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Katia: Diary of a Move

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Switzerland makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Switzerland, etc.

I was born in Cameroon and grew up in Athens, Greece after the age of four. Both my parents were Greek. I left Greece 18 years ago and have lived in the U.S. (Boston and Los Angeles), France, the Netherlands, Austria and, most recently Switzerland. I moved to Zurich with my Austrian husband and three children in the summer of 2012.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I have always been intrigued by the diversity of expatriate experiences, including my own, so I have been doing a lot of research and writing on that. When we decided to move again, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for me to become my own case study and started the blog as a way to document the practical and emotional aspects of moving across countries and cultures.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Although I am attached to each and every one of my posts, my favorite ones are always the ones whose subject I feel strongly about. Some examples: my latest one on “Finding your tribe”; “Only the lonely”; or “Family ties”.

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?

Even though the culture and way of life in my home country differ dramatically from those in Switzerland, my move here was not very challenging in that aspect, because I had just spent eleven years in Austria and had already confronted many similar cultural contrasts. So not much culture shock here – though I certainly had that when I moved from LA to Vienna!

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Switzerland? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

Our move to Switzerland was actually the first move that I really, consciously prepared for. This was largely due to the fact that it was our first move with children and I felt that we could not afford to mess it up. I did a lot of research on how to prepare – practically and emotionally – both my family and myself. My husband and I shared the burden, which also helped. I don’t think I would have done anything differently in this move, though I can think of mistakes I made in previous moves. I think we get better at it with every move.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

Not exactly funny, but I will always remember my first encounters with Swiss German. Because I speak fluent German, the locals assume that I understand them, but in fact Swiss German does not sound anything like German if you are not used to it. In the beginning, I often found myself sitting there with a blank expression on my face, not having a clue what my interlocutor was saying, until I found the courage to raise my hands in the air, stop them mid-sentence and ask them to switch to “high” German. Luckily, everyone I have met so far has been gracious about this.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Switzerland?

  • First, a general tip. It sounds like a cliché, but attitude is everything. When you move, a positive attitude makes a huge difference. You have to want to make it work and commit yourself to that. This does not mean that there will not be challenges along the way; but it does mean that you will be better equipped to deal with them.
  • Also, although settling in and establishing a social network at the same time may seem daunting in the beginning, try not to isolate yourself; it will only make it harder to adjust to your new life. Force yourself to go out. Try to meet people, whether expats or locals – it doesn’t matter. Take the first step; don’t expect others to come to you. Keep an open mind and don’t be disappointed if it takes a while to make friends.
  • Finally, check out the expat organisations or forums (there are many here), ideally before you move, and join or get in touch. It’s a great way to connect with people and get answers to many of your “newcomer” questions – so you get both practical and emotional support.

How is the expat community in Switzerland? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Walking around in Zurich, I sometimes hear more English than I hear (Swiss) German! One third of the city’s population are foreigners and you feel that everywhere. There are many opportunities to meet like-minded people if you are willing to make the (minimal) effort. For me, it has been relatively easy to meet people through the kids’ schools, our neighborhood and expat organizations that I joined.

How would you summarize your expat life in Switzerland in a single, catchy sentence?

I can think of many worse places to call home, but not many better ones.

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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