Expat life has already been nothing short of a whirlwind. If I could tell you every detail and adjustment I have made and am still making there would be stories for days.
I used to be in denial that moving required any additional effort on my part. I took pride in my natural ability to get up and go without hesitation and I do not know if it is because I am getting older or what but I have learned in hindsight I have always made adjustments to make the best experience of my exciting journey.
I have been living in Switzerland for 3 months now, moving from Washington, DC.
Two different worlds. This weekend I attended the Zürich Museum night (100’s of museums open from 7 PM- 2AM with bus services for 25 CHF, amazing), attending English speaking church, and went to the Expat Expo and today I joined the Zürich Lacrosse team.
This is partly how I have learned to make the best of Expat Life.
Expat Life: Top 10 Tips to s
EINS. LEARN THE LANGUAGE/ SLANG.
If you are moving to a country and the national language is not your Mother Language, make a sincere effort to learn the language. Living in Switzerland it seems like 95% of the population speaks fluent English, but it is still important to learn at least one of the three national languages. For instance the languge of Zürich is German but locals converse in Swiss German which is only a spoken language and not really used professionally or taught in school. I am currently learning German but it is always good to be able use Swiss German slang or ideally understand.
DO: Try. All you have to do is try. Learning languages do not come naturally to everyone but it will not only enrich while you are living abroad but always. Invest in courses, it is worth the money.
DON’T: Only speak in your native language or assume everyone speaks your language, it is rude.
ZWEI. EAT THE FOOD.
I am not a big pork eater but it is very popular here so sometimes I politely will try a dish that contains pork. Obviously, I have no religious or morals views that I am compromising. You do not have to compromise your views but you do want to be open minded and understand that food and culture play a large role.
DO: Try. And keep trying, I promise you will discover at least one food you love and will miss dearly.
DON’T: Make fun of the local food, call it disgusting or judge those that eat it. Spam is a very popular food in Hawaii and a lot of locals eat it often, it can be very insulting if you make fun of the food source without also understanding the significance of Spam to Hawaii.
DREI. MAKE (local) FRIENDS.
It is easy to stay in the social circle you already have established or within an expat community but do you really experience a country if you are the American eating McDonald’s and Starbucks everyday, only speaking with English speakers and never getting to know locals?
DO: Go to local bars, celebrate local sports and you will meet so many people that are curious about your culture as well and you can learn a lot from one another.
DON’T: Stay in an expat bubble.
VIER. JOIN A CLUB.
A great way to make local connections is to join a local club. I joined the Zürich Lacrosse Team today and although I haven’t played in 4 years it was amazing to be out with new people and meet new teammates.
DO: Join a team or a club. American Women’s Club, a sports team, there are so many options. Attend the local Expat Expo and learn all about what other expats in your community are doing.
DON’T: Stay home. I could easily stay in the house for days straight with my laptop and Netflix, but that is not what life is about! Get out of the house and slowly learn a couple places you feel comfortable traveling to alone. You will find your radius will grow.
FÜNF. LEARN THE LAW & FOLLOW IT.
Seriously, don’t brake the law in your new country. When I first traveled to Switzerland I didn’t understand the public transportation system. You can ride the bus, tram, train and boat with one ticket and do not scan or show your ticket to board any transportation.
I wondered why would anyone buy the ticket if they don’t check?
They do hold random ticket checks and if you are caught, you must pay a minimum of 100 Francs (about $110). I feel like my American mentalitly would be to get caught first but I realize this is how it operates in Switzerland.
The Swiss are very law obiding.
DO: Behave like a good local citizen.
DON’T: Just don’t try it. Have you ever seen Locked Up Abroad?
SECHS(sex). LEARN THE CUSTOMS/ CULTURE/ HUMOR.
I struggle with this one. Customs can be easily learned. Know how many kisses to give during a greeting, which hand to shake with, when to bring a gifts… things like that but humor can be elusive. I at times find British humor to be too dry or off putting and Swiss humor to be too elitist. It makes me uncomfortable, the trick is to not judge people because of their humor. What may have cultural or significance to you as bad humor or rude is likely not the same to the local.
I have seen caucasian people dressed in black face with dreads as a joke, it was harmless. While in the US this would be very rude and probably provoke a lot comments, the historical significance was not the same and the humor was not understood.
DO: Let it go.
DON’T: Take it personal.
Don’t stay in the same town your whole time living in the new country. I know people who move to Washington, DC and have never been to the “other side of town”. I am not saying run into the most dangerous neighborhoods but you can learn a lot by leaving the one small village or fancy street you live on to really see what the country/ state/ canton/ city… has to offer.
DO: Volunteer in an area you may never considered visiting. You will interact with the people and learn a lot about the area while making a real contribution. You don’t want to move somewhere and only take, you must give as well.
DON’T: Be the expert of your new area and have never even taken public transportation.
ACHT. RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU ARE HOMESICK OR EXPERIENCING CULTURE SHOCK.
This can be extremely hard, when you are in lows of moving to a new country or area, you may seriously feel as though you just hate living there, there is noting to offer you…but take a moment to asses if what you are feeling is homesick; many times brought on by culture shock.
DO: Give yourself time to adjust and brace for the adjustment period. Don’t expect life to be perfect simply because you move. Bad ‘ish happens here too.
DON’T: Run away. Take a deep breath.
NEUN. DON’T COMPARE YOUR NEW COUNTRY TO “HOME”.
The good, the bad and the ugly- it’s everywhere. Take off the rose colored glasses of naivety and enjoy all that is being offered. Zürich is painfully expensive but I am learning to embrace it. A tall Starbucks order will run you almost $9.00 in Zürich, Geneva is in Switzerland as well.
DO: Learn to appreciate the differences.
DON’T: Be the annoying person constantly saying ” In…(insert place) we make/ do it better because (insert reason). That will get annoying very quickyl and make it very hard for you to appreciate and learn new ways of doing things.
ZEHN. MAKE MEMORIES.
At the end of your time as an expat or even moving with in your state or country to a new area, it will be an adventure and you want to make the best of it. Whether you plan to stay 4 months or forever this is your life, so live it.
DO: Take photos and keep in touch with all of your new and old fiends.
DON’T: Be resentful, if you are not loving your new life somewhere, leave maybe it is not for you but be sure you give it a sure chance and don’t cheat yourself.