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Old 18.08.2011, 07:03
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Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Hi there,

We (me (35y old), wife (33y) and a kid aged 5) will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York sometimes in the next 3-4 months. I will starting a job there in research. Our total salary there will be ~ 180K Swiss Francs. None of us know any German and let alone Swiss German.

I have read a lot of the information on this forum and others, but I still feel quite uninformed about Zurich (I've visited there 2-3 times each for 2-3 days).

We will be in Switzerland at least for the next 5-6 years and so it is definitely not a very short-term visit. In that sense, we would like to fit in the society and enjoy it.

I wanted to ask if people here, if they have any tips overall ?

For instance, is it better to put the kid in German school or international school (those seem at least 25K/year, but may provide an easier transition for the kid) ?

What are the best ways to meet local and other people in Zurich ? This is particularly important for my wife who will not be working. I read a lot of reports from Americans living in Zurich and how the people are really cold, which scares us a bit.

Any tips are appreciated though Thanks.
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Old 18.08.2011, 08:08
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

It's difficult to offer tips and such as if you offer too much of an opinion, it gets scolded as being opinionated and if you offer too little, it doesn't have a lot of value so...a lot depends on how much you like to upset your apple cart and how quickly you all can adapt to change.

As for the Swiss being 'cold'...from an American perspective, yes, they aren't very chatty. You're NYC folks so if you don't think Massholes or Mainers are too off-putting, you should do fine. I do feel like I live under a microscope, though, and you don't get that in the big apple. It's a little small-townish here for me (and I've lived in a small town).

Go with the international school as they'll teach English since you're term here is short (5-6 years is short as opposed to indef or perm). Your net after taxes and whatnot on that salary should be somewhere around 12k per month so you should be able to afford it for at least one kid. Also, I don't know if your wife is a SAHM now, but the public schools have no classes on Wed. and send the kids home for lunch. The bonus of the private schools is....class on Wed(at least half) and they stay at school for lunch. Even for the professional SAHMs, just not having to be at home for lunch every day is a win. Also, Switzerland is a bit like having Mad Men values towards women set in the modern day. Your wife may not enjoy being surprised the first time someone refuses to do business with the lady of the house and instead insists on dealing with the man of the house. It's a lot of tiny little things like that which nobody can really list off for you that can make or break how much or how little you and yours enjoy being here.

Also, in a foreign newspaper I read was interviewing repatriated expats and one who had lived in Switzerland was asked how he liked living in Switzerland and what the Swiss were like and he responded something to the effect that the Swiss were like uptight Germans on Steroids. This from a land of not entirely laid-back folks, too. YMMV so take that for what its worth.
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Old 18.08.2011, 08:50
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Dear M, two tidbits:

1) anywhere you go/live, how you get along depends entirely on you and how you relate, so if you are open to what you encounter while keeping a little reserve, things should go well for you most of the time.

2) people are as individual as their fingerprints, so take any advice, opinions, experiences, etc. anybody gives you with a smile, a grain of salt and tuck it in your collection of information.

I've lived in Geneva, Zurich, Schwyz and Bern for many years. There are things I love, admire and be-wonder, and there are things that don't suit me at all, annoy me, piss me off. An so what, life is great in Switzerland.

Make your own experiences and try not to be prejudiced or overly influenced by others. Just try to get all the information you need right and maybe cross check it, as things that may apply for one person/place may apply differently for you.

Don't worry about the language initially, first get settled in, then tune your ears a bit listening to people talk and watch TV. Once you've got a bit of a feel for it, think about taking a course.

Links for starters:

http://www.about.ch/welcome.html
http://www.swissnews.ch/
http://bern.usembassy.gov/index.html
http://switzerland.isyours.com/e/index.html
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Old 18.08.2011, 09:17
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

The Swiss aren't cold - their attitude was best described as "cautious" by one of the Swiss folks I work with. She told me they think "hmm, let's take a step back here, make sure it's ok" before they go befriending folks, which is maybe why gregarious Americans are a bit off-putting to them.

I've had no issues with being friendly with the Swiss, and they've returned the kindness.

I will say that you should learn a little bit of German (high German) before arriving. Most folks speak English, but making an effort goes a long way, and starting out in German shows that you're trying.

Good luck!
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Old 18.08.2011, 09:45
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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What are the best ways to meet local and other people in Zurich ? This is particularly important for my wife who will not be working. I read a lot of reports from Americans living in Zurich and how the people are really cold, which scares us a bit.
As the "trailing spouse" (only been here a few weeks), it's been great to meet spouses of my husband's co-workers. Your company may have something official or unofficial put together for that, depending on how big it is.
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Old 19.08.2011, 02:33
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Thanks for the replies.

Its a big move for us: going from NY, USA to Zurich, Switzerland and we are a bit worried, especially with the language.

My wife is SHAM at the moment, but we will be trying to find her a job (the place where I work will try to do so). I didn't know 5-6 years is considered short-term. Still, an international school costs like 25-30K/year and it may be better for the kid to learn German right away. We are still undecided about this.

As far as the 'man of the house', I am mostly in research and my wife does many things around the house. I can't screw a light-bulb, so they will have to figure how to deal with that.

The main question now really is what to do with the kid: German or International school. The Swiss told me that German school is a lot better than the International one...and also allows you to make more contacts with Swiss people.

Frankly, I was a bit shocked how small Zurich felt when I walked around. Its a nice small city. We love the huge space in the good ole' USA and also the huge diversity you find in NY: all kinds of cuisines, people and experiences. I was also a bit shocked how expensive it is there, more so than NY (for eating out).

That said, we hope to travel around Europe , while we are there. We will try to learn a bit of German before we arrive. That is the best we can do I suppose.

I guess 12K/month is not a lot, but it is decent for a family.

Anyway, any feedback is useful.
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Old 19.08.2011, 06:17
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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Thanks for the replies.

Its a big move for us: going from NY, USA to Zurich, Switzerland and we are a bit worried, especially with the language.

My wife is SHAM at the moment, but we will be trying to find her a job (the place where I work will try to do so). I didn't know 5-6 years is considered short-term. Still, an international school costs like 25-30K/year and it may be better for the kid to learn German right away. We are still undecided about this.

As far as the 'man of the house', I am mostly in research and my wife does many things around the house. I can't screw a light-bulb, so they will have to figure how to deal with that.

The main question now really is what to do with the kid: German or International school. The Swiss told me that German school is a lot better than the International one...and also allows you to make more contacts with Swiss people.

Frankly, I was a bit shocked how small Zurich felt when I walked around. Its a nice small city. We love the huge space in the good ole' USA and also the huge diversity you find in NY: all kinds of cuisines, people and experiences. I was also a bit shocked how expensive it is there, more so than NY (for eating out).

That said, we hope to travel around Europe , while we are there. We will try to learn a bit of German before we arrive. That is the best we can do I suppose.

I guess 12K/month is not a lot, but it is decent for a family.

Anyway, any feedback is useful.
12k/month (after tax) is loads. You will be fine. I've had friends with the same family size as you surviving on a postdoc salary, which is less than half of that.

You will probably have to scale back eating out - it is REALLY expensive to live a typical American lifestyle (eating out 2-3 times per week) here. You've got a pretty good salary, but still would have to scale that back to maybe once every couple weeks, depending on the quality of where you eat out.

I don't have a kid so I can't give you great advice on the school, but the Swiss are right in saying the public schools are good. Your kid is young enough that it wouldn't be so bad to stick him/her in the school and they'd develop bilingually, so I'd say go that route. It's cheaper too. But anyway, others on this forum have direct experience and could give better advice.

Switzerland is a great central location to travel around Europe, enjoy!
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Old 19.08.2011, 07:21
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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The main question now really is what to do with the kid: German or International school. The Swiss told me that German school is a lot better than the International one...and also allows you to make more contacts with Swiss people.
International schools are businesses. Swiss schools are not. Even if you only stay 5 to 6 years, in a local school your child will get a language for free - won't even know he/she is learning it .
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Old 19.08.2011, 07:42
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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International schools are businesses. Swiss schools are not. Even if you only stay 5 to 6 years, in a local school your child will get a language for free - won't even know he/she is learning it .
Oh, *eyeroll*, and Saint Bernard is more than a dog, too. If the Swiss weren't in business, even in the schools (Swiss run the International Schools), they wouldn't be able to function. Somebody has to pay the bills.

Internationa/bilingual school is the best route especially if the stay is short - you can't take the kid back to the states at 10 years old without knowing English. Besides, if I were a 5yo plopped onto planet CH out of nowhere, I'd be pretty scared and probably angry. Sure kids adapt quickly, but it can still be an extreme experience for young kids.

Many of the international schools are bilingual and teach both German and English. A key word, especially if your wife is going to try to go back to work, is tageschule, where they also offer daycare before and after school, along with serving lunch and having programs on Wed. which leaves only the holidays where you have to find some sort of solution.
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Old 19.08.2011, 07:51
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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As far as the 'man of the house', I am mostly in research and my wife does many things around the house. I can't screw a light-bulb, so they will have to figure how to deal with that.
No, seriously, it's not a funny kind of 'oh, ha ha, my wife wears the pants' kind of thing. I've had several instances, particularly when dealing with things regarding the apartment and money, that I am not the head MALE of the household, and that they only can deal with the person with the required anatomy. It's really like going back in time to the 1950s. It's not something you really find out about until you arrive and then it's too late. The first time I nearly took the guy's head off as I, too, wear the pants. Pants don't count, penis does.

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The main question now really is what to do with the kid: German or International school. The Swiss told me that German school is a lot better than the International one...and also allows you to make more contacts with Swiss people.
Unless you plan on staying forever, try the bilingual/international school as they teach both English and German. You'll make friends with lots of Swiss expat couples as well as other expats from everywhere.
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Old 19.08.2011, 08:13
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Sending your child to the local school would not be the easiest option, but it is well worth considering for several reasons: integrating in your new neighborhood will be much easier if you have a child in the local school. You child will likely become a "native speaker" of German. Something they will thank you for later! Public schools in Zurich have resources for and lots of experience with German language learners (special teachers!).

And instead of paying big bucks for international school, you can consider hiring a tutor for your child. Give them additional support, maybe also covering childcare needs.

We moved to Zurich from Chicago in July and we had to make a similar decision about school for our daughter. She will enter 4th grade in public school on Monday! Our situation is bit different, but if you would like to hear more details about our experience PM me.
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Old 19.08.2011, 08:15
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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Thanks for the replies.

Its a big move for us: going from NY, USA to Zurich, Switzerland and we are a bit worried, especially with the language.

.

Frankly, I was a bit shocked how small Zurich felt when I walked around. Its a nice small city. We love the huge space in the good ole' USA and also the huge diversity you find in NY: all kinds of cuisines, people and experiences. I was also a bit shocked how expensive it is there, more so than NY (for eating out).


I guess 12K/month is not a lot, but it is decent for a family.

Anyway, any feedback is useful.
I have been in USA and i am european. Do not forget that the european does not eat out every day.

Even Switzerland is some kind different of latin countries (i am Portuguese) where you seldom go out. You will be doing many barbecues.

If you have a family, you won´t live in Zurich so 12k will be plenty. You can live in Dubendorf, Adliswill, Uster.

For 3000 you can have a house (not american style) but still great.
You will be just fine. Do not worry
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Old 19.08.2011, 08:29
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

I agree with windycityfamily, especially as your child is still young. If he/she were 8-10 , I might lean toward international school.

You'll be making lots of money by Swiss standards. With that, you can definitely afford lunch time/ after school care for your child in English, freeing up your wife. There are many such offers here in Basel, and there must be more in Zurich. If public school doesn't work out, there is nothing to stop you from switching to international school.

We also lived in NYC for many years before moving to Europe. I prefer it here with a kid, for sure, but miss many things New York has from time to time. My word of advice: don't compare too much, don't think that Zurich is a big city in the same way NYC is, and take advantage of the many things Switzerland has to offer that the NYC metro area doesn't. Good luck!
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Old 19.08.2011, 08:45
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

We have moved here recently with 3 kids (middle one being 5 years old). We chose to do the international (ZIS) school primarily for the older child. We will also stay not as long as you (2-3 years) and to me the most important thing is transitioning kids to school when they get back home. Can't comment on the public education at Zurich, but as a SAHM, it would make my transition very difficult. Let's face it, a big percentage of Swiss are not the biggest fans of American people. My kids started school this week and have already made tons of friends (as have I). They also get german in school (older one is 4-5 times a week and they do German "performances").
That said, our salary is a bit higher than yours and I find Switzerland to be very expensive. Private school would be a huge percentage of your salary. Is it something you can negotiate for your company to pay for as part of your package ?
Let me know if you have any more questions (we also moved from NY). We are very happy here, but I think you need the right environment. You don't want your wife to be isolated (that's the number one reason for why some of these jobs don't work out).
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Old 19.08.2011, 10:00
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

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My kids started school this week and have already made tons of friends (as have I).
This is a really important part of the international/bilingual school attraction as my daughter made fast friends when we arrived early this year at her school. By stark contrast, she has a tough time on the local playgrounds when many of the kids refuse to play with her because she doesn't speak their language. I wouldn't have believed such a thing was possible since she doesn't have the same experience in the playgrounds in Sweden or Finland. I love her school as it's small, all the kids know each other from 6th form on down, and there is a reasonable percentage of Swiss kids there as well.

Also, it should be pointed out that the local schools are taught in Swiss German since they passed a law earlier this year that the spoken language will be Swiss German. In my daughter's school, since it's private, they chose to stick to speaking in German. It's a minor detail that may or may not be important in choosing which school is best.
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Old 19.08.2011, 10:25
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Some good advice has been given here.

As for the school, I would think about your possible future. What will the next step be, after 5 years in Switzerland?

If you might extend your stay in Switzerland or plan on going back to the US, it would be fine to send the kid to a local Swiss school for 5 years. If you speak English at home etc. the kid will pick up both languages and it will be easier to integrate.

However if the next stop would be Madrid, Shanghai or Abu Dhabi, you would not want your kid to start from scratch again. In that case I would prefer the International School now.

Of course it is hard to tell where you will be in a few years time, but I think one can make assumptions based on the career you have chosen.
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Old 19.08.2011, 14:10
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

I was "plopped" into an American school at the age of 6 and went from knowing "yes", "no" to fluent in no time.
I'm assuming your family language is English, so your child will still be speaking English. Add a few English lessons for native speakers to the package, and you're good to go (and have saved yourself A LOT of money which you can then use to enjoy a lifestyle of weekends away, dinners here and there.
There's my two bits
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Old 19.08.2011, 16:23
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Thanks everyone, that is a very useful feedback.

1. We are actually not Americans, we are from Eastern Europe (although, I have lived in the USA for like 7 years and in Canada for another 8). So we have family in Canada and EE (it will be easier to be in touch with them), both, but also, most of our friends are in the US.

2. My son is Canadian. He actually has been in the US since he is 6 months old and for all practical purposes he is a kid from New York. We think it will be very hard for him to leave his friends in NY. He really has a lot of friends here and is very social. And we don't want him to forget English. On one side, we want him to adapt painlessly, so international school is good, yet we want him to be comfortable in the long-term, so a German school is good.

3. My position is a tenure-track professor in a university, and so, I don't know if it will go beyond 5 years (i.e., tenure) or whether we will just want to leave earlier (as I have open job offers from the US as well). Its hard to think beyond 5 years. Also, I hope my wife finds a job there, even part-time. We just need to see how it goes first.
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Old 19.08.2011, 17:31
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

Welcome to the Forum.

I've moved this to Introductions as it is your first post and doesn't really belong in any other specific section. It helps a lot if you post the various questions in the appropriate places as in this way the answers are more readily found by others with the same questions - and if you look to the bottom of your Thread you'll likely find a load of similar threads to check out as well.

Good luck with the preparations and the move.
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Old 19.08.2011, 18:31
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Re: Moving to Zurich, Switzerland from New York, USA

I will give you our experience, although when our kids were plopped into the German speaking world, it was in Germany, not Switzerland, but most points should apply.

When we came over our kids were 5, 3 and newborn - the older 2 went into German kindergarten knowing about 3 words of German. Within 2 months the oldest was pretty much fluent, and the younger one was doing great as well. The kids will adjust. It is you and your wife that will have more issues.

Since my husband is German and I know German at a fairly high level (at least I can communicate in most conversations) , sending them to the local system was a no-brainer (plus with us maybe being here forever and with 3 kids, the international school was never really considered). However, it might be hard to understand the ins and outs of the school, helping with homework, etc., at the local school. This being the case, I am of the opinion that it is a "richer" experience to go the local route, and in Zurich proper I am sure you will have no problem finding help if it is needed.

The international schools are great and are there for a reason - but there is a lot of turnover there and I am not convinced that they are worth the cost. If the company pays, then fine, but shelling out 30k+ for first grade is mind boggling to me.

We just moved here last week from Germany and the kids have started in the Swiss schools (2nd grade and second kindergarten year). So far it is all going great, despite them not speaking the language . They have made friends galore and the locals are being more helpful than I could have imagined in offering to take the kids in for lunch on the days when they go back in the afternoon (right now we are commuting the kids to school until we can move into our permanent house).

I have not run into the sentiment that the Swiss don't like Americans (or Germans for that matter) and am really excited about this new chapter in our life!

Good luck and have fun!
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