I was talking to a good friend of my mine back in Canada. I was excited to share with him that even though only a month in to calling home I had made a ton of contacts. How I did this was in part from tapping into the expat community here in Zurich. A community so incredibly large and organized, I was uncustomarily intimidated. I was telling him about walking into a room with literally hundreds of people and not a soul familiar in the room and that as I made my way through the crowd and contemplated whether I was up for the networking challenge in front of me I was surprised. Hands were extended left, right and centre – introductions made. Before long I had an invite to a dinner, other groups, conversational German practice groups and phone numbers of people I could call if I needed anything. Basically I went from being alone in a city to not at all.
The friend was I excitedly sharing this with has lived in many places throughout the world, but for the time being has decided to make Canada his home – even though he is not Canadian. Ironically I met him on a continent that neither of us called home.
His response to my update has rumbled around in my mind since he shared it. “Expats are generally fun I've found. Most have a sense of being in the middle of an opportunity that's to be made the most of. So they live deliberately, rather than worrying about the laundry and the house and all the other stuff that just kind of creeps up on you in life.”
I really had to consider these words. I don’t want to be different than the people I share geography with – I want to assimilate as much as possible. But I have to admit, there is a bit of a bond that an expat community shares, no matter what part of the world they hail from. We each know that awkward moment of walking into a room of unknowns, of having no clue about the local bureaucracy, we all know of the sometimes struggle and loneliness associated with building a life away from all that is familiar. So yeah, I guess as an expat, we do live a little differently. We simply do not take things or people for granted. We have worked to get here, and being here requires work too.
Another friend of mine who lives here in Zurich suggested that I not do the expat thing and instead work on building a Swiss network.
I have to admit, he is right as well. I should not make the expat group my sole network. But there is something about being in a room with hundreds of people that get you and get exactly what you are going through. It is a bit of a rush sharing that sort of bond with a community that extends to every culture imaginable.
So yeah, I think my friend is correct – being an expat forces you to live deliberately. It is sort of tough to get caught up in the small stuff when you are still trying to figure out the big stuff. And my other friend is right too. It is not really about being an expat – it is about living the Swiss way.