“Will you be my friend?”

A year ago, I moved to Switzerland. Cue the yodelling, cow bells, and chocolate fountains.

The country boasts almost everything I consider essential in an ideal society. Almost. The fact is, Switzerland isn’t a country for young, career-starting expats. Switzerland is our layover; we only stay for as long as we need to.

Now I, like many other bright-eyed twenty-somethings, firmly believed I could buck this trend and committed myself to integration. I studied German. I prescribed to a diet of coffee and cheese. And I invested my time in the outdoors. The big three: language, food, and culture. What could possibly go wrong? First, Swiss German isn’t the same as German. Second, turns out I can’t eat dairy. Third, rollerblading isn’t as easy as kids make it look.

The fact is, integration is mostly superficial. It’s taking part in things that the locals do. But what’s the point in any of it if you don’t have any friends?

How do you make friends when you’re an adult?

Before you think I’m being dramatic, Switzerland has been voted “the worst place to make friends.”  And from personal experience, one does not simply “approach people and chat” in Switzerland.

For me at least, the problem is also exacerbated by the fact that I lived in the home of hospitality for two years. I became accustomed and infatuated by the US culture of talking to everybody. Bad day? Your cashier will offer you advice! Lost? Just ask for directions! Lonely? Go to the local coffee shop! Atlanta taught me how to be an extrovert, spoilt me with human contact, and showed me what community looks like.

Fast forward to Switzerland and I came to believe that I was the problem for my non-existent friend count; maybe I’m too loud?  Too young? Too foreign? Then I was convinced that the privileges of being a student had spoilt me. I mean, if you’re in a class of ten, that’s nine potential friends off the bat. So then I turned to the fountain of knowledge and googled: “How do adults make friends?” (cue tiny violin). Armed with a wealth of tips and tricks, I did what adults do: go to bars, join clubs, visit new places. But then those endeavours also turned up empty. Everyone was either older, spoke no English, or was simply disinterested. It turned out the twenty-somethings had already filled their quota of friends, and I was too late to join the club.

There’s a difference between travelling somewhere and living there.

To keep myself motivated and occupied, I’ve resigned to acting like a perpetual tourist. I enjoy the sights, experience new things, and talk to other foreign people. All of which are great when you’re on holiday and you have the promise of people waiting for you when you get home. But technically, I’m already home.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a damning criticism of the lack of community in Switzerland because it certainly does exist. The problem I’ve encountered is that you need a foot in the door. For expats without a Swiss connection, that door is almost always closed. So the young expats close our own doors, band together, and dream of the day that we can leave.

Of all the things I’ve learnt in this past year, my Swiss experience has made one thing abundantly clear; community and friends are what make a home, and without it, there’s nothing compelling you to stay.

KH

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Just because things look beautiful and seem just fine doesn’t mean they have to work
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Things nobody told me about adulthood

Let me start off by saying, how do I actually know I’m an adult? I don’t feel like one. I don’t act like one. And I certainly don’t look like one.

I’m 25 now, and I was under the impression that at some point we all undergo a magical, ‘caterpillar turning into a butterfly’ transformation experience. Figuratively speaking, of course… At the very least, I expected some kind of watershed moment where we become conscious of the fact that “we are adult now.” It didn’t come after graduation. It didn’t come when I moved into my first home, built my own furniture, and got my first bills. And it didn’t even come after I got married.

So what is it I’m waiting for? Do we ever really feel like adults? Or are we all journeying through life, doing what we think adults should do, while simultaneously hoping that nobody figures out we’re all just pretending?

Am I really an imposter?

So this is a question I’ve thrown around and asked other adult-looking people. I was genuinely curious as to whether it was just me, or whether it’s something a lot of us just don’t talk about. After all, the last thing an imposter wants is to be discovered!

Surprisingly, of the people I asked, all of different ages, career accomplishments, and family statuses, the resounding response was: “Yes. Most of the time I think I’m just playing ‘adult’ and someday, somebody is going to find out.” So that was good to know. I guess being an adult doesn’t really feel like anything after all.

Are adults really as secure, strong, and confident as they make out to be?

This one is easy. No. No they’re not.

We’re all life-long learners, figuring out how to live, while trying to inflict the least amount of damage on ourselves and those around us. Fact. I know this because I’ve spoken to first-time parents. Their trajectory is arguably the most tangible step into adulthood since it bears lifelong, vulnerable and hungry responsibility: babies.

If you’ve ever spent legitimate time around babies and their new parents, you know. (If you’re still calling your best friend’s baby “adorable,” you haven’t spent legitimate time around that tiny human.) Or, if you are indeed one of those babies/new parents, you know too. If you have neither experience, then imagine a squirmy, tacky worm screaming in your bed at witching hour, unable to communicate what’s going on in their over-stimulated minds, and refusing to eat, play, or sleep. Put it this way, it’s pretty hard to feel secure, strong, and confident when you have no idea what’s going on.

And that’s the crux of it, as “adults” I don’t think we ever really know what’s going on or what to do.

Will I ever be able to walk past a group of teens and not feel like prey?

Granted, this one is subjective. I still get IDed for matches and I’m pretty sure you only need to be 16 (or 18 in the US) to purchase them. But here’s the thing; I assumed that as soon as I turned 21, people would just be able to sense it.

Don’t you remember sitting on the bus as a pre-teen, glancing at the older kids in their rambunctious groups, and thinking, “Golly, those guys are SO much older and cooler. Gotta make sure I don’t make eye contact, lest they make snide remarks about my Harry Potter glasses!” (Of course, if you’re an 11 year old using words like “golly” and “lest” and wearing circular gold-framed glasses, then I shouldn’t have been surprised when the older kids targeted me. Pray, I jest!) Nevertheless, I’m a grown woman and if there’s a group of teens coming my way, I will cross the road.

This is what I’ve realised: just because you’re technically an “adult” doesn’t mean you have to act or think differently; everybody is pretending they know what they’re doing; and getting older doesn’t make you braver.

There you have it, a over-grown child’s observations about adulthood.

Is it just me who had certain expectations? Or do you also feel like you’re sometimes pretending to be an adult? Or better yet, have you had that watershed, red pill moment?

KH

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Being responsible, doing adult things, screaming like a child
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The world is apparently your oyster

“The world is your oyster”

First of all, I don’t like oysters.

Regardless, is the sentiment actually true? Is the world/oyster really ours for the taking, to pry open, so that we might reap its pearly rewards?

We never really hear anybody say the phrase absent of optimism, do we? After finishing up my masters, getting engaged, and moving to Switzerland, that’s what people told me. “The world is your oyster now! Seize all the opportunities and enjoy them!” So my assumptions were that: a) the world is oozing opportunity; b) everyone can access opportunities; and c) opportunity leads to reward.

Now, let me clarify: I’m not a negative Nelly! Sure, when I started reflecting on this phrase, the direction of my thought process was entirely different than where this post is going… Anyway, today I’ll submit, hands held high, the sentiment isn’t far off; the world IS our oyster. But let’s be clear; it shouldn’t be taken lightly, saturated with promises of abounding opportunity and treasures.

a) “the world is oozing opportunity”

In reality, that oyster is either buried at the bottom of a shark-filled ocean or lying between a rock bed plummeted by unrelenting, violent waves. Opportunity isn’t available just because we want it. We have to know where to look, search really hard in those places, and even then, we’ve got to get there before anybody else.

b) “everyone can access opportunities”

With that out of the way, seizing the opportunity is entirely dependent on our tenacity and/or sheer luck. But let’s not forget, not everybody can swim. And even if you can swim, it takes courage to dive deep down into the unknown. And then, even if you’re blessed with all of these qualities, you’ve got to beat the birds, sea otters, fish, and crabs to it because they see and smell the opportunity too.

c) “opportunity leads to reward”

If we succeed in taking it before those crafty otters, then we have to struggle to unleash its potential opportunity. Oysters aren’t always easy to get open! And in the end, an oyster is only worth what’s potentially contained within it. I stress “potential” because the fact is, even when we’ve found it and broken our nails trying to prise out what’s inside, we still don’t know what its fruits are going to look like.

Opportunity doesn’t necessarily lead to reward. Indeed, at the end of the endeavour we might get that shiny pearl. Or, equally probable, we might get a blob of snotty gloop. True, if you actually like the texture and taste of oysters then you could technically win either way. So here’s another outcome; you might just get a bad oyster!

Either way, my conclusion is that after all the searching, struggle, and accomplishment, what we get at the end isn’t always what we expected. That might sound pessimistic, but that’s okay. If we keep diving down, expecting an abundance of oysters and reward, oftentimes we’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no pessimist. I’ll keep on diving in the hope of discovering that fruitful oyster. And when the ones I find turn up empty, I won’t forget that opportunity is out there somewhere. In actual fact, those empty oysters are a reminder that opportunity did live there at one point and that we’re not the first (nor the last) to struggle through this journey.

So what do we do? We learn to swim deeper, fight harder, and ultimately, get there first.

There you have it, a realistic optimist’s interpretation of oyster diving. Let me know what you think!

KH

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One of those times the oyster did indeed turn up treasure
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“What is easy” vs “What is best”

They say travelling broadens the mind.

In the past, I wouldn’t have disagreed with this statement, but my perception of it was more to do with exploring new cultures, trying new foods, and encountering new beliefs. Today, I still regard these experiences as a crucial part of travelling, however I have also come to realise that this is simply one aspect of what seeing the world has to offer.

By broadening the mind we come to reflect on things that we usually overlook (or bury deep down) while enjoying the comforts of home. Outside the daily distractions and routines of home life, travelling enables us to take a step back from “the norm” and ask ourselves whether we’re actually happy living in that bubble. Travelling broadens our scope of possibility.

I can hold my hands up and admit that in the last year I have often blurred “what is best” with “what is easy.” And I’m wondering, why? Perhaps my lifestyle over the previous six years has influenced this tendency? I certainly haven’t picked the “easy” route:  moving to the US by myself, choosing a long distance relationship, learning Greek and Hebrew over Spanish and German… That last one I still can’t understand… Nevertheless, here’s my analysis. These choices were some of the hardest, and most challenging to live with. And now, surrounded the security of my home, my husband, and my family, I’ve become satisfied by the “easy” because it’s sure as hell less stressful than the alternative.

The fact is though, “what is easy” is not always “best.”

Travelling takes us to new places, literally and figuratively. Travelling broadens the mind beyond the complacency of our routines and conveniences. Most importantly, travelling encourages us to re-evaluate what truly makes us happy. And here’s the truth, what makes us happy is what is best.

KH

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