Adopt An Expat : a small initiative that could change the world

  • Expat isolation
Published 2 years ago

It has never been so easy to move abroad. But cultural and social integration remain a barrier for a complete fulfillment abroad. An Expat initiative in Switzerland might change the story.


About the author:

Ashleigh is an American enthusiast, living in Geneva. She recently developed the Adoptanexpat project, which aims at connecting expats and locals and create bridge between those two communities.

When I arrived, living in Geneva was difficult. I felt limited by my lack of language skills, and forced into a dependency on my husband, that I never wanted.  I didn’t have anything familiar around; no family and worse, no friends. When I finally opened up to the possibility of making friends, I did what people do when they’re in a new place: I went online and joined groups so that I could meet people.  I was able to make some friends within these groups which was great at first.  These friends were going through similar experiences as my own, spoke the same language as me, and often were just as lonely as I was.  It was nice to finally find people to share with and I blogged my way through it all on my labor of love, Natural Girl, Unnatural World.

But there came a point in my expat experience when another friend of mine mentioned that she had never met anyone from Geneva.  My husband is from Geneva and because I was surrounded by people he’s known forever when I arrived, it hadn’t occurred to me that the two groups- expats and locals- don’t regularly interact with each other.  Once I started asking questions though, I could see that there were some unhappy feelings between the two groups about each other.

The Genevois are understandably irritated by what is perceived as a certain arrogance on the part of the expat community.  They view us as having no interest in learning or participation of the culture, making little or no attempts to speak the local language (French) and complain about living here and some have a strong opinion: if you don’t like it (in Geneva), then leave.  Perhaps these feelings are at their core feelings of rejection. The expat community however, often complains of feeling unwelcome in Geneva because of the difficulty to find and make friends.  In my case, this unwelcome feeling made it even more difficult to learn and speak French, which only further segregated me from the French-speaking community because of how bad I felt about myself.  I also became anxious about going out and began staying in my apartment for days (sometimes a week or longer) at a time.

I was living between 2 worlds that were coexisting, but rarely interacting. I used my blog as a way to meet new people and as I met more and more people I began connecting them.  It is natural to me and that was when I began to feel my best. Through my blog I met someone who introduced me to Olga Baranova, once a foreigner, now a local, who had the same questions as I did: how cool would it be if locals could introduce newcomers to their new homes?  Could we help to foster greater understanding between the two?  Could we connect people in a more direct way?  Could we help people to find new friendships?  Could we ultimately help to ease the integration process? From this, we decided to build  We have just launched the first version of our platform and are working to connect people in real and direct ways. 

The concept is simple: create a profile which includes your status as a local or someone who wants to become local, a picture of yourself, what languages you speak, activities you would like to share, a bit about yourself and that’s it- start messaging potential friends! Olga and I are striving to create a bridge to better connect two communities that exist in the same space.  We read every single email, consider every suggestion and make improvements as best and quickly as we can.

We are also currently working to build a team to enhance the experience for participants. We are exploring ways to enhance the website, create engaging content and events both online and eventually in neighborhoods around Geneva.  While we have started this journey, we don’t want to go on it alone.  We love and encourage participation from the community. We are learning as we grow in Geneva however, we hope that we will eventually be able to expand our network to other cities.  We think that this platform can be beneficial to far more cities than just Geneva and we’ve been told so.  It is a goal that we are working towards and hope that you’ll join us on the journey.