All About Elisa.
I’m Elisa, a 30-something serial expat, bookworm and chatterbox (I blame that on my Italian DNA!) I’m happily married and a mother of two, and travel is my absolute favorite thing in the world, so I do my best to share my passion with my family.
I also blog at Globetrotting in Heels.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Sardinia, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, which is part of Italy (Cheryl’s very favorite country).
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
I currently live in Zurich, Switzerland, with my husband and two daughters. This is our second time around here in Switzerland – we moved back here in August 2009, after 3 years in New York.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
We plan to stay here for the time being, but if we get an interesting offer for international assignment in the next couple of years we might take it.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
I was born and grew up in Sardinia, but always had an itch for travel and adventure. I moved to Milan at 17, then to Los Angeles at 18, where I crowned my dream of becoming a translator, and also met and married my wonderful husband, Sascha. Together we moved to Denmark about a year later, then to Switzerland the following year, where our daughters were born. Sascha is Swiss, so this is more or less our “home base”.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
I don’t feel like I have just one home. All the places where I have lived and where I have left friends feel like home. So yes, the short answer is that I do miss home, only it’s more than one place.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
Truly? I don’t, really. I am chatty, upbeat and smile a lot, so I stick out like a sore thumb in Zurich, where people are kind of grumpy (but don’t tell them, they think of themselves as party animals!) But I do make an effort to speak German and respect the local customs.
Did you have to learn a new language? If yes, what? How did you go about learning the language and how long did it take you to become fluent?
Yes, German. Which is really not that simple to learn, even for someone who is already bilingual. People joke about Latin being tough and incomprehensible, but I studied Lating for 4 years in school, and German I way more challenging. It’s just a mess. I took lessons at a language school but I think practicing everyday in real life is what helps the most. It would probably be more helpful if people around me spoke High German and not a variety of dialects, but hey, I guess it still counts as full-immersion learning experience, right? I am still not fluent, but I get along fine in everyday life.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
That they do not encourage actual interaction that much. They are not very communicative, for the most part, and it is considered inappropriate to share personal information of any sort. You can imagine how unnatural that kind of environment feels to a chatty,outspoken, exuberant Italian gal.
I also shared a bit more about Switzerland slight obsession with “quiet” in this blog post: Silence is golden. Or maybe it’s made of Swiss chocolate.
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Do make an effort to learn the language and respect the local customs, but don’t try so hard to fit in that you end up losing sight of who you are. Find local expats to hang out with (especially helpful when you first arrive), but don’t live in an expat bubble – do interact with the locals and check out local events and activities. In other words, take steps to feel comfortable, but be willing to step outside your comfort zone on a regular basis, to make the most out of the expat experience.
What do you love most about living abroad?
The chance to experience a different culture. It can really open your eyes and make you look at things in a completely different way. It’s an interesting experience to say the least! Also, the fact that you always have to test your boundaries a little and step out of your comfort zone (see above) – I think it helps you grow as a person.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
The first time I moved overseas I was single and very young, but all subsequent moves were in the company of my husband, and later, my daughters.
What do you do work wise? Did you have a job before you arrived or did you look for work when you got there? If you didn’t have a job, how did (or do) you land work?
Expat Living Information
If you liked what Elisa in Zurich, Switzerland had to say about expat life, then read some of our other expat interviews from people like Laura Martin in London, England. For more living abroad tips, check out my Expat Living section.