My first year abroad

I’ve been living in Zurich for a little over a year now.  Since I’m a big fan of reflection upon one’s own life, given this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share some of my favourite memories and experiences in my first year abroad.

Dinner on my first night in Zurich.
Dinner on my first night in Zurich.

On my first night in Zurich, I remember getting into bed, turning off the lights and suddenly feeling very far away from home and all my loved ones.  It was an interesting mixture of mild surprise, realization, and sadness that I had yet to process.  While you might think, “this is a favourite memory?!” To which I would reply: “Heck yeah!”  I think this is because I’ve always been in awe at the diverse range of emotions humans can feel, implicitly telling us what we value and what we don’t.

Upon arriving in Switzerland, I had to register at the local government office.  To be sure, I asked an old lady for walking directions in my broken German.  After confirming I was going the right way, I thanked her and strolled on, taking my time to admire the shops along the way.  A couple minutes later, she drove by, rolled down her window, and pointed towards the direction I needed to turn next.  I thanked her again.  A short while later, my destination was in sight.  Yet, I saw a car parked right outside the government office.  I quickened my pace, only to find out my suspicions were correct – she had been waiting for me to make sure I found it okay! This was one of my first interactions with people in Zurich. I felt very warm at this token of kindness and consideration.

Zurich at night.
Zurich at night.

When one moves to a new country with a different language, accomplishing what are seemingly insignificant tasks back home, can actually bring a sense of child-like pride and self-reliance.  This was indeed what I felt the first time I ever bought groceries, the first time I figured out how to use the crazy Swiss washing machine with German instructions, and the first time I used public transit and actually got to my destination!  (Now if I could just figure out where the heck I’m going in Calgary, Canada…).

When I lived close to Zurich Lake, I often took late night strolls by the water. I loved breathing in the misty air, feeling ever more calm and serene.  One night I particularly remember is gazing out into the vast darkness and suddenly seeing a swan appear out of the mist.  (Granted, he probably wanted food, but to me, it seemed almost magical!)

Zurich Lake. August 2012
Zurich Lake. August 2012

Swimming in Zurich Lake is an amazing experience. The water is so crystal clear and blue, and best of all, on sunny days, you can actually see the Alps as if they were a short walk away.  (Mind you, this can be distracting as well – on one such sunny day, my friend and I  swam out too far, and was jolted by the startling honk of a passing ferry.  In reply, I giggled and swam away in mild panic.)

Hiking here is one of my favourite pastimes.  Yet, it is very different from hiking in Canada.  The Canadian Rockies are raw, wild nature, with no one around for miles. The vegetation consists of dark green pine trees, set against snow-capped peaks and diverse cloud formations.  The air can be shockingly fresh and cold in your lungs.  In Switzerland, the hiking is, shall we say, more civilized?  For example, I have quickly come to love the sound of ringing cow bells, sharing my hiking trail with said cows, wildflowers explosions of almost every colour and shade, the incredibly pristine mountain porta potties, restaurants at almost any mountain peak, and best of all, the luxury of taking the cable car when I’m too lazy to hike down.  And, with views like this, who can complain?

5-Seen Wanderung, Flumserberg, Switzerland.
5-Seen Wanderung, Flumserberg, Switzerland.
Friendly cows in Pizol, Switzerland.
Friendly cows in Pizol, Switzerland.

While many more favourite memories come to mind, let me end with a lesson I’ve learned this last year.  Big decisions are never as scary as they seem. For example, before coming to Switzerland, I had imagined all sorts of melodramatic scenarios in my head.  Let me save you the suspense – none of them came true.  Still, it was hard leaving behind friendships, family and (temporarily) my significant other, and indeed was probably the scariest decision I had made in my life.  I had always wondered whether there is one crucial decision that one makes, that can significantly determine or alter the course of your life forever.  Now, what I think is this – it is the small, seemingly insignificant decisions that we make every day and the accompanying thoughts that go with it, that shape who you are and perhaps, who you become.  Without these small decisions, how would you reach the big one?

Before I get too poetic here – I guess what I’m trying to say is this:  If you made a decision and you don’t like it, change it.  If you made a decision and like it, awesome! But what if you never made this scary decision at all?  What was gained? What was lost?  Perhaps the only person who will know is you.

Pilatus, Switzerland. Sept 2013.

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