Meet Sulini Bridging culture and language

Issue: 2/2015
One mother's balancing act between family, work and outdoor activities led her to call Switzerland's capital home.

You commute from Bern to Geneva to work at the UN. How do you do it?

The efficient, comfortable Swiss rail network makes it all possible. You make a promise to your employer to report to work at a certain hour and a promise to your family to be home for dinner, and Switzerland allows this. Being able to work in international human rights makes the commute worthwhile.

Besides work, what draws you to Geneva?

The cultural and linguistic diversity is a big plus. Also, it's transitory and many people are new, so it's easier to strike up friendships. I'm a nomad myself – I'm a child of expatriates, I've lived, studied, and worked all over the world, and I'm married to a Swiss! There are many people with the same story in Geneva, making its international culture highly addictive.

Geneva seems like a perfect fit. Why do you live in Bern?

Practical reasons such as my husband Sebastien's work, and his family close by. But also because we love hiking and enjoy being close to the Bernese Oberland. Our lifestyle is more nature-focused and Swiss, rather than purely international. I want us to discover and take advantage of everything Switzerland has to offer. With this set-up, we get the best of both worlds.

You have a two-year-old daughter, which languages do you speak with her?

I only speak English to her, and her dad speaks Swiss-German. She gets Bärndütsch all day at day care and French on Fridays with her grandparents. You should hear Aisha sing Jingle Bells with her little Bernese accent, "…jingle all the vay!"

So she has a lot coming at her right now!

Kids are sponges! It's important for Aisha to have strong skills in several languages - she needs to communicate with my family in English and Sebastien's in French and German. Right now she understands what is said to her in all of these languages, although mostly responds in Swiss German.

As a native English speaker, what is it like having your little girl speak to you in Swiss German?

I have a double element of surprise, because, hey, our little girl is starting to converse with us, and because she's speaking with intonations and in a language that is exotic to me! I grew up in a unilingual household and made a real effort to learn French and Spanish later on. They opened up whole cultural worlds to me. Now my child is coming home with this Bernese viewpoint. I find this amusing but I'm receptive to it because I know her identity is a cultural mosaic, just like mine.

Author: Emma Baumhofer - Hello Switzerland

Emma Baumhofer is a freelance journalist and the Digital Manager at World Radio Switzerland. She was Content & Community Manager for Hello Switzerland from 2013 to 2015. Raised in California, she has studied and worked from several international cities, including San Francisco, New York, Melbourne, London, and now Bern. Her international travels inspire both her professional and private writing, where she draws on her passion for research and storytelling.

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