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Three years in Switzerland

THREE YEARS in Switzerland.

Technically the anniversary was in late January, but it took me a while to gather my thoughts and wrap my head around this. To be honest, I don’t have an exact date on which I celebrate because moving was a process – should I mark the first day I came here? The day I moved into the apartment? Or when I got my resident permit? Or maybe it’s the day of the flight from Helsinki to Zurich, when I closed the door for the last time on my beloved studio in my Northern home and flew two monster suitcases to Zurich, with a layover in Frankfurt and a flight so bumpy, so terrible, so emotional from FRA to ZRH that I became a scared flyer for the next two years, but Zurich officially became my only home?

Since I don’t have an exact date, I go by my feelings and it now FEELS as what I think three years feels like.

If you’re curious for what Year One felt like, you can find that blogpost here. But if you search for “Two Years in Switzerland”, you won’t find it. Because I didn’t write it. Because two years in it was so hard, so busy, so emotional, draining, with so many questions and insecurities in my head, and I had so much on my plate.. that there was no space within me to sit down and face everything that was going on and share it. So this is where I’ll start.

The journey from Year 1 to Year 3, in my mind, is the hardest for an expat. Because in Year 1, you are still excited, new and forgiven for not knowing things, for missing home, for being different. But once Year 2 rolls in, the shiny “just moved” wears off a little and people start having expectations of you, and worse, you start having expectations of yourself – “I should be good at this now. My German should be better. I should have friends by now, shouldn’t I? Why am I not doing as well in my career as my friends/colleagues/rest of the world?” the list goes on.

Year 2 and 3 is a constant challenge and growth. For me, alongside beautiful trips and discoveries and the success of this blog, which brought amazing people, events and experiences into my life, there were struggles at work, there were struggles health-wise from constant stress and anxiety, there was missing friends so badly that I flew to see them despite being scared of flying because I just needed to be around “my people”, and there was a constant, big, scary question of “Who am I in Switzerland? Who will I become in this country? Can I be happy here in the long term?”.

When you move, you rarely move for an exact precise amount of time and stick to it. Many people that moved to Switzerland told me they planned to stay for one year and that was ten years ago. It’s not a straightforward process or step-by-step. It’s.. a wiggly line 😀  ..like a dance between who you are, the opportunities that come your way, and the everyday life that takes over – the next thing you’ve danced for a few years.

If I could write out how the process in Switzerland has been for me, I would say that in between all the happy moments and fun adventures, it’s been like this:

Year 1: excitement, admin, discovery, hope

Year 2: questions, anxiety, discovery, worry, hope

Year 3: questions, knowledge, understanding, more informed hope

Of course, it’s different for everyone depending on when in your life, and for what reason you move, but universally I’d say, the beginning is always fun and the middle part is always hard.

So how does it feel three years later?

Well, It starts to feel like home. I mean really like home. Not just that your name is on the door and your 4G works everywhere, but you start to find ways to be yourself – at work, with people, on the street, in your house. You start to do less pretending or trying to be someone else – someone more Swiss or more European or more like others in Zurich.. you start to know the country and understand the language, while at the same time owning the fact that you’re different and it’s OK. You start to see if there is a path here that you can take that will make you happy while being yourself. 

Many of you ask me, is it hard to move to Switzerland? Is it hard to build a life here? The answer to that question is so dependent on your personal circumstance that I’m hesitant to give a blanket answer. But if you want one, then – yes, It’s hard. But not that much harder than it is moving to other countries. Actually, I found that all the admin is so efficient, that there are so many other expats in Zurich, and that there is enough information in English and enough international jobs (in banking, pharma, etc) that you don’t feel like an alien. I found it much easier in that sense than when I moved to Paris for example (this is a whole other adventure story :D). Switzerland is a ridiculously well-functioning, organized, and accessible country in terms of getting around and getting things done. So good actually, that once you’re used to it, it’s hard to accept anything else (they call this “the golden bubble”). It’s beautiful, it’s clean, it’s safe.

But it’s true that it takes time to make friends. The country itself is so diverse from canton to canton that it’s not easy to find connection points and integrate. What someone would tell you about their life in Zurich could be vastly different from a life in Geneva. Many would say (even the Swiss themselves) that people in Switzerland are closed off and hard to get to know.. I’d say it’s true… but it also depends. The Swiss in the French part think that the Swiss in the German part are closed off. But the Swiss in Zurich think they are much more open than the Germans. I lived in Finland and compared to Finns, the Swiss are open and invade your space.. but for someone who grew up in Brazil it probably feels like no one in Zurich smiles.. Depending on where you come from, you will have a different experience. 

Does it get easier, now that I’m three years in? Yes. It does. Time works its magic. People know you for long enough that they start to open up, there become more touch points, interests in common, you start to have shared experiences and that creates something to talk and laugh about… and also, importantly, I think, as you start to become more like yourself (coming out of your shell so to speak), you start attracting the kind of people you can really be friends with. Because in the beginning you’re just alone and want to be friends with anybody and that’s hard.

Why did I want to write this post? I get asked these questions a lot and I can’t answer all of them but I want to promote and establish one thing: being an expat is a PROCESS. Living and integrating in Switzerland is a PROCESS. There is no perfect finish line, no set levels like in a video game – it’s individual, it’s hard, it’s exciting, it’s work, it’s growth… it’s one big adventure and it changes your life. And also, just because it’s one of the most beautiful and coveted places in the world, doesn’t mean it’s always easy and shiny. 

Three years in, I learned three things:

(1) you have to be able to find humour in the process because if you take everything very seriously it will eat you up

(2) Switzerland really is a coconut (that’s cultural lingo for tough on the outside, soft on the inside), it doesn’t crack on first try, and also an onion, you have to peel several layers before you start to get to the core – it takes time and patience. Someone also wrote me it’s like a marriage, and that’s true! After the honeymoon with its beauty/mountains/amazing quality of life, you gotta put in the work to make it work

(3) you have to learn to love yourself and appreciate yourself and have fun with yourself for doing this crazy journey. There is enough pressure out there from everything else, and since you moved you are on your own – no mom/dad/sister/brother/best friend to tell you that you are wonderful, loved and doing great. So you have to become that person for yourself.

And if that’s still hard for you, and you’re an expat in Switzerland going through the process, then let me be the one to tell you – You are awesome. You are doing a hard thing. It’s a beautiful country that comes with its own ups and downs – like everywhere else. Learn, breathe, love yourself and enjoy the ride. At least that’s what I’m trying to do. x

17 Comments

    • Larisa says

      Thank you for reading and for sharing your experience Hanka!

  1. Ana says

    Hi Larisa. Good pointed. For me is now year and a half to be here in Switzerland. Thank you for all the motivation and positivity you gave me with this post!❤️

    • Larisa says

      Hi Ana! Happy to hear my blog can help someone on this adventure <3 thanks for writing and hope your year 2 is not too scary xx

  2. Kate says

    Larisa, thank you very much for such a sincere post. My third anniversary in Switzerland was on 21.11.2019, so you and I, we are going through the same stages in parallel)). I agree with all your words, and from myself I will add one more challenge. I came to Switzerland as a dependent (pregnant at that time), that was my husband who got expat contract here. After the birth of our child in Switzerland, I faced the problem how to find a job, and with no success till now. My passport is non-EU, so are my three diplomas. And with regard to this, I do feel a kind of discrimination on the labor market, despite 10+ years on managerial positions in my home market. My hopes for better are still alive, but I realize that sometimes I’m loosing my patience. Your words are very encouraging. 🙏🌷 Thanks again
    Best regards
    Kate

    • Kristina says

      Same story here! Came to CH with a 4 months old baby 2 years ago. Struggling a lot with many things but especially with finding a job! My passport is non-eu, also have 10 years of experience in big international companies in managerial positions, but here it is nothing! I faced a lot of discrimination and disapproval from hr and hiring managers when i tell them that I have decided to stay at home with my son until he is 1,5 (“hmmm… what were you doing all this time? Got an mba? Oh no? Then nothing, you actually did nothing!” or “in the job description it is mentioned that 40% of the time is traveling. You obviously cannot travel as you have a young child!” and other examples). The last drop was the fact that they told me “no” for a temporary job for 3 months in the head office of the company I was working for during 8 years in Russia, in the same business department. Start to feel desperate …

      • lesley says

        Oh goodness!
        First of all I’m so sorry someone said those things to you. Every society has different expectations on how long mamas stay at home but really….you do you! How rude.
        Im possibly moving to Switzerland next year and although Ive moved quite frequently its a different experience with kids. feeling a bit anxious but we shall see what happens

    • Larisa says

      Hi Kate, I myself had a hard time getting a job and so many talented and experienced women I know here went through the same thing. I know how unfair it feels. But you sound like a tough cookie who will persevere 🙂 (doing the expat adventure as a new mama – I bow to you!). I hope something comes your way soon. x, L

    • Lesley says

      Hi Kate!
      We are thinking of moving to Switzerland. Ive moved about quite a lot in life but the thought of doing it with our 1 year old and hoping to have another is a different experience. Would you be open to connecting to answer some questions?

  3. Rafaela says

    Hi Larisa,
    Happy Switzerland anniversary! Thank you for sharing this with the world. I moved from Brazil to Switzerland around the same time as you. I am celebrating three years here on 1 August 2020. Since then, I have been living my expat journey, following yours, and it is a bit scary but also fascinating to notice the feelings we share without having never met. I am sure we are not alone.
    So many of us have followed our hearts here, still bringing that eagerness of being ourselves, independent women, full of dreams. And we are these women! Reading your story makes me happy for you and also proud of us, expat young women. Your words comfort me, and I like to believe that’s the beauty of the internet. I wish you all the best for your years to come! 🙂
    Rafaela

    • Larisa says

      What a beautiful comment Rafaela, thank you <3 We are in this together! x

  4. Vivien says

    Hi Larisa,
    I loved your post. And it made me feel so understood – I am here for 5 years now.
    I have been following your insta for quite some time now and really love your content.
    I wish you all the best for the future years in Züri 🙂
    Vivien

  5. Amy Larson says

    This is a great post and so many of the points are the same for me, having moved to Vienna, Austria two years ago. Expat adventures are amazing, but also challenging, in every way.

  6. Lesley says

    Hey!
    I found this blog after the possibility of moving to Switzerland came up.
    Its the first one I found but having moved from UK to Boston USA, then California USA I’m used to the first year friendship hustle.
    Im a little tired at the thought of doing it a third time but we love to explore and move and can always move elsewhere if its not for us.
    Thanks for the insight! Excited yet slightly anxious going forwards.

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