We all dream of living abroad at least once in our life, but what does expat life actually mean? Bébé Voyage’s very own Kealan Casey shares her family’s experience about living in Zug, Switzerland.
When and why did you move to Zug, Switzerland?
We moved to Zug in January of this year as part of a transfer for my husband’s job. He’s German, and we’ve always hoped to have the chance to live in a German-speaking part of Europe, especially once we had kids, so we were very happy for the opportunity to make a dream of ours come true.
What was your favorite thing about living in Zug, Switzerland?
It’s a cliche, but everything in Switzerland really seems to “work”, I don’t necessarily mean the trains running on time. It’s more than that. There is a huge push to eat seasonally and locally, and those items are usually the least expensive to buy. Things are safe here. I don’t feel the need to obsessively read nutritional labels like I did in the States because a lot of the ingredients that were worrisome to me aren’t even used here. There isn’t a fear of violence. Kids are given a lot of freedom here and parents have the privilege here to be more relaxed. As a parent, you can breathe a bit easier than in the US, knowing that in many ways Swiss society is protecting your kids and your family.
How did you find the lifestyle in Zug? Did you manage to adapt to daily life easily?
My husband is a native German speaker, and I have familiarity with the language, so that certainly helps! But beyond the language, Zug is home to many international companies, so there are a lot of new families moving here all the time in situations similar to ours. Because of this, there are so many resources to help acclimate families to life here. It’s never “easy” to move anywhere new, even within your own country! But we are very lucky because we had the support of my husband’s company, the city of Zug itself, and loads of anglophone groups to help us find our way.
Despite all of that, however, there are of course challenges to packing up your life and figuring out how it does and doesn’t work in a brand new place. It takes a lot of time to begin to feel like you have a routine and a life and aren’t just on an extended vacation.
How was family life? How did the kids find living in a new place and culture?
My kids are very young, and so we weren’t expecting to have any sort of challenges with the transition . . . but our two and a half year old surprised us! He talked about “home” a lot and wanting to go back to Texas, where we spent the last nearly two years. We actually bought him a little dragon stuffed animal at the airport on our way to Switzerland, and it has become his lovey and takes it everywhere, something he never really was inclined to do before. He’s still got his pacifier and was sleeping in a crib, even as he turned three.
I think he, and we, have all been looking for comfort items, things that are “constants”, and those were it for him. It’s taken some time, but now that he has a school environment he loves and we’ve done a lot of exploring around Switzerland, he’s really doing well and loves going to cafes and hunting for chestnuts and snails and the mountains!
What do you miss most about the US?
Aside from friends and family, whom we miss very much, I do admit I miss the convenience and myriad choice you have in the US, round the clock! It took some time to get used to life without Amazon and Target and 40% off the sale prices at Gap Kids and 10 variations of Honey Bunches of Oats . . . and I’m still trying! But it’s beginning to get easier. I’ve only lived in the US, so I fully understand how things work there, where and how to get what I need, etc., and I miss that feeling of competency.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when moving there?
The real estate market is super competitive in Zug, so initially the biggest challenge was just finding a place to live and a place to have all of our belongings shipped. We lived in tiny temporary housing for four months, part of which was in COVID quarantine, with my husband working from home and two increasingly difficult to entertain toddlers, all without our belongings. So, it was a rough patch of purgatory (well, maybe even hell to be honest) in the beginning! But beyond that, when you move to a new country, constantly feeling inept at life is a huge challenge!
You have to relearn all of the very simple things that make up your everyday life – how and where to grocery shop, how the appliances work, where to buy things for your kids, or even following the local news. In Switzerland, lots of things are similar to the US, but are just different enough to really make you feel like a dummy!
If you could move to Zug again what would you do differently?
For myself and for anyone moving to a new country, I would say that you shouldn’t try to recreate your old life in a new place. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I could get this and how I could get that, frustrated that places are closed on Sundays, and basically trying to live my American life in Switzerland. I think it’s natural to try to do that because it’s all we know, but the sooner you embrace the ways of your new home, the easier you can go on yourself.
Can you give some useful tips to families who are looking to move to Switzerland?
There are so many incredible things about Switzerland, but it can be challenging to live here. First of all, it is very expensive: rent, groceries, clothing, everything! I just paid 7 francs (about $7) for a latte! You pay a major premium for being a consumerist in Switzerland! There is a lot, structurally, about Switzerland that encourages staying home, being in nature, and being active with your family for fun. We used to spend our weekends like typical Americans, brunching and shopping, etc., and we’ve had to change our mindset.
There are lots of ex-pats here and it’s very easy to stay in a bubble — only hang out with other English speakers, never learn the language, pay a ton in shipping and taxes to get all of your items from home — but then why bother? It’s a good change for us, but it’s really something to consider if you’re thinking about living here in Zug, Switzerland.
Would you move back to the US? Why or why not?
We have no plans to leave Europe anytime soon and are very grateful to be here, especially with the current state of chaos in the US, but we do plan on going back there eventually. Our hearts are in NYC and we have dreams of someday returning, but we’re seeing where this path takes us for now and are open to whatever seems right for our family a few years down the line.
What do you love about your ex-pat life?
I love the adventure of a new experience and exploring a new way of life. I love the window to the world that this opens up to our kids, for them to feel multicultural and speak other languages and meet people from all over the world. Being in Switzerland is incredible because the country itself is absolutely stunning, but you’re also so close to all of Europe. For a traveler, it’s a dream to be able to pack up the car or hop on a train and do a long weekend in Italy or Austria or France, etc. We’ve been able to see and do so much in our short time here, even through these crazy COVID times.
Anything else you would like to add?
There are so many things that are incredible about packing up and moving abroad, and on Instagram, it can come across as just one long extended vacation. In a way, it does feel like that, because there is so much that is new to do and explore. But it’s also still your everyday life. The garbage needs to be taken out, the diapers changed, the laundry folded, the fights with your partner, the tantrums . . . none of that is made better with the Sierra filter!
The things that stress you out at “home” will follow you, and may even be more difficult for you to deal with because you’re likely on your own without the support of family and friends. So while life can look dreamy and like a fairytale online or in your imagination, it still is just your regular, difficult but wonderful life of parenthood at the end of the day.
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