Returning to Switzerland After Seven Years Abroad

When I was 18, directly after my high school graduation, foreign countries were calling and took me on a long journey. I became a professional table tennis player and therefore living abroad was kind normal for me as there is no infrastructure for my sport here in Switzerland.

Thus, I spent half a year in Calella, four years in Vienna, half a year in Lund, one year in Nîmes and last year in Graz as an exchange student. But were these countries always home to me?

Actually, as an athlete I have never had the demand to know where my real home is. As I was travelling every week, I was living out of my suitcase and home meant (I guess) spending time in the sport halls all over the world together with my intercultural table tennis friends. Despite living abroad I have never really had feelings of strangeness or sensed a cultural shock because in daily life everyone around me shared the same passion. In hindsight I feel like it’s a pity that I have got to know many places I have visited or even lived in only in a superficial way. Usually there was not much time to get to know cultures, local people and places in depth.

Due to my background I did not expect something overwhelming or completely different when moving again. But it turned out surprisingly different to what I had expected

One year ago, I decided to stop playing table tennis professionally and to focus on my master’s degree in psychology. As my boyfriend is living in Graz and long-distance relationships aren’t the greatest thing I arranged an Erasmus year in the beautiful town of Graz. Due to my background I did not expect something overwhelming or completely different when moving again. But it turned out surprisingly different to what I had expected. I do not know if culture shock is the right term or if something like living circumstance shock would better describe my situation.

So many things in daily life were unfamiliar to me. Almost from one day to the other, I did not have to pack and unpack my sports bag regularly, I did not have to check cheap flight tickets anymore, I did not have to get up and think of where I want to put my focus in today’s practice, it did not happen anymore that I had to ask myself in the morning where I was waking up. But instead I had to think of what I was going to wear when going to a building called university, because it was actually my first time regularly attending courses in person after 11 semesters of studying. For the first time I had a part-time job in order to earn some money. For the first time, I became kind of settled and was able to buy food for more than four days. Despite having lived four years in Vienna, it was only now that I got to know the Austrian culture. I met almost exclusively Austrian students as I felt a stronger desire to interact with locals and not exchange students who would go home again after three months. I tried to create a new social network.

After some months I adapted to the new way of life. I realised how much time one has beside university as a regular student. I started to learn a new instrument, I tried out new sports such as ultimate frisbee, pilates, climbing, biking, squash…I spent time as a bicycle courier and got to know all the narrowest streets and ways. It became normal to go for a beer or two during the week. In short, I just enjoyed life in another way.

After my Erasmus year, my plan was to go to Bern for three months in order to get data for my master’s thesis and then I would finish writing it in my familiar environment in Graz. After seven years abroad, I am living in Bern for the first time. Wow! And here I am, hesitating where my journey will continue as I feel very comfortable in Switzerland around my family, former friends, the mountains, the food, the culture, the opportunities etc. It seems surprisingly easy to interact with people. I realised that a part of my personality and expressing humour got lost while speaking High German even if for Swiss German speakers it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but it is.

Rahel Aschwanden

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