Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Zurich, etc.
My name is Allison. I’m from the US and grew up in the Boston area where I worked as a creative director for a large interactive design agency. I quit my job and moved here in August of 2014 in order to finally live in the same city as my German fiancé (now husband) who is a founder of a high-tech startup in Zurich.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started grüezigirl.com shortly before moving to Switzerland. I thought it would be a great way to share my experience of moving and living overseas with friends and family. I also really enjoy writing and photography so it’s been a welcome creative outlet.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I often have to remind myself that the most interesting blog entries are the simplest stories that reflect genuine aspects of everyday life.
Two that stand out to me are What does a Spaniard, Kurd, Eritrean, and an American have in common? and How not to bake scones and other minor mishaps. Both depict funny everyday anecdotes and observations I’ve made while acclimating to my new life as an expat.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Zurich differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My life here is entirely different. Back in Boston, I worked long hours but didn’t really mind because I loved my work and the people I worked with. Switching from a pretty intense full-time job at an agency to part-time freelance has been a huge adjustment. I miss the social aspect of working in a large office, the constant creative challenges as well as the financial independence that it provided. However, I’ll admit I’m beginning to get used to having more time to pursue personal creative projects that I never got to back home.
Additionally, having grown up near Boston, I had a trove of family and friends ready and willing to meet out for a drink or bite to eat at a moment’s notice. Skype and Facebook have made being far from home easier, but I can’t help but miss being able to grab a quick impromptu drink or bite with my sister or an old friend at one of my favourite jaunts back home.
We’re now expecting our first child so I anticipate many more changes and challenges in the near future.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Zurich? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Having a German husband who previously lived in Zürich definitely made for a smooth transition. I had also visited Zurich and done a ton of research online so I would know what to expect. If I could do anything differently, I would have considered shipping more goods from the US, especially furniture and household items. It didn’t seem worthwhile at the time but shopping here is expensive and options are limited.
I also came here when we were engaged assuming getting married here would be easier than back home. We eventually got married in Germany but the process/paperwork needed was harrowing and it took much longer than anticipated. We even had to book a trip outside of the EU just so I wouldn’t overstay my 90 day tourist visa.
Lastly, I would ditch the heels and reconsider my general approach to fancy footware. In Zurich, you walk or take the tram everywhere. We live between two tram stops on a hill. Those 12 pairs of high heels I schlepped here have not seen the light of day.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When my monthly tram pass expired I was determined to purchase a new one without the assistance of my German speaking husband who claimed I could only purchase such a ticket with an agent. I was convinced otherwise and was very proud of myself when I figured out how to purchase a monthly pass with a machine. I used my pass for almost an entire month when I lent it to my husband for the day. Upon glancing at the pass he informed me that it was a special discounted pass only good after 9AM every day. I’d basically been riding the tram illegally every morning for an entire month. Good thing the tram police never found me!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Zurich?
- Be open-minded to meeting people in ways you never would back home. Take advantage of online communities like InterNations and join as many activities/groups as you can when you first get here. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find like-minded friends right away. You may have nothing in common with the folks in your German class but could meet your best friend in a hiking meet-up or yoga class. I’m fairly shy by nature but I forced myself to meet with complete strangers in order to build my own group of friends and sense of community.
- Be prepared for serious sticker shock. Lunch for 30 CHF? How much for a cappuccino? Understandably, everyone who moves here from abroad is taken aback by how expensive everything is. You can let it get to you and subsist on bread and water alone but that’s no way to live. Go out to dinner and enjoy an occasional latte. Just be more judicious as to where you go and splurge a little less frequently.
- Take your time to find the neighbourhood that is right for you. Zurich is broken up into several districts all with different characteristics. Some areas are hip and teeming with restaurants and bars, while others are quiet and family friendly. Before getting lured into a low tax canton outside of Zurich proper be sure to understand what concessions you may be making, (i.e. fewer English speaking expats and limited school/daycare options). We opted to live in a less hip but very expat/family friendly neighbourhood within Zurich. For us this was the best both worlds, we have the family/expat friendly atmosphere we were looking for along with the convenience of local trams and busses.
How is the expat community in Zurich? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I’ve found the expats in Zurich extremely friendly and welcoming. I’ve met new friends through my work, online forums and friends of friends from back home. I even met a really good friend in a pre-natal yoga class. Living in a new and unfamiliar place creates an instant bond and it’s fun to commiserate over the cultural nuances of living in Switzerland like “How many places do I need to take my recycling?”
How would you summarize your expat life in Zurich in a single, catchy sentence?
An adventure full of unexpected experiences, new friends and welcome challenges.