The Indian connection
It's been an exciting time for me. Firstly, I had a chance to contribute my first article to Hello Switzerland, and secondly, the topic I was assigned to cover was on expat Indians living here in Switzerland. And man, what I got to learn about them! To these guys, being an expat did not just mean earning the buck and going home, but to integrate all Indians and celebrate being Indian in a foreign land. Initially, some of them found it difficult to find support in a country where language and culture are totally different. However, instead of resigning to circumstances, they steered and grew Indian Associations to help other expats integrate into life in Switzerland. I met four such individuals who had stories to tell.
President, Indian Association Lausanne
Singaravelan, better known as Velan (second from left), moved to Basel in 2002 and then to Lausanne in 2005. He fell in love with the way of life here and has never looked back. He shared with me, "Initially, language and cultural differences were a deterrent, so we were looking for familiar faces to help us. But there was not much information available at that time so it was rather difficult to find fellow Indians. Hence, we always felt the need for a strong Indian Association for better integration. The Indian Association Lausanne, started in the year 1995, did exist but was marked by a period of dormancy."
All this recently changed, as new members with a renewed vigor and ambition came together to form a new executive team to kick-off initiatives and activities like never before. Velan is one such proud member of the executive team.
The association strives to bring harmony amongst all Indians in the region. According to Velan, the aim is not just to bring together Indians to have fun but also to communicate information for better integration with the Swiss and their way of living. As part of the 2014-15 events, the association has successfully organized various talent shows for kids, dance programs, picnics and hiking events.
Today, the Indian Association Lausanne and has a strong presence digitally through its website, Facebook and Whatsapp. With a membership of around 50 families and 90 as part of their distribution list, it is poised to get busier and more exciting!
Reshma (second from left) has been living in Switzerland for more than a decade now. All wasn't rosy in the beginning for her as she did not find a platform to interact with her country fellowmen. This gap was what paved the way for the creation of the IndoSwissClub. The club is an online platform for connecting Indians and Indophiles – a term used for non-Indians who love all things Indian. The IndoSwissClub first was started first as a website and later converted to an online platform where it became easier for members to connect with each other, post comments on forums or ask questions. The club has a membership of 85 families who come from all over Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It also regularly provides information on upcoming events in Switzerland. The information is communicated to the members via a newsletter, Facebook posts or through Twitter.
The club, in association with other Indian associations also conducts various cultural and sports events. Every month, the ladies of the group meet for a potluck, and the men play cricket and badminton together. For all the gourmet freaks, the club also organizes food stalls in which the members have the opportunity to cook and sell their food. To add to the exciting portfolio, the club is working to provide an additional service of delivering Indian/Asian groceries via post in the near future. Reshma summed up the motto in one line, "The more the merrier, hence we look forward to having more people joining us and interacting through this online platform."
President, Bharatiya Association Berne
Sunita Saxena is 55-years-old and has been living in Switzerland for the last 35 years. She and her husband own a restaurant and a catering service in Biel. They have been honored with the Bhartiya Pravasi Excellence Award in 2005 for fusion kitchen abroad.
About her life in Switzerland, Sunita says, "Being in the gastronomy industry, socializing played a major role in our lives. I have always wanted to make sure that my children were familiar with Indian culture and language, and (I) found that platform in the Bhartiya Association Berne (BAB)." From an initial membership of 20-30 members, the BAB today has grown manifold since.
"We were always very much engaged in organizing joint celebrations of Holi and Diwali festivals, and my whole family has been actively taking up various tasks at the BAB events ever since. The members of the BAB have now become an extended family of ours. We share memories of wonderful get-togethers and love watching each other's kids grow up as confident multicultural personalities," she explains.
Sunita's husband was elected president of the BAB in 2013, and this year she has taken over the mantle of leadership. "During the year my husband was elected, he worked passionately to organize events along with the Executive Committee and I intend to carry on with the same passion."
She sums up her experiences with the BAB, "I have a very supportive and a proactive executive committee which makes my task effortless and enjoyable."
Founder President, Bharatiya Association Berne
Akhilesh has been living in Switzerland since 1989, and has seen and experienced the amazing side of Switzerland like very few have. His association with the Bharatiya Association Berne also goes many years back when it was founded by a group of 18 members in the year 1996. He was elected by this group to become the club's first president and his allegiance with the association has only grown stronger since then.
About his experience being part of the association, he says he feels very happy with the growth the association has made. He shared with me, "Socializing is an integral part of our lifestyle. Despite our hectic lifestyle, there is plenty of opportunity for us to meet and exchange experiences."
Akhilesh finds Switzerland to be an ideal place for those seeking a relaxed lifestyle. "Switzerland is one of the very few countries I have seen where people are very trusting and have a high level of integrity. Once you get to know the Swiss, you can be rest-assured you have forged a sincere friendship."
For the younger generation who come to live in Switzerland, Akhilesh shares his tips, "Language is key to integration. The younger generation can assimilate well into the Swiss life by being able to speak their language. I am fluent in French, and my wife and I recently passed the B1 level in German. Travel a lot, read books and take a general interest in sports and politics here – just take advantage of what the country has to offer."
And so ended my conversations with four fellow-Indians who have not only made Switzerland their home but try and help other Indians build a base here. Inspiring indeed!