This isn't your first stint in Switzerland. What initially brought you here?
I was born and raised in Lebanon. Growing up during the war, we had to flee from the country at several points including a year-and-a-half in both Cyprus and Switzerland. Why Switzerland? My father earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering here and was able to find a job. So, from 6-years-old to 7-years-old I lived in Lutry, Vaud.
When the war calmed down we went back to Lebanon. It was very important for my father that my brothers and I learn the Lebanese culture and that we grow up surrounded by family. In Lebanon, it's a very Arabic culture and at the same time very open minded. You have a lot of traditions and rituals, and as a Lebanese father he wanted to transfer that to us.
After completing your bachelor's degree in engineering in Lebanon and your master's degree in wastewater treatment in the US, why did you return to Switzerland?
I wanted to have the American experience so I went to the University of Southern California. I then decided to stay for a year to see the country.
In the meantime, my father had decided to open a business in Switzerland and was encouraging me to come back here saying, "You will find a job very easily. The salaries are double those in the States. You'll have five weeks of vacation time. You'll have you family around and will be three hours from Lebanon."
So he kind of brainwashed me and it worked. I packed everything up and found a job in Geneva.
What has kept you here?
After some stints in Switzerland and Lebanon, I moved to a small city called La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel. It was a really good job and was a sign from above telling me I have something good coming after my mother had passed away.
I decided to stay, and a year later I was in a coffee shop and met
this Swiss guy who is my husband today. We just started talking. I was the first Lebanese he'd ever met. So my friend who became my boyfriend was like "I want to go and travel around the world, will you come with me?'
He just planted this grain in my head. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know each other and for me to try and travel the world.
Is this how you became involved with yoga?
I have been practicing yoga since I was 8-years-old but while we were in South East Asia I found a yoga teacher training program in Indonesia and spent the last two months of our trip there.
After our trip ended, we moved to Lausanne and I found a yoga studio that allowed me to lead classes in the studio. In the beginning I had one person coming to my class and now I have more than 30 people. I also co-teach with my baby during mommy-and-me yoga classes.
Do you have any tips for people trying to assimilate to life in Switzerland?
I lived for three years in Los Angeles and never felt it was hard to integrate. But here, it is much more of a challenge because the social circles are almost closed. People here have a very different way of living — they will not just come up to you on the street and talk to you. It doesn't mean they are not interested in meeting people. So don't be scared.
I would highly recommend that people look to join activities through glocal.ch like yoga and painting workshops. I feel like if you start activities and you post them online people actually come and this is where you meet like-minded people.
It's amazing, you can meet so many people by going to events.
Photo: © Rania Fakih