The first thing you see when you arrive at the Geneva airport is George Clooney. Or rather, a fifteen foot rendering of him plastered onto the wall directly in front of the stairway leading away from the gate.
There he is, his dark eyes regarding you from underneath those iconic eyebrows, his lips arranged into an expression that could be the beginnings of an inviting smile.
Nespresso, reads the caption. What else?
It’s then that you notice a small shot of dark liquid in his hand. But by this time, you’ve been swept along by the crowd toward passport control. Welcome to Switzerland!
This isn’t my first visit to the Confoederatio Helvetica. My husband, J, is Swiss and I have been visiting the country once or twice a year since we met, so I’ve been here about ten times or so. We even got married in Coppet, Switzerland in the summer of 2012.
But this time, I am here to stay.
To back up a little, J recently accepted a position as a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. We had been living for the past eighteen months or so in Madison, Wisconsin, while he did a post-doc and I worked my dream job in science communication at a bioenergy research center.
We were ridiculously content in Madison, spending weekends walking hand-in-hand along the shores of the two lakes that border the city’s isthmus, and systematically trying out the multitude of quirky restaurants. But the question of what we would do when J’s two-year fellowship ended always hung in the air, and a surprise offer from EPFL suddenly demanded that I imagine for a moment what my life might be like in another country.
Now, a more optimistic person might paint a romantic picture. Delicious food! New languages! Travel and exotic vacations! Cultural richness! Expanded career opportunities!
Alas, that is not me. I am a hopeless cynic, and as soon as the idea became more of a possibility, I started drawing up Excel spreadsheets right away. How much would such a transition cost? Have we saved enough? Switzerland has four official languages…would I have a chance in hell of getting a job in English? The cost of living is so high…would we rent or buy? Could I buy my favorite [fill in the blank] in Switzerland? Would I be able to make friends? Would I be able to get a visa? The whole idea stressed me out.
Of course, we decided to go for it.
I am still in my twenties, and so still pretty young by most standards. But one thing I have learned is that when faced with a decision, the most stressful one is often the right one. That’s because if I did what I was comfortable doing, I would probably never peel off my sweatpants and leave the house. It’s just the way I am, so I have to make an effort. It turns out that each time I expand my comfort zone by trying something scary, I complain every step of the way…only to arrive at the end of the experience telling everyone what a great time I had. Kind of like a child screaming and crying during a roller coaster ride and then begging to go again.
So here I am. I have been in Switzerland for one week–and I am here without J, because the job I found had a start date that preceded the end of his post-doc in Wisconsin! He will join me in another eight months or so.
That means that I am learning my way around this beautiful country largely independently, and as scary as it sounds, it is already the most exciting thing I have ever done. I hope this blog will be a fun way to share the ups and downs of my experience…enjoy the ride!