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MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

Seven tips to help you settle in Switzerland

Despite its many advantages - safety, education, and low taxes, to name but a few, Switzerland can be a tricky place for immigrants to navigate. Here are a few tips to help make you feel like a local rather than just a visitor.

Seven tips to help you settle in Switzerland
How to settle and feel more integrated in Switzerland? (Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash)

Learn the language
First things first: Whichever part of Switzerland you find yourself in, the way to the (notoriously reserved) Swiss people’s hearts is through language. It is no secret that immigrants who go that extra mile to fit in are more readily welcomed and accepted by the locals.

While those living in larger cities such as Zurich, Geneva or Basel may very well have an easier time finding people willing to speak to them in English, after a while, the obvious becomes inevitable: If your goal is to feel at home in Switzerland, you best learn one (or more) of its four official languages to break the cultural gap.

READ ALSO: Is your French good enough for Swiss residency and citizenship?

So whether you left your home country equipped with a basic grasp of your new local language or find yourself having to start from scratch, the easiest way to get learning is to sign up for language classes – and if you have the funds, tailored private lessons will have you speaking the lingo of your choice in no time!

Go on mini adventures
One of the easiest ways you can combat those budding feelings of loneliness and start to feel more comfortable in your host country is to step outside and explore your immediate surroundings.

Speak to locals, colleagues and classmates and make a list of a few places in your area you would like to visit. Shopping malls, local cafes, town markets, museums and historical sights make a good starting point.

Pro tip: Sometimes, the best way to get familiar with a new environment is to get lost in it first. Why not try an off-the-beaten-path stroll around your new hometown?

Get volunteering and involved in the community
Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience for immigrants looking to integrate into a community, learn new skills, contribute to their new place of residence, and meet other foreigners and locals alike. Whether you have a heart for animals, enjoy teaching English, or wish to advance your career by volunteering for a large organisation, Switzerland has opportunities for everybody!

Visit Swiss Volunteers or SCI Schweiz to find upcoming volunteer events in your area and take the first step toward closing the gap between tourists and residents.

(Photo by angela pham on Unsplash)

Take up a social hobby that aligns with your interests
Even if your goal isn’t to meet new people immediately, there are many activities you can pursue that will get you out of your house and embrace the local culture.

Join cooking classes to learn how to cook up yummy national dishes (yes, they extend beyond fondue!), attend a nearby book club event and dive into Swiss literature (again, there’s more to it than The Swiss Family Robinson), or find yourself a local hiking buddy that may very well share the odd insider tip, because if there is anyone that knows the place you have moved to – it is the people that live there.

READ ALSO: ‘Peaceful coexistence’: How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

Break a sweat for free
Exercise not only helps you feel good about yourself and boost your endorphin levels (yay!), but it also gives you a chance to connect with like-minded people that may even live in the same neighbourhood.

Now it’s a common misconception that your natural starting point is your nearest gym or sports club, and while getting a gym membership is an excellent way of linking up with fellow sports lovers, there are countless ways to keep fit without a hefty price tag.

Switzerland is, after all, a hiker’s paradise, making it just as common to meet people while taking in the beautiful Alps – whether on a hike, while out trekking, or enjoying a casual jog, as it is breaking a sweat at your local health club.

A man stands in front of the Matterhorn in the Swiss region of Zermatt

(Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash)

Get connected
There are arguably many disadvantages that come with modern technology, but if you find yourself in a new environment, logging into social media may not be the worst idea. 

Join a local community group on Facebook to keep up with upcoming events or clubs in your area, or use Instagram to your advantage and share your favourite pastime with fellow hobby enthusiasts.

And while out and about, why not check out your local mall’s bulletin board? You never know what you might find!

READ ALSO: All you need to know about bringing your pets to Switzerland

Adopt man’s best friend
Dogs undoubtedly deserve the title of “man’s best friend”: they are loyal, intelligent, affectionate, and can boost our mental health and fitness. But besides providing their owners companionship (a big plus when moving to a new country), dogs can also help create human-to-human friendships and offer social support.

For those not in a position to get their own pup, consider picking up dog-walking, and you’ll find yourself bumping into neighbours and other dog walkers on the regular!

And lastly, give yourself time and be patient with yourself. Moving abroad is no small feat, so remember to give yourself credit for making such a giant leap!

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MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

‘Peaceful coexistence’: How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

Switzerland is a country with many immigrants, but not necessarily an easy place to integrate. One canton has an integration program that helps immigrants learn about the country and make local friends, as writer Ashley Franzen experienced.

'Peaceful coexistence': How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

There are many things to prepare for when making an international move: packing, paperwork, scheduling the move, and more. It can be a lot for anyone to manage, but sometimes the hardest work comes once you’ve actually arrived and are getting settled. So how does one prepare for arriving and integrating into a country where everything is so different and new?

Canton Zug has put together an integration plan that helps families learn about their new surroundings, including an informational evening program where new arrivals can attend sessions and learn about Zug’s political, social, and cultural landscapes, all while socialising and meeting other new residents.

According to the Canton of Zug’s website, “Integration is an active and reciprocal process between the people who come from foreign countries to live here and the indigenous people.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to fast track permanent residency in Switzerland

“The aim of integration is a peaceful coexistence on the basis of common values so that people who come here from foreign countries may have the equal opportunity to take part in Switzerland’s social, cultural and political life.”

Chocolate and new friends: my experience with ‘New in Zug’

I found out about the “New in Zug” program, which offers a series of sessions on different topics, towards the end of the scheduled agenda. Still, I was able to attend a session led by an Immigration Advisory Center (FMZ) consultant and a local police officer who had been working in Zug for nearly 25 years. There were about eight of us in attendance.

This particular course was actually a mixture of the German and English languages, as we all had a basic level of German, but we found out that English was the uniting language otherwise.

We learned about the security of the canton and city and learned about the history of safety in Switzerland, including a portion on traffic laws.

It was a valuable and informative couple of hours and there were light refreshments, including water and chocolates. In addition, I was able to connect with someone who was part of a local international women’s group and gained a bit more information about other ways to integrate.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Are these the ‘best’ places to live in Switzerland?

There are many international groups that are running in places like Zug, Lucerne, and Zurich, but this is a unique opportunity to connect with the local services and locals involved in promoting integration.

My family also participated in a hosting program. Local families volunteer to be paired with recently arrived families – such as mine – in order to help give a new perspective of your new city in ways that a local does, with tips and suggestions to make you feel more at home.

We were paired with a couple that had been in Zug for over ten years. They were similar in age to us and their two kids were within a year or two of our own. We had an initial video meeting to chat and get to know one another a bit before we decided to try and meet up.

View over Lake Zug with the old town of Zug and the Zytturm. By Schulerst – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons

We met down near Lake Zug and walked through a market/festival set-up along the promenade. It was wintertime and very cold, but the kids were delighted to be with kids their age who spoke some English. There were many activities in which they could partake, including a mini train ride, and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Having a local family on-hand to call with questions about family services, including daycare or other programs, was an asset to our family. We received recommendations about various things to do as a family, including local destinations that were good for day trips and rainy days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The striking contrasts between Switzerland’s regions

Overall, my experience with the FMZ and their programs was extremely positive. Their office is close to public transportation and a short walk from the lake. While I’ve continued to explore Zug and the surrounding areas on my own, I know that the local government provides access to helpful and unique resources to help develop my relationship with the canton and the country.

As a foreigner living in Switzerland, I already feel a sense of pride with regard to the various cultural and traditional activities and perspectives, such as the quality of food, the work-life balance, and the deeply ingrained social trust. I fully intend to continue integrating with clubs and activities that promote a connection between local and foreign people and promote a closeness to the vast beauty that is now “in my backyard” in Switzerland.

The immigration program

The Immigration Advisory Center (FMZ), or in German, Fachstelle Migration Zug, is a rich resource for people looking to get connected in their new city. The FMZ offers “New in Zug” and various other introductory meeting sessions that introduce residents to things such as local laws, individual rights, and customs of residing in the area.

READ ALSO: FACT CHECK: How accurate are the ‘five reasons not to move to Switzerland’?

They can also help you start German classes and provide answers about life in Zug in 16 different languages. The Center not only offers courses in German and language tests, but they also have classes about Swiss culture and traditions, plus smart ways to meet new people.

The New in Zug Together program is a series of sessions where you can learn about Zug. An FMZ consultant guides the meet-ups and the theme will vary for each session. Possible topics include authorities, work, insurance, health, cultural differences, and more.

There are sessions in both English and German, so as you improve your German, you can branch out and meet people in a German-speaking environment.

Resources:
https://www.fmzug.ch/en/
https://www.zg.ch/english

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