Survey reveals the truth about expat family life in Switzerland

Published:  5 May at 6 PM
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When Switzerland as a destination springs to mind, would-be expats tend to concentrate on its media image of massively wealthy, high-level executive professionals with kids in private schools and cash in Swiss banks.

Surprisingly, the Swiss people share the same perception as many would-be expats, but a recent survey gives an interesting glimpse into the real lives of foreigners living and working in the country. Professor Tania Zittoun of Neuchatel University studied the lives of immigrant families during a three year research project aimed at finding out the effects of the challenge of moving countries every few years or so.

Speaking with reporters from La Tribune de Geneve, Zittoun said the Swiss people simply don’t know expats well, although they frequently speak negatively about them. Many families studied, she added, don’t conform in any way to the accepted stereotype of living in upscale areas and sending their children to expensive private schools. Expats, she said, are found across many diverse job sectors and are frequently earning the same salaries as native Swiss employees as well as not having any relocation benefits.

According to the professor, comment themes were found amongst expat families living all over the country, including a fondness for items they transport with them every time they move on to a new job in a new country. These objects, she believes, become the ‘home’ for short-stay expats. Another trend common to expat lifestyles is the maintenance of a solid family unit, reinforced by cooking familiar dishes, singing songs which remind them of their countries of origin and taking part in the same or similar sports as they did at home.

The study found expat children adapted to their new country well, making friends quickly and rarely questioning their new situations. Even so, when asked about what defines ‘home’, many children mentioned not only their present house but also their grandmother’s home and places they played in before they emigrated. However, trailing spouses found adjusting to Swiss life far more difficult, mainly due to admin tasks such as finding a doctor or dealing with childrens’ problems at school, but finding a job for themselves was stated as one of the hardest projects.

Several recent surveys attest to the fact that making friends within Swiss society is difficult, although Zittoun’s study revealed Swiss people feel expats don’t make the effort to get to know them. In conclusion, She believes the Swiss government should make finding suitable jobs easier for trailing spouses and should help teachers understand the difficulties experienced by expat children.
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