Switzerland: A Timeline of Happiness?

While not TECHNICALLY at the half-way point of my stay in Switzerland: with my return to Scotland for Christmas and the Year End Shutdown at work it feels METAPHORICALLY as if I’ve reached the 50% complete point. …Gosh, really?

Thinking back to my first year of university…my year in Philadelphia…and my ongoing year in Switzerland. All follow the same trajectory.

  • Month 0: Arrival

The very start of the year is quite hectic and exciting. You’re busy with culture shock, exploring your new area, checking out what’s on offer. There are the tricky bureaucratic hurdles to navigate (registration, social security, setting up bank accounts) that take up stupid amounts of time. You might be frustrated, happy or homesick…but you start forming definite plans about how you want the year ahead to pan out.

  • Month 3: Struggle

One quarter in is ALWAYS the roughest part. I reckon the unhappiness experienced at this point is entirely under-pinned financially: you’ve had to spend a lot of money & time on “start-up costs” (rail passes, language classes, stationary) and you’ve yet to build up any income surplus from work. Waiting until payday becomes torturous, you feel trapped at home and isolated. Surviving until the next month seems hard work…how do you intend to survive until the end of the year?

  • Month 6: Cruising

At about the half-way point (a) most of the financial issues have been resolved by your prudence (b) you’ve been out of the house long enough to meet people and start cultivating social circles. You’ve got a much better idea about how to survive the rest of the year: you can see yourself making friendships and doing exciting/interesting stuff. Planning becomes a clear process once more.

  • Month 9: Sorted

By this point you’ll have formed the friendships that will last you beyond the first 12 months. You’re now feeling fully integrated and at home. It feels like you’re actually “living” rather than “settling in” or “surviving”.

  • Month 12: Leaving
You’ll probably cry a little.
I like Switzerland a lot: it has beautiful cities, wonderful Alpine terrain, excellently located in central Europe and has a very international population. I’m still not convinced I could make this a permanent long-term home, not without some serious overhauls of my life. Despite what expats bitch about, I don’t find the country THAT different or difficult from what I’m used to.
Most expats/international visitors complain about the same things: that Switzerland is incredibly expensive and the shops are all closed on Sundays and after 6pm on weeknights.
Yes, Switzerland is expensive. I can’t live here the way I lived in the UK and USA: I have to budget myself a lot more closely, I have to forgo some fancier stuff. Yet despite living on an intern’s salary – which is apparently LESS than half the average wage in the Basel area – I can still afford to travel, buy the food I like and have a meal out with friends once a month. And my bank account remains in the positive.
Yes, Swiss shops have shorter opening hours. But there are a few places that stay open on a Sunday or longer hours (such as the express supermarkets in the railway stations) so if you really need milk then you can get it. If necessary then I’ll use my flexi-time to get off work a bit earlier to head to the shops. I adjust and work around.
For me, if you make an active choice to live abroad, then you have to accept a couple of things (a) settling in to a new country will involve compromise – in your lifestyle, in your activities, in timetabling your life (b) accepting that the country you left behind is going to change and won’t be same when (or if) you return. Your native country has no qualms about moving on without you – most people seem to accept this…but I’ve encountered a significant number who don’t.  
Now that I’ve ironed out most of the hassles from the first half of my time in Basel, I’m very much looking forward to milking the second half for all it’s worth…

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