There are two ways to live life in a foreign land as an expat — as one seeking company of fellow countrymen and establishing a mini society of familiar customs and lifestyles, or taking up the challenge of breaking bread with the locals. I have lived in Switzerland for the last three years and early on realized that I could either get used to boredom or keep myself active. I knew what I would choose instantly, and opted to pursue a hobby.
Soon, I began trying to knit by watching videos on YouTube before taking on new challenges such as learning to crochet, sew, paint, mold clay and more. What started as a way to keep busy while being holed up during the snowy winter months has now turned into a serious mission — to create new things, build a website and enjoy interacting with people who appreciate handmade crafts. What's more, visiting handcraft markets and interacting with like-minded individuals has given me a sense of belonging, and I have been able to improve my German skills. Along my journey I've also met other expats who have brought with them their passion. Here are some of their stories.
Julia Leijola - photographer, anthropologist
Photography has always been a part of Julia's life. From her early teens she hardly missed a chance to experiment with her parents' Nikon and soon discovered a passion for capturing moments. As soon as her parents decided to give her the camera, it became her most cherished possession and traveled across the globe with her.
Now living in Switzerland with her husband, Julia has taken part in three of the "Wikimedia Loves ..." photography competitions and has received an award each time. The competition requires participants to photograph specific locations and monuments, which gave her the chance to discover Switzerland, and learn more about Lucerne and Toggenburg.
This year she is launching a new version of her website that will focus on her jewelry photography skills, travel photography and anthropology work, as well as her personal abstract work.
Paul Brent - goldsmith, jewelry designer
Paul's career in jewelry making began 10 years ago while travelling in Latin America. What started as a hobby soon became a serious career. Paul says he is very appreciative of the Swiss attitude towards handmade goods. He says he believes that locals do not hesitate to pay for high-quality products, thus giving him the impetus to create better jewellery without the constraints of material prices.
However, it was not a cakewalk for him to learn the cultural niceties and the language is still an obstacle. Contrary to what many believe, Paul says he thinks the Swiss are often talkative and interested in knowing why he moved here. He believes that the Verein association and club culture in Switzerland is very strong and is a great way to integrate into the Swiss society and to make friends. He is a member of the local business club in Degersheim.
Visit his website at www.paulbrent.ch
Stefanie Klees - jewelry designer, sound therapist
After completing her studies in Ireland, Stefanie crossed the border for a job as a project leader with a Swiss company. But after a brief stint with the company, she realized she wanted to pursue her love of jewelry making that she cultivated in her 20s.
Stefanie says she feels that her new life as a jewelry designer has given her the opportunity to meet new people and learn new dialects. For example, being at the markets improved her Swiss-German skills signifi cantly and she says she owes it to her decision to break free of norm.
Stefanie plans to organize crafting classes this year on.
Like Stefanie's Facebook page ‘Besonders Schönes' or visit her website at www.besonders-schoenes.ch
Paulette Kirkby - full-time employee and hobbyist
As a little girl, Paulette watched her mother and grandmother knit. Being taught the basics, she quickly developed her own skills but admits knitting was more of a grandmother's game and considered uncool thus leading her to cultivate other interests such as photography. Then there came a phase when knitting became popular and it was an opportunity Paulette knew she had to grab.
As for how she ended up in Switzerland, Paulette met her partner Michael in Australia when he was on a holiday. Since he was living in Switzerland with a steady job, she decided to make the move, began attending German lessons and gave herself the challenge of knitting socks. Soon, she joined a local community center where she began interacting with other knitters, in part, as a way to improve her German. While Paulette works full-time in Bern, she continues to knit every single day. She says she looks forward to Friday evenings when she can knit for longer periods of time over a glass of wine and not have to worry about waking up early to get to offi ce.
Isis Fross - massage therapist
Isis is French by birth but also lived abroad before moving to Switzerland when she fell in love and married a man from Basel. As she discovered the country, she fell more in love with it and says that it is a great place to raise children. When her marriage fell apart, Isis began lessons in massage therapy, an interest stemming from her childhood.
As a little girl, Isis was influenced by her grandmother who wrote down recipes for home remedies. Years later, she began making homemade creams for her family and it soon extended to friends. She says she learns a lot just by going to markets and receives requests for a combination of creams, soaps or scrubs. She hopes to be able to have a permanent stand one day. Isis says she believes that her life is adventurous and would not have it any other way.
Like Isis's Facebook page ‘Health & Feet. Bern'
Photos (top to bottom): © Julia Leijola; © Julia Leijola; © Silvia Gardedieux; © Indira Atluri Born; © Indira Atluri Born