From Italy to Los Angeles to Zurich: Globetrotting in Heels
My name is Elisa, but I am also known online as @HipMom (my Twitter handle) and "The Unlikely Housewife", which was the original title of my blog. I was born and raised in Italy, but I have spent half of my life as an expat, starting with a move to Los Angeles at the age of 18, then Copenhagen, Denmark, then Zurich, Switzerland, then the NYC suburbs, and then back to Zurich, where I live with my husband and two daughters. I am a serial expat, a passionate traveler, and a serious nomad at heart
1. Why did you move abroad?
I was born in a fairly small town in an island in the middle of Mediterranean. As beautiful as it was, it always felt claustrophobic, isolated, limiting. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to visit places, experience different cultures and just live somewhere I could spread my wings. When the chance to move to the other side of the planet presented itself several years earlier than planned, I knew it was kismet and there was no way would have missed that opportunity!
2. How do you make a living?
I was a translator for several years, then after my daughters were born I became mostly a SAHM, with occasional freelance translation jobs or short-term part-time jobs here and there. Now I am still mostly a full-time parent, but I also do some freelance writing, some consulting and some volunteer work.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
This is home, right here, where my husband and daughters are and where we made our life. I know most people refer to the place where they were born and where their parents and relatives are as "home", but I don't have just one home. All the places where I have lived and left behind friends and a piece of my heart are home. I keep in touch with everyone through Facebook, e-mail and by phone.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Switzerland?
That I am in the middle of Europe, and several beautiful countries are just a skip and a hop away. I also love how beautiful, clean and organized everything is here.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Switzerland?
I have some very dear friends who are Swiss, but as a general rule, the Swiss are not a warm people. I am Italian, I am chatty, friendly, affectionate and passionate, I smile a lot... for many years I felt like a fish out of water here, or worse, like a fly in the ointment, spoiling the mood and breaking the quiet for all those conservative and extremely private Swiss-German people. I think I am really too much for a lot of Swiss people, but I have learned not to take that personally. I still have days where it bugs me how stiff and unfriendly people can be, though. Oh, and German is one heck of a language to learn, especially when you add all those Swiss dialects in the mix.
6. What do you miss most?
I miss speaking English. I miss shopping in New York and walking through Central Park, and going to the Bronx zoo with my family. I miss the Met, and having an infinity of choices available to me, whether I was in the mood to explore, try a new workout, participate in a family activity, eat out or pretty much anything else... all within the same city. I miss being able to drive up to Boston for a weekend whenever we felt like it. I love Boston. And most of all, I miss my friends.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I am pretty active in the expat community. I belong to several mailing lists and always made an effort to meet up with other expats for a coffee, a walk, or maybe a playdate if they had kids the same age as mine. I have also been organizing a monthly English Book Swap that attracts expats new and old in the Zurich area, and I have met some really lovely people and made great friends through it.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I cannot get used to seeing Kindergarten-age children walking to school alone, especially in the middle of winter, when it's cold and snowy. And there is one custom I just cannot seem to warm up to: on the first day of the Winter/Christmas break, kids wake up really early and walk around trying to wake as many people as possible: they scream, ring bells (often keeping them pressed with scotch tape so it keeps ringing until you go out and remove it), play trumpets and noise makers. They also often throw eggs at houses and toilet-paper trees and such. Such an absurd tradition, encouraging children to be obnoxious for no reason whatsoever.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
There are no more secret bank accounts in Switzerland, they are illegal and have been for ages, and the banking industry here is so carefully monitored that there is no way anyone could have a secret bank account. I wish people would stop talking about "putting money in a Swiss bank account" or referencing secret Swiss accounts in movies.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Oh, way higher. NYC is expensive - ever heard the 10 bucks a block rule? It's true. But Switzerland is even more expensive. It can be hard to treat yourself to something special here, the prices are so high!
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Start a basic language course ASAP after you arrive. Walk around your neighborhood and explore, get comfortable with your surroundings. Take advantage of the amazing Swizz transportation system and use it as a tool to help you get to know your new hometown. Find other expats and ask for help if you need it, but avoid moving to an area that's an expat bubble, it will deprive you of truly experiencing your host country.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started it in 2008 - I loved the idea of combining the therapeutic effects of journaling with the feel of community you get from posting and interacting with others on a bulletin board and such. Add to that that I have always enjoyed writing and find it a great outlet... my blog gave me way more than I expected, and still does. It can be a lot of work, but it does give back and I love it.
Elisa's blog, Globetrotting in Heels
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