Expat Life – Where Are You From?

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Oh, that little question, “Where are you from?” still gets me.  A question I never thought much about until we moved to Switzerland some ten years ago.  Growing up, we were a family that moved frequently.  Five States to be exact before I turned 16, but I always considered California home because to be honest, it was where we had lived the longest.

California is where I grew up.  Where long day and endless summers were spent exploring, playing tennis, swimming until my hair was tinted green and growing up along side of my best friend.  California, oh that Golden State, witnessed me go from child to adolescent and my heart was crushed when my dear father announced we would be moving East after finding a new place of employment. Even when residing in the States, I was always from Cali.   So, now, when people ask where I am from, I typically refer to the old standby, “Well, before moving to Switzerland, we were living outside of Philly, but honestly, I have lived all over America.”

The other night, as we were snuggled up in bed, our nightly conversation ensued.  “Can you believe we have lived here ten years?”  We both fell silent; “The longest I have lived anywhere,” I muttered.  Ten years is a decade, an almost lifetime in the eyes of our children, yet to us, this time together, creating our family, building careers and shying away, embarking on a whole slew of firsts, seems to have spun by ever so quickly.

When we think about the notion of home, especially this time of the year, most reflect on a place, but honestly, over the years and throughout my lifetime, I have come to learn that home is not necessarily a place, but rather a feeling.  And thus, as we embrace more indoors than out lately, this tiny place of ours feels just right and very much home.

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Expat Life – Together Again

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“They are our storytellers – our elderly are meant to be those who share the secrets of wisdom and knowledge and life with our youth.” – Cameron Diaz

I read the lines on a Facebook post and it broke my heart.  “Elderly people frequent the grocery store two – to – three times a day just for social interaction.”

This made me think about an idea that had been festering in me for quite sometime.  What if the expat community (but honestly anyone for that matter) were to “adopt a grandparent(s)?” What does that mean?  An expat family, residing in Switzerland, far from their own family and grandparents, would reach out to an elderly person or couple in their community in hopes that together they would each benefit from their new found friendship.

You see, as expats residing in a country far from home, that often means that we are sadly raising our children without the unique connection they might have with their own grandparents.  By reaching out to the elderly in our new communities, perhaps we can create a relationship between our families and those individuals that might be feeling alone; thus fostering the powerful connection between the young and the old.

What would that bond look like?  It is hard to say and would be unique for each family, however, the idea is to reach out to the elderly and invite them for a cup of coffee, a meal perhaps, write hand written notes to each other (pen pals), invite individuals to your child’s play or sporting event, include them in the activities that our children’s own grandparents would normally participate in, should we live in close proximity.  Thus filling a void on behalf of the children and the elderly.

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How to get involved?

I will be honest, this is a completely new initiative and one that I have never embarked upon with my family, but there is a need and thus, I believe we should do our best to full that emptiness.

I need your help.  Do you know of a home for the elderly that would appreciate creating relationships with local families, which might mean our German skills are emerging at best?  Do you have a neighbor that might benefit from a pen pal?  Do you know of a Senior Home that would benefit from the energy of youth in their community?

Please let me know by posting a comment on this site.  Together we can create happy communities one family at a time.

“The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” – Andy Rooney

*Update:  I reached out to the Dalbehof Elderly Residence in Basel and my students might become pen pals with the residents in the New Year.  If you have an organization that would benefit from student art or letters, please let me know.

Giving Thanks

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Today is the day when Americans gather around tables with family and friends and enjoy the Thanksgiving day feast.  The kitchen is warm and ripe with delicious smells, the living room is bursting with life and laughter is rolling. It is a time to bring the pace way down, enjoy the company of those you do not see often enough and giving thanks.

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As expats residing in Switzerland, this day can serve as a bitter sweet reminder of the distance that separates us from those we love, and those we cherish.  Though we will not be celebrating today, as regular routines ensue, we will take the time to celebrate this weekend; just the four of us.

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Despite the melancholy that can wash over us, it is the perfect time to reflect on all the blessings big and small that have been bestowed upon us. How fortunate are we?  Taking the time to be grateful helps us realize how fortunate we are for the simple pleasures of this life.

We are grateful for:

Our health.

Our family and friends all over the world.

Our position in the world.

For having enough.

For our educations and the ability to educate our children.  A gift my parents so generously gave me and one in which I will always be grateful.  I hope I have made you proud.

For love.

For having a safe place to return to each evening, warm beds to rest our weary bodies and enough food to fill our bellies.

For living in a country that is absent of war.

For the gift of finding true love.

For each and every struggle, for in the struggle we find the valuable lessons.  Oh, I must keep reminding myself of this one.

Be well and Happy Thanksgiving.

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Trash and Other Logistics

Finding Your Way – There are a great deal of logistics to figure out upon arrival and this can be daunting at first. Take a deep breath and dive in. In time, you will master the intricacies of each system whether it be healthcare, trash disposal, or recycling. Keep in mind that you are not the first person to do this, reach out to others and ask questions.

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Trash

The trash situation can, to a new arrival, feel rather complex and those urban legends that seem to follow around the expats residing in the city will haunt you if you do something wrong, so do your best to get the system down.   Once you have the appropriate garbage bag and the right dates for trash pick – up, the process is rather seamless.

The blue Bebbisaggs can be purchased at your local grocery store (Coop or Migro at the cashier, or with the counter that sells alcohol and/or cigarettes), come in the following sizes: 17 liters, 35 liters, and 60 liters. Each size Bebbisagg comes in a roll of 10. The 17 liter bags costs CHF 12.00, the 35 liter bags costs CHF 23.00 and the largest Bebbisaggs 35 liters will cost CHF 33.

Depending upon your area, you will either need to place a sticker on your sac or simply place your trash in the blue Bebbisagg without the sticker on the curb at dusk the night before or the morning of collection. Please note that putting out trash too early (before 19:00 the day before or the latest at 7:00 day of pick – up) or on the incorrect days may result in a fine.

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Recycling – Cardboard and Paper

Cardboard and paper should be collected in your home and bundled up with a string and placed curb – side the evening prior to pick – up or before 7:00 that morning. To determine pick – up dates for your area, consult the Abfuhrplan, which individuals receive by mail and is valid from January – December.

The Abfuhrplan also lists the dates of pick – up for metal, lawn trimmings/greens from your yard, non-flammable items.

 

 Sperrgut Stickers

Two “sperrgut” stickers come with the Abfuhrplan each year and are to be used on items that do not fit into the regular Bebbisagg and are under 10kilos in weight. Simply adhere the stickers to the item in which you wish to dispose of and place out on the regular days of trash collection.

To purchase additional “sperrgut” stickers, the cost is CHF 4.50 each and stickers are available at Coop and Migros stores.

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Glass, Aluminum and Battery Recycling – There are central recycling centers located in each neighborhood of the city, which allow individuals to recycle at their convenience between the hours of 7:00 – 20:00 Monday through Saturday. Recycling on Sunday is not permissible.

Aluminum – Individuals can recycle aluminum such as: cans, aluminum packaging, and aluminum tubes at these centers.

Glass – Clear, brown, and green glass that has been cleaned is also recyclable. It is not permissible to recycle mirrors, drinking glasses or window glass.

Batteries – There are small containers (typically yellow) where batteries can be placed (regular batteries, button batteries and rechargeable batteries). It is not permissible to recycle car batteries at these stations.

There are signs posted in several languages indicating the rules and regulations of recycling, take the time to read such signs and familiarize yourself with the process.

PET Recycling – For all acceptable plastics, your local Coop or Migro will have recycling bins.

Compost – Most neighborhoods have composting areas available for the general public during limited hours.  Please ask or keep an eye out in your neighborhood for the area where composting is permitted.

Parting Words –  It’s not sexy or exciting, but learning how to properly dispose of trash and recycling items in your new neighborhood is essential.  If I have missed something here, or stated something incorrectly, don’t be shy and please let me know.

Home

I keep “home” tucked in my back pocket wherever and whenever I travel and for a gal that doesn’t really consider any place in this world “home” that is saying a lot.

Despite my love of exploring new places and getting all too itchy when too much time in one location lingers too long, I do love where we reside. It doesn’t take long in a new location until I am feeling that genuine surge of gratitude wash over me and then that same itch that initially pushed me away, brings me right back where I started.

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Boarding the plane is never a source of sadness, for when you love where you live, returning often brings a deep sense of joy.  Flying over the Alps, never ceases to amaze me. Those towering mountains, permanently covered in snow still, after all this time, takes my breath away. Once the aircraft moves in a bit closer, the deep hues of green take over and I am smitten.  Anxious for the plane to land and for us to make our way home; back into everything that is familiar and I sigh with relief.  Once we board the bus, I make a silent, mental list of all those aspects I love about my adopted home and just like returning to the warm arms of a long lost lover, I relax in a way that allows my shoulders to drop and my heart to slow.

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And, as my sweet family gathers once again around our kitchen table, I ask the familiar question to engage us all, “What are you grateful for?“ We limit the response to just three statements per person, which is often so hard to do.  My list, most days, runs long and deep, and I relish in the gifts that this “home” has to offer and my gratitude is overwhelming.

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Feeling Grateful For:

Cleanliness – For clean streets, trash that is picked – up, and public toilets that are ever so clean.  Thank you!

Safety –  Despite some crime, we still feel remarkably safe in this tiny country.

Quality of Life – From being able to walk to: school, the gym, the grocery store, the bank, the drug store, the playground, oh, the list goes on and on, walking is amazing.

Drinking Water – Grateful that we can drink the water from the tap…enough said.

Public Transportation – We love the fact that getting around is so easy and provides such an immense sense of independence for our entire family.

Beauty – Did we mention this country is incredibly beautiful?  From the lakes, to the countryside, to the mountains, whew, I am speechless, still!

Tiny – We love our tiny flat.  The backyard views, the rooms that feel like they are filled with love and memories and despite living very simply, this simple place just feels so right.

Seasons – Gosh, is there anything more enchanting than the colors of the fall?  No, not really, except for the first blossoms of spring, and the silence that washes over the landscape during the first snowfall, or the coolness that tingles our toes when the summer days get too hot and we seek refuge in the Alpine lakes.  The seasons are magical and we are blessed to witness each and every one.