I Still Haven’t Seen The Matterhorn: The Top Things I Regret About Moving to Switzerland
It feels surreal to put it in writing, but my expat life in Switzerland is officially in the rearview. I have so many mixed emotions about the time I spent living in Switzerland right now. I’m currently plopped right in the middle of life-limbo-land. I’m between jobs, I’m between apartments and I’m temporarily hanging out in America visiting family and waiting for my UK visa to come through so I can start my next big adventure. Do I regret moving to Switzerland? If I had to do the whole move to Switzerland over again, what would I do differently?
Get ready, because I’m about to start talking about my feelings.
You’ve been warned…
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Why Did I Move to Switzerland in the First Place?
If you’ve been hanging out with me here for a while, you might be familiar with my expat story. The short version of that story is that I was looking for a way to find myself again and moving to Switzerland did all that and more for me.
Living in Switzerland taught me what I was capable of and then some. Moving to Switzerland basically shoved me headfirst into a cannon and blasted me straight out of my comfort zone. I had to figure out a new job, make friends, pay bills and learn a new language. Heck, I even learned how to ski again.
But I also learned what I want out of life. I learned how to dive in and when to let go. I learned it’s OK to say no sometimes. I learned how to be vulnerable again. I allowed myself to become part of a community after being hurt.
I cannot underestimate how much moving to Switzerland changed my life. I have fundamentally grown on a core level.
The Other Benefits of Moving to Switzerland
I’m sure all this touchy feely stuff isn’t why you’re curious about living in Switzerland. You want to get down to brass tacks. What’s the standard of living like? If you’re going to make the leap into expat life, will you be happier and healthier than you were back home?
These are all great questions and you’ve come to the right place…
Here’s Some Reasons Why It’s Hard to Regret Moving to Switzerland
The Money You Make Moving to Switzerland
I might as well say what we’re all wondering. The money in Switzerland is fantastic.
When I moved from teaching in the Boston area to teaching in Switzerland, I got almost a 20% pay rise. Yes, Switzerland is an expensive county. But I never felt like I lacked for anything. I lived in a nice flat. I could afford to travel and save. My standard of living was so much better than it was in Boston, where I had a weekend job to pay my winter utilities.
One of the best things about living in Switzerland is that the money isn’t even the best part!
The Infrastructure is Second to None
Before moving to Switzerland, I used to roll my eyes when I asked people who lived there what the best part of living in Switzerland was and they answered without missing a beat, “The train system!”
Now that I’ve lived in Switzerland for a while, I get it! The network of trains, trams, busses, boats and cog-railways are your gateway to exploring the rest of this beautiful country.
Everything is so seamlessly integrated it sometimes feels like you’re teleporting from place to place. After growing up in a place where the subway regularly lights itself on fire, Swiss public transit is a luxury.
Nature is All Around You Living in Switzerland
Living in Switzerland, the Alps are your playground. Mountains aren’t your thing? No problem! Swim is a crystal clear glacier fed lake or river. Go for a local hike or bike ride. Connect with furry creatures at your nearest farm.
Living in Switzerland I went from being a city slicker who cycled in heels to a hearty explorer taking kids on above treeline hikes. You just have to embrace it.
It’s Super Safe
Switzerland is number 10 on the Global Peace index! As a single woman who travels alone, I have never lived anywhere I felt safer. This is worth its weight in Swiss chocolate to me!
Living in Switzerland, Your Health is Your Wealth
I know, I know. I did a whole post for you about what a nutcase my Swiss doctor is. But he was a nutcase who cared about my health!
Swiss doctors will prescribe you a spa treatment as an antidote to stress. It’s also not unusual in Switzerland for your doctor to prescribe working only 60%-80% as an antidote for all sorts of maladies.
Did I mention at least four weeks of paid vacation a year? They really do have the whole work life balance down to a tee.
With this lifestyle, how could you possibly regret moving to Switzerland?
If Switzerland is So Great, Why Did I Decide to Leave?
Drawbacks to Living in Switzerland
Every country has some drawbacks, even Switzerland.
The thing about Switzerland is that it all starts to feel a little too perfect after a while.
And if you’re thinking of moving to Switzerland, I need to show you both sides. So what are the not so great parts of living in Switzerland?
Gender Equality Has Some Catching Up to Do
Women in all areas of Switzerland did not win the right to vote until 1990. Yes, you read this correctly.
Switzerland has some catching up to do in terms of gender pay and equality. Women in Switzerland make 20% less than what men do for the same work.
You may also encounter some old-fashioned ideas about gender roles, especially in small towns. Although this is changing, it can be frustrating.
No Shopping on Sundays
Everything is closed on Sundays. Everything! Even essential shops like grocery stores and pharmacies. The only shops that are open on Sundays in Switzerland are in train stations.
While it’s nice that everyone gets a day off, if you work 4o hours a week it can be a headache to cram all of your errands into Saturday.
Some Expats Find the Locals Grumpy
It’s true that the Swiss people are not the warmest people on the planet. While I think that a lot of expats need to make more of an effort to learn how to navigate peach culture vs. coconut culture, making friends can feel like an uphill battle sometimes.
Rules, Rules, Rules
There are rules for EVERYTHING in Switzerland. I mean everything. When it’s OK to vacuum, how and where to hang out your washing, do your recycling. The list goes on and on.
It can feel very overwhelming sometimes, especially in the beginning.
My advice if you do move to Switzerland is to find a buddy who is happy to walk you through the details of the day to day routines of living in Switzerland.
What Finally Drove Me Away From Switzerland?
I will never regret moving to Switzerland, that’s for sure.
With four years of living in Switzerland under my belt, I was simply ready for a new challenge.
But if I was going to leave this amazing place, it was only going to be for the opportunity of a lifetime.
What would that life changing opportunity be?
If it’s one thing expat life taught me, it’s that I can handle anything. It was time for me to refill my creative well again, so I decided to make the leap and apply for a master’s program in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh.
I am going to Scotland to be a student again for a little while, and be a writer.
How Am I Feeling About Leaving Switzerland?
Transitions such as these are by nature messy and emotional. I’ve officially exited a life I loved, a life that very much felt like a life in progress. I don’t live in Zürich anymore. I’m not going back to my old job. There are probably a good many people I’ve hugged goodbye for the last time, and I’m not sure exactly who those people are yet.
Four years is both a long, long time and a flash in the pan. For everything I’ve accomplished, there are a half dozen other things I never got to or would have done differently.
As I’ve said before, I could never regret moving to Switzerland. However as much as I don’t believe in regrets, I do believe in learning from my challenges.
Finally… The Top things I’d do Differently if I Got a Chance to Move to Switzerland All Over Again!
I Should Have Travelled Less
You read that right. Living as an expat put me in contact with some amazingly well-travelled people who encouraged me to push beyond the Central-European travel bubble and really go for my dreams.
The fact that flights to remote spots in Europe, Africa or Asia are shorter and much more affordable from Zürich than they ever were from home suddenly placed a lot more of the world within my reach. And reach I did. Iceland? Awesome! Bali? You betcha! Jordan? Heck yeah!
The dark side of constant international travel is that it occasionally left me feeling both physically and emotionally jet-lagged. I spent so much time travelling that sometimes Switzerland felt like the place where I happened to live, work and make money, nothing more.
I wish I’d relaxed about the passport stamps and just spent more time kicking back at home doing normal people things. Maybe if I hadn’t spent so much time being an International Woman of Mystery I would have discovered a little more of that community feeling I was craving?
Then Again, Maybe I Should Have Travelled More?
Even though I’ve shoved enough dang Toblerone into my gob to feed a small starving nation, I’ve never visited the chocolatey mountain peak that people most readily identify with Switzerland.
Beyond the Matterhorn, I’ve got a list as long as an Alphorn of cool Swiss places I’ve never seen. I’ve barely even touched French and Italian speaking Switzerland, and I’ve only been to one place on this nifty little list of the 11 Most Beautiful Places in Switzerland! Wie schade!
Okay, okay, maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up so much. Instead of casting my Swiss travel next wide, I cast it deep, getting to know Central Switzerland pretty well.
I spent a lot of time kicking around in the Jungfrau region, got to know all of the best day trips around Luzern and spent a good deal of time scoping out the bars and clubs that put a grease spot on Zürich’s squeaky-clean reputation. I just wish I’d pushed myself to get to know all of Switzerland a little better.
I Shouldn’t Have Been Such A Workaholic While Living in Switzerland
The old saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” is only partially true.
As an expat it was easy for me to fall down the work rabbit hole because my job provided an instant sense of purpose and community in the midst of the unknown. I count myself as tremendously lucky that for four years I got to do what I love in an idyllic setting with amazing students and co-workers.
In the end though, your job can’t love you back and you are responsible for securing your own proverbial oxygen mask. For four years I allowed work to push everything else I loved to the margins of my life and there were times when it was less than healthy. Next time I need to do a better job of looking at the big picture.
I Shouldn’t Have Been Such A Wimp About Speaking German
I took the lessons! I watched Adventure Time auf Deustch! I even figured out how to make a doctor’s appointment in German! But I never crossed the bridge over to the Land of Casual German Conversation and for an extrovert like me, that means I always felt a little lost in Switzerland.
I should have sucked it up and joined a damned conversation group. It would have helped so much.
I Should Have Done More Theater While Living in Switzerland
There were a million excuses, most of them having to do with my job. I missed out on so much by not truly integrating into an arts community in Switzerland.
Had there been more theater in it, my life in Switzerland would have been more sustainable in the long term. Sure, the language barrier, my professional obligations and my travel dreams were all real factors to consider but in the end it was my responsibility to nurture my own creativity.
Next time, no excuses!
I Shouldn’t Have Spent So Much Energy On Dating in Zürich
Zürich just wasn’t ready for this jelly. Photo credit to the fabulous Fernwheh Tale Photography.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman of a certain age must be in search of a boyfriend, right? And even more so a woman of a certain age abroad.
The comments began in the months before I expatriated and never quite subsided: “You’re going to meet a guy over there and never come back!” It’s as if people want to help give me and my life abroad some kind of higher romantic purpose… because having a kickass time living in a foreign country isn’t meaningful enough!?
The Truth About Being Single Abroad
The tough thing about being a single expat is that at one time or another… we all buy into it too.
Shouldn’t I find someone to enjoy this experience with? I’d think as I’d absently troll Tinder for the thousandth time, hoping somebody I shared genuine interests with would emerge from the blur of Banker Wanker profile photos that all somehow managed to display the expensive champagne, the watch that costs a month’s salary and an unsmiling face!
Why not!? I’d think. Crazier things have happened!
Why Dating Isn’t Everything
The thing is… deep down inside I knew I wasn’t going to meet Mr. Right in Zürich. In fact, I wasn’t even going to have fun with Mr. Wrong, because (sorry, not sorry) guys in Zürich aren’t really much fun.
Now that I’ve left I am so, so relieved that there wasn’t a cutie on the scene complicating my decision. So why did I sweat dating so much at the time? I should have saved the free time and the lipstick and done something I actually enjoyed.
Starting a theater company, learning German, getting back into a gym habit. All of those things would have been more rewarding than making forced conversation with a stranger in an overpriced bar.
I Should Have Taken Better Care of My Health While Living. in Switzerland
Sometimes I feel like most of my Swiss experience was seen through the haze of a chronic sinus infection. I used to get annoyed when my mom would preach, “If you don’t have your health you have nothing”, but mom was right.
If I’d taken better care of myself I’d have had more energy and doing the things I love wouldn’t have felt like such a herculean task. I’ve learned my lesson. Next time, health comes first!
Read about my bizarre journey through the Swiss Healthcare system here.
I Shouldn’t Have Worried So Much About The Future
It’s the sneaky little voice in the back of every expat’s head, This is great, but what next? I’ve written before about how living abroad can make the natural cycle of love and loss we all experience in life feel sped up. This feeling can sometimes leave us scrambling to make sure we aren’t left in the cold.
Sometimes that invisible, plan your next move or get left behind, mentality can be overwhelming. It’s great to have a life plan but especially when life moves so fast, it’s essential to sit back and enjoy it. I’m a firm believer that the future can’t be engineered.
I should have had a little more faith in my ability to recognize the right opportunity when it came along because, in the end, that’s exactly what I did. So why worry about it?
I Need To Get Better At Goodbyes
When this is the view, can you blame me for having trouble letting go? A lazy day with friends at the Lido Badi in Luzern.
I never thought I was bad at saying goodbye. I believe firmly that true friendships aren’t dependent on time or place to survive. To me, saying a formal goodbye to someone is saying, “So long Charlie, you’re not a part of my life anymore!” So I simply said goodbye to people as if we were going off on summer vacation. If I don’t make it final, it means I could walk back into your life at any moment, and I like that.
The thing is, some people find my way of saying goodbye blase and dismissive. To some people, it might have looked like I just didn’t care enough, that perhaps, they didn’t make the kind of impact in my life that I made in theirs.
This is so not true.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I have met so many angels and teachers on my journey through Switzerland, each one whispering the right thing in my ear when I needed to hear it most. Everyone I met there taught me so much simply by being themselves and being present in my life. It is a gift of kindness I can’t quite fathom and can never repay.
The Friends You Make Living in Switzerland
I’m not always sure what I’ve done to deserve the kind of friends that have managed to wander into my life, but I am goddamned lucky to have all of them. Goodbye doesn’t even begin to express what I have to say.
If I ripped off that band-aid before I left, it would have unleashed a river of emotion I was powerless to control. I would have wept my way through my last two months, wept my way to the way to Zürich Flughaven with my four giant bags and a dismantled bike in tow, wept my way across the Atlantic and onto the humid tarmac of Logan Airport, left a river of tears down route three to my parent’s house, heck, I’d still be crying now.
Let’s face it, nobody needs to see my ugly-cry face for that long.
After All That, Am I Sure I Don’t Regret Moving to Switzerland?
I think it’s safe to say if you’ve read this far that I’ll never regret moving to Switzerland.
In fact, moving to Switzerland is the best thing I’ve ever done. My only regret moving to switzerland is that I didn’t do it sooner!
I’m just feeling really emotional right now.
Someday I will find a happy goodbye medium between being cool like Fonzie and cracking open the Hoover Dam.
Until then, I’m saying it in writing and from a safe distance; Switzer-Friends, I am a braver, kinder and better person because of you, and I love you to the moon and back. You are utterly irreplaceable.
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So… how do YOU handle finishing a life chapter? Tell me all about it in the comments!