How to Make Living Abroad a Good Experience: From an Expat Wife in Switzerland
Ways to embrace and learn from a big life change
The Dual Life
Does life sometimes feel so overwhelming you don’t know what to do next?
In 2015, my husband and I got married, had a honeymoon in London, then moved to Switzerland for his work. We stayed for 3 months, then went back home to Los Angeles for another 3, then came back to Switzerland for another 3. We’ve been doing the back and forth since then and will stay in Zurich for eight months straight this year.
Experiencing these major life changes in the span of one month was dizzying. Marriage, going to Europe for the first time, and LIVING in a foreign place for the first time.
These were completely new territories in which I had no prior knowledge. It was exhilarating but lonely, paralyzing, and stressful at times.
*Disclaimer — I understand how amazing this opportunity is! Most could only dream of the chance to experience either of those three changes. But with any change comes unexpected effects.
Since then, I’ve learned how to transition and thrive in our new home and I know you can too. We’ve found wonderful friends in Zurich and I’ve been learning German. Switzerland is a beautiful, clean, safe place with so many wonderful characteristics.
In today’s post, I’m sharing ways to transition in a new place and how you can thrive as well.
Time Limits Are the Best
It’s kind of amazing what a time limit does to productivity and drive. Knowing I only have 8 months abroad has made me determined to get as much as I can out of each moment.
To be present, engaged and curious.
Living between two places has made the value and preciousness of time clearer. We often don’t give it the care and urgency it deserves. Shouldn’t we?
Living abroad is an easy way to slip into an inspired and passionate life so we’re lucky. But you still have to make an effort to be a focused, positive thinking person. You won’t find yourself behaving like Ann in Roman Holiday because you’re in a new country (cheeky I know).
Engage with life every second you can and seek to do what sets your soul on fire. Feel the urgency to fulfill your purpose. If you struggle with negative thoughts download my affirmation freebie here.
Allow yourself to play. Experiment without pressure or shame. Make sure everything you do is contributing to your betterment in some way.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Moving to a new place doesn’t make your problems go away. The real you is still there even when your surroundings change. There were months I wouldn’t leave my apartment. Or do anything but watch Netflix even though I craved social interaction and “should” be happy.
Happiness starts and ends based on your inner condition. You don’t need to wait for certain events or outward signs to do what you love and live with purpose.
If you look everywhere but within you’ll never thrive. Your way of being and thinking makes all the difference.
Living with purpose and joy comes from within. It comes from the gratitude, awe, and connection within yourself and with others. These characteristics are beautiful things we can cultivate where we stand NOW.
Life is beautiful. Souls are beautiful. I want to connect with those around me and shine. To be the person God intends me to be.
You are a powerful, magnificent being who, no matter where you are, decides how to experience your life. This is true freedom.
If you’re reading this and moving to a new country with a foreign culture (and language): it’s tough.
You’ll have moments of loneliness, pain from loss of identity, and shock. But I promise this will be a wonderful learning and growth experience for you.
Keep reading for ideas on how to transition and even thrive in your new home. Each of these have helped me feel more comfortable, knowledegable, and less lonely:
Ideas for New Expats
1. Find a place to volunteer
Volunteering connects you with the community and is a great way to meet new people.
I found this idea on another expat blog and decided to reach out to an animal shelter to be a dog walker. They ended up not needing a walker but asked me to help them finish renovating their new facilities.
I helped build their new cat room with an expert they flew in who’s studied wild cats for over 15 years. The stories he told me about his adventures in Costa Rica and other places were amazing!
2. Ride aimless on public transit
This was scary because I’d never used public transit before much less in a language I didn’t speak.
Once I figured out how to get to important places (like the grocery store or my husband’s work) I felt more confident. It was easier to venture out and learn about Zurich.
If this makes you nervous too think of it as a game. Try to find the nearest clothing store you like or the best place to get chocolate (and cheese in my case).
3. Find other expats
There are A LOT of people in your exact same position! My first stay in Switzerland was lonely because I didn’t know how to find people. I stayed inside a lot because of how overwhelming life felt.
Everything changed when I looked up other expat blogs and went to an English speaking church. Now I have two great friends in Zurich who are in the same situation I am. We laugh, explore, and understand each other!
You have good friends waiting for you too. Put yourself out there to be found!
4. Take a language intensive course (or any course)
This is a great way to meet people and expand your mind. A scheduled course also provides you with a routine which can help life feel normal again.
For our last couple of stays, I’ve taken month long German intensive courses with Flying Teachers.
For three hours a day, you learn German with people from all over the world who recently moved to Zurich too. It’s been a fun and great way to challenge myself and be around people.
I’m usually the only American in my class too. I’ve made friends with people from Hungary, India, England, Spain, and Israel. I’ve never met anyone from most of those countries in the States!
5. Make the city your own
Discover your favorite spots and build your world again.
I now have a favorite reading spot, restaurant, outdoor hike, and cafe. My own special places.
6. Follow bloggers, photographers, and others from your city
I love following Swiss bloggers, photographers, and chefs. They usually post about popular spots around the city which will give you great ideas of new things to try.
7. Learn and grow
With the free time you have take it as a gift to read, write, draw, paint, or whatever you’re passionate about. If you’re staying more long term there may come a time you’ll work in your new city. But until then give yourself the opportunity to be curious.
Change can be scary but life is short. Getting the chance to experience different cultures and adapt to a new way of life is priceless. Soak in each moment as much as possible and love yourself in the process. Give yourself a chance!
You will transition and thrive by doing any of the small steps I’ve listed above. You’ll surprise yourself when you start feeling confident about life again.
You’re more resilient than you think. This experience is going to make you stronger than you ever thought possible.
If you’re confronted with a new situation and feel fear or sadness think of three positives instead. Increase your positive self talk.
If you struggle with negative beliefs download my affirmation freebie here.
Have you discovered other ways to help you transition abroad? Please leave a comment and share with someone you know. Clicking the heart button below (or on the side) is nice too :).