Your early twenties are a strange time. Freshly graduated from university, armed with a specialised degree that you suffered all-nighters in the library to complete yet are now struggling to translate into desirable, real-world transferrable skills. You’re somehow at your intellectual peak yet simultaneously have never felt like such an insignificant fish in the colossal pond of ‘adult’ life. Moving abroad post-graduation is not a novel concept – what better way to avoid the inevitable quarterlife existential crisis than to hop on the nearest plane and figure out the details later?
Moving to Switzerland was never part of my Life Plan. However, after somehow securing a six-month internship at an open access academic publisher in a city that I’d never heard of, I barely had time to question the usefulness of my philosophy degree before I was dusting off my hiking boots in anticipation of meeting my new neighbours: The Alps.
The three years I spent there ended up being some of the best of my life, and I think in part it is due to the sheer amount of growing up that I managed to achieve while living there. The early twenties are pivotal years in anyone’s life, and spending those formative years in a completely foreign environment opened my eyes to more than I could’ve anticipated or imagined.
Aside from my newfound appreciation for wine that isn’t just the ‘cheapest on the menu’, the lessons I learned are as follows:
1. Learn to handle your financials
Financial autonomy is great and all, but don’t forget that adult life comes with substantial monthly expenses, including mandatory private health insurance, tax, student loan repayments and monthly invoices – the headache inducing Swiss bureaucracy deserves an entire new post in its own right, but moral of this story is you have to keep on top of it all.
Learn to designate, put away and save early on. I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to savings – I still don’t fully understand the difference between a Help to Buy and a LISA but if you can determine an amount to put away each month, you’ve made a good start.
2. Embrace life in the slow lane
Student life can seem masochistic at times – trying to balance studying, extra curriculars and a social life often comes at the expense of sanity. The pace of Swiss life is quite drastically different. One thing I was not prepared for was the complete shutdown of everything on Sundays – but being forced to spend my weekends hiking with friends or sat drinking wine by the lake probably did a lot more good for my mental health than I even realised at the time.
3. Friends will crop up in unlikely places
One of the biggest fears I had after graduating was that I would never find myself in such a socially conducive environment again: universities were practically built with the concept of mingling and socialising in the blueprints. In fact, my first true friends in Switzerland were my flatmates – some middle-aged men from Germany, Italy and South Korea that I had stumbled upon through Air BnB. Unexpected yet serendipitous, it gave me the confidence to speak to other expats my age at work and the rest, as they say, is history.
4. You don’t have to have life all figured out
Picture the stereotypical arts student: an inflated sense of enlightenment after reading too many post-modern classics and shaking a fist at the chains of capitalism, constricting individuals to a lifetime of box ticking and meaningless administration. That was me. Because I wasn’t headed to a vocational career, I assumed my life would be a series of pointless time-filling jobs that did nothing to satiate my true search for meaning and purpose. I still don’t really have this one figured out, but I do think it’s naïve to assume work is your sole source of a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Work offers so many benefits, such as learning new skills and meeting new people, but it shouldn’t be the only reason you get up in the morning.
5. Take time to appreciate the small things
I remember the palpable excitement I felt fluttering in the pit of my stomach when I first arrived in Switzerland. I spent the entire train journey from Geneva to Lausanne staring transfixed at the mountains across the lake, in disbelief that this would be the backdrop to the next few years of my life. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, I did feel myself becoming accustomed and immune to the impact of the beautiful Swiss scenery over the years. Bur every so often I caught myself – a moment as the sun is setting over the lake, or a glimpse of a mountain peak on the horizon – and I was reminded how lucky I was to call this place home. Even now, I believe it’s important to continue to find moments of peace in the chaos.
I still wouldn’t consider myself a fully qualified adult, but ultimately what I’ve learned is to embrace the things in life that seem challenging or scary. My younger self never would’ve envisaged myself being so happy living in a country I knew next to nothing about, but I think she’d be proud of how it all turned out in the end.