change

Ah, jeez. So, I guess it has been a while since I last published a post around here. I didn’t really plan for this to happen and yet I don’t feel guilty. I’ve been sorting out some new and exciting stuff coming up, but I’m not ready yet to put it all out there – so lets just pretend that I never really stepped away from here, yes? 

I promise to share a post about what I’ve been up to while I was away as soon as things have slightly settled! 


I recently came across a brilliant quote from Chris Guillebeau about living abroad:

“Beware of moving overseas! It’s tough, confusing, disorienting… and ultimately, extremely rewarding. When you move back home, if you ever do, you’ll be a different person than you were when you first left.”

Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity

This quote made me look back at all the worries and insecurities I felt before becoming an expat for the first time in 2009, and made me realise that, out of all my decisions, moving abroad has been one of the best ones in my life.

Expat life in Switzerland and the UK has been an adventure in itself and, while I might not call myself an expert, I love giving advice to new London expats and friends moving abroad. Below you’ll find tips I wish I had known before I first left my home country (admittedly, I really didn’t know much back then!).

Invest in experiences over possessions

Lavaux, Switzerland

While it may seem tempting to invest your hard earned expat salary in furnishing your new apartment and making it feel homely, you should look at your time as an expat as an opportunity to not only explore a new country and region, but also a new you. Take this time to accumulate experiences rather than things. Because, well, even a bad experience eventually becomes a good story!

Try anything and everything that sounds interesting to you. Take a road trip to the next town. Start that french cooking class. Learn about the regional wine. Sign up for ice skating, architectural sketching, climbing. Join an improv group or a band. Become a volunteer or a mentor. Whatever it is that you fancy – give it a try.

But don’t just take my word on this: Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. His studies confirm that our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our things!

Learning the language is not easy

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

Simply being in a new country will not make you fluent. You won’t just soak up the local language – even if you already knew a few phrases before landing (though – wouldn’t that be nice?).

Learning a new language takes time and dedication so the earlier you start learning and speaking the better! 

“Whether you learn it or not depends on your commitment, not on changing your latitude and longitude.”

– Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months

One of my biggest regrets from my 2 years in Switzerland was not learning enough french to call myself fluent. I moulded myself into a thriving expat community, surrounding myself with others that either spoke English, Spanish or German (or a combination of any of those three).

I kept on postponing my lessons. Whenever I spoke french, I was conscious of my mistakes and cave man style and tried to limit its use to extreme cases only. When I finally began to open up and take the language journey more seriously, it was time for me to move to London.

So here’s my advice: start now – learn before arriving, speak at any opportunity, make mistakes and don’t give up.

Learn to laugh about yourself

Skiing in Lech, Austria

Never did a simple trip to the supermarket become as embarrassing as my very first attempt to ask for a bin bag in Lausanne. After walking around the shop for about 20 minutes, I lost my patience and decided to ask for help. I crafter a story about an item in the kitchen that stores things you no longer want that is later on picked up by a “big car”. At first, I received blank stares. Later on, laughs! Joining the laughs was what kept me going. 

As an expat (or, well, a foreigner), you are an easy target. You’re new, you don’t understand how things work, you have a funny accent, eat strange stuff (morcilla, anyone?) and have weird customs. Heck, even after years of living in the same country, you may still suddenly realise that you’ve actually been pronouncing something wrong for the past 25 years (that’s right – I actually spent 25 years asking for biscuits instead of biskits!).

You’re going to have many embarrassing moments (and usually want to run back home right after). Don’t act defensively – just laugh about it and move on!

PS: I also spent 25 years saying Greenwitch instead of Grehnitch and Edinburg instead of Edinburrá (which got me into a heated argument because – why?) and I still can’t get myself to say kei-oss instead of kaos (chaos). Oh well.

Surround yourself with positive people

Torres del Paine, Chile

You’ll find negative people anywhere – at home and abroad. You’ll have people back home telling you that you’re wasting your talent and potential abroad. That you’ll never be able to have the same career progression in a foreign country. In your new adopted home, you might encounter locals and expats that are tired of life and insist in telling you about all the things that are wrong.

You can’t avoid running into them, but trust me, when you’re still adapting to a new country, you don’t need all this negativity in your life. Instead, surround yourself with positive people who are flexible, open and up for any adventure.

These people will be your strongest pillars and the main reason you’ll make it through the toughest expat days – the homesick days (see more on this below).

Feeling homesick is normal

Masca, Tenerife (Spain)

 Maybe it’s the morning fog, the crowds, the commute and the constant stress. Maybe it’s because I can’t seem to get out of eating al desko (because that’s really a word). Maybe I miss the warmth, humidity and weekend siestas. Maybe it’s because I miss my small family. Or maybe it’s because of Facebook. Because I realise I have missed friends’ weddings, birthdays and baby showers and wonder: did they miss me? I don’t know what causes it – it could really be anything. All I know is that, even after nearly 13 years away from home, I still get homesick.

Homesickness is, indeed, quite widely spread among expats. From my personal expat experience I would suggest that, in order to get through homesickness, you understand the emotion, accept it as part of the expat experience and don’t let it sink you. After all, feeling homesick simply means you miss something or someone that you love!

What advice would you give a new expat? Or, otherwise, what are your worries as a new / future expat? 

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You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear.

Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

After reading Sammy’s article on expatriate friendship, I took some time to look back at all the friends I’ve made during my years of expatriation. Some of us moved for career opportunities, others have been fuelled by pure wanderlust. But the truth is – it takes determination to leave a predictable life behind to jump into a pool of uncertainty and challenges.

They see challenges as opportunities

Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine (Chile)
My hike to Mirador Las Torres in Chile has been the most challenging hike so far.

Some of us see challenges as these maddening obstacles that keep us from where we really want to be. Some even feel so frustrated by them that they abandon their goal alltogether. Others, though, have learned to see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, to strengthen ourselves. The difference between these two is a small shift in perception.

As an expat, each move will force you to learn almost everything from zero. Where can I buy a lightbulb? How do I say lightbulb in this new language? Where do I find an electrician that installs it? Is this price reasonable or am I being scammed?

There are times when these challenges might take the best of us and make us want to return to the comfort of home – but us expats, we hang in there and see these batches as opportunities to learn something new and test ourselves. In fact, there will come a point where challenges excite us.

They adapt to change

Huangzhou, China
I would probably find China not easy to adapt to – but wouldn’t say no to the challenge!

Flexibility and adaptability is the willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and learn to adapt to the surrounding changes.

Expats keep an open mind and learn to adapt their behaviour to meet local policies and cultural norms. They make an effort to understand the habits of their adoptive home country, and understand the culture and lifestyle of its people.

Movine to another country will probably mess up with the routine you had in place in your home country – For instance, when I first moved to Switzerland, I had to learn to preplan my week’s food as most of the grocery stores closed before I left work. In London, I had to learn to become more of a morning person than ever before, considering that my commute went from a 10 minute walk in Switzerland to a 50 minute combined walk and tube ride in London.

They take (reasonable) risks

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)
Seeing the statistics of hikers hurt climbing down the Masca Ravine, I knew there was a risk – but it was one I was absolutely willing to take.

I once read that the main difference between entrepreneurs and project managers was that, while project managers are risk averse and try to control every bit of it, entrepreneurs are willing to take reasonable risks to explore options and test their ideas.

Expats are like entrepreneurs – we are willing to explore and test ourselves taking reasonable risks (and each one of us knows which risks are within reason – as these vary greatly for each one of us). Reasonable risks for one may be to try local food or to experience a tradition of their new home country. For someone else, it might be to drop a well-paying job at home to try their luck in a country they’ve always wanted to live in.

As in any risk (as small as it may be) – there’s a chance of failure. Expats learn from their mistakes and don’t let them lead their way. We get up, shrug it off and always maintain this sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps us continuing taking small risks.

They are not afraid to ask questions

Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland
I was the one always asking for tips on new places to visit around Lausanne, Switzerland – and that’s how I discovered Lavaux (one of my favourite hotspots so far!).

Expats are curious and interested in learning something new. We are also often stuck wondering how to navigate the daily tasks in a new country – Which is the best bank to open an account with? Where do I buy milk on a Sunday? Is this neighbourhood safe? Where can I find a taxi? Or, how do I spell my new street name to the cab driver?

We can’t (and won’t) figure it all out by ourselves, so we reach out to fellow expats, locals or pretty much anyone who’s willing to help.

They are patient

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand
It takes a lot of patience (and mosquito bites) to get to admire a sunset like this one in Thailand.

Starting a life from scratch in a new environment takes a lot of time and energy. Acclimmatisation will not happen from one day to another. Expats usually go through 4 phases of culture shock and, depending on individual experiences, reaching the feeling of truly belonging to this new country may take years of work.

It takes time (and effort!) to become fluent in a new language, to make a new group of friends and to feel at home in a new country. There are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications as well as terribly awkward moments, we learn from our mistakes and keep working hard. We know that persistence and determination will help us to reach our goal.

What other habits do you believe highly effective expats have?

I’m writing this posts from my large and bright bedroom overlooking a beautiful park south west of London. I’ve been living here for 1.5 years – which I’m quite sure is the longest I have stayed in the same flat (and neighborhood) for the past 7 years. Everything I bought and created to turn this place into my new home is now slowly being wrapped up again, ready to start a new beginning in yet another flat (and neighborhood) in London.

In the 2.5 years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve already lived in 3 (and soon 4) flats. I’ve gone from living in a studio close to Notting Hill (West London) during my first month in the city, to surrounding myself with top hipsters in Hoxton area (North East London) to finally settling for a bit longer in laid-back Clapham (South West). While always stressful and mostly frustrating, moving around in London has been a good thing – every move has taught me a valuable lesson:

Lesson 1: If you don’t like crowds, avoid famous neighbourhoods

Sunset from Chelsea Bridge, London

I’ve learned that Notting Hill, though beautiful, is too crowded for me – and thanks to this and working close to Oxford Circus, I realised that I actually have a problem with crowds, specially when they involve a majority of tourists (even after having developed the power of precognition).

Famous neighbourhoods such as Notting Hill also tend to have quite a heavy price markup on their flats. You’re paying for being close to Portobello Road – the heart and essence of Notting Hill (the neighbourhood and the movie).

Lesson 2: Don’t follow a trend – find your own style

Richmond Park, London

I moved to Hoxton because I was told so. All I knew at that time is that I didn’t want to live somewhere crowded. I was going to move in with one of my best friends, who continuously mentioned places like Old Street, Hoxton and Angel. I followed along – after all, I was the newbie.

Although the area was great for being next to the Regents Canal and some of the coolest underground bars in the city, I felt like an outsider among so much trendiness. I love to go for to the area for a dinner or drinks, but couldn’t imagine calling it home.

Lesson 3: If you find an area you like and can afford, stay

Stormy London (UK)

This sounds like common sense, but it wasn’t immediately what crossed my mind. One of the reasons I am moving once again is because, ever since my career change into something more creative than finance, my flat takes away more than 60% of my monthly income. Taking into account my monthly travel card and other living essentials, and I have been ending each month with an empty account. I had nothing left for savings. And even worse – there was nothing left for travel either.

I desperately looked for flatshares in the same postcode (postcodes are king in the UK), but all I could find was either flat shares with 5 or more people or rooms in the same price range I am currently paying. I started to lose hope and opened myself to other areas. I went to Putney Bridge, Parsons Green and even had a look around Richmond. I was devastated – not because I thought these places were wrong, but because I was sad to leave a neighbourhood I loved.

With so many changes and so much uncertainty in my life, I wanted to hold onto the one thing I could possibly keep constant.

I eventually found a room in a flat share closeby. A different postcode *sigh*, but a pretty, modern and more affordable flat nonetheless – only a 5 minute walk away from the park I currently overlook from my bedroom. I couldn’t be happier!

Practical Information

Finding a Neighbourhood (or Borough)

  • London’s Crime Map – This map shows in colour code which areas have had high / average / low crime (you can even see the trend of different types of crime in each area.
  • London Commuting Times Map – This one shows you the commuting time you can expect to central London. This obviously depends widely on where in central London you’re commuting to, but it’s a good start.
  • London’s Tube Map – An all times essential. To avoid long and tedious commutes, make sure to check the transportation links that best connect you to work / school. Some tube lines are more reliable and faster than others!
  • A Guide to London’s 33 Boroughs – This map shows all 33 boroughs. When clicking on one, a short descriprion appears, as well as links to its attractions, restaurants, shops, etc.

Whenever possible, I highly recommend to visit the neighbourhood you’re looking at during the day as well as night. Imagine yourself building a routine – do you have a supermarket? a gym? what are the people like?

Finding a flat or flatshare in London

  • For flatshares: Spareroom and Gumtree. Spareroom also offers the possibility to buddy up (find other people looking for a room in a shared apartment).
  • For flats / apartment rentals: Rightmove or Zoopla.

Note that most of the flats listed are managed by a letting agent – so be aware that a number of fees will apply. Agency fees vary greatly among agents and could include (among others): inventory check fee, credit check fee, contract amendment fee and management fee.

Rental prices are usually shown as GBP per week (pw) while being paid per month (pcm). To calculate the monthly equivalent, you only have to multiply this amount by 52 (weeks) and divide it by 12 (months). Voilà!

Other bills to consider

  • Electricity
  • Heating – Victorian houses, although beautiful and romantic, are usually very badly isolated so your heating bills will probably be higher than in a new development.
  • Council Tax – This is a monthly tax based on the size of your flat and its borough. Wandsworth is the borough with the lowest council tax, while Richmond Upon Thames has one of the highest ones. You can check this borough comparison map from Natwest to get a general idea of the yearly costs.
  • Internet / Phone – Before choosing a broadband, I recommend to check Uswitch to compare all the current offers and check which broadband has the best reach in your postcode.
  • TV License – It is obligatory to pay for a TV license (don’t worry about finding out when and how – they usually send you a letter within days of your move to a new flat!). The license is not only needed for TV, but also required if you have a computer and an internet connection. Pretty much everyone is liable.
  • Water

Sunset in London, UK

You see this? This is me giving up on holding this blog on maintenance mode to rework on the layout, design and format. Who am I kidding? I’m not a web designer. In fact, I’m not a tech person. I’m not even very savvy when it comes to social media – and I’m a Gen Y! (How did this happen?).

I’m impatient, unsettled and a bit unstructured at the moment – and that’s exactly how this corner of the internet is as well. Don’t judge – We are both work in progress.

I’m just about to move flats for the 14th time in 11 years (my 4th move in my 2 years in London). I’ve misplaced my photos from my time in Switzerland (but on the flip side just found 6 years worth of Uni pictures – which I’m pretty sure my friends will agree are priceless). I’ve also misplaced a few things on the blog: Some posts are lacking a featured image and some may even contain links that won’t be taking you anywhere. I’m still not happy with the colour of the navigation menu and am on the mission of figuring it out using a highly complex fundamental problem solving method called trial and error.

Under the warmth of winter sunshine in the Canary Islands, I occasionally sit down and stare blankly at the CSS sheets and let my mind wanders to everything else but code. I realized that I was too impatient to get it perfect – what I really wanted to do is write.

I used to think that 2013 was a rather boring year. No treks in Patagonia. No glacier hiking in New Zealand. No climbing the Grest Wall of China. I didn’t leave Europe in 2013. In fact, my longest flight this year has been 4.5 hrs to return home. But looking back I realize that I was wrong – 2013 was eventful and exciting! I travelled, hiked, learned how to ski. I moved to Barcelona and back to London. I worked for a private jet company, experienced the FINA World Swimming Championships and am now continuously surrounded by inspiring people leading a global creative agency. I couldn’t be happier!

If I had to pick one word to define 2013 this would be
UNCERTAINTY.

Before 2013, I linked uncertainty to the lack of security; risk, and the possibility of loss. I was looking at it all wrong. Uncertainty this year has meant freedom of choice, absolute flexibility and dreams as big as they can get. I was anything but settled and at some point in Barcelona it stopped being scary and became exciting.

I always had a choice. I chose to change my career risking my steady paycheck. I decided to temporarily move to Barcelona. I chose to cut on travel to focus on building a new career. I chose to take on a new role and move back to London. I don’t regret any of these choices – they have brought me to where I am now: ready to take on 2014!

I might not have travelled as much as I had in the previous years, but I’ve still had my fair amount of adventures:

January

Chamonix, France

In January, I took off on a week long trip to Chamonix with one clear mission – to learn how to ski. I’ve given up on my hopes of becoming a slope legend, but at least I can glide down blue slopes without major hiccups – it’s a start! During our time in the Mont Blanc region, we also took the highest vertical ascent cable car in the World which took us to Aiguille du Midi (from where I took the above picture). It was amazing to watch people climb the Mont Blanc and ski down off piste some of the steepest parts I’ve ever seen.

February & March

Hiking from Seaford to Eastbourne, UK

While February went unnoticeable, March was quite eventful. Despite the still wintery weather, I took my visit to explore the Seven Sisters from Seaford to Eastbourne. It may not have been the best time of the year to do so (I would erase the hour walking in mud from our already wet itinerary) – but it was still a beautiful sight.

April

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)

Right before my temporary move to Barcelona, I travelled back home to Tenerife to rest in between jobs. Exploring a new hiking path has become a ritual and this visit was no exception. In April, I was introduced to one of (now) my favourite hiking spots in the island – Masca’s ravine. I’ve set myself a challenge to hike the ravine down to sea level and up again next year.

May

Montserrat, Catalonia (Spain)

May saw me moving into a tiny apartment in Barrio de Gracia, Barcelona, sharing with far more people than I was used to. Having a tiny room and no living room meant spending a lot of time exploring Barcelona. I immediately fell in love with my neighborhood and was fascinated by the martian rock formations in Montserrat.

I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Madrid to visit old friends and celebrate my birthday with some of my favoruite people in the World.

June

Sitges, Barcelona (Spain)

Whenever I had some time in my hands, I spent it under the sunshine – at roof tops, balconies, beaches – You name it, I did it! This month I also visited Sitges – a beautiful small fisher town south of Barcelona known for its annual film festival and many nudist beaches just next to the waterfront paths.

July & August

FINA 15th World Swimming Championships BCN2013, Barcelona

During July and August I worked. A lot. The FINA World Swimming Championships took place between the 19th of July and the 4th of August, with the weeks leading up to the 19th spent closing contracts, making orders, finishing designs and supervising construction. I met amazing people that became great friends I still keep in touch with.

September

Costa Brava, Catalonia

The end of August marked the time I surrendered to uncertainty. I gave in. I had officially left sunny Barcelona and had no answer to what next. I road tripped around Catalonia – from Barcelona, along Costa Brava, all the way to Cap de Creus and back down through Garrotxa. I took in all its beauty and variety, going from visiting the medieval town of Peratallada to kayaking around Cadaqués. I also took the chance to return home for a few days and celebrate my grandfather’s 80th Anniversary. At the end of September, everything started to fall again place as I accepted my current job and moved back to London.

October

Sushisamba Restaurant, London

Apart from taking a weekend architectural sketching course in London, I visited friends in Frankfurt and had friends hopping over to London. I hardly shared any of this on the blog for one main reason – lack of time. All I was able to write about (because I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I left it out of common knowledge) is Sushisamba!

November & December

Playa Acón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

…Which brings me to here and now. I was allocated my first project at the agency mid-November and lost track of place and time until it was over, some time early December. This project took me to Milan and Frankfurt (although I hardly saw anything else than the hotel and the streets in fast motion). I fell quiet around here partly to recover my energy and partly to redesign the blog (something I had been hoping to do for ages!). I’m spending Christmas and New Year’s back in Tenerife – taking the chance to spend time with family, go for walks and hikes and just read in the morning sun. There’s no place I’d rather be right now than here.

I will remember 2013 for being the year I discovered Barcelona (a first timer – which is embarrassing to admit for someone who lived in Spain for 22 years). It’s also the year I fully invested in my new career. The year I surrendered to uncertainty and gave in to the risk of failure. The year I took adventure trips in my backyard (so to say) and learned to appreciate what’s closeby.

Happy Holidays – I wish you all a wonderful start to 2014!

Today marks the one week count-down to my departure from Barcelona. Aside from a week exploring Costa Brava and another week back home in Tenerife, I have no further travel plans. Nor life plans, as a matter of fact. I am moving out of Barcelona and into some kind of expat limbo.

It feels wrong, but also right – for the first time, I don’t have a plan (a major accomplishment for someone who tends to pre-plan everything up to her free time).

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

Barcelona has been an unforgettable and highly rewarding experience. I fell in love with the City the first day I arrived and have never felt any other way. I know I could live here for the rest of my life.

So then, why leave?

There are still many places I want to explore and many experiences I want to live before returning to Spain. I want to spend time indulging in outdoor sports and nature, learn a new language and be inspired by other cultures. I want to continue to evolve and be challenged by the World – adopting new skills, interacting with new people and adjusting to new cultures.

Certainly one of the traits (or possibly drawbacks) of being a Gen Y – seeking for constant newness.

What next?” is a question that has been popping up for the past month at least once a day. The truth is: I have no idea what I’m doing next. My Excel Planner – a financial manager’s alternative to an old-fashioned notebook – is overflowing with tabs, color codes, lists and calculations. My calendar shows a wedding in India late November that I can’t yet RSVP to due to not knowing which country or even continent I’ll be flying from. This is what Barry Schwartz must have meant with The Paradox of Choice.

September 25th, the deadline I’ve set to make a decision, is quickly approaching. In the meantime… any suggestions?

Life rarely goes as planned

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

The day I quit my job in the finance to pursue a career in corporate communications and events, I knew it was going to be tough to adjust to my new lifestyle lifestyle. I knew I would have to climb down a few steps of the corporate ladder and adjust my expenses to a lower salary.

But what I did fail to think of back then was how hard it would be to get a job in a new industry in the first place.

Although I secured a 3 month internship to gain industry experience, I know that this is only temporary and soon, I’d be facing uncertainty again.

Do this, move there, give up or go home.

BCN2013

My worries had been blurring my vision. I wrote lists of options, pros and cons and juggled with my future. The easy choice was to quit London and move somewhere else. The more painful alternative was to stay in London and continue to send out numerous job applications hoping to get a response.

None of them felt quite right.

And then I realised there was a third alternative. I reached out to my network – friends, alumni, family. If I could get one more experience in the industry, I would, hopefully, be fit for London’s competitive job market. Soon after I started, things began to fall into place – I got in touch with someone I knew from Uni who had also changed career paths and had landed a job in a small events agency in Barcelona. A few calls later, I got a temporary contract to work at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships!

So, what’s next?

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

For the next four months, I’ll be living and working in Barcelona. Sure, at the moments it’s something temporary – but it’s also the invaluable industry experience I am currently short of. It’s 4 months in a city I had never visited before, so I’m surely covering my need of travel and adventure as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this city happens to be in the Mediterranean coast side and offer some of my favourite dishes in every corner bar (pincho de tortilla, anyone?).

While I work my way through the over a thousand pictures I took during my trip to Argentina and Chile, I thought it to be a good time to take a look at what 2011 brought me.

2011 was the year I learned to appreciate winter, got promoted, moved to London and traveled solo for the first time.

January

Sunset from the Empire State, New York

I kicked off last year in a steampunk themed underground party. After years of resentment, I revisited Paris and remembered what made me fall in love with the city in the first place. At the end of the month, I travelled to New York with my best friend and experienced one of the most beautiful urban sunsets from the top of the Empire State (at -17ºC, but it was totally worth it).

February

February was a busy month at work – I traveled to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and attended a week of cocktails in London. Aside from gaining at least 2 kilos from dunking anything possible into a massive chocolate fountain, I drank champagne at London’s Natural History Museum and had dinner at the city’s oldest restaurant!

March

Edinburgh, Scotland

In March, I went on my first solo trip – a long weekend in Edinburgh. I learned that travelling solo doesn’t mean being solo all the time, as I met lots of interesting people throughout my stay (among them, Kash from Budget Traveller and Keith from Traveling Savage. Great whiskeys. Great company!

April

Tulip Festival in Morges

We had beautiful weather in April, so I spent a lot of time outdoors. I visited Morges during its yearly Tulip Festival and, over Easter, drove around Switzerland discovering the Mont Fort – a peak from which I could appreciate 3 countries (Italy, France and Switzerland).

May

Switzerland

I celebrated my 27th Birthday throwing a massive expat BBQ party at Lac Leman that went into the late hours that night. May was a perfect month in so many ways – filled with sunshine, wine and beautiful walks along the riverside.

June

Royal Ascot Horse Race

In June, I had my first taste of English culture at the Royal Ascot horse race – celebrating 300 years of this royal tradition. I quite quickly lost all the money I was ready to gamble and focussed on spotting the craziest hat and outfit!

July

Lavaux, SwitzerlandHoping to find the most appropriate way to say goodbye to Switzerland, I spent most of July revisiting my favourite corners of Lausanne and hiking through the Lavaux vineyards overlooking the lake and the Alps. I also hiked the Aletsch Glacier – which is my favourite day-hike so far!

August

Es Ram, Formentera, Balearic Islands (Spain)

In August, I had a fantastic time with 3 girlfriends in Formentera – a tiny island off Mallorca, frequented by Shakira and Giorgio Armani. We visited every beach, hired a zodiac to dive into remote coves and swim in crystalline water and celebrated every sunset with a perfect made mojito at our favourite beach water. Ah, heaven!

September & October

St Paul's Cathedral and Millennium Bridge, London

In September, I left my swiss life behind me and moved to London. Life in the city hit me hard and I was an emotional wreck – the crowds, the fog, the rain, the wind, the commute, the anonymity… I was missing Lausanne like crazy.

November

Whale Watching in Tenerife

I managed to escape London for a bit of home-therapy in November. Aside from soaking up some sunshine, I took a boat ride to watch whales along the island’s coastline.

December

Penguin in Isla Magdalena, Chile

December passed very quickly as I counted the days to go on a trip I had been dreaming of for so long – Southern Patagonia. I went hiking in Torres del Paine, visited an island inhabited by penguins, hopped on Cape Horn and watched glaciers tearing apart. There was no better way of closing this year!

What are your proudest moments of 2011?

Rainbow after the Rain, London

I watch the news every morning while I’m having breakfast. I read the Economist on my bus ride to work. Once at my desk, one of my screens will shows the latest happenings in the economic and financial markets. Let’s say – I’m exposed to lots of new information, all the time. I love reading articles on new scientific discoveries or successful business cases. However, in current times, I find it increasingly difficult to spot some positive news.

With the thought of an eventual break-up of the euro, constant talks about a double-dip recession, Greece’s possible default, fears of Italy following (and being too big to be bailed our by its neighbors), top french banks being downgraded, I find it hard to keep my attitude positive.

Now that the euro zone is in a death spiral*, how can anyone remain optimistic?

I took the picture from my office on one of those miserable days filled with hopeless news. It reminded me that, in the same way that after the rain there will be a glowing rainbow; things will eventually get better – dark, wet and cold days won’t last forever.

*Source: The Economist, 9th of November 2011.

How do you say Goodbye to a place that has been your home for two years. A place that has taught you many things – that has seen you rise professionally, has seen you mature and become independent. That has helped you to discover youself and develop new hobbies.

Well you can’t, really.

Instead, I’ll give it a see you soon, and will think of all the things that have made my life here beautiful.

Lausanne, Switzerland

Waking up with the sun shining on my bed. Walking to the office in the morning. In flip flops. Pain au chocolat and croissants from my favorite bakery. The owners of the little portuguese grocery shop, that greet me every morning. Fighting for fresh fruits every monday and thursday at work. My boss (a lot). The smell of mate in the morning. The view of the Alps from the kitchen window. Being able to complain about some moron (and even being encouraged to do so). Learning a new latin american expression every week. My work colleagues. Our common love for delicious food. Convincing them to ditch the gym and go and have a gourmet burguer at Holy Cow instead (it’s in the same direction anyways). Home-made Chilean empanadas. The so-called business walks. Engineering our way through the city to take as little hills as humanly possible possible. Having lunch in the park. Lazy afternoons.

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Beautiful buildings and their romantic balconies. My safe, clean and quiet neighborhood. The fresh cut grass in the park. The careful and respectful drivers. The good faith of swiss people. Finding clothes and shoes in my size, even at the end of sales. Globus – and it’s Gourmet Supermarket. Saturdays street market. The cheese. The lebanese take away, which often gifted me with an extra dish or glass of wine, for free. The good taste of tap water. Making use of my french (now that I was finally picking up on the language!).

Crêpe in Lausanne, Switzerland

My apartment. The view from my bed. From my balcony. Sunbathing on my deckchair. My sun addiced neighbor (whenever I’m tanning, he’s too!) The Alps. The Lake. Sunsets from Vidy. Sailboats. The way in which the afternoon sun teints the Alps pink. My friends. BBQs at the lake until late at night. Drinking outside a bar on the pavement. Always meeting people I know in my usual pub. Always having a friend who’s up for a drink. Or a festival. Or a late night dinner. Eating too much raclette (and drinking even more wine). Cocktails at St Pierre’s (specially their custom made Bloody Mary), while playing board games on a rainy afternoon. Strawberry Vodka shots at Punk. The incredibly good looking swiss-french boys (who usually to sit or walk next to an incredible stylish and beautiful swiss-french girl). Walking everywhere, without worrying about safety.

Being so close to nature. The swiss railway. The demi-tarif, that got me moving around Switzerland always for half the price! The 10 minutes ride away to the vineyards in Lavaux. The 45 min ride to the nearest ski station. The snow (who would have said so!). People’s love for adventure. The crazy swiss who snowboard and ski down Lausanne’s steepest slopes. The way in which the city’s efficiency is not at all affected by the weather conditions. The charming little villages. How beautiful and peaceful the the streets look when they’re covered in snow.


I’m leaving on Wednesday. Until then, I’m making my best to visit, once more, my favorite places in the city, at my favorite meals and, specially, meet the friends I’ve met along my stay. Next time, I’ll be writing from London.

I’ve been an expat for one and a half years now, and had never before sat down to clear my thoughts and feelings on living in Switzerland. It’s not my first time abroad. However, it’s the first time that I left my country without knowing when I’d be going back. I didn’t care about not knowing one single soul in the whole country, nor did I care about my lack of french knowledge. I hardly blinked when it came to leave the comfortable familiarity behind and dive into the unknown. I was going to conquer the World (or at least, Switzerland).

The truth is – culture shock hit me deeper than I thought. It’s not only about learning how to copy with different social norms – i.e. learning where to park my bike and where not to (something I unfortunately learned the hard way). Culture shock continues long after becoming familiar with my new life.

Honeymoon

Lavaux, Switzerland

The Honeymoon phase is full of excitement and euphoria. You feel you can grab the World in your hands and do whatever you want. Every day is a new adventure – new faces, a different restaurant, a hidden shop, a cute small side street with boulangeries selling the best baguette you have ever tried. The public transport is reliable, the city is peaceful, clean and safe and people are kind and respectful.

You smile while you walk. Life is good. Actually, scratch that – life is amazing. You are so glad you chose to move and can’t imagine life any other way.

Frustration

Vevey, Switzerland

The shine starts to fade away. You realize that there are actually less than 5 bars where you can go to – either because of the crowds or because of the prices. It’s the fourth time you try asking for a glass of water with your coffee and you receive an arrogant look from the waiter. Maybe even a clueless arrogant look. You’re grammatical mistakes bothers them, and having to repeat the same word 10 times upsets you, too. You go to a hairdresser and come out with a messy cut (that doesn’t resemble a tiny bit what you initially had in mind) and realize that this trend disaster has left you completely broke.

At this point, you start to get familiar with the disadvantages of living abroad. You feel alone and misunderstood, disillusioned, frustrated and angry. Why did you ever even think this move would be a good idea?

Understanding

Water Fountain, Lausanne (Switzerland)

After a while, things start to look brighter – you are adjusting to your new home country. Those things that used to annoy you, are now small and insignificant. You start to see the advantages of having an early start on Saturdays and venture into new activities you never thought you enjoy before. You have set a routine and feel comfortable with it.

You understand the cultural differences with your home country and are learning how to deal with them.

Biculturalism

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Although I have adopted some local habits and am adjusting to the new culture, I still don’t feel that I belong here – I feel like a foreigner. I guess the main reason for this is my ridiculous lack of french skills. I truly need to work on that! I envy those that have become bicultural – they are aware of where they came from but have fully embraced swiss culture. They never feel out-of-place.

This phase that takes a lot of understanding and an open mind.

Note: At the point of writing this post, I was in living in Switzerland experiencing the third phase – Understanding. Five months later, I was transferred to London. I have fond memories of living in Switzerland and hope to move back again in the future. Maybe this means that I finally did reach biculturalism – despite my french!