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First came love, then came Switzerland

  • Geneva snow
Interview
Published 7 months ago

When Ashleigh met her lovely Swiss man, she didn't know what the future holds — a marriage, settlement in a new country, and a rewarding work life. Ashleigh and her husband are now living in Geneva, and as a first-time expat, she had a lot on her plate at the beginning. But almost two years after, the culture shock and feelings of loneliness have lightened, and Ashleigh enjoys the charms of Switzerland, plans a family, and can't be happier with her online projects.

Hello Ashleigh, where are you from, and what brought you to Switzerland?

Hi, my name is Ashleigh Anderfuhren, I'm 31, and I'm from New York, USA, now living in Geneva, Switzerland.  In NYC, I worked in the fashion and entertainment public relations sector.  However, in Geneva I cannot work in the same field because I lack the necessary French language skills. So, I started my blog Natural Girl, Unnatural World, and before I knew it, I was on a new adventure as a Travel/Expat/Lifestyle blogger, a CELTA-certified English teacher, and the co-founder of AdoptAnExpat, an expat community bridging the gap between locals in Geneva and new arrivals.

Why Switzerland?

In NYC I met through online dating a wonderful Swiss man, who was doing his post-doctoral research at Columbia and NYU.  We started dating with the agreement that we would split up when it was time for him to leave.  Two months before his departure, we realized we didn't want to live without each other, and two weeks after we got married. I joined him in Switzerland, and I've been in Switzerland for what has been a challenging and rewarding 21 months. I wouldn't have it any other way.

What is the process for an American citizen to move to Switzerland?

For me, it was relatively simple because we got married in the US.  Prior to leaving the US, I had to submit a background check from the F.B.I. and one or two additional forms to the Swiss Embassy in NYC to begin the process of family reunification. My American passport allows me into the Schengen Area for three months without filing additional paperwork. The tourist visa gave me enough time to arrive and continue the family reunification process, which entitled me to stay in Switzerland. My husband had to submit paperwork to the Swiss government stating that under no circumstances would I accept any government financial support, and that he was gainfully employed, making enough money to sustain two people for at least one year. Considering that I never had to navigate another government or immigration before, I found it quite simple. The only issue was that I had to change my last name.  I would have preferred hyphenating my maiden and married names however, I chose not to so that I could have the same name as my children.

Geneva

What is your favourite thing and the least favourite about Geneva?

Initially, I was unable to see any good in being in Geneva, and there was no initial attraction other than my husband.  However, now I'm drawn to Geneva's beauty. The surrounding nature and more importantly the inner beauty of the people I've been lucky enough to meet keeps me getting up and going out for more.

What has surprised you the most about your life in Switzerland?

I'm surprised at how much of an adjustment was necessary to feel at home.  Because I'd never lived abroad before, and didn't know anyone who had, I wasn't prepared for what was to come discomfort, change, and a massive culture shock.

What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to be hired?

I think that it is easy for an expat to find work with an NGO or in finance provided that they are hired prior to moving and they will be often sponsored. Employers usually assist with language classes, accommodation, etc. making interactions with the government considerably fewer and integration easier.

How is accommodation in Switzerland, and what type is available for expats?

I was fortunate enough to be able to move directly into my husband's apartment, which he had kept while in America.  However, finding accommodation can be extremely difficult and costly in the city. However, we've made a few appointments to see apartments that have gone on the market. The last visit we went on, we were viewing a two-bedroom apartment alongside 20 other couples and families. There's an extremely high demand for housing, which makes it extremely costly.

How do you find the lifestyle in Switzerland?

The Swiss lifestyle is generally calm and cool, easygoing, but responsible.  Responsibility and accountability are of the utmost importance to the Swiss. I hear references to who is responsible for what all the time.  For example, at the immigration office, I naturally had many questions regarding policies and procedures, which were usually answered by handing me a booklet or sending me to a website both in French.  When I asked if anyone can help me because I don't trust my French, typically I was told that everyone is responsible for themselves.  In other words, "you're on your own, so figure it out".  Ouch.  But this attitude fosters independence from early childhood on.

Have you been able to adapt to the Swiss society?

In my own way, yes. But I'm far more interested in integrating into the country and its society, which is a bit different and more involving.

How is the everyday life for you in Switzerland?

Now that I have created some avenues for myself professionally, my life looks like that of anyone else who works remotely. I keep a regular work schedule for myself, Monday to Friday from 9 to 5. Sometimes I also teach in the evenings.  Every morning, I head to a coworking space and work on my blog, AdoptAnExpat, or my classes. I try to meet up with friends for an apéro or an event Geneva is awesome for free and low-cost entertainment.  My summers are spent in parks around Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) in festivals, concerts, and movies, usually sponsored by the city.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Switzerland?

Switzerland, and especially Geneva, is very expensive.  The cost of living is high, but the salaries are hight too, making it bearable.

What do you do in your free time?

I love checking out the cultural events around the city, riding my bike (a great way to let my mind wander), and meet all the like-minded people I can, to build my personal and professional networks.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

My palate has never been sophisticated or refined.  In fact, food is what I consume to stay alive. I don't really love eating, and I have lots of allergies.  But food is a major part of the culture here it is a social event, and to be shared.  I came from a place where I could have anything I wanted, anytime, exactly the way I wanted it, and my place in NYC didn't even have a kitchen.  Here, everything closes early, there are far fewer options, and asking for your food in a different way than it is presented on the menu is likely to draw strange looks and the occasional nasty comment. On the other hand, I have developed an appreciation for cheese (which literally used to make me sick) and chocolate.  I also enjoy learning about wine.

traveling in Europe

What do you like the most about Switzerland?

I love Switzerland's proximity to everywhere else.  It's easy and inexpensive to travel from, so being here literally makes the rest of the world a possibility to me.  But within the country, I find the landscape to be utterly beautiful, and I am constantly excited by all the great activities available to everyone because they are free and open to the public. It's also wonderful to be in a place where education is a right, not a privilege. 

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Stupidly, I miss being able to eat my favorite junk foods!  But more than anything, I miss the ease and comfort of always understanding the world around me I'm working on that by taking French classes.

What has motivated you to write your blog Natural Girl, Unnatural World?

I was motivated by loneliness and the feeling of being misunderstood.  I was so depressed and alone that I'd begun to develop a case of agoraphobia.  I needed to create a reason for me to get out of my apartment and take part in the world.  I always used to dream of being a bit like the black Carrie Bradshaw and I figured: I'm in a new place, I have the chance to completely redefine myself and be whoever I want to be, why not Carrie this time?  Then, my husband's colleague's wife, who became a very dear friend, started inviting me to work with her at a cafe and there, my blog was born. Not only did I have the chance to get out everyday, I needed to produce content for the blog which got me discovering my new city and country.  Soon after, people were sending me messages expressing that they had similar feelings of loneliness, difficulty, sadness, culture shock and homesickness. I began meeting up with my readers because there is no reason for two people to be lonely when they can befriend each other.  From there, I was introduced to my friend Olga by a reader, and we built AdoptAnExpat.

Do you have an advice for soon-to-be expatriates in Switzerland?

Don't be the stereotype. People can truly think that all expats from a specific country behave in a certain way.  So, break the stereotype even if you don't speak French, and have no desire to learn, try with just a few phrases.  Locals will appreciate it.  Also, recognize that the more expats arrive, the tighter locals seem to cling to their culture and language.  Appreciate and participate in both. Over time, if more people acted that way, I hope that the locals in Geneva would feel less threatened by the invasion of English speakers.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to live my life in Geneva, so I would love to begin a family in the next year or two.  I also hope that I am able to grow my blog and AdoptAnExpat so that I am able to continue working on things I feel passionate about.

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