Moving to another country didn’t come with a set of instructions nor did I map out any kind of game plan before I took the flight to Switzerland. We wouldn’t be here longer than a year. That was all we had as far as plans went. Well, that and to be happy.
It’s tough, but I know tough. I’ve lived through tough. Tough is my comfort zone, it’s where I know what I’m doing and how to survive. Over the last five years, I’ve found myself in tough situations almost daily. It was a new level I didn’t know I was capable of overcoming.
My husband often tells me I should write a How To guide for Americans coming to live in Switzerland. Five years just isn’t enough experience, though I sometimes want to sit down and write it after having a particularly difficult day. “Maybe in fifteen years,” I tell him.
Recently, I’ve been looking out of our apartment window, wondering how people could envy such a sight. How could I possibly have come to resent the green grasses, white mountains in the distance, pure blue skies and not a scrap of litter on the streets? I used to gaze out of the window with my jaw practically on the floor. My eyes would glisten and I would shake my head at this country’s beauty. I didn’t expect all the sacrifices that would come after the three month ‘vacation period’ ended.
Sure, there are the obvious challenges like the language barrier, culture differences, family differences, weather, money, and the sort. However, what brought me to my boiling points on several occasions weren’t the big changes. It was those pesky little things. It was being looked at like I was an alien for waving at someone while taking a walk or people thinking I was rude if I greeted them with a smile instead of a loud hello and a firm handshake. Things are different here. The vehicles are smaller as are the streets and stores. The electrical outlets are different, too. Even the keys have a bunch of tiny holes in them instead of jagged edges.
Desserts have virtually no sugar and taste like air. When I was pregnant with my son, I would cry in the night because I just wanted to go to the Chinese buffet, but guess where they don’t have those? It was the beeping from the vehicle behind me right as the red light turned green. If I didn’t immediately speed off, I’d get a nice hand gesture as the car would vroom past me. It was the unfriendliness of servers when I would go out to dinner with my husband, the lack of tolerance for children when we would take our son with us.
Forget about having a personal bubble. Anytime I went shopping, people would bump into me without any kind of apology. Strangers invaded my space as if I were invisible. It was the stressful nature of the people, always feeling like I had to hurry at the checkout counter. It was being rudely kicked out of the store right as they closed when all I needed was some eggs or milk. It was being scolded or treated poorly when I showed up three minutes late to an appointment. It was feeling like the odd one out because I liked to dress up and wear makeup instead of going all natural. It was being watched with judgmental eyes at the store just because I allowed my son to walk around wearing only socks. It was learning German very well only to go out and not understand a damn thing someone said to me in Swiss German. Did I mention the desserts?
Aside from all that, the heaviest thing I had to carry was looking at the people who surrounded me and realizing they might never know what it was like to walk in my shoes. I had to accept that they might never understand.
I have these little challenges, yes. They are mine. I take care of them, appreciate them, and overcome them when the time is right. They have shaped me, but most importantly, my family has shaped me.
I didn’t have a plan. Five years later, I still don’t and it works just fine. I like to know that my future isn’t set in stone. I like to have endless possibilities. I believed in love when I boarded that plane. I followed my heart and my heart, when I listen closely, has always led me to my destiny. I know this when I wake up every morning to my husband and son. They love me and I love them.
They are my fuel. They remind me of my purpose. They are the two people who give me energy to keep going, the two people who understand. Their love overshadows the difficulties I face. Some days I get angry when I see how easy others have it, and then I stumble across an article that reminds me to appreciate my difficulties. Do we really want know what others are going through when the sun goes down?
I lived in a small Indiana town for ten years before coming here. Everyone always complained about wanting to get out and make something of their lives. I didn’t have such a strong desire to ‘get out’. I appreciated that town. I loved it there. It was home. I only ever wanted to be happy. I knew that if I wasn’t happy in that small town, I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else. If I wouldn’t be happy in Switzerland, I wouldn’t be happy moving back to Indiana. I came to realize that happiness isn’t a noun. It’s bliss. It’s love. It’s gratitude.
It was a hug from my son first thing in the morning that got me through the hardest of days. It was a kiss from my husband before he left for work when he thought I was still sleeping. It was a drawing from my son who didn’t want anything in return but a smile on my face. It was the American cheesecake my husband brought home from the store to make me feel better. It was when my son sensed I was having a rough day and entertained himself for a while. It was a couple hours to myself when my husband thought I’d had a long day. It was a sweet compliment from him when he liked the way I wore my hair. It was a random kiss from my son just because he loves me. It was walking into the kitchen to see my husband cooking dinner for us. It was a trip to the airport bookstore just so I could pick out an English book. It was when my husband suggested I should take the evening off so I could go see a movie or spend time with a friend. It was when my son brought me a snack when I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. It was all those times my son and husband drove me to the city so I could volunteer in a play. It’s that feeling I get when my son smiles at me or when my husband says he loves me.
It’s all those little things.