What happens when a career woman moves to Switzerland?
When my husband and I decided to move to Switzerland it was a very calculated decision. From my part it was a wide open eye decision with a clear understanding of what would happen to my architectural career. It was clear to me from the beginning that without fluency in the German language and the limited market in Basel, compared to London, in corporate architecture I would not be able to continue my career as a Senior Project Manager in large high profile projects.
Knowing the limitations, I faced in my professional field when we moved to Basel in 2013 I still took part in a program via Global People Transitions offered by my husband’s employer to spouses in order to assist professionals finding a job in Switzerland. It was in my process with Global People Transitions that I went from focusing on finding a job in architecture to getting advice on how to become an entrepreneur in Switzerland and kick start alegria.
I have now been in Switzerland for three and a half years and I have invested 2 years building my company from scratch, and I went from a corporate professional in a male dominated field to mumpreneur. I have met several diverse and interesting expat women who came to reside in Switzerland. So what happens to a career woman when she moves to Switzerland as a result of her partner’s employment?
Well, that depends of age, having children or not, and the ability to continue to work in their field of expertise. However, one common denominator we share is that we all have to reinvent ourselves.
When relocating to Switzerland some women start a new chapter in their lives by having their first child or more children and for a few years they dedicate themselves to the most important and demanding full time career they will ever have, that of being a mother. Many of these ladies who I have met end up being the ones totally running the household and becoming more fluent in German than their partners. As they have to deal with the daily administrative issues concerning the entire family.
For some young professional women without children who I have met took some time but eventually they found a job in their area of expertise, others went to work on something entirely different on a temporary basis whilst they improved their German with the objective to move on with their career in Switzerland.
Older career oriented women with children, like myself, who I met in expat professional women forums have either turned their hobbies or different professional aspirations into entrepreneurship. Others who were not fluent in the local language but eager to continue to work adapted their professional expertise to servicing an industry geared towards expats. Other women found corporate jobs like their partners and start working 100% like them.
The list of possibilities and roads taken are numerous, and though I speak from a small spectrum of the Swiss reality of expats I think some general considerations apply regardless of borders or language.
I have lived in five different countries and relocated as an adult professional to three different ones. Two of each I did not speak the local language at the beginning. So here are some of my humble tips.
- From the beginning face the known facts surrounding your relocation with clarity and objectivity. Do not ignore what may be challenges or obstacles to continuing your career abroad such as language, the local business market in your professional field, professional registration requirements, diploma recognition, etc. I believe that most relocation experts would agree that the sooner one deals with the known facts regarding their new life the easier their settling process can become. That is not to say that there will be no ‘growing pains’ regarding the relocation process.
- If you are not willing to be flexible the relocation and adaptation process will be a long and exhausting experience. Part of being flexible is the ability to reinvent yourself. After all, no one is the same during and after an international relocation experience regardless who is the professional being relocated. Reinventing yourself can mean many things, finding a new field within your professional realm, turning a hobby or dream entrepreneurship, becoming a full time mother and house keeper, dedicate yourself to volunteer work, take a step down your career to continue to be able to remain in your professional field, go back to university and the list goes on.
- Allow yourself to ‘change identity’. One should not abandon or cut off from their professional identity, professional membership groups or related events. But one should be able embrace a new professional identity and ‘title’. After all, this is the new road being travelled.
- Whether you change from full time working mother, to full time mum, or part time worker to full time mum, the demands of motherhood remain sturdy and no matter how you skin this cat it does not get any easier. The work life balance when one has children is a constant workout which challenges our knowledge and experience continuously.
- Family support is key. The adults relocating have to support one another in their process of adaptation, career change and decision processes. This is a journey that was taken together and without support and team work the ‘boat will sink’. For those with children the support focus is often to the little ones, but the adults also need support to keep all afloat.
- Take the support of relocation experts, often offered by corporations; you may not always agree with their input however, they have been giving career advice for the local market and have a knowledge that you, the new comer, does not possess. If you are not happy with their work you can request for another career relocation expert. I must highlight a knowledgeable relocation professional is key, otherwise it will be time wasted.
- Networking is key to adapting to a new culture and equally important to enter your professional field in a new country or to create a new clientele for your new enterprise. There are many organizations in Switzerland for female working professionals. One of my favourites is The Powerhouse.
- Remain critical and open minded you never know what will come your way. Living in another culture and country will present you with a new realm of possibilities and different opportunities unknown to you before. By remaining critical and open minded to your decisions, options, and future professional perspectives you can only benefit and not miss opportunities.
- The grass is greener on the other side syndrome will not cease to exist. I think this is part of the human condition. I have friends who are mothers and full time corporate professionals who dream of part time working or just devoting their time to being a mum. I was there once and today as a mumpreneur I can say that I miss my corporate life. But the great part of it is that we can always jump from one side of the grass to the other.
- It is not because you have done it before that it will be easier this time around. Lessons learned are very valuable and applicable to reoccurring experiences but relocating to another country and culture is a different fantastic experience with unique challenges related to the local culture and yours and your family’s stage in life. So the ‘been there, done that, bought the T-shirt’ approach will not help.
I see myself as a multi faceted individual not just a mum. Being a mother is the most demanding and rewarding ‘job’ I will ever have and the most important one to me. But I am also an Architect, a mumpreneur, a wife, a citizen of the world, a designer, and above all a woman. For working mothers there is this constant struggle between work life/career and motherhood no matter where we are; being an expat just adds more spice to it all.
I hope this blog helps, inspires and it is good food for thought for the women that have already or will relocate to Switzerland. I also invite the mums and mums to be to learn more about alegria and our fairly made products for children. alegria collaborates with Save the Children in Switzerland via an initiative called Magic13.
- Flavia Augusta de Almeida