You landed this attractive job, brimming with expectations of professional advancement, business expense accounts and a whole new life in Switzerland. However, after arrival you're discovering the not-so-glamorous aspects of being an expat. You have to handle all the details of relocation, adjust to local life and a new work environment, learn the language and build a social network. Plus, you are left to manage those daunting tasks on your own without emotional and logistical support of a partner, family or local friends. Together with Kristen Truempy, a Zurich-based positive psychologist, we discuss how to make your solo adventure in Switzerland enjoyable.
Kristen, positive psychology is the science of living well. How could single newcomers apply positive psychology to brave the nitty-gritty of relocation?
One of the backbones of positive psychology is the concept of strengths. It was empirically shown that working with strengths can increase happiness, self-esteem and resilience. Many newcomers to Switzerland tend to focus on challenges but there is never a better time to get in touch with yourself, with your values, skills and competencies as in a new country, especially with all the freedom and independence of being here on your own.
How can we identify our strengths and use them to ease the adjustment?
You can either determine your strengths through a scientific questionnaire or you can do it by asking yourself a series of questions. What have people always complimented me on? What have been my best experiences at work? What have been my top achievements in life? What excites me? When you explore these points in depth, you start thinking about yourself in a new light. By noticing and making the most of your strengths and capabilities, you become more confident, fulfilled and content both personally and professionally.
How can we apply this knowledge in our daily life?
Each activity can be modified to both inject more strengths and reduce the energy-sucking elements. Those could be big or small things. People have a tendency to think that one aspect could become a game changer, but usually it's more of a numbers game. You really want to modify and adjust a lot of behaviors. If all your routines are established it's very hard to break them, while in a new country you can start afresh. If you like to learn, how about listening to audio books or podcasts while cooking or commuting? Or what about biking or walking to work for sporty types? Do you like board games, meditation, art or are you good at bowling, photography, golf? Join a related interest group or a club. Introducing those routines and activities that resonate with your strengths and interests will empower and energize you, which in turn help you to work better, reduce stress, attract friends and reach your goals.
Can you address some of the ways to deal with new workplace challenges?
As you start your job in Switzerland, you might not immediately have the status you want or feel comfortable in your new office. You suddenly have to earn respect. Those are the challenges many expats face. Remind yourself to be patient, take your time and enjoy the transition. Try to use constructive ways to deal with challenging situations and also exercise resilience. Emotions are often created by beliefs as opposed to facts, so revisit your beliefs and challenge those that bring you down. Also be aware of the "thinking traps," for example jumping to conclusions, magnifying or personalizing things. Removing yourself from those thinking traps and adopting optimistic explanatory style will enable you to build more resilience.
One of the difficult tasks many of us face is learning the local language. How can we use some principles of positive psychology to tackle it?
Positive psychology is always interested in the best ways to do things. Firstly, find expats who speak fluent German (or your target language) and ask about their learning methods. Also, think of something you mastered well in the past and how you did it. Then apply the same principles to mastering the local language. Remember, when you feel positive emotions, you learn better, so reframe your approach and introduce some fun into your study process.
Adjusting to any new culture can be difficult and even exasperating at times. What's the positive psychology take on this?
One of the possible approaches is the idea of strengths. It's applicable to countries as well, not just people. So focus on strengths, all the things you like, respect and appreciate about Switzerland, such as the well-organized and trustworthy infrastructure, high quality of life, beautiful landscapes and reliable public transport. Another useful technique is to write down what makes you smile so you don't lose touch with the fun and quirky things about your life in Switzerland.
Could you share a couple of final tips for solo expats?
We all need to find sources to refuel. Each of us has things we enjoy, need or appreciate. For social people, it might be nice to take lunch breaks with co-workers, or for those who appreciate the funny side of life, spending time with humorous individuals or watching a comedy, for sport enthusiasts, exercising on a regular basis. Try identifying your personal "fueling stations" and introduce them into your week.
Also, you need opportunities for emotional disclosure in your life. Not talking about your feelings is unhealthy, so stay in touch with family and friends back home. No matter if it's a phone or Skype chat, an e-mail exchange, a diary entry or even a blog. Sharing and expressing yourself stimulates positive emotions and reduces unease.
At the same time, it's important to start building authentic relationships locally. High-quality connections with your colleagues, neighbors or members of interest groups you join can help you navigate local life with more knowledge, confidence, joy, amusement, inspiration and even love.