Thursday, October 01, 2015

One Year in the U.S.

Ja, ja, yodelers. The Frau is officially one year into her repatriation experiment.

It hasn’t been an easy year. As Dr. Nan M. Sussman, who researches expat and repat issues has said, repatriation is harder than expatriation.

Dr. Sussman is right.

She’s also correct in saying that it takes at least a year to feel comfortable in your home country again.

One year in, The Frau feels better. She’s not exactly 100% American (will she ever be?) and many American things still piss her off (certain political parties especially) but alas. The Frau is happier than she’s been in a year.

Which begs the question:

Will The Frau return to Switzerland next year?

She doesn’t know. She is returning to Switzerland this month to see how it feels to be there after a year away. Will Switzerland feel like home? Or will it feel like a foreign country? Or somewhere in between?

Only one thing is now certain: the desire to return abroad, whether it is next year or in ten years, will always be there for The Frau. She wrote about this recently for the Wall Street Journal in a piece called The Eternal Expatriate. Once an expat, always an expat, yodelers.

The Frau is excited about her upcoming trip to Switzerland though. (Warning: small promotional blurb ahead.)

For those who are interested, she is speaking on repatriation and expatriate issues as well as reading essays from her work-in-progress, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, at an event sponsored by the American Women’s Club of Zurich. It will be held October 16, 2015 at the BellaVista Wine Bar from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be either an American or a woman to attend. See flyer.

The Frau is also teaching at the Zurich Writers Workshop from October 23-25, 2015. There are still a few spots available if you’re interested in attending.

Monday, September 21, 2015

5 Reasons to attend the 2015 Zurich Writers Workshop

As some of you know, The Frau co-founded the Zurich Writers Workshop in 2010, back when she longed for an English-language writing community in Zurich.

Founding the workshop taught her that sometimes as a foreigner, if there’s not something you want in your country of residence, you have to create it yourself. Then you don’t feel so foreign.

In any case, since the founding of the Zurich Writers Workshop, many other English-language writing opportunities have emerged in Zurich thanks to groups like The Woolf and Writers on Board. In fact, there are more options for English-language writers in Zurich than ever before.

Which brings us to the sixth annual Zurich Writers Workshop, which will take place October 23-25, 2015. The Frau has the honor of teaching one of the courses and she would love to see you there.
In addition to two intensive workshops, the weekend also includes a Sunday afternoon author reading and panel discussion, which is open to the public (although prior registration is necessary).

Here are five reasons you should attend, brought to you by the very biased opinion of The Frau:

1.    You’ll learn how to improve your fiction writing. Emylia Hall is ZWW’s fiction author in residence this year. The author of three novels, including one set in Lausanne, she'll be teaching a workshop on the craft of fiction with a focus on sense of place. Students will also have the opportunity to have their worked critiqued.

2.    You’ll learn that it only takes 800 words to launch a writing career. The Frau is teaching a workshop called Miniature Memoir: Writing and Publishing Personal Essays. Writing a personal essay is one of the best ways to break into freelancing. During The Frau’s workshop, she will take you from essay idea to international writing career, one miniature memoir at a time.

3.    You’ll be able to ask questions. The author reading and Q&A session on Sunday afternoon, October 25, is open to the public for a fee (with prior registration). The Frau will be reading from her book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known as well as from her work-in-progress: American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known and Emylia Hall will be reading from her new novel, The Sea Between Us. And then you’ll have the opportunity to ask everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing, not writing, life in Switzerland, and life after Switzerland.

4.    You’ll meet other writers. Form critique groups, find a friend, or just get inspired. The workshop welcomes 30 writers from Switzerland and abroad who are as passionate about writing.

5.    You’ll love October in Zurich. October is a stunning time to visit Zurich—if you’re not already there, that is. The leaves peak about the week of the workshop and there are no tourists but still plenty of sunshine. 

Questions? Visit

Monday, August 31, 2015

The German Chicago Expat Group

Recently, The Frau was interviewing a researcher who studies repatriation and her advice to struggling repatriates is 1. To find a way to continue their language skills and 2. To join expat groups related to their former countries.

The Frau is already doing both. 

See, The Frau went to an outdoor concert in Burr Ridge on Friday evening. She did not attend for the music (it was the kind of concert where old white men in the audience played air guitar to the tunes); she attended for the opportunity to speak German with a group of expats from Germany who have a lot of Geduld for her Deutsch.

Bad American music, but good
German conversation.  The Frau with her
Chicago-based German friends.
It may or may not make sense, but as an eternal expat at heart, The Frau feels most comfortable when surrounded by some level of challenge or discomfort. So she seeks out situations where she can continue her fish out of water existence. Meeting up with Chicago’s unofficial west suburban German expat group is one way to continue both her language skills and the strange sense of enjoyment she finds from feeling like an outsider.

Anyway. The outdoor concert in Burr Ridge was amazing because people were allowed to drink wine and beer. As one may or may not know, Americans cannot just crack open a can of beer when and where the spirit moves them. The Frau’s German friends were laughing because while beer and wine were acceptable at this outdoor American concert, smoking cigarettes was not.

To smoke, one had to set their beer on their lawn chair and go to the parking lot.

Parking lots are the new American smoking lounges.

You can’t smoke in American restaurants and bars—even in outdoor seating areas. And you can’t smoke at the local outdoor swimming pool either. Nor can you smoke directly outside the door to a public place—you must smoke at least 15 feet away from that door.

So in most public American places, you must leave the outdoors to smoke outdoors. The Frau can’t say she minds, as it is refreshing to be able to breathe after almost a decade spent holding her breath in Switzerland, but it is an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially when viewed through the eyes of The Frau’s German expat group.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Don't Bike On My American Road, You Crazy European!

The Frau became an avid biker in Switzerland. In her village, she'd go out the door and bike up road that led to the castle above her town and to the woods beyond that. The only danger around was the police, who once pulled her over for biking in a pedestrian zone.

Back in Chicago now, The Frau wishes she could keep up her biking. It's a nice way to get a workout and avoid using a car, but unfortunately, she doesn't like biking around her Chicago suburb. The roads are filled with potholes and it's hard to find a road without a lot of traffic. Bike lanes are non-existent and sidewalks aren't wide enough for someone with a bike trailer. 

There is a lovely path through a forest preserve to the Brookfield Zoo, which The Frau biked last weekend, but the forest preserve it goes through is divided into sections and one must cross multiple-lane highways at least five times before they get to the zoo. And there are no overpasses or underpasses for biker and pedestrian traffic like there are in Switzerland. It's quite dangerous. 

Today solidified the cultural mindset towards active Americans. The Frau was biking home from a local farmer's market, pulling Toddler M in a bike trailer, when a driver passing her said, "You shouldn't ride that on the road."

Wow. Excuse The Frau. But where should she ride her bike? On the non-existent sidewalk? If any fellow American has an answer for where The Frau should ride her bike in America, The Frau is all ears. Because come on, people. Have overweight, inactive Americans driving large vehicles won the right to all American roads? 

So far, due to a lack of bike lanes and safe pedestrian crossings, sadly, The Frau must say yes.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dear Frau: How Can I Move to Switzerland?

The Frau has been a bit overwhelmed lately. Her inbox is still overflowing from the Vox piece about how Switzerland ruined The Frau for American life.

One of the things many people asked in their emails was this: How Can I Move To Switzerland Too?

Out of exhaustion and guilt for not replying to every person, The Frau has decided to answer this question here. But she’d like your help, yodelers. If you’ve moved to Switzerland from elsewhere, what was your path? If you don’t mind leaving a note in the comments, it would help a lot of people who are tired of America and ready for a country whose government actually cares about its people.

That being said, as The Frau has said before—and has also written an entire book about—the reality of life in Switzerland is not always a box of chocolates either.

But for those who still want to go abroad, The Frau’s recommended path is her own:

Work for an international company in your own country for a couple of years.
Once they like you, ask if a transfer would be possible.
If they say yes, great. You’re set. Hopefully moving costs and bureaucracy are taken care of. (Well, the bureaucracy never ends…just so you know.)

Another path?
Go abroad as a student. The Frau met with a nice young man from Chicago this week who wants to get out of Chicago. His plan is law school in Australia. That works too.

Another path?
Go visit Switzerland and try to network while you’re there. This could work, eventually, never say never. Or hey, apply to jobs in the country via various job boards or through a recruiter. Just know that unless you have VERY unique skills (especially if you’re from the U.S. or Canada—in other words, NOT living in the European Union), your path will be hard. The Swiss government requires any company giving a foreigner a job to prove to them that they couldn’t find a Swiss person to do that work. Or a non-EU person. Americans are third-string in Switzerland. That’s why it’s better to try the first two paths if you can.

Still have questions? Any yodelers have answers or other paths? Leave a comment.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Does living in Switzerland ruin you for American life?

The Frau sometimes feels like Switzerland has ruined her now American life. For her, repatriation has been hard. Some of it is because she built a big part of her career in Switzerland and so she's still working with a lot of these people and she misses being there. Some of it is because she misses mountains and lakes and trains that take her easily to them. And some of it is just because repatriation is hard. And because the U.S. hasn't exactly done much to improve itself since she was away. If anything, the situation here has gotten much worse for the average person. 

Hotel Giessbach on Lake Brienz
Look, Switzerland isn’t perfect. No country is. But there are so many things that Switzerland does right that the U.S. does not. And these are things that became important to The Frau over the last decade.  Things like work-life balance, public transportation, and easy access to the great outdoors.
The Frau wrote about how Switzerland ruined her for American life yesterday on The outpouring from readers has been crazy. She still can’t keep up with her inbox. Some wrote to her with stories of their struggles with work-life balance in the U.S. and some of these stories are heartbreaking. Others wanted to know exactly how they can get away to Switzerland too.

But The Frau wants to be clear: Switzerland isn’t always a box of chocolates either. Read her book and you'll find that side of things too. It’s a closed culture, so it can very hard to make friends. The language situation is beyond complicated. And it's hard to be a foreigner anywhere--and Switzerland makes it especially hard for some.

It takes a lot of soul-searching to find the best country for each person. The Frau is on that journey now. In the end, The Frau thinks that the country that is right for you is the one that has the most common with the things you value.

What do you think?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin