Switzerland: Year One


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I have written previously about what Geneva is like as a city, and what Europe feels like for an expat. This entry – as with my Japan recaps (years one, two, and three) is a bit more introspective, an evaluation of my life as I mark the end of my first year in Switzerland.

How has it already been a year? And paradoxically, how has my life changed so much? They’re questions I’ve posed before, at the beginning of my ongoing life abroad. But they are no less pertinent today.

I don’t have a very prosperous social life these days. There’s a sporadic hang or drink with a friend, once, maybe twice a month – more a catch-up session than anything else. On an even less frequent basis, there might be a pleasant yet unremarkable and inevitably inconsequential date. Otherwise, I go to work weekdays and stay at home weeknights, with an occasional stop at the grocery store or at the movies in between. Eating out is rare, a combination of my refusal to give in to absurd prices and my inability to to do so regularly. Bars? – they don’t seem like a good idea anymore.

I’m active on the weekends, as I always have been. When I’m in town, I’ll do a long run or a bike ride or a hike near the Swiss/French border. I’ll stop for a movie (if I didn’t get to during the week), visit the flea market, and go out for food every so often. When I’m out of town, I’ll explore the country – a hike a few hours away by train, a random festival in the middle of nowhere, an overnight somewhere in this jaw-dropping country. And when I’m out of Switzerland, I’ll happily play tourist in another striking European city, historic and vibrant – enjoying the local cuisine, pedalling behind a guide, being awed by the old town square.

In many ways, I have reverted back to the solitary life I led my first year in Japan. Yet I am not struggling quite as much as I did back then. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, my work environment affords me the basic structure I lacked as a research fellow at a Japanese university. I have regular human interactions as a result, with colleagues if not quite friends, or in one case, a good friend but not a particularly close one. Still, it’s sufficient to wean off any sense of total isolation. The work is interesting, challenging, rewarding, generally speaking, and I feel as though it benefits me to be here.

Further, my standard of living feels quite high. I may spend a fair amount of time at home, but it is a proper “adult apartment” – as a friend put it – not a shoebox. As a result, being a weeknight homebody hardly weighs on me, and the default of cooking rather than eating out, projecting a show rather than visiting a bar, are options I am all too happy to partake in. There’s less overall stress given the absence of crowds, less of a cultural clash given the abundance of Western expats. Finally, perhaps most significant, my last three years has made this go-around much less foreign, much less harsh. I knew what I was in for.

There are downsides of course, even in a country like Switzerland. I miss the hustle and bustle, the craziness and vibrance of a mega-metropolis. I miss the endless possibility of different parts of the city and restaurants and bars and museums and shows. I miss the feeling of being young and out there partying and singing until the break of dawn. I miss the connections – the expectation of company that overshadowed the plans, that guaranteed a fun time regardless of activity or place. Mostly, I miss loving and feeling loved every day.

I wonder then whether this is sustainable – not the lifestyle itself, but my satisfaction with it. Life is too quiet, too calm sometimes, as though I have settled down when I clearly have not. I wonder how many trips I can go on without a companion by my side. I wonder how long I can go home to no one and nothing in particular, how long I can essentially substitute travel for relationships, exploration for love, platonic or romantic (though only the latter keeps me up at night). I wonder how long I can feel fine, or good mostly, really, yet still empty inside.

Then again, I suppose most of that has nothing to do with where I am.

So here we are again. Another year down, another adventure continues. For good and bad. Good mostly, I think.


2 thoughts on “Switzerland: Year One

  1. I love your ‘voice’. Your style of writing is introspective and articulate, and touches on topics (solitude, loneliness, the total onset of adulthood), which can be difficult to bring clarity to. You’ve managed to do this in a very honest and relatable manner. Well done!

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