In the past months I have been talking with many expats about their experiences here and at some point during the conversation this question will always come up: Do you feel integrated?
The answers are not always what I expect to hear and I would like to share two of them here:
The first is from a lady who has lived here for nearly 40 years. She is married to a Swiss, her children went to Swiss schools and by now she has Swiss grandchildren too. She used to be secretary of the tennis club in the small town she lives in and has diligently joined in every Fasnacht these past forty years. Through her husband she came in contact with many Swiss and would meet with them socially quite regularly.
“Do you feel integrated”, I asked her.
She laughed bitterly, “no, and I don’t think I ever will.” This baffled me, because hers seems like a perfect case of integration.
“Why not? What’s missing?” I asked her.
“There are no Swiss I know that I can spontaneously call up for a cup of tea and a chat. And if I do want to spontaneously go out, then the friends I call are also foreigners.”
It makes me sad that after all these years, she obviously is never going to get that sense of belonging she obviously craves.
The other answer I want to share came from Mary, an Irishwoman who moved here two months ago with her husband and two young children, after living in Singapore for ten years.
“Do you feel integrated yet?” I asked, half joking.
“Yes, it’s wonderful!” she answered, much to my surprise. She had enrolled her oldest son in the local kindergarten and had already invited her neighbours around for a cuppa.
“After Singapore, where we tried so hard to integrate, even buying a house in a neighbourhood with no other expats and getting nowhere, it is so nice to be in a town where everyone is so friendly and open!”
Her answer blew me away and, yes, she confirmed she couldn’t speak a word of the German, let alone Swiss German but somehow was getting by and loving the whole experience.
These are only two of the many answers I have received but they just go to show that things are not always as you expect them to be.
This led me to think about integration and what it takes to be integrated. Do you need to know the language? Does your best friend have to be Swiss? Is there somewhere a list of things you can tick off and when you‘ve completed that list you can claim to have reached the nirvana of integration?
Or is it rather a state of mind? Something that you as a newcomer, personally have to be willing to go through?
I have moved many many times and I have come to the conclusion that there is no perfect place, there will always be something better and something worse. In the end you have to decide what challenges you are prepared to live with. It is a bit like marriage, the person opposite you certainly isn’t is perfect, but he or she is the one who makes you feel right, the one whose arms you are happy to slide into at the end of the day.
That is what Luzern is to me: the place I am happy to call home, the place that takes my breath away and whose inhabitants I feel a connection with. We are all Luzerners despite our different backgrounds.
To me integration is a state of mind, you need to accept that things will not be perfect, that there are differences and that you are willing to live with them. It is a mixture of surrender and acceptance as well as a commitment to make this place, warts and all, your home.
Are you there yet?
Living in Luzern’s main purpose is to provide you with information so that you feel at home here. We don’t only offer information on the website and magazine, we also hold Information Coffee Mornings twice a month, where you get a free coffee and the chance to speak one on one in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere with someone who has been living here for a while and who will try to answer your questions and help you.