What is living and working in Switzerland like? How did you come to live in Zurich in the first place?
I had finished at Uni and was meant to move to London to start a job in Investment Banking back in 2009, but then the bank told me they’d pulled all their graduate positions due to the crisis. Having ready English and Italian Literature at Uni, I didn’t have options galore.
A job agency specializing in English and Japanese speakers (how niche is that, eh?) got in touch with me and suggested I interview for a position in Online Marketing based in Zurich. I didn’t even know what the job really entailed, but I went along with it and one thing led to another. I figured I could do with living in a mountainous country (I climb and ski), and optimistically thought I’d be able to learn a little German before returning to London perhaps one, maximum two years later.
I was naive in two senses:
1. German is a hard language to learn, especially in a Swiss environment. I immediately realized I’d need more time.
2. Once the Alps become your neighbor, it’s near impossible to find a neighborhood that’ll satisfy your needs the same way.
So, almost seven years later, I’ve secured myself permanent residency, quit my corporate job, and discovered how welcoming of entrepreneurs this country is. In short, I’m extremely happy here and am now pretty firmly rooted to the city.
What is your favorite thing about living in Zurich? What has been most surprising or shocking?
I won’t bang on about the mountains – we all know they’re amazing, so I don’t to spell things out there. My favorite thing is that it’s very international. I feel it has its own sense of multicultural identity, which you’ll notice if you stay at centrally-located hotels like Moevenpick. It’s not like Singapore or Dubai, where hundreds of English speaking nationals have flocked over and labeled themselves expats.
I feel like the people I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with here are all here for reasons other than just work – they’re all pretty outdoorsy, in some cases even more so than the Zürcher themselves. People say the Swiss are hard to make friends with as a foreigner and, sure, you can’t compare it to the at times overbearing hospitality of Southern Europeans, but I do find it to be an exaggeration. I have made friends with plenty of lovely Swiss people, and it’s taken no extra effort at all on my part.
What has been most surprising is the education system. It’s very common to have opted for an apprenticeship rather than go straight to Uni. I find that where I’m from, going to Uni is largely considered the only way to carve out a respectable career (though, I have to point out that my idea of a “career” has transformed massively of late).
I like that the Swiss value experience and work ethic just as highly as a piece of paper you obtained at an institution somewhere.
What kind of work are you doing now?
I went from Online Marketing for a multinational private education company, to Private Banking at a well-known Swiss bank, to realizing desk jobs are really not for me. I waited until I’d saved some money and got my permanent residency and plotted my escape. I spent my bonus on an English teaching qualification, and decided to teach English to pay the bills while I tried to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with food, but not as a chef. I went and got some kitchen work experience just to reconfirm that latter point.
Now I hold cooking workshops, primarily on the topic of Japanese fermentation. I take part in the Slow Food Youth Network’s activities, and hope to continue to be inspired by the wonderful people there and to find my niche. I’m getting there, but I’ve accepted that it will take time.
What do you see from living in Switzerland that the average tourist might not?
Switzerland is a beautiful, almost fairy-tale-like country. Most tourists come to ogle at the mountains, and rightly so. Zurich is a lovely city, but doesn’t really offer much by way of tourist attractions. I always tell people it’s a wonderful place to live – life is comparatively easier than in all the other cities I’ve lived in, but I’m not sure it has a whole lot to offer tourists who are keen to snap pictures of landmarks and the like. The culinary scene is starting to blossom and, as I said before, it is rather entrepreneurial. It’s lovely to go and dig around for small businesses and see what they’re up to.
People associate Zurich with banking, insurance, and sometimes, pharmaceuticals. While they have played a large part in building Zurich’s reputation as a financial hub, I like to tell tourists that Zurich is also like the rich man’s Berlin. There are left-wing squats and a strong alternative scene that don’t meet the eye at first. The only difference is that living in a squat most often signifies you are taking a political stance, not that you have no other choice. Hence it being the rich man’s Berlin.
Why do you believe it’s important for people to live abroad?
The struggle can be real, very real, but it’s never the kind of struggle that drowns you. It’s more like the struggle I imagine one faces when learning to surf. You’re doing it because you know that once you get the hang of it, it’s going to be amazing and your way of life will change forever.
Born in the UK and raised both there and in Japan (with a diversion to Italy as a young child), Christine is pretty familiar with being a foreigner, even in her two home countries. Since her passions lie in writing, cooking, skiing, trail running and climbing, it’s obvious she’s not really cut out for a nine to five office job. So as of 2014 she is hustling as a part-time English teacher and part-time entrepreneur.