First Time Moving Abroad: Things I’ve Learned from Living In Switzerland

I can still remember the day I first stepped on Swiss soil. I flew from Manila to Zurich with 9 hours layover in Bangkok, then took a train to Basel. I arrived on a rainy Monday morning in May 2019. Ahmet and I were strolling my stuff and were soaking wet under the rain. It’s a grand welcome, isn’t it? Five months later, I’m still here living in Switzerland. Although I’ve been traveling abroad for quite a while now, moving abroad for the first time is a different kind of story.

Away from my home country, living in Switzerland has taught me a lot of things. It changed me in so many ways. Once you expand your horizon, you’ll learn more about yourself and your surroundings. So since it’s my first time moving abroad, I want to share the things I’ve learned from living in Switzerland. I uploaded a Youtube vlog showing you a little bit of my life in Switzerland.

I learned to be more frugal.

As we all know, Switzerland is a very expensive country. Two of its cities, Zurich and Geneva, are consistently on top of the list on every Cost of Living Index you’ll find on the internet. Although I’m already frugal back home, my frugality and budgeting skills were challenged since I came here. If I could, I won’t spend anything while living in Switzerland but of course, I need to survive.

I always convert francs into pesos whenever I pay for something. Your monthly apartment rent will usually cost you around CHF 1,500 or PHP 70,000. If it’s a dormitory, it could cost around CHF 500 or PHP 25,000. If you eat out, meals cost around CHF 15 and up. For the local transport, one-way ticket costs around CHF 3 or PHP 150. Even the public toilet costs CHF 1 or 2!

For me to get by, I just walk from home to work and vice versa which usually takes me 30 minutes one-way. I don’t eat out and just buy my groceries. By the way, I never really cook back home. Living in Switzerland forced me to do so. I have to do it of course. And guess what? I mastered cooking adobo! I cooked adobo for the birthdays of my boss and his wife. And they loved it!

I also challenged myself to have a monthly food budget of CHF 50 or PHP 2,500. I failed because it was really difficult to find a product less than CHF 1! I always compare prices in Coop, Migros, Denner, and Aldi. They say Coop is the most expensive of all but surprisingly, this is where I mostly find the cheapest products among the shops mentioned.

I re-learned our Philippine history.

Coming from a different country with a different background and rich history, I realized that foreigners are interested to hear your story, especially your country’s history. Every time I get introduced to others, work-related or not, I always end up sharing our Philippine history. And boy, it was difficult to remember some, especially when they follow up!

Hi, I’m Vivien! Yes, my last name sounds so Spanish but I don’t speak Spanish at all. But since the Philippines has been colonized by the Spaniards for over 300 years, we have Spanish loanwords like ventana, silla, calle, baño, trabajo, etc. We do have more than 80 dialects that are collectively called Filipino, our official language… Do you know Magellan?

– This is how I introduce myself every time.

Culture and history are fascinating topics to share with other people. This is one of the things I enjoy about traveling and meeting new people along the way. However, I need to remind myself about our history dating back to our prehistory and pre-colonial period. My fellow Filipinos, can you feel me? Another thing, if there is something that Swiss people know about the Philippines, that is the story of Ferdinand Marcos’ bank account and Imelda’s shoes.

I learned to deal with heights.

Suspension bridges, 90-degree funiculars and cable cars floating high over the mountains are a part of life in Switzerland. Although I live in a city, I got the chance to discover the alpine region of Switzerland. I hiked for the first time in Interlaken. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with hiking and I never stopped.

I learned to keep it clean and green, the Swiss way.

With all those postcard-pretty sceneries, Switzerland is indeed a paradise. It’s a very clean and green country. I’m grateful to be here. Swiss people carefully protect their nature and surroundings. They are diligent about disposing of their garbage. In fact, they are one of the top recyclers in the world. Regulations differ in every city but usually, there is a specific trash bag where they put household wastes. There are also containers designed for every waste such as glass, plastic, cans, papers, and cartons, etc. “Clean as you go” or CLAYGO is also widely practiced here. In most restaurants and fast-food chains I’ve been to, you’re expected to put your trash away as you go.

I learned to adapt to the culture.

They said that it’s difficult to make friends in Switzerland, especially if you are a newcomer. It’s basically because they are generally private. They do not overly share personal details of their affairs, making it difficult to get to know them. They only speak amongst their friends. They’re not a fan of small talks. They value meaningful conversations. But once you became friends with them, they’ll be your friends for life.

In my case, I didn’t experience difficulty in making friends. It’s not because I’m very friendly and charming but because I resonate well with the Swiss being private. Despite that, I’m grateful because I still made friends here. I also find it fascinating that they greet people they pass by with Bonjour or Gruezi (in Swiss German), even if they don’t know you.

It’s also worth noting that in Switzerland, pedestrians have the complete right of passage as long as you’ll cross on the right lane. It took me a while to feel at ease crossing the street without extending my arm and opening my hand.

I learned to plan ahead and be on time.

“Filipino time” won’t work here in Switzerland. Swiss people take punctuality seriously. It’s the land of clocks and watches. There’s no excuse for tardiness because churches are everywhere and their bells ring every hour! The trains, trams, and buses arrive and leave on-the-dot as well. Shops close as early as 5:30 PM and nothing is open on Sundays. You can’t just go out and buy stuff especially if you work 9-5.

I learned to be independent.

Since this is my first time moving abroad to live in Switzerland, I learned to be independent. I was alone and didn’t know anyone here. In the Philippines, it’s normal to live with your parents even if you are already an adult. This experience pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and live on my own. It’s challenging but liberating. By being independent, I learned new things. I became open-minded and respectful of others. I realized that there’s a whole new world out there. I discovered a new way of life. It’s different from what I already know. I have to adapt. I have to accept. I need to be strong. Being 6,553 miles away from home can be tough but it’s worth it. Now, I’ve grown.

Your first time moving abroad – away from home – can be daunting but it helps you grow as a person. I learned a lot from living in Switzerland. I’m happy to call it my second home.

What’s your story? Have you lived away from your home country?  How is it like to live abroad? What are the lessons you’ve learned? Comment down below!

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