Moving to a new country is a thrilling way to start over. Emotions and hopes run high, and there’s nothing like the lead up to moving day. In the back of your mind you can hear new country, new life and it can be terrifying and exciting all at once. I love how the anticipation of a new place turns into reality overnight. And then, just like that, it’s the moment to try and make this foreign place home.
After the ever-changing ‘student’ year that was 2019 (living in France and Singapore), you could say Switzerland came at the perfect moment for us. Last year was full of amazing amounts of travel and the chance to take ‘break’ from our normal lives and jobs. That year came to an end of course, and before heading to Zurich for Laurens’s new job, we spent two weeks at home in Belgium reconnecting with old friends and family, rearranging ourselves and things for the impending move. My immune system finally crashed and I had some version of a cold for almost two weeks. I kept telling myself that just after New Year’s we would set off for another exciting life change, a restart, the fifth move we’ve made together as a couple.
Moving day: 7 Hours to Zurich
A few days after New Years, we woke up at 7am with the Volvo crammed to capacity, no crevice left to fill. It was a seven-hour drive to Zurich, mostly through wide German highways, grey skies, and lots of drizzle. I listened to as many podcasts as my ears could stand and then we just drove. It was a relaxed cruising, but I knew it was a big moment for us to take in. Eventually we got to the Stadhuis twenty minutes before they closed, and a super-Swiss-looking-man behind the glass wasn’t very happy that we arrived just before closing time. After some disgruntled administration on his part, we were officially registered as new residents in Zurich.
We didn’t now it then but that first encounter came to symbolize how efficient our settling in would be in the coming weeks.
First impressions of Zurich
There’s nothing like seeing a city for the first time, especially a city as renowned as Zurich. I had a feeling Switzerland would be a perfect country for both Laurens and me to thrive and start over in. A prosperous, stable, beautiful country in the heart of Europe; what else could we want at this stage in our lives?
After registering at the Stadhuis, we walked out with smiles on our faces and took a few steps to the edge of the Limmat River, a river that winds through the city. We admired the swans and the quaint bridges leading to the impressive lake with its snow-capped mountain views. We made it.
As we drove to our temporary apartment, I studied the streets and the people I could see with the light of day that was left. The street signs with their impossibly long names, the maze of tram tracks and cables. At first, I saw a city in the dead of winter that was classy, quiet and stunning. We would be living here. I was relieved.
The first flush: Awe, surprise, and novelty around every corner
It’s been different in each country we’ve moved to, but the ‘honeymoon phase’ here in Switzerland has been euphoric yet steady. My first feeling of this place was that it’s a calm, predictable, clean, and safe city with surprising elements that need to be discovered in time because they probably won’t jump out at you.
Runs to the grocery store or working at a coffee shop had all the excitement I had hoped they would in the first days. The beauty of the city would peak at sunset on my way home with the mountains and lake being beyond breathtaking. On my way home, I would get off the tram just to gawk at the sunset from a bench and admire The Alps turning to shadows in the skyline. I couldn’t believe this was the new backdrop of our lives.
Observing with fresh eyes + Swiss Sensibility
As a writer, observing a new culture with new eyes is the ultimate inspiration and material. In the first month and weeks here, the superficial differences were the most notable and the ones I took in gleefully. Things like the style, weather, smells, sounds, people’s general behavior. At my cafes, I study people – their faces, their mannerisms, the general vibe. In some moments I’m reminded of Berlin and its hipster vibe, in others I realize this is a unique place all its own. Many people have told us that Swiss are really reserved, love rules, and that making friends with them is rare. So far, the few Swiss people I’ve met have been really friendly with me in the small interactions I’ve had and have a good sense of humor. Let’s see what stereotypes hold true. 😉
One of the first things that struck me here is the sense of fashion. I see Zurich’s style (and its people) as posh, sophisticated but not prone to too much flair. Although there is the occasional fabulous fiery red coat or a luxurious floor-length mink coat. A ride on the tram during rush hour will reveal impeccably polished leather shoes, beautiful wool coats and hats, three-piece suits, and perfectly coiffed business people. Then there’s the language. Down in the city, most people speak English but it’s not a guarantee outside of touristic areas. Swiss German is a soft-sounding language, but based on how impossible it would be to learn (so I’ve been told), I’m going to try my luck at High German.
(Finally) a place to call home
When we visited our current apartment at an open viewing, I was instantly in awe. So were the other couples roaming through the apartment hoping to snatch this place up. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but I couldn’t help leave that apartment with this strong longing. The view, the location, the space; for Zurich we had heard it would be near impossible to find a place like this yet there we were.
We met the landlord today and he has the final say. He opened the door with a lopsided gait but was friendly with us. An elderly and robust gentleman, he welcomed us to sit at his home office while behind us an unobstructed view over Lake Zurich was screaming our names. There were long pauses and he evaluated us in his own casual way. After some polite banter and more long pauses, he decided we could have the place if we wanted it. I tried not to jump out of my chair, but I was on the verge of tears. We had our dream place in one week of being in the country.
Our new place feels like a nest perched on a hill overlooking Lake Zurich and the snow-capped Alps. In the mornings I wake up, pinch myself, then grab coffee to sip on our couch by the window. If I get up early enough I can see the valley light up and the snow caps change in their luminance. I’ve seen snow blanket the landscape, storms brewing over the valley, and on perfect clear days, sunsets of a purple and raging pink. If I time it right, I can run through the forest as the sun peaks through and end up at the lake view to see the city turn to night. Not a surprise, but I don’t feel the urge to go into the city as much anymore.
There’s a time and place for everything.
As a couple, I feel like our twenties were a time for moving and exploring, and I loved every bit of it. I still want to travel but I realized having a home base is so important to our and my wellbeing. Last year I started to feel the urgency for stability, the desire to have a place to call home, to display our belongings and feel good about coming home.
Citysploring and culture shock
Luckily, our experience here in Zurich has been smooth and the culture-shock virtually non-existent. I felt comfortable here and maybe that’s because 30% of the population are foreign nationals. Laurens was back at work within a week and I made it my job to learn the city better and get my footing. As someone who feels most comfortable in a city, I loved discovering or citysploring the transport routes, distinct neighborhoods, the best coffee shops, and familiarizing myself with shops.
The biggest shock? Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and as such, I used these few weeks to get used to its prices. According to Eurostat, Swiss prices for food and drinks are 60% more expensive than the rest of Europe. After living in Paris and Singapore, I can say that Zurich’s restaurant/bar/eating out scene is on another level. People living in Zurich enjoy a high salary to compliment the high cost of living and that’s not shocking considering the luxury sports cars zooming around, and in the designer bags that teenagers wear tote.
After the first month, the dazzling effect started to dull slowly and everyday experiences started to feel more normal. I also started to get more serious about my job search, and small interactions with the mailman or the checkout lady proved difficult without German. It goes without saying that learning this new language has been on my mind lately.
The last few days I haven’t been feeling like myself. The fantasy of moving here has materialized into reality: jobs, finding friends, hobbies, ticking off to do lists, and honestly, I feel overwhelmed by the list of things I still need to do, the goals I want to achieve. Some days I wake up with so much energy to attack and take on the list; others I drag my feet until it’s mid afternoon. I know I’m just being impatient.
Today I’m happy, content, but also a bit restless. This always happens when we move to a new city and settle in. I’m craving a purpose, a mission, and having so much free time can work against me.
Still on the job hunt…
I’ve hit a wall. Endless searching and applying have proven fruitless so far and I’m starting to wonder how long it will take. I’m reminding myself it’s only been two months.
As some of you know, I took last year off from my job in Belgium to join Laurens for his MBA program abroad. I spent that time in 2019 working with hotels and restaurants in Europe and Asia to create content for them and for this blog. It was an absolute eye opener as to the creative outlet I so want to keep even in Switzerland. Lots of people told me finding a job in Zurich would be easy, but finding the right job might be a different story. I’m looking to get back into content marketing/copywriting at the moment, so let’s see what gives.
Contentment in simple things
After spending the morning inside and cocooning, I took my 15 min tram down into the city. It’s clear and crisp out, with the rain having let up hours before. I walk around with a stupid smile on my face. I’m happy here.
The last few weeks in Zurich have taught me that happiness can be sweet and simple. Last year it wasn’t a guarantee that things would be as good as they are now. I realize that and am really grateful for it. Laurens landed the job he’s been working so hard for and I’m determined to make something for myself here. I’m finding contentment in starting over and in being so near nature as great as this. For us, finally having an apartment that we love in a city we both enjoy is a joy I can’t really describe. It’s a feeling of relief, wholeness, and stability that I ached for.
Coronavirus Update in Switzerland
Things are getting more serious. At the time of posting this blog, Switzerland has reported 4,800 cases and 40 deaths due to Coronavirus pandemic. The news has unraveled slowly over the last few weeks, especially when the severity of Italy’s situation made it clear this was not going to fade away. It’s been over two weeks since people have been able to work from home in the city, and as of yesterday, restaurants and bars are closed for over a month. Going to the grocery store means waiting in line to go in and spacing ourselves at checkout. Life here and in most of Europe is grinding to a halt in a way that many people have never seen before and in a way none of us had expected. Who knows how long the social distancing and lock down will last.
As a social animal, it’s been challenging being in a new country and not know that many people to begin with. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to make friends and get out there to network for my job search, but obviously social isolating will have to put a hold on that mission for now. Luckily I love being home and if I get too stir crazy, I go for a run in the forest behind our place to clear my mind and get rid of extra energy. I know these next few weeks will force me and many people in the world to look inward and get creative and productive with our time. Let’s see how things unfold in the coming weeks and months…
Please stay safe and healthy wherever in the world you are. ♥️