I have had immigration on my mind a lot the last couple of days. I honestly do not know where I am going to go with this post. I am guessing this is going to be one that I write, and then come back and revisit multiple times. Here are the things that began percolating in my brain.
I read an article, that was discussing how far away from “home” the average american lives. The “average” american lives within 18 miles of where they were raised. Less than 20% of americans live more than a three hour drive from their parents.
Last week I got into an online discussion of the difference between an immigrant and an expat. The dictionary definition of an expat: someone who lives outside their home country. The dictionary definition of an immigrant is: someone who comes to a different country with the intention of living permanently. I admit my knowledge is pretty limited, but it also seems to me that only British and American citizens ever use the term expat. Note: I consider myself an expat, because I plan to return to the US. The time frame of our return has probably changed, but we still plan to move back.
Also last week we had to renew our residency permits, and I have gotten into a lot of discussions over that practice. In the US we treat people a lot differently when they want to come based on what country they are moving from. Switzerland is the same way. There is a very visible difference between someone moving here from an EU country vs a non EU country.
Finally, a few days ago an article came out that listed Switzerland 30th out of 59 countries in regards to livability for immigrants and expats. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/expats–love-hate-relationship-with-switzerland-continues/46612988
https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/do-you-agree-with-a-recent-survey-of-expats-that-switzerland-is-beautiful-but-it-s-tough-to-settle-in-and-make-friends-/46627210 The one part of the article that really did make me laugh out loud is that 99% of the people surveyed were happy with Switzerland’s natural environment. I was surprised that was not rounded to 100%. The one phrase that Julie and I use all the time is, “We live in a postcard.” This article has received a lot of different feedback. All of the people that have moved here agree the article is correct. All of the people that have lived here their entire life, or have NEVER lived here think the article is hogwash. NEWSFLASH for the citizens: Your comments tend to demonstrate why the article is correct!! 🙂
Close to Home
The article about living close to home really got Julie and I thinking. I became non typical right after college. I started about 70 miles from home, then within 6 months was living almost 700 miles from home. Julie waited until we got married, but then she too moved away. Julie’s brother, after Law School, has never lived within 500 miles of where he grew up. Two of my sisters lived away for a while, and I guess technically are farther than 18 miles, but not by much. My third sister has been more like me. She moved away right after college, and never looked back. I contrast that to some of our best friends back in Wisconsin, the matriarch and patriarch of the family moved about 75 miles from where they were raised, but ALL of their kids have stayed within 5 miles (?) of the house they were raised. The third generation of that family has been a little more mobile, but not much. Only one of that generation has left Wisconsin. And most of the third generation still lives within 20 – 25 miles of Oshkosh.
The other big question is what does our living in Switzerland mean for our kids? We might have been able to get a residency permit for our daughter, but I am not sure about that. If she had been in High School when we moved it would have been no problem, but since we cannot declare her as a dependent in Switzerland I think getting a permit would have been hard. So what will be their tie, if any to finding a place to settle down? Greenville, WI is where they were raised, but I would say the odds of them moving back within 100 miles are next to zero. My oldest has left the state for law school, and his girlfriend is living in Kansas City. Will he stay in Indiana after school, or move there? My daughter is wanting to attend medical school after she graduates university. She is talking about practicing rural medicine; so even if she stays in Wisconsin, she will not be within 18 miles of Greenville. Heck, we do not even know where we are going to be when we are done here? We have a top choice, but that all depends on Julie’s status with her company. Do we leave here, and she is unemployed, or do we leave here and she still is working? That one variable changes any potential destination drastically.
I can certainly see the benefits of living close to family. Especially as our parents age. I know Julie and her brother are very thankful that I was able to fly back to the US last summer and help out their parents. However, if either Julie or her brother lived close to her parents it would not have been an issue. I am glad that two of my sisters are very close to home for that time my parents start needing assistance. I am sure that Julie and I will not be able to rely on our kids living close, unless we choose to move by them. Even that is not a sure thing, however, as I think our two kids are going to be very mobile. I can see them moving multiple times in their lives and careers.
Our experiences in moving to a new country are not unique. I am pretty sure that everyone who has picked up and moved to a new place have experienced much of what Julie and I have experienced. I also am pretty sure that people wanting to move to the “land of the free and the home of the brave” experience just as many, if not more difficulties in moving.
It seems to be the most difficult part of moving to Switzerland actually occurs before you establish residency. Whether you are moving here from the EU or from someplace else, before you can establish residency you either have to have a signed contract for a job, or be able to prove that you can afford to live here for the length of the permit. Once you are approved, there really is not any difficulties in keeping your residency legal. All you have to do is stay employed and stay out of trouble. I have written many times before this of the process Julie’s company had to go through to get approval for her, and I also have written about differences between EU and NON-EU peoples.
Living here can be lonely, but it isn’t difficult. Everyone basically leaves you alone. One thing I have learned from being involved in a couple of online communities is that the French speaking part is the most open to foreigners. The German speaking areas are the most hostile to foreigners. One of the comments in the articles I linked earlier said it very well, that the German speaking areas of the country are hostile to anyone that moves in, Even if they are moving from a different german speaking canton. 🙂
I do think a lot of the difficulties we have experienced are due more to our stage of life than anything. Let’s face it by the time you hit your mid 50’s you are pretty set in your ways, and change becomes harder. If we were 30 years younger, I think our experiences would be completely different.
I relate very well to the article about Switzerland and immigrants, There are some real positives about moving to Switzerland. There are some real negatives as well. The article spent a lot of time talking about the economics of Switzerland. I freely admit I play into some of that. I LOVE getting the reactions from people when they hear how much it costs to go out to eat. Even at a fast food place. That being said the high prices are offset by high salaries. Not everyone is wealthy here. Like every other country a significant percentage of people struggle to get by every month. This might sound crazy, but my impression is that the people that struggle the most here, are the 2nd and 3rd generations of immigrant families. The first generation does well. First off to be able to get status, here, you have to show that you have means of support. This of course goes away for the next generation, and this is where living in Switzerland can be difficult.
However, my experience is that it is NOT much different than places we lived in the US. When we lived in the Twin Cities. We were lucky enough to have one friend from college that was also there. She introduced us to her roommates, and we have remained good friends ever since. Julie and I never met one person that lived in our apartment complexes, and when we bought our first house, we made friends with one neighbor couple who was our age, but then they got transferred. We made some other friends in the Twin Cities, but it was a pretty small group.
Similarly when we moved to Wisconsin we knew one couple before we moved and that one couple was the nucleus around most of the friendships we acquired. We lived in the same house for 25 years, and although we were friendly with our neighbors, we were not “friends” with any of them, and it took years with some of them before we even learned their names. It was a strange dynamic. As we would clean each other’s driveways after a blizzard, but we never got together for social activities. Once again, the friends we made in Wisconsin came from the one couple we knew, or from being involved in our church. We also found having the kids around made a difference. When we moved into our neighborhood, we were the only young couple that did not have kids, and 25 years when we left, we were one of only three houses in the neighborhood whose kids had grown and left. We made a lot of friends through our kid’s activities. I do wonder if having young kids would have allowed us to meet more people here?
Of course a big chunk of our problem with settling in is us. Not knowing the area Julie wanted to move into this great apartment. Part of the problem is that we are alone. There is not an expat community here and due to covid, there has been zero chance to try and get involved with anything. The language barrier has also made things more difficult. Yes, I am trying to learn German, but until things open up again, I do not have the chance to learn the language that people in our neighborhood speak. They can understand my simple german phrases, but unless they speak in formal german in reply I cannot understand more than a couple of words they are speaking. I also think Julie is having an easier time fitting in than me. She still meets and talks with people daily, but I am able to get around easier due to my better language skills.
I should probably STOP thinking about when we move back to the US, but how easy will another migration be? If we move back to NE Wisconsin, the transition will probably be very easy. After all we did spend 25 years there, and our absolute best friends are all in Wisconsin. Moving back home to Southern Indiana, will probably be easier on me than Julie. We have some friends there and we would be moving back to the farm I grew up. I am not sure Julie is cut out for country life. :). Or will it be closer to Chicago, as she stays working at their US main office? This one could be hard for both of us. We do know a few people that live there, so that always makes it a little easier, but Chicago is a HUGE place, and simply knowing someone doesn’t mean we will see them very often.
I do think the migration back to the US will be a lot easier than moving here. For one reason, we don’t have to learn a new language! We are looking at staying in the midwest, where we both lived most of our lives.
I apologize if this post has seemed whiny, or depressing. I probably shouldn’t write when it has been raining for 40 straight days and nights! That is only a slight exaggeration! As I have been going over this post today, I have been watching a Ferris Wheel go up across the lake. Hopefully the rain will hold off tomorrow, and we can take a ferry across and check out the fair! That will probably put me in a better mood! Take care and talk to you soon!