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38 Lessons from Switzerland

I've always loved making lists. So, in passing a few milestones recently-- my six month anniversary in Switzerland and my birthday (yay!) -- thought it would be fun to capture some of the observations and lessons from my first time ever living alone and outside of the US.

I have to start with a huge shoutout to my husband, Blake, because when I hesitated for a moment when this opportunity first came up, he said, "You have to do this." Being apart has been tough, but it makes my heart burst when I think of all the ways he's supported me & all the things he's taken on solo back home while I've been away -- from making multiple trips to the vet after our dog Zig Zag started having dizzy spells, to managing a basement remodel project (while I've joked about laundry day in my apartment complex - he hasn't had a washer/dryer the entire time I've been away), and dozens of other little things like remembering garbage & recycling day (and in Milwaukee, those are two different days). No amount of Swiss chocolate will ever be enough to say thank you, his support in this adventure has truly been one of the greatest gifts of my life.

With that, here's a list of observations & wisdom, both the mundane & philosophical gathered from half a year spent doing more traveling, reading, writing and reflecting than maybe ever in my 38 years:

  1. French press coffee is easy to make & delicious.

  2. What you see regularly has a profound impact on how you see things.

  3. "Normal" depends on the context. Never assume context is shared.

  4. Purposefully connect with people from different backgrounds and of different ages -- these are some of the most fulfilling friendships.

  5. Conversations & meetings often start without an introduction. Whenever you notice it happening, take a pause and start again.

  6. Mistakes will teach you a lot -- "We learn by doing" (my boss, Alessandro's oft-repeated phrase).

  7. Trying to change everything at once is a big challenge - strive for pockets of excellence. Once you have momentum, you will be able convince others more easily through results, not just theory.

  8. Having less makes room for so much more.

  9. Invent fun reasons to stay in touch with family & friends.

  10. When you get separated from a group, sheltering in place is a good strategy.

  11. When you feel absence, be grateful for what is present.

  12. If your shower curtain is closing in on you, get a strong magnet.

  13. Eigenzeit = German for "things take the time they take."

  14. Understanding and explaining what you need will help you cooperate better.

  15. The more clearly you can describe a problem, the easier it is for others to help.

  16. Bring something to share.

  17. Being part of a community means recognizing not just what you give, but how you benefit.

  18. Geneva summers are for swimming - always pack a bathing suit.

  19. Put accessories on in the opposite order you want to take them off: ID, purse, backpack.

  20. Your Italian friends will tease you if you drink cappuccino in the afternoon.

  21. Ask your network to help you with goofy side quests. They will surprise you.

  22. You tend to appreciate things more when you recognize that they are finite.

  23. Smiles do not need translation.

  24. If you can, when you can, take the stairs.

  25. Order an Aperol Spritz or NA Ginger Lemonade for Apero.

  26. Pay attention when something bothers you, however trivial. When you ask yourself why, you can usually learn a lot about yourself.

  27. The best teamwork starts with a vision you create together.

  28. Be intentional about the message and storyline of your presentations.

  29. First assess the work you have, then pause & zoom out. Focus on what is most important.

  30. Use every excuse to visit friends who are close.

  31. Automate what is impersonal.

  32. Consider the cost of doing nothing.

  33. Learn more foreign language phrases - strive for communication, not perfection.

  34. Plan more picnics.

  35. Routines can be magical - for morning, evening & weekends.

  36. Put boiled eggs in ice water when they are finished cooking.

  37. Distance provides more perspective and clarity. What is directly in front of you is often hardest to truly see.

  38. Building trust slowly will save you time & eventually help you tackle bigger challenges, together.

Photos from the adventure so far: Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen, the Rhône River, celebrating Ann Marie's birthday in Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo, a view of Geneva from Salève, conquering fear of heights with Jody & Aperol Spritz!


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