A person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship is considered an expatriate (or expat for short). The word expat has always sounded so exotic to me. I used to think you are only an expat if you are a diplomat or an NGO worker living in a foreign country. So naturally, I never considered myself to be an expat. But actually, I’ve been living an expat life for quite some time now.
Well it’s a bit more complicated than that. Let me tell you more about my expat life with a twist!
If you’ve read my immigration story you’ll know that I moved to Canada from Switzerland at a young age. Recently my boyfriend and I decided to embark on a new adventure and book a one-way ticket back to Switzerland. Crazy right?! Our goal is to see how we like it here and in a years time possibly decide where we want to settle down. That’s if we ever decide to settle in just one place!
Moving back to Switzerland has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me.
I’ve lived in Canada for 17 years. That’s more than half my life. But here in Switzerland, because I speak Swiss with no accent, most people don’t even realize that I’m actually a foreigner! This puts me in situations where I feel completely lost in terms of my identity.
There are some days where I struggle internally with feelings of being a local and yet a foreigner at the same time. There are certain sayings or jokes I don’t understand and there are customs that don’t make sense to me.
Expat Life – Similarities & Differences
Like with any two countries, there are visible and subtle differences between Canada and Switzerland. There are also similarities. Here’s my experience so far!
I’m much more laid-back than the typical Swiss person. That’s the Canadian in me. Canadians take everything a little slower, but I guess there is also more time and more space to do so. I’m proud of having the punctuality of a Swiss person, yet remain relaxed if someone else is running late.
Here in Switzerland everything has its exact place and perfection is the name of the game. In Canada there is less judging of your neighbour and more beers around the bonfire.
I miss the Canadian wilderness but love being able to hop on the train and go anywhere in Switzerland within a matter of hours.
I find it silly that many shops close over lunch time and I haven’t gotten used to the fact that grocery stores are not open on Sundays.
I love the historic architecture, old houses, fountains and cobblestone streets in Switzerland. There is so much more culture and history here. Canadians say something is historic when it’s 100 years old. Switzerland is 726 years old.
Daily Reminders For Expat Life With A Twist
Every day is a new adventure when you’re living abroad. There is always something to learn and slowly I’m finding comfort in my unique Swiss-Canadian identity. Here are three daily reminders for anyone out there who’s in the same boat and living this expat life with a twist. And trust me, it does get easier with time!
1. It’s okay to feel like an outsider.
When I don’t understand something typically Swiss or need further explanation it’s easy to feel frustrated or out of place. Naturally, struggling with feeling like a foreigner even though I have Swiss citizenship has been tough. I have to remind myself every day that being conflicted about my Swiss-Canadian identity is completely normal and so is feeling like an outsider.
2. Prepare to laugh at yourself. A lot.
When moving abroad you will experience situations that can make you feel awkward or embarassed. Being able to laugh at yourself is key. Insane things happen and a lot of it you may never understand.
Now let me tell you a funny story!
A few weeks ago we had a Willhelm Tell workout at the CrossFit gym I go to. Willhelm Tell is a famous Swiss folk hero and patriot. Before we began the workout our coach played a classical Swiss song. I kind of rolled my eyes and thought to myself what the heck kind of music is this?!
During the car ride home from the gym I made a comment to my boyfriend about the music. He just started laughing and went on to tell me how that was actually the Swiss national anthem! Needless to say I had absolutely no clue!
Now what kind of Swiss person doesn’t know their own coutry’s national anthem? Me apparently. Epic Swiss fail on my part!
But exactly in these kinds of situations it’s best to just laugh at yourself. Remember to not take yourself too seriously!
3. Give yourself time.
Integration never happens overnight. If you’re in a similar situation like me, you might not feel like a true local for quite a while even though people look at you as one. Don’t worry, it’s okay. Take time to settle in and try to say yes to as many new experiences as possible.
Have you ever lived abroad? What are your experiences with being and expat? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?
I’m interested to hear from you! I know I’m not the only one in this situation so leave a comment or send me a message!