From NYC to Geneva: Natural Girl, Unnatural World
My name is Ashleigh Anderfuhren. I’m a 31-year-old newlywed and first-time traveler from New York City, living in Geneva, Switzerland for 15 months. I also recently added ‘Blogger’ and ‘CELTA Certified English Teacher’ to my resume.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I always had a strong desire to travel, but before I had the chance to satisfy that desire, I decided to move abroad to be with my husband. At the time, only love could have made me move to a country I’d never been to before.2.
2. How do you make a living?
Before arriving to Switzerland, finding work was impossible. I needed a company to sponsor my permit, as I was unmarried at the time, thus not entitled to one. After marrying and getting the necessary permit, finding work was still extremely difficult because I was an administrative assistant in New York but didn’t speak enough French to be an assistant to anyone here. So, I started my blog as an outlet for my frustration. Then, in May, I spent a month in London getting a CELTA certification to teach English.
Now, I’m teaching privately, blogging, volunteering and recently began working on a new project called Adopt An Expat, in which my partner in the project and I are creating a platform to connect the community of locals of Geneva with the expat community in Geneva. Neither community interacts very much with the other and we want to help bridge that gap through understanding each other better and sharing our experiences over activities, ultimately helping to ease the process of integration for all and a way to build solid friendships.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I communicate with home almost daily. Technology is so advanced that now I take my friends and family wherever I go by way of FaceTime, WhatsApp, iMessage, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. As long as there is a decent wi-fi connection, contacting home is not a problem.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Geneva?
My favorite thing about being an expat in Geneva is that you know you’re not alone. There are so many other expats here, which means lots of opportunities to meet people through various meet-ups. It also makes for a really diverse city where I’ve been able to learn about other cultures even when leaving Switzerland isn’t possible. Plus, now I can say that I have friends from all over the world!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Geneva?
The best thing about being an expat in Geneva can also be the worst thing about being an expat in Geneva. Because there are so many expats, you have to quickly adjust to your friends leaving and having to make new ones. It also makes it difficult for trailing spouses like me because the Genevois don’t mix and mingle with expats very much; they know that most will leave eventually. Expats also don’t mix with locals often. This is a problem that I try to address on my blog via the Meet My Voisins section; ‘voisins’ means ‘neighbors’ in French, so it’s an opportunity for both sides to express how they experience Geneva. This is the work my friend and partner in Adopt An Expat, Olga, are trying to do on a larger scale.
6. What do you miss most?
Besides my family and friends, I miss American food the most. Cheese and chocolate is nice, but I really miss the variety of food available to me in the States. And bagels; I really, really miss eating a bagel that’s delicious and doesn’t cost CHF 13 (approx. $13).
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I first had to decide that I wanted to meet people, which sounds simpler than it is in practice. Once my period of grieving everything and everyone I’d left behind in the States had subsided, I found groups where I might meet people in similar situations as mine. My greatest successes came from expat groups on Facebook and joining groups on Meetup. Also, I had a ton of fun at Mundo Lingo where I could have a bit of liquid courage and practice speaking French with strangers, which is more comfortable for me. After some time, I had an amazing group of friends all around me.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Perhaps this isn’t strange in general as it’s a common practice in many countries, but I’m often perplexed by, 1. having to kiss people that I don’t really know on the cheek and, 2. when it’s appropriate. The Swiss give 3 kisses every time they greet each other or say goodbye. I’m not as comfortable with the awkward intimacy of being so close to people I don’t know very well and the rules about who to kiss and when can be confusing. For example, I wouldn’t be expected to kiss a person I’m meeting for the first time on my own, but if my husband introduces me to someone he knows, I would be expected to kiss them. It’s super uncomfortable for me, but when in Geneva, do as the Genevois do.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
In my opinion, because the Swiss are known to be very diplomatic in their international relations, people expect that individuals are just polite and diplomatic by nature. However, I find the Swiss to be brutally honest at times and if you’re not used to such abruptness, it can seem just plain rude. Not always of course, but more certainly more often than expected. However, realizing that there are cultural differences helps to keep it in perspective and reduce the frustration.
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?
New York City is quite expensive to live in so I don’t really feel much of a difference, though my instinct is to say that Geneva has the higher cost of living. However, salaries are quite high here which helps to balance it out generally.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
(In no particular order)
- Find your tribe; friendships help us to feel more secure so that we can open up to all the changes in a new place.
- Exercise patience; what you’re going through is a process of evolution and that takes time and energy. It doesn’t happen quickly or perfectly often, but it’s completely worth the effort.
- Be kind to yourself; make time for self care and don’t beat yourself up about the difficulties you may face in moving to a new place.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I began my blog in March 2016 as an outlet to cope with the difficulties of being completely untraveled and living abroad for the first time. I struggled with culture shock and insensitivity both on my part and the parts of some people I met upon arriving. I needed a space to express my experiences and share the lessons I learned because I always felt that if people in Geneva read it, they might open themselves up to seeing the perspectives of many expats. My other hope was to give people in the U.S. who have an interest but have never traveled, a look into my experience and offer them encouragement to travel more to expand our views on the world.
Ashleigh's Blog, Natural Girl, Unnatural World
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