Excerpts from expat life in Switzerland
Well-known in ‘expat circles’, this month’s expat interviewee is the lovely and very talented Sundae Schneider-Bean. A sudden and unexpected move to Switzerland from the marvellously named Ouagadougou has given her a unique and useful insight to the unexpected turns of expat life.
Where do you currently live and how did you come to be there?
I recently moved to Berne, Switzerland with my two children. This was not a foreseen move at the start of the year, as we expected to continue to live in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso through 2017. We love Ouagadougou, despite its challenges and the political turbulence we have witnessed. However, when Burkina Faso fell victim to a series of terrorist attacks mid-January 2016 by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) we decided it was time for a change.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
This is a question so many expats struggle with. This is how I personally answer it: I have three homes.
I call home Nr. 1 “The Womb,” my birthplace of Williston, North Dakota. I lived there until I was 18 and thus experienced a ‘small town America’ childhood common to the prairies of that region. To me, this home is about where my life got started. It’s about family, loving memories and growing up.
I call home Nr. 2 my “Second Home,” and that’s Berne, Switzerland. I’ve actually spent more of my adult life in Switzerland than I have in the United States. Although I grew up in the USA, I have many moments when I notice that I know so much more about doing business in Europe or even what music is popular from Switzerland or Europe than I do from my birthplace. So this is why it is so close to my heart and experience.
Then there is home Nr. 3, my “Current Home.” This is reserved for what is temporary. Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou was foreseen for four years, not a lifetime. And even where I am in Switzerland for the moment is temporary. This is what feels like home – for now.
Do you have a few words of advice on coping with the first six months of a move?
Most importantly, I think it is important to get clear before you go on what is feasible or realistic for the first six months.
If you are moving to a well-developed country you may think that all will fall into place quickly, and then later be frustrated when you learn it takes 4 weeks to get a cell phone and six months to get a job.
Likewise, when you are moving to a less-developed country, you may need to plan in a considerable amount of extra time to get set up.
Once you land, make sure you plan in time to 1) overcome jetlag, 2) get your bearings in the city, 3) help your children get adjusted and integrated into a new school.
As you adjust, then I would make three things a high priority: 1) nurturing new social connections; 2) regular down time for you and your family; 3) space to check in with yourself and your partner on what is working and what is not.
Is there something that you wish you’d known before moving?
Tough question. I tend to expect the unexpected.
I think what I wish I had known before many moves is what many of us yearn for: Knowing it will all work out, knowing that it will be OK.
Your best moment to date?
Another tough question! Thankfully there are so many great moments to choose from. One moment independent from a professional or family memory happened in 2014 at FESTIMA, the international art and mask festival of West Africa. I remember standing on the sidelines watching the performances and saying to myself, “My eight-year-old-self dreamt of this.” It felt like something I would gaze at longingly from the pages of a national geographic when I was a child. But I was right there.
Sundae is an intercultural specialist and solution-oriented coach who works with fellow expats and organizations. She is on a mission to help expats make the most of their life abroad. She helps expat partners gain back their sense of purpose and expats on assignment feel more in control at work and freer at home. She is American by birth, Swiss by marriage, and recently lived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as an expat.