When I learned recently that my colleagues were heading to Tokyo for a conference, I had a visceral reaction that startled even myself. It was nostalgia, of course. A romantic remembrance of my time there. But there was a fair amount of envy present too, regret that it wasn’t me who got to go. The possessiveness I felt about Japan speaks volumes, both to my indelible experience there and the enduring rawness of my emotions linked to that experience. Oftentimes, it feels like my life in Japan was put on pause when I left the country behind, the same way my life in America has hung for the past five years.
It is hard to know whether Switzerland will evoke similar feelings when my time here is done. On the face of it, this seems unlikely. The very factors that made my transition so much smoother and more peaceful, after all, also seem to undermine that likelihood. Switzerland is not my first expatriate experience, for starters. And the fact that Geneva is not a mega-metropolis makes it less strikingly memorable in the way of Tokyo. People spend their lives obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture, after all. And even having lived day-to-day in the foreign wonderland, the images left behind are often the extraordinary rather than the mundane.
At the same time, I cannot quite imagine ever forgetting any of this either. Just this past weekend, I took an extended bike trip in the northeast part of Switzerland. I rode on one of the many trails that traverse the entirety of the country, a few of which I have done portions of previously. This time though, I simply followed the Rhine. For two days, I came across innumerable Swiss villages too beautiful to fathom, tested both the waters of Rhine Falls and the thermal baths of Bad Ragaz, happened upon a sand sculpture contest outside Rorschach. I even darted into Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein for short periods.
All of this came on the heels of a short visit to Zurich, where I floated down the Limmat with an inflatable sea horse at an annual festival I attended with my girlfriend. And yes, there is one, and our relationship is an essential part of my time here too. And in the past year, for all the places I have been, for all the experiences I have had, perhaps my favorite was a little mountain village in the Bernese Highland we visited with her family. I sledged for the first time. I ice skated for the first time. And while I bruised quite a bit, I also skied in Switzerland for the first time. My time in this country has indeed been very different. But it too has been very special.
Year two in Switzerland. Year five abroad. There are ups and downs, but I continue not to take any of it for granted.
[Previously: Switzerland: Year One]