About a week after we arrived in Switzerland Adam’s boss asked if I could babysit his youngest daughter while he and his wife accompanied their twins to their first day of kindergarten. I heartily agreed, babysat little Louisa for about an hour, and finally sat down with her mom Nancy for a cup of coffee. Up until this past April we had been more or less inseparable since then.
She and her husband had lived in Switzerland for nearly ten years and knew most all the ins and outs of expat living. I went to her with questions about immigration registration, the local language, finding a doctor, and more. She had great ideas about travel, reading, and most importantly told me that J.Crew ships to Switzerland for a measly 10 Francs. She was a lifesaver.
They family was well on their way to gaining citizenship, which is a difficult task. It requires living here for over 12 years, a command of your canton’s local language, endorsements from members of the community and your gemeinde, not to mention a significant financial contribution. That red passport is highly coveted.
But, Nancy’s husband, Adam’s boss (the guy we met the day after we got engaged in Zurich, who then and there told him about the job at eBay that Adam has now) got an amazing opportunity in the US. It was for a high-level job in the city where they’d always wanted to end up: Portland, OR. The timing wasn’t ideal–they wanted to stay in Switzerland for at least 3 more years–but it was too good an offer to pass up and they moved stateside in April.
We had them all over for dinner the night before they left and I definitely cried a little bit harder than I needed to, but the feeling of loss was so visceral. Here was this person, Nancy, whom I had looked to as a major source of my security in living here, leaving me! It felt hugely dramatic at the time and I fell into a pretty deep funk after they left because they had all become like family to us. We celebrated Thanksgiving with them and went over for impromptu pizza dinners; Nancy and I had late nights drinking wine and talking til our teeth turned purple; their girls felt like my nieces. It was so hard to see them leave, even though we knew two things: 1. they were embarking on an incredible journey and moving to a fantastic city and 2. we would be fine!
I’ve had this conversation with many people who are or have lived abroad. This exact thing happens all the time to everyone who is an expat. It’s just part of the transient lifestyle and it unfortunately cannot be avoided if you have any desire to form a social circle or support network. It’s also one of the reasons that local Swiss are hesitant to make friends with internationals. Friendships are sacred and once you make a friend they are deeply loyal and a friend for life. They are less likely to invest time and emotional energy on you when they know there’s a good chance you will leave within 3-5 years.
But that’s not a practice I’m looking to implement during my own stay in this country. As tough as it is to make friends it’s been a hot pursuit of mine since day one. Sometimes I’ve been overeager and perhaps a wee bit aggressive, but that’s usually when I’m at my lowest and beggin’ for help. The friends I have made here–those who are as close to me as Nancy and others who are more casual acquaintances–are so important. They ground me in a way that feels essential to the expat experience.
I miss Nancy. I miss the regularity of our visits and the way we could talk for three hours straight and text each other five minutes after we leave, telling the other to “remind me to tell you something I forgot to mention today!” Isn’t that wild? To have a friend that close and wonderful? She was and is a treasure.
And I get to see her in two weeks!!!! YES! Ha. It really is the best news ever. I’m going to the US next week for a couple of girls’ trips and thinking about it makes my heart flutter in anticipation.
What about you? If you’ve made a major move, what was it like to make friends? Or, what are your thoughts on making friends as an adult? Isn’t it so much harder than making friends as a teen or a college student? This article is so spot on.