In February of 2016, my wife’s company gave us confirmation that they’re sending us to Switzerland for a three-year assignment. We only had three months to pack our lives into boxes, find a possible home for us and a new school for my son, dot the Is and cross the Ts in all official documents, and make sure that everything we would need would be there.
It was a frenzied first quarter.
I thought it would be a simple undertaking. Pack your things, ship them off, get to Switzerland, and enjoy the new life. It’s precisely how I went through with my wedding: make decisions based on options presented by the wife, don’t get in her way, and most important of all, show up.
I was laughably mistaken. What I thought would be the most complicated part—securing the visas—turned out to be the most straightforward. The other things that I thought I would just breeze through demanded more attention.
Quitting my job, for one, wasn’t as simple as I hoped it would be. After I submitted my resignation letter, I had to find my replacement and orient my boss on my ways of working, so she could train my successor. Since we’re friends, even now (eight months after I left), I still correspond with my former boss, the head of our PR agency, and my replacement whenever they need to ask me something.
There were personal matters to take care of. Knowing how dealing with banks can be a pain in the ass, I immediately gave them notice about our impending move.
Getting caught without cash during an earlier trip to Japan taught me an unforgettable lesson in the need to inform your bank that you’ll use your cards abroad. BDO allowed me to activate my credit card through phone banking, but demanded that I go to the actual branch where my account was created (instead of the branch nearest to me) for my ATM’s international activation.
BPI was fairly straightforward, notwithstanding the long lines that you usually have to endure. But dealing with Security Bank turned out to be the most painless. I was in and out of their building in five minutes.
Then there was the seemingly infinite number of stuff we needed to pack. My wife’s company gave us a considerable shipping allocation, which, of course, only made deciding which to bring and which to leave behind harder. The three-month old Samsung inverter ref? Sell. The king-size bed from Mandaue Foam? Pack it and go. The still unused oven? Give it to the in-laws.
Every item entailed an internal mini-battle. Do I really need to bring my graphic novels? How about my DVDs? Turned out that the answer was no. I just ‘acquired’ digital versions of them and put the files in an external HDD.
Once we got to Switzerland, the immediate challenge wasn’t housing (we stayed at a hotel first, and then a serviced apartment before finding a permanent abode), nor getting official documents (Swiss bureaucracy was as efficient as you’d expect). The challenge was getting every day chores done (like buying groceries or getting the car washed) without knowing the language.
Switzerland, like most 1st-world countries, is proud of their native tongue (German and French, mostly). Thank the digital gods that there’s Google Translate. I downloaded the appropriate language pack (so it’s available even when I was offline) and got by through the patience of the Swiss people and my handy smartphone.
I expected life to be slower and to have more time on our hands because unlike Manila where you allot two or three hours just to manage the traffic going to work, a 10-minute traffic delay is already an outrage in Switzerland. What blindsided me, however, is the sheer amount of chores that needed to be done now that there’s no kasambahay to take care of all the things that we used to take for granted in the Philippines.
My wife and I used to get up in the morning, go to work, go back home, play with our son, and then sleep. Now there’s the laundry to mind, picking up groceries, cooking, washing the dishes, and all the things that you need to do to keep your house livable.
And does ironing clothes really take that long? Because, man, it feels like for-freaking-ever.
Homesickness, of course, can strike any time. But usually not as hard as when we’re out and it’s lunch and all that’s available is a sandwich or (if we’re lucky) some pizza/pasta.
So, here’s a tip for those who are about to relocate to a new country: FIND THE ASIAN STORE ASAP.
Make sure you have access to your sinigang and adobo. The easiest way to feel at home is to have familiar food.
Moving to a new country is not an endeavor to take lightly. Life, I’ve learned, is not an easy thing to pack and ship somewhere else. For all the Pinoys out in the world who still dream of PH, let’s grab some beer (buko juice for me) and some chicharong bulaklak when we finally get home.