. It’s strange for me not to itch to get on a plane. But I feel overwhelmed enough with feelings and information that if I went somewhere else right now I just wouldn’t be able to dive into the experience because my brain would still be processing Zürich – you know, like I put my finger to the map, landed on this Swiss city, placed the pin “Home” and it’s “loading in process“.
Before my three-month mark, I had my first #cryinginthekitchen moment, after the famous incident at the post office where I spent 10 minutes trying to send a letter to Canada, but failed miserably and retreated home to wallow in my helplessness. Because my German was not good enough, I had to ask my boyfriend to translate papers for me, deal with insurance or in general, any task that required calling authorities/customer service/any normal adult errand was delegated to my German-speaking other half, which made me feel like a shadow of the independent-multilingual-self-reliant woman I thought I always was. But it helped to go to the German courses and be surrounded by other newbies like me, a little community of starters in Switzerland. Spring also started in the city and it became more beautiful each week.
By the fourth month, I was ready to venture outside of Zurich and begin to see the rest of Switzerland, so we took a very spontaneous little trip to Sisikon to hike, and then escaped the grey weather at Easter, by taking the train south to Lugano. After seeing the little villages, and experiencing the Italian side of the country, I started to have a better understanding of Zurich in the context of the country and how my version of Switzerland, is just one of the many sides of this small but incredibly diverse nation. I also I celebrated my birthday by visiting my dream spot in Switzerland – Lavertezzo. This time we drove instead of the train and I’d never been through so many tunnels and passages in the span of three hours.
Five months in, it was awesome. Zurich started to get warm, hot even, the lake began to sparkle, activity picked up. I started meeting people through my blog – like-minded expats, or other bloggers, photographers – a precious insight into the local creative scene and a big deal for me to begin to find more of a community here. For the first 4 months, I was doing great, but I was a lone wolf – aside from people in my German and integration course, my social life was mostly limited to Skyping with my friends and family.
Speaking of family, my parents came to visit me for almost a whole month, and it felt like two of my homes collided – a strange but wonderful feeling. Zurich rewarded us with 30-degree weather, so we were out every day. With my mom, we went to Lucerne and Mt Rigi, with my dad we biked from Zurich to Rapperswil, and together we spent as much as time as possible outside, on our balcony, in the old town, or by the lake.
When the half-year mark hit, I felt like now I’ve been in Zurich long enough to pick up its quirks, the little things that make this city special and different, and define what it feels like to live here. I was no longer a super newbie and it was nice to feel more comfortable.
My routine changed when I started working and seeing the “9-5” side of Switzerland, but I still did my best to squeeze the most out of the long sunny days, spending my afternoons swimming in the Frauenbad at every chance I got or sitting on the patios, and my evenings chasing sunsets by the lake and exploring the hot after work spots in the city.
Months 7-9: Summer
In July, between the gorgeous weather, weekend trips and sunny days by the lake, #cryinginthekitchen became a thing. If you imagine a rubber band that has been stretched really far and then snaps back, I think this is how I felt. And it wasn’t the city’s fault. Zurich was just as beautiful, clean, comfortable and if anything, becoming more and more familiar. I started to understand more of Swiss culture, I found a few Swiss friends (met through other expats), and since I was now working at a Swiss company, I began to have an insight into the local working culture – everything from the super early hours – 7:30am starting day (honestly, in Canada, France or Finland it was perfectly acceptable to come to work at 9, but in Switzerland, that’s late :)) to the multi-language environment – in addition to Swiss German and German, I heard French or Italian on a weekly basis.
But as all of this was happening, in the background I had also clocked in 6 months without my girls, my friends, my community, without recognizing anyone on the street, without meeting up with anyone who knows what my university was like, what my degree means, my cultural roots, my travels. I have clocked in 6 months of being a curious, determined, active.. stranger. And it got to me. I just woke up one day and missed my friends and the old me so much that I wanted to pack my bags, book the first flight to Helsinki and breathe some Nordic air for a week to get back to my normal self.
August and September were full of impressions. I fought back my homesickness by trying to travel as much as possible on the weekends, spending lunches and evenings by the lake, and planning trips to visit my friends in the fall. We hiked in Appenzell, spent a weekend in Ascona (and that blog post is coming), went back to Lucerne with my boyfriend’s parents, experienced the once-in-10-years of Badenfahrt in Baden, visited Basel for the first time (blogpost also coming :)), ate lots of yummy food at the Zurich Food Festival, went to a screening of “Molly’s Game” at the Zurich Film Festival, spent a few more days at Lake Lucerne (Lucerne 3 times in one year.. lucky, lucky me <3). Between work and travelling, there was not much time to have a “regular” Zurich routine, but my world was expanding to new places in Switzerland and that was really cool.
Months 10-11 OCTOBER & NOVEMBER
Fall was beautiful in Zurich, and as the leaves began to turn golden, the rhythm also slowed down. We went to the Bernese Alps one weekend to see the stunning Oeschinensee, and to Jucker Farm another weekend to feel the pumpkin spirit and get ready for Halloween.
I also went back to Helsinki for 4 days and it made me realize both how used I’ve become to Zurich and how different I was. In Switzerland, I was still trying to find the feeling of home. I was loving the travels, the country, the excitement of discovering new things, but when I was in Helsinki going to all my favorite places where I had been hundreds of times, I realized that it was the first time in a long time, that I felt like me – relaxed and at home, with everything familiar, and so many dear people within a 1km radius.
So when I was writing on Instagram, that I too have difficult days, it was because of this. Because I would come back to Zurich and it would be wonderful but then I would find myself in a situation where my German wasn’t good enough to explain, or the fact that I’m new to the country was somehow a disadvantage (at the job, for example, I had to learn twice as fast – new industry, new culture, new way of working in addition to just a new job), or I would just have a bad day and I’d have noone to call, noone to see and these tiny moments would become overwhelming and stressful. The gravity of the move was hitting me hard – I didn’t move just for a few months or one year, I moved… indefinitely. I don’t know when I will leave Switzerland, which means that this place needs to feel like home.
Month 12: December
Holiday season in Zurich is magic, pure and simple. When lights turned on in the city, I tried to spend as much time out on the town as possible and especially blogging during this time was so much fun, because every corner in Zurich is beautiful, you just want to share it all.
At the end of the month, to celebrate our anniversary, we went on a perfect Swiss weekend – one night in Zermatt, a day on the Glacier Express, and one night in St Moritz – 72 hours packed with so many beautiful sights that I am still behind schedule on blogging about them all. Hands down the best way to kick off winter and experience winter wonderland in this country, and close out the year.
Month 13: January
So after a rollercoaster year, I look back happily on all the adventures and beautiful moments, and honestly on all the challenging parts (of which of course, here I listed only a few, since I’m pretty terrible at baring my soul, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m a superwoman made of steel, with super-human social skills and the adaptability of a chameleon – of course, parts of this journey are hard (or very hard) for me too).
- INTEGRATION: doing the integration course and the German course right from the beginning was the best decision. It eased me into the move, gave me a sense of community and raised my German language skills to a comfortable level. If anything, I feel guilty now because since I stopped attending courses, I feel like I haven’t improved much. I’m still a low B1 on my worst days and a shaky B2 on my best days. Something to change in 2018. But if there is anything I can recommend is, if you’re new to the city and you have a chance to do the integration course while also learning the language – try it.
- TRAVEL: Because in the beginning, the move itself felt like traveling every day, I spent the first half year hibernating in Zurich. But once the floodgates opened, there was no turning back – Switzerland is a beautiful country, with many diverse corners, and I don’t want to take it for granted that I’m only a short train ride away from most of them. Can’t wait to explore the French part in 2018.
- BLOGGING: This blog has given me not only a way to express myself and share the journey, but also meet like-minded people, other creatives, other expats, with whom I could connect, and on top of that, so many of you write me to say that it helps you to read my posts, to see someone else’s perspective, and this is a big joy for me because it feels like in a tiny way, I am giving back for this amazing journey I’ve been given. So more blogging in 2018 🙂
- FRIENDS: Making friends is hard. Full stop. I get asked a lot “how did you make new friends?” and I find it difficult to answer because, and maybe I’m being hard on myself here, but I don’t feel like I’m the best example. Still, I think doing something that you love – blogging, sports, hobbies or finding a job that you love, where you will meet like-minded people, is the first step. The second step is probably to accept that you cannot meet your next best friend ASAP. It takes time. And I don’t feel like Zurich is unfriendly or that people are cold.. but then again I’ve only lived in Northern countries. I hear from expats who come from Italy or Spain that it’s a hard time here, but I tell them I think Finland is friendly so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask :)) This year I will actively try to find more Swiss friends and I will keep you posted on how that goes 🙂
- END YEAR GOAL: to feel more like myself. I think at the end of the day, the biggest goal of the expat journey is to find your identity in this new place. I won’t be the same girl that I was in Helsinki, or Paris, or Montreal, or Vancouver, but I can be a “next-level” version of that. Someone who has all those experiences, but now calls Switzerland home, and there is enough of Switzerland in me that I can step outside in Zurich and not feel like I’m still working hard to integrate, but rather it’s a normal day, in a normal week, of a normal year. Let’s see how I feel in 12 months 🙂
Thank you for being with me this whole year, for giving me advice, supporting me, letting me vent, share, learn along with you guys. This blog is always the upside of the rollercoaster. Here’s to year two!