Elisa: Globetrotting in Heels
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Switzerland, etc.
I'm Elisa Bieg, a long-time expat, passionate traveler, former translator and mother of two. I was born in the Italian island of Sardinia, but moved away from home at 17 and after one year in Milan I began my experience as a serial expat by moving to Los Angeles, California, where I met and married my husband Sascha. After Los Angeles, we moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, then Switzerland (Zurich and a village in Aargau), then the New York City suburbs, and now we are back in Zurich.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually started my blog while I was living in New York. I love New York. I know a lot of people think that it's a harsh place, but I love that there is so much to do, and that whoever you are, whatever your passions or lifestyle, you can find your place, your "tribe". I guess NY Metro area bloggers became my tribe.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
It's a little sappy, but I like this post. It helps me recapture that feeling of missing and loving Zurich and feeling lucky to be here.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Switzerland differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Well, first we would have to better define what "home" is; Because I don't just have one home. I have trouble equating the place I was born in with home, because I never felt quite at ease there, it always made me a little claustrophobic. But regardless of whether I consider Italy or the US "home", my answer would be a resounding YES on the culture shock, which I still experience to this day, even after 4 years back in Switzerland and nearly 10 years altogether in this country. Particularly on the German part, I find people to be quite a bit colder and detached than I would like/expect, on the whole. But all in all, it is still a nice place to live. Adjustments are always part of expat life.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Switzerland? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don't think you can ever be fully prepared for starting over in a new country, no matter how much research you do. On the administrative side, we more or less had it covered, since my husband is Swiss so he knew most of the requirements and such. As for what I would change if I had to start over... I think I would work harder on my German from the very beginning, and I would definitely get more active in the expat community. I wish I had access to something like InterNations then! This is a great place to meet new friends and create your own community, which is a big part of what makes one feel home in a new place, in my experience.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I shared a few in a blog post: Silence is golden. Or maybe it's made of Swiss chocolate
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Switzerland?
- Unless you already speak the language, take a German course as soon as possible. In fact, take several; and practice as often as you can: with your neighbors, while grocery shopping, at the Post Office.
- Get online and join as many expat lists and groups as you can (within reason of course – if you hate crafts, maybe skip the Stitch'n'Bitch meet-ups.) You will meet others who are or have been where you are, trying to learn everything and get used to everything, and you can find new friends to explore your new city with! Which brings me to
- Go exploring. In Switzerland this is especially easy, because of the great public transportation system. Walk around, then jump on a tram or a bus and get off wherever it looks prettier or more interesting. In this era of smartphones, you can't really get lost. You'll find great new places, and you will never regret taking the time to get to know the area better.
How is the expat community in Switzerland? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people and expats?
The expat community in Switzerland is wonderful. I have met so many expats, and have had the good luck of making some wonderful friends in the expat community. I don't have a hard time with it, because I have my own little network so I also meet friends of friends; also, I host a book swap once a month so I get to meet new people all the time, most of them expats. But I am still very, very glad that my friend Marisa introduced me to InterNations! It's a fantastic resource for expats and locals alike.
How would you summarize your expat life in Switzerland in a single, catchy sentence?
Oh, boy. Well, off the top of my head I can only think of something corny...Being an expat in Switzerland can be sweet as chocolate or it can stink like Bergkäse... but one look at the mountains or the lake and you might just feel like yodeling! ;-)