Ten

Last month we celebrated an entire decade of residing in Switzerland.  Ten years is a grand collection of time. The minutes, the hours, the days all eventually spun themselves into ten incredible, life-altering years that have become our very existence.

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With those passing years we did our best to embrace the unknown, rooted ourselves in our past, and now, look forward to a promising future.

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In ten years we have…

Caressed careers and quietly walked away.

We have settled in without ever feeling fully grounded.

We have birthed two children without the comfort of family and friends close by.

We now fully comprehend the quote, “Successful people take big risks knowing that they might fall hard.  But they might succeed more than they ever dreamed.”  – Unknown

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Held hands as a couple, fell into one another and pushed through the uncertain times, of which there were many.

Overcame obstacles we didn’t know even existed.

We’re never certain if we got it “right,” but boy can we say we tried and are trying.

Gained perspective in a whole new way and know how powerful that has been in shaping who we are, and who we aspire to become.

Felt grateful beyond belief and never took nor do we ever take this opportunity for granted…never!

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Quietly observed from afar the makings, and unraveling of our own country often times shaking our heads in utter disbelief.  We had/have hope in our hearts that American’s will stick together and be kind to one another!

Witnessed a new way of living, one that offers a living wage, quality of life, and a high standard of living.  Thank you!

Longed for a past that was familiar and a future that was certain…don’t we all!

Waved good – bye to family and dear friends and we have come to the realization that it will never be easy or ever get easier. Sigh.

Felt ever so humbled by the German language and still do.

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Smiled whole – heartedly when we heard and hear our children toggle through conversations in both English and German.

Embraced a very simple life free from the burden of debt.

Witnessed beauty beyond our wildest comprehension.

Are creating a family based on values, gratitude and forgiveness.

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Felt that raw pang of isolation, disappointment and reconciliation that only those close to us can understand.

Wondered if this journey would continue and how it will unravel should we ever have to return back home.

Thought endlessly how my father would have interpreted this life we have chosen to live and wished that he could have witnessed this life we have created and the children we have made.

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Grateful for our children’s education in a foreign country and their ability to learn languages.

Blessed that our minds have been altered, our thinking enhanced and our beliefs tested because living abroad is an education that teaches you something new each and everyday!

Happily relied on public transportation and decided to go car free for our entire ten years. That feels like a victory in itself!

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Felt the power of saying yes, despite having no idea what that yes would entail.

It may not have been easy to walk away from a life of stability and comfort, but “The greater the challenge, the bigger the opportunity,” couldn’t be more accurate of a statement!

Looking forward to where the next ten may lead us and blessed to share this journey with my partner in life and our two amazing children!

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And remember…”The most dangerous risk of all – The risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

Neighborhoods Matter

Where you live is vitally important to your happiness and quality of life.  Your neighborhood and where you call home can make or break your experience in any new area.  Location matters immensely and here is why.

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We have been off to a bumpy start in 2017.  Plagued by illness and being captive inside our home more than we would like to admit, our neighborhood has once again proven to be a light at the end of our dark, and what feels like at times, endless tunnel.  Our small area has supported our needs, without ever once requiring a car (thank God for that we don’t even own one).

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Within a block in either direction from our front door our children can easily and independently walk alone to school, our pediatrician is about two to three blocks down a quiet street, we have three grocery stores about 10 minutes from our front door, our bank and the drug store are reachable by foot too. Oh, and the gym, five minutes warm – up from the house…no excuses…right!?

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The neighborhood boasts two playgrounds, loads of green space and access to the Rhine River, which proves time and again to be a scenic and gorgeous walk anytime of day or year.   We can access green space by walking to a local deer park, or botanical gardens in less than 30 minutes.  A tram runs right in front of our house, which means access to the city and neighboring villages are all available to us most hours of the day, despite the noise.  We feel remarkably blessed that ten years ago when we moved to Basel and had no idea where to live that we stumbled upon our little gem of a  neighborhood. We can honestly say it has made a huge impact on our happiness and above all, our quality of life.

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We offer this advice to all of those moving to the city or its’ outskirts:

Neighborhoods directly relate to your quality of life, so choose wisely.  If you don’t know where to start, ask locals, your relocation service, or simply walk the streets during the day and night to get a feel for the new area.

Be honest with your needs and desires before you settle down.  Do you mind being reliant on a car or do you prefer to be able to walk or take public transportation?  Keep in mind, the public transportation is reliable, clean and very accessible in Switzerland.

If you are new to Switzerland, consider a neighborhood that is host to Expats, though not the best for integration, you might feel a bit more at home.

Consider conveniences and their proximity to your home: schools, drug stores, playgrounds, grocery stores, a gym, the bank, Dr.’s offices, the post office, your office location, etc.

How often do you want to and/or need to be in the city of Basel?  Consider this when you select your location.

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Walking opportunities – can you stroll out your front door and safely walk to scenic, family – friendly locations or take long hikes through rolling hills?

Noise – if you long for quiet, consider tramlines, buses, trains and other modes of public transport and their location to your home.

All the best settling in!

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Speaking

More 2 Explore is now giving talks. Yes, you read that right; we are now going “on the road” and talking about our experience of moving from America to Basel. We answer the big questions, such as, how did we do it? Why did we take the plunge? Why do we stay? When will it be time to go home? How can you too enjoy a life in a foreign country?

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We also talk about the daily life of an expat and what it means to live, work, travel and raise a family in Switzerland.  If you are considering moving to Basel, but don’t know where to start, we might just be able to help.  After living in Basel for the past nine years, we have experienced our share of life in a foreign country and we are happy to help you make a smooth transition.  We are happy to meet with individuals or small groups to answer your most pressing questions, show you around the city and provide you with valuable resources that will make your integration all the easier.

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Why, are we doing this now?

We want to share our experiences with others and help individuals make the most of their new life, in their new city.  We truly enjoy meeting new people, sharing our experiences (positive and negative) with those considering taking the leap and moving to a foreign country.

And finally, because….

“Once in awhile it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in a way they have been told to.” Alan Keightley

By moving to a foreign country, individuals are stepping out of the norm in order to embrace, experience and live a new, exciting life.  By no means is this a conventional existence, but one that is rich with experiences that is guaranteed to leave your life in an altered state.

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Honest. Thought provoking. Genuine.

 

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Each talk or meeting is crafted to your specific needs, so let us know what you are looking for and together we will build the perfect meeting/seminar/experience.

For more information, please contact us.

Contact: Melinda or Robert

Email: melschoutens@gmail.com

Comment:  Or simply post a comment on this page and we will be in touch.

Sneak Peak – Life in Switzerland

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Never once in my wildest dreams did I think I would birth and raise a family in a foreign country, but that quickly became our reality when we moved to Switzerland. We were open to the possibilities of moving to a foreign country and all that comes in that neatly and often times, haphazardly wrapped package. We took the leap, embraced the challenge and now, nine years in and two children later, we are indeed raising a family in a country that is not our own.  Who would have thought?

Our Backgrounds:

I am an American who lived in six different states before moving with my husband, Robert to Switzerland in 2007. Robert was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California until he moved to the East Coast to attend University. I met Robert our first week of school in 1995.   We were married a few years later and have been on an incredible adventure ever since!

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Why Switzerland?

After a very rough couple of years, we felt the need for explosive change. We were stuck in a rut of sadness, sameness and longed for our lives to feel fresh and new again. Switzerland certainly delivered when it came to drastic change on every level. We have lived in Basel for nine years and despite how difficult it was to leave the familiarity of home and say good – bye to our dear friends, and family, we have always felt our relocation was one of the best decisions for us as individuals, as a couple and now as a family.

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Speaking of family, we now have two children; Noah, our eldest, is seven and in grade two and Tessa is five and just started Kindergarten. Our children attend local schools, speak Swiss German fluently and feel very integrated into Swiss life.

Life In Basel:

Basel is a relatively small city, but it has big flare! With just under 200,000 residents, the city is charming in every way. Basel boarders France and Germany, which makes it quite easy to hop over the borders for sightseeing, shopping or simply visiting.

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Our location in the city is ideal because we live in close proximity to the Rhine, making the city even more enjoyable. Many people swim in the river, restaurants are perched over the water and it is not uncommon to see people with a bottle of wine and cheese picnicking by the river. It has a magical feel to it every season, but the summer months make living in this city feel like we live in a beach town. Volleyball games, BBQ’s, and swimming all contribute to a very relaxed atmosphere!

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Basel, in my humble opinion is a true haven for families. Whether it is a stroll along the river, a walk to one of the beautiful parks in the city, a trek to a museum, or a slow meander through the downtown, Basel is a walk-able city that has done a tremendous job of preserving green space for everyone to enjoy.

Having Children in a Foreign Country:

Starting a family in your own country is a life-altering event, however, starting a family in a foreign country is at times mind blowing and certainly a bitter – sweet experience. For all the special moments you miss with family and friends gathering around you as you go into labor and then smothering you with their presence once the baby is born, simply doesn’t happen when living abroad. Having that said, there are other experiences that are wonderful, including relying on your partner in ways you never imagined, ultimately bringing your relationship that much closer.

Throughout both pregnancies, I received excellent medical care. The role of midwives is very active in Switzerland and the holistic approach to pregnancy and birthing is one, which resonates with me. When having a complicated delivery with our son, the midwife consulted with the Dr. and together they determined the best course of action for our situation. The mutual respect of both parties was beautiful to witness and we delivered a healthy baby.

When I delivered my son, the standard hospital stay was five days. I was grateful for support rendered by the hospital staff, the lactation consultants and the nurses. As a first – time mother, I cherished my time in the hospital and felt secure, comfortable and more confident upon our departure.

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When I delivered our daughter, the experience was very different.   After 24 – hours in the hospital, our English-speaking midwife was closing off her rotation. Our new midwife didn’t speak English and thus, I delivered our daughter in German. That was quite the experience, but in the end, all went well. Having a supportive partner during times like those was invaluable! I am still grateful to my husband for being my advocate, champion and essentially my Doula during those special times.

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Being Outside A Lot:

Switzerland is the ideal place to spend ample time outdoors. With the Alps just a couple of hours away, we make frequent trips to the mountains. Our children have spent their entire lives hiking in the Alps. We hiked extensively when I was pregnant and once the children were born, we continued. Our love for the mountains was and is still too great to abandon our visits just because we have had children. By including our children in our hikes and adventures, we hope their love for the outdoors lasts a lifetime.

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If we are not in the mountains, we can be found hiking on the local trails, or spending quality time in a local botanical garden. We live in a modest apartment on a second floor, so getting outside is essential. Though we have a glorious backyard space, we still take our children outside a great deal.

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 The Joy of Public Transportation:

As Americans, it was hard for us to fathom life without a car, but when we first arrived in Switzerland, it was just the two of us and we were determined to try a car – free lifestyle. Nine years later we are still a car – free family.

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I certainly miss driving in some regards, but with public transportation being clean, reliable and easy to access, we remain committed to not having a car. Perhaps that will change one day, as there are conveniences that come with owning a car, however, at this time, we are quite happy to enjoy the scenery as it passes by from the window of a tram, bus, train, gondola, boat or funicular.

Parenting Observations:

Being a foreigner raising a family in a new country can be tricky at times, but you certainly learn to make keen observations about those around you. One aspect of Swiss parenting I witness very early on was the autonomy given to children. I used to commute via train everyday to work and often noticed a little girl about seven, taking the train alone each morning to school. The first time I saw her, I immediately wondered where her parents were. After continuously seeing her, I realized she traveled alone to school. The Swiss value and nourish children’s autonomy. Children are encouraged to walk to school alone and can often be found at local playgrounds by themselves.

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Another aspect of parenting I greatly admire is the lack of public reprimanding or yelling. The Swiss tend to be quiet and reserved and correct children in a firm, yet nurturing way.

Identity Crisis:

When someone recently heard our son speaking English, they asked where he was from. His response was clear and concise, “Switzerland.” The person looked surprised and repeated the question, “I know you live in Switzerland, but where are you from?” My son once again said, “Switzerland.” The reality is, despite his American passport, he identifies Switzerland as his home country. He was born in Basel and is being raised in Switzerland, attends local school, local programs and feels rather Swiss. America is a place that he visits family, but is not necessarily a location that his identifies with as home.

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For us, the adults, we feel quite differently than our children. We at times, still feel quite foreign despite our nine years of residing in Switzerland. We still fumble our way through German and may always speak with a notable American accent, but at least we are trying.

We still long for the closeness that only family can bring and the joy of having friends that share a deep history with us, but we certainly relish in our visits with them each time we return home.  There is nothing like a hug from a familiar face!

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At times, we would like the option of owning a home and land (I have a secret desire to have a small farm), but having that said, we know once we embark on that journey our simple, on – the – move lifestyle will come to an end. I keep reminding myself that one day when we feel the need to slow down and place down roots, that will indeed happen.  We never dismiss our return to the States, for in this life nothing is ever certain.

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Having all of that said, we are grateful for our life in Switzerland. Our children are receiving a solid education, they can walk to school, our neighborhood is ideal for supporting our needs (grocery store, pharmacy, schools, Dr.’s offices, my gym, the bank, etc.), and our ability to travel around Europe is irreplaceable. We have a high standard of living and an excellent quality of life. Switzerland also provides us with the opportunity to live a very simple life; renting instead of owning, not needing to have a car, walking everywhere, and those are all aspects of life we cherish immensely at this point in our lives.

Raising Bilingual Children:

There are four official languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian and Romansch, so needless to say, we hear an array of languages everyday. Being situated in the middle of Europe we are lucky to be surrounded by numerous cultures and customs, which truly adds spice to our lives.

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As a child and even now, I am in complete awe of people who speak more than one language. To be able to seamlessly flow from one language to the next is incredible. I have always wanted my children to speak more than one language fluently and by raising them in Switzerland that will not be hard to do especially because we have chosen to send them to local preschools, playgroups and primary school. As a parent, I still smile whenever my children speak with one another in German and sigh a humble relieve when they correct my German.

Quiet Sundays:

The Swiss value quiet and Sunday seems to be a sacred day of rest for most. We have done our best to adapt to this way of life and try to move slowly on Sunday. For us, Sundays are typically spent over a slow, lingering breakfast followed by a nice hike on local trails. We try to reserve the late afternoon for relaxing at home and preparing for the week ahead.

 

Falling in Love:

I have equated our initial stint in Switzerland to falling in love. When we first arrived we were completely smitten with Switzerland and wanted to get to know each and every detail our new country.

Early on, we would board a train after working all week, look at each other giddy with excitement and wonder if our experience was indeed real. Believe it or not, we still feel that way after nine years. Each time we visit the Alps, we cannot help but feel a sense of complete wonder wash over us. We adore that feeling and get itchy if we have been away from the mountains too long! The beauty of this country is remarkable and we never, ever take that for granted and do our best to see and do as much as possible.

Cleanliness:

The Swiss value cleanliness and now, we do too. If we haven’t traveled outside of Switzerland for a while and then embark on a journey, we are often reminded how clean, tidy and organized Switzerland is. Despite having a great deal of “street art” Switzerland’s streets are clean, schools are immaculate and the infrastructure is impeccable. We appreciate that way of life, especially now that we have children.

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A Simple Truth:

I must include this piece, for without this honesty, this essay would not be complete.  I often feel homeless.  Despite my deep love for Switzerland, and my identity as an American, I often feel as though I don’t belong in either country.  My heart has embraced the new, yet never fully abandoned the old.  I am not alone in this thought I know.

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When I am in America I see my country through the lens of a foreigner often wondering if I could ever “do” America again. Despite my questioning,  I fall in ease with the familiarity of my surroundings and fall back in love with the friends I have left far behind.  I find at times, an awkward silence fill a room when in the presence of family, for we have been gone ever so long now. A choice some may never except fully.

And Switzerland, the harsh reality is, I am not and will never be Swiss.  This country, my God, this country has gotten it “right” on so many levels, but regardless of the time spent here, I am uncertain as to whether or not I will ever feel 100% comfortable in this land.  Perhaps time will tell.

And for those times when the question of whether to return to our “home” haunts me, I stop and think, “How lucky am I to have that choice?” A choice that is not dictated or forced due to war, poverty or politics.  So, I dig myself out of my thoughts and give thanks for all that I have knowing that one day our choice to return home may be one of necessity.

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Overall:

I have often equated our experience of living, working and raising a family in Switzerland as a very rich existence. I do not mean rich in a monetary sense, however, rich with valuable life experiences.

Each day we are pushed out of our comfort zone and reminded that we are living the life of a foreigner.   We speak a language we never would have otherwise spoken, we have learned to lean on each other as a family in ways that would not have been necessary in America and most of all, we have lived life in a way that we never dreamed possible.  Switzerland has taken life and given it a good, positive shake – up by providing us with the opportunity to live, work, travel and educate ourselves beyond comprehension.

And as for our children, we pray one day they reflect on their lives with a deep sense of happiness.  We did our best to teach them the wonders of this world, the power of the natural world, the warmth of a smile, the depths of understanding, the need to at times be brave, the appreciation for embracing the new, yet respecting the old.  We hope the languages they speak today stay with them and that they never lose their desire to make the most of this one incredible life!  So today, we are incredibly grateful for EVERYTHING!

America Was…

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Whew…we just returned from a whirlwind trip to America.

We seemed to cram as much as humanly possible into those three weeks.

We worked hard and played hard. We visited museums, gathered with dear friends, were embraced by family, restored bonds, took in our Nation’s Capital, hiked, visited the beach a couple of times, observed organic farms doing what they do best, ate loads of ice cream, visited national parks, and cried for the state of our country.

 

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We did our best to return with hope in our hearts, and optimism for our country in our minds.  We also felt a sense of not quite knowing where we belong in this world. Feet straddling two very different countries and hearts feeling slightly unsettled, the conversations that have ensued since our return have been lengthy and intense.

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Overall, it was a trip that filled our hearts with tremendous joy, feeling blessed to have friends and family that make our lives rich with love and promise.

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It was a trip that made us contemplate our future and the struggles that may involve, but mostly it was a journey that we needed to remind us the happiness that fills us when we are surrounded by people we know and share a deep history with, family we love and friends that hold such dear, dear places in our hearts and lives.

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Thank you to everyone!