Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Expat Life

1. a person who lives outside their native country.

There’s no better way to experience a new place like being an expat.  Just imagine walking along the Seine River on the way to work, going for a run in Central Park in NYC, and hiking in the Andes Mountains on a beautiful sunny day – and you get to do it all over again, everyday!

For most expats, living abroad is a realization of their dream, and unlike tourists, the new and exciting experience is amplified not only with a sense of adventure but also with sense of belonging.

I remember when I moved to Paris, a friend of mine told me, “When you start to dream in French; then, you’re French.”  Unfortunately, being French wasn’t just about mastering the language, and most often, living abroad as an expat had its share of challenges.

Although it’s easy to say, “Home is where the heart is”, when your heart belongs to so many places in different countries; then, you feel as if you belong nowhere.

However, there is the inevitable romance and the extraordinary experience of living an expat life.  As one of my favorite writer Pico Iyer has said, in the past two decades, I have become "a global village on two legs.  I am a multinational soul on a multinational globe.”  Traveling to different cities half way across the world is as natural to me as picking up groceries at a local market.

And like myself, most of my family and closest friends are expats: a Polish, who studied in Germany, England, and now living in Paris; a Mexican who has lived all over the world but prefers to be a citizen of Switzerland, a born and bred Texan who recently migrated to Ecuador – the list goes on.

Therefore, I have asked them to share their stories.  I wanted to know more about the city and the country in which they live and their lives as an expat.  Although the stories we have as individuals may differ, the issues are common to all expatriates regardless of nationality, and like 214 million people living outside their native country, our world is “where the foreign and the familiar always coexist in unexpected ways”.

Kay, born in Germany, lives in San Francisco, USA

Why did you move to San Francisco?
This move had many reasons.  For one, my wife and I planned to move back to the US for some time.  What better place next to New York is there to move to?  San Francisco offers a great quality of life: a beautiful city right at the Pacific Ocean, good food, great outdoor attractions, and a diversity that penetrates every aspect of the life here.

After 7 years of living in San Francisco, what are your feelings about the U.S.?
I’ve become a US citizen.  I am proud and happy to contribute to a society that is more diverse and multifaceted than any other country in the world.  In that sense, I am feeling more at home than I have in Germany – while at the same time I am keenly aware of my own heritage.

What do you like most about living in San Francisco, the U.S.?
The sense that there are fewer barriers.  The quality of life in San Francisco.  Where else can you enjoy the ocean, the wine country, the mountains and national parks like Yosemite and Pinnacle Park?  Also, San Francisco has to offer so much to children as they are truly an accepted and fully embraced part of the life in this city.

What has been the hardest/most difficult part?
Adjusting to the culture which requires me to be open-minded and watchful of my interactions.

If you could change one thing about the U.S., what would it be?
Gun laws! Eliminate the 2nd amendment.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
My favorite places are New York, San Francisco, and Berlin. Well, and then there is Southern France and the Dordogne region which is always great to visit.

Where do you want to move to or settle down eventually?
Living on a 40 foot sailboat cruising the Southern Pacific Ocean.  It would be nice to keep San Francisco as a home base though.

Where do you feel at ‘home’?
My home is where my heart is – with my wife and my son.

Wiktor, born in Poland, lives in Zurich, Switzerland

Why did you move to Zurich, Switzerland?
for a better life

After 8 years of living in Zurich, what are your feelings about Switzerland?
very positive

What do you like most about living in Zurich, Switzerland?
friendliness and openness of Swiss along with the international crowd living here

What has been the hardest/most difficult part?
People in Switzerland can also be very rigid, too polite, too careful with others and thus very boring.  I prefer American way of socializing with people.

If you could change one thing about Switzerland, what would it be?
I would not change anything about Switzerland.  The location is perfect in the center of Europe.  Zurich is a perfect little town with a lot of wealth and very high standard of living (27% residents are millionaires even excluding the value of their own properties).  It’s perfectly organized and very liberal.  Also, Switzerland is very business friendly, flexible and very stable (for example: tax authorities replay within hours if you have questions and they decide mostly in your favor.  The decision stated in email is binding by law). 

Swiss are generally very friendly and helpful.  When dealing with business at work all Swiss are very efficient and goal oriented.  You can always count on given word and then the paper work is to be done afterwords.  Written law seems to be below the "human law" on many occasions. Nobody is hiding behind some "regulations" when it comes to be pragmatic and flexible (for example: I left Swiss Life and I asked for a bonus.  Bonus was promised to me in the email even if I left on my request.  Swiss Life forgot to pay me bonus with my last salary and it paid me the money after I left and signed all kinds of papers.  If the same situation occurred in Germany, HR would have freaked out about transferring me money under such conditions because I left the company for good.

Everybody works towards a mutual goal.  There is a collective way of thinking where strangers do things for you for free, which is nice and gives you a very nice feeling to be part of a friendly community.  Swiss smile at you when you look at them on the streets and often greet you. 

In addition, half of the working population in Zurich is of foreign origin, so English is now a second language here.  There are many high skilled professionals from different parts of Europe/ World.  My team at work consists of 10 people with 11 passports where nobody really remembers others nationality.

The only thing I would change is to make Swiss more "cool" and "less shy" when it comes to dealing with strangers.  "Dude, relax, have a drink.” I would NEVR dare telling this to a Swiss guy, as he would find this way too direct.  Even my neighbor Tina from across the lake (Tina Turner) said she can easily enter a bar and sit by a table and no Swiss will ever disturb her.  They will always value her privacy.  Contrarily, in France, everybody wants a selfie with her. Swiss are either too shy, very respectful or maybe they just got used to the prominent people who live here. 

It seems that Switzerland is not just a safe haven to international investors, big and small companies and professionals like me but also to famous people and their anonymity as well.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
Germany, USA and Istanbul (Turkey)

Where do you want to move to or settle down eventually?

Where do you feel at ‘home’?
Switzerland is my home.

Antonio, born in Mexico, lives in Geneva, Switzerland

Why did you move to Geneva, Switzerland?
The first time I moved to Switzerland I settled in Zurich and lived and worked there for 18 months before being transferred [by my employer] to NYC.  The second time I was transferred again from NYC to Geneva, and the last time in January 2012 I was transferred again from Luxemburg City to Geneva.

After 3 years of living in Geneva, what are your feelings about Switzerland?
Switzerland still is an island in the middle of Europe.  In the recent years with the global crisis, Switzerland was able to cope with minimum damage to its economy, and the Swiss franc is at historical levels.  Plus, I am also very comfortable with the order and cleanliness of the cities.

What do you like most about living in Geneva, Switzerland?
It’s a small city with a cosmopolitan ambiance and a very international population.

What has been the hardest/most difficult part?  
Seeing friends leave.  Some being transferred to other cities, some voluntarily.

If you could change one thing about Switzerland, what would it be?
In Genève in particular, I would change the very socialist side of the administration and their lack of control with crime.  There are too many breaks in, and the police are too busy giving parking tickets to tackle the crime.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
Hermosillo, my hometown and the place I long to visit at least once a year.  Vancouver, Canada.  My first experience living and working abroad, still one of my favorite cities, you can ski during the day and set a bonfire by the sea at night.  Seattle, WA was a fun experience.  I partied hard for two years.  Zurich was my first time living in Europe.  NYC is a city I still call home although Genève is my actual home.  Madrid, where I partied all nights and study during the day. Luxembourg and I have a weird love-hate relationship. And back to square 6, my home

Where do you want to move to or settle down eventually?
I wouldn’t mind staying here and then retire in to a small tropical beach, but keep a Swiss chalet for skiing in winter.  But things can change, and I’m always ready to adapt to a new place.

Where do you feel at ‘home’?
I actually do feel at home wherever I’m at any given time.  I called all the cities I ever lived home, and even if I miss few things from other places I do my best to adapt and move forward in my integration process.
Kelly, born in Singapore, lives in San Francisco, USA

Where were you born?
on the beautifully-hectic island-city of Singapore

Why did you move to San Francisco?
I was incredibly blessed to move across the world with my husband when his start-up was acquired by Stubhub in 2012. It offered me the chance to take a break from work to (finally!) pursue a graduate degree in Nonprofit Administration.

After almost 3 years of living in San Francisco, what are your feelings about the U.S.?
Hmm … this would be somewhat biased since
San Francisco was the very first city I visited in the United States, and there’s still so much more to live, breathe and experience in the US. I’ve also been told San Francisco (California) is not in any way representative of the rest of America. But in one word, America to me is super-sized. Food portions aside, I don’t think the novelty (and ridiculousness) of these will ever wear off.
What do you like most about living in San Francisco, the U.S.?
The fact that San Francisco Bay Area is the heart of technology means that the person next to you in Starbucks is probably working on the next big start-up; the guy standing next to you on BART could very well be one of the founders of Twitter, heck, maybe you could even run into Zuckerberg in Whole Foods when his Dolores mansion is ready. Always makes for interesting conversations!

What has been the hardest/most difficult part?
I miss being able to walk the streets at night, late night supper with friends, movies at 2am, drinks by the beach, without worrying if we are in the ‘wrong area’. That’s something I took for granted in Singapore. Well that and the weather. Being very much a tropical weather kinda gal, I am always cold in San Francisco. Even on the rare occasion there is a “heatwave”, I still tote around the extra layer just in case.

If you could change one thing about the U.S., what would it be?
GUNS! How many more innocent lives need to be lost before America realizes there’s no place for guns in civil society?

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
We’ve traveled to a number of cities, not enough evidently. And so far, Barbados and Mauritius is at the top of my list. We are planning a RTW (round the world) trip eventually; so, this might change!

Where do you want to move to or settle down eventually?
Singapore is home truly, for me. But Mauritius is on the cards too. Then again who knows when we will be done being nomads?
Phil, born in Big Spring (Texas), lives in Ecuador

Why did you move to Cuenca, Ecuador?
Living in Houston, Texas had become very tiresome and financially difficult so I started looking for a place where I could retire early, that had a great year round climate, a stable democratic government, a lively art and cultural scene, good medical care and where I could have a very comfortable life for much less money.

After looking at many alternative in the US, Europe and Asia, I heard about Cuenca in Ecuador and after a exploratory visit found that it had all the things I was looking for and more.

After almost 5 years of living in Cuenca, what are your feelings about Ecuador?
Every year I find more and more things I like about this country. I think it is a country that has great untapped potential and a place that has made tremendous progress in lifting up and caring for its people.

What do you like most about living in Cuenca, Ecuador?
There are so many things I like it is hard to chose but for me I guess it would be the physical beauty of the place. I am still charmed and amazed at how many magnificent, majestic, and magical vista there are in an around this place. It is pleasure just to get up and go outside everyday.

What has been the hardest/most difficult part?
There really has not been anything that difficult for me. It sounds petty but I guess the most difficult thing has been having to buy things that are imported and thus more expense than in the US. This is a country that has the potential to manufacture anything and yet there is so little effort in that arena.

If you could change one thing about Ecuador, what would it be?
I would like to see more of an entrepreneurial spirit here. There is so little self-initiative, and that is sad considering the potential and the resources it has.


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