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.