What are common mistakes expats make that hinders their adjustment to life abroad?
People spend thousands of francs on transporting their furniture but they make no effort to move their identity. When you relocate to a new place you have no support system and often feel overwhelmed, incompetent and lost. You have to rebuild your identity.
Ask yourself, who do I want to surround myself with to feel good? What kind of activities would I like to engage in to feel complete? We all have emotional needs. Whatever they are (e.g., a wish to be in demand or needed, a necessity for a big group of people around you, an urge to grow intellectually), you should know your emotional needs to rebuild your structure again. It pays off to invest time, energy and even money to find your identity again. Join support groups, meet other spouses, and go see a coach or a psychologist, or find mentors who have done it before. You don't have to do it alone.
At the same time, do not expect your friends and family back home, which have never experienced relocation, to understand what you are going through. You need to find your support locally.
Another common obstacle to happy integration is surrounding yourself with people who are whining and pulling you down. Surround yourself with positive people instead.
An additional important point, don't expect things to be like you know them. You need to stay open-minded about local culture, no matter how different it is from what you are used to it being.
Many expats feel that it's hard to make friends with Swiss natives. What are the best ways to build friendships with locals?
That's one of the cultural differences. Swiss natives have spent all their lives here and have already established their social circles. Don't expect them to come to you. You will need to develop an intercultural sensitivity and make the first step. Join local clubs, get involved in town or village events and activities. It can be sports, music, art, nature, spirituality, religion, town fairs or anything else taking place nearby. Participating in local activities and clubs provides you with an opportunity to create personal connections. Also talk to other expats and to your neighbors. Learn from them.
Many find it difficult to find a job in Switzerland. With their professional careers often on hold, how can accompanying partners keep their self-esteem and general feeling of worthwhileness intact?
Our mindset is the key. Are you a victim because your partner dragged you to Switzerland or are you here for an experience? Make sure you are benefiting from that experience. It's all about how you look at your time here — a gift or a burden.
Think big – life. Not just about the present moment. Work on your mindset and that can change everything. Think of opportunities. I know an accompanying spouse who worked as a nutritionist back home but always wanted to study homeopathy. She used her time abroad to get the training she always wanted. Another of my clients was initially very lonely and depressed while her spouse was busy working. But then she picked up two new hobbies – photography and travelling. She travelled all over Europe and made travel books for her family by documenting her adventures. Or another opportunity for accompanying partners is to try their hand at entrepreneurship.
Any final words of advice?
See everything as an opportunity. You can redefine who you are today. Connect with people who inspire you instead of people who bring you down. Become clear on how this experience can further develop you or move you forward, and be open-minded and curious instead of judgmental and closed.