Life in Switzerland and The Year That Was 2020

2020 is the year that so many people are thrilled to see go. I would say I’m also one of those people, but 2020 did bring something to our lives that no other year had before. Looking back on my last 2019 reflection, I’m stunned at the difference one year can make. Here’s a quick recap of what 2020 looked like for me, and why I must admit, despite its craziness, I have a soft spot for it.

A World of Change in 2020

It’s almost been an entire year since we drove down from Belgium with our car packed with all our belongings. At this point, Switzerland was just a notion and how we’d enjoy life here was unknown. After the wild year of MBA life at INSEAD and a year of travel to 14 countries, I was ready to settle in a sensible and beautiful country like Switzerland. For the first time, the thought of ‘settling’ sounded really, really appealing. I felt deep in my bones we could do that here.

What I didn’t realize was that this year would be an actual pause button on most aspects of our lives.

My blind optimism has served me well in each of our six international moves and Zurich was no different. Laurens started his job within days of our moving here, and just like that we were plunked down into life here. Zurich is a small city, a predictable, gorgeous place flanked by incredible beauty all around like mountains, forests, and lake. I felt comfortable here almost immediately.

In the beginning, I did like I usually do: I hit the ground running, venturing out into the city during the day, sitting in cafes, people watching, and exploring like it was my job. Within a week we found a lovely apartment and just like that things seemed too good to be true; I could start to visualize our lives here more clearly.

Like it always happens in a new country, the honeymoon phase wore off and a longing for deeper connections, career, and purpose sprung up within me.

I was thrilled to have two best friends visit me early on to infuse good energy and excitement into the new year in such an uncertain situation. It was a great time where I felt ready to take on the year, ready to take on Switzerland. Just a few days after the girls left, the reality of COVID struck and lockdown began.

The Great Pause

Sensational news stories materialized and Covid was officially in Europe. The rest of the year would transform in ways no one could predict.

Lockdown was an excuse to nestle into our new place. The truth is, time flew and I never really felt restless. I felt rested for the first time in a long time. We had gotten used to the rhythm of moving cities or countries ever two to there years, and each time, the pressure to ‘plug in’ swiftly to the new city gnawed at me. It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating ride, but 2020 showed me how unsustainable that pace actually was.

It was glorious to have an excuse to not land a job immediately, to just be in a new place and catch our breath and reflect on our journey for once. It was the first time in the nine years since we met that we could take this pause together. Deep down, I loved it. Deep down, I really needed it.

A City Girl Embracing Home Life

Baking, reading, binge watching Netflix, starting the WanderWomen series on this blog, taking online classes, FaceTiming for hours with friends and family – I did it all during lockdown. As a self-professed city girl I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being home and leaning into old hobbies and new with no pressure to do anything else. Sure, I missed living in coffee shops and trying out new restaurants, but the FOMO didn’t last long. The fact that nothing was even open extinguished my need to leave the house.

As things slowly reopened in Zurich, we had intimate dinner parties with one couple or two. We were social in a selective way, and by July and August we took more chances, saw more people, had visitors from Belgium come stay with us. Life felt pretty normal again and Zurich in summer was an amazing sight to see, although locals have assured us it was much less happening than normal. It goes without saying that Switzerland’s relaxed measures for most of the year made things much more bearable, and I know we were really lucky in that respect.

2020: What It Was and What It Was Not

*This was year of cultivating select connections and maintaining great ones long-distance. I talked to my family over the phone more than I can ever remember and it was so meaningful. This wasn’t the year for random socializing and making loads of new acquaintances.

*This was the year of career. After a year and half of taking a break from work, I found a great job with an amazing cosmetics company called Swissline. From application to the final interview, it all felt a bit serendipitous. Since mid August, I’ve found an exciting and exhilarating challenge in this company and a newly discovered love for skincare, too.

*This was the year of falling in love with our new country. This is really the best country we could’ve moved to and I still can’t believe our luck. It was also the year with the worst homesickness I’ve ever felt. Being separated from family under these circumstances was and is extremely frustrating.

*This was the year to appreciate natural beauty, especially in our own ‘backyard’. Long walks in the forest behind our apartment, swimming in the lake, floating the Limmat, hikes at Pilatus, skiing in Laax. No suprirse here, but nature is a soothing antidote for anxiety and stress. I never embraced it as much as I did this year.

*This was the year of patience. Waiting for Covid to go away, waiting seven months for a new job, the nail-biting of the US elections, waiting to see family in person again. Patience is something I have a lot of, and wow did I need it this year.

*Above all, this was the year of love. Laurens and I thrived in isolation and got closer than ever. I appreciate that he is someone I enjoy being with, literally, all of the time. The down time we had together was and is blissful.

My Hopes for 2021…

My hopes for 2021 are simple: I want the ease of travel to return so we can see the people we love most. As an extrovert, I also want the ease of social connection (without masks) back, too.

The pause of 2020 was one that may never come again, but it was the breath of fresh air our go-go-go lives were gasping for. It was the year to take stock of the most important relationships in our lives and at the end of the day, isn’t that the most important anyway?

Thanks to everyone who has been reading my blog for some time or to anyone who has reached out through email this year. It’s been great to hear your stories from around the world about expat life and to know there’s a community out there who is listening.

Wishing everyone the best from Switzerland…Happy New Year!

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