Swiss life through a Cavan girl’s eyes
Ireland will always be ‘home’, but Switzerland, with its stunning natural beauty, outdoors lifestyle and excellent healthcare system, is where my family’s future lies, writes Claire Moran
After meeting my other half back in 2007, I decided to take the plunge and move to his home country, Switzerland. Although I did experience some teething problems, almost six years on, I can safely say I’ve adjusted well to the land famous for its Alpines, banking system and cheese.
Living in Switzerland certainly has its benefits. It boasts a natural beauty found in its mountains, lakes and beautiful views. Its high standard of living oozes from every corner of the country – out of the organic fruit and vegetable sections which meet you in every supermarket to the highly reputable public transportation network which operates on the button, taking you from central locations to the most remote towns and villages. Having grown up in a small town where I was lucky if a bus went through the town once a day, the idea of having a train on my doorstep fascinated me…for a few months anyway!
Health insurance is mandatory in Switzerland. Within three months of living here, immigrants are required to purchase health insurance which then allows them access to Swiss health care. I first discovered the impressive system when I fell pregnant with our daughter. Though I was only on the most basic compulsory insurance, it covered my seven ante-natal check-ups by my gynaecologist whilst also covering ultrasound scans and blood tests and a proportion of the cost of my pre-natal class. Additionally, the full cost of giving birth in the hospital was covered.
Following the birth, I was surprised when offered a room with only one other new mother. The aftercare was truly remarkable, with nurses and lactation consultants often by my side ready to assist me with my new bundle and answer my anxious queries. Every morning, there was a buffet breakfast provided and daily, my order for lunch and dinner was taken from a three-course menu. Needless to say, it was more than difficult to leave five days later as it felt like I was checking out of a 5-star hotel. And it didn’t end there. For the next week, I was visited at home by a midwife who checked up on me and my little one.
The great outdoors play a huge part in my love for this country. From spring to autumn, I embrace every opportunity to dust off my mountain bike and take to the fresh air without the risk of being mowed down. All across the country, cycle routes are accessible with little or no traffic and are ideally surfaced to cycle, jog or rollerblade on. In fact, there is something for each defined season here. People take advantage of the hot summer days by hitting their local swim park, or ‘badi’, where they can sunbathe whilst having the relief of a swimming pool or two just a step away. The mountains are ideal for avid hikers and mountain bikers, and if you fancy making the drive over the Alps, Italy will greet you with lovely weather, fantastic food and even better wine. If you’re interested in seeing more of Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein all border this land-locked country. In the colder months, ski and snowboard enthusiasts escape the fog by heading up into the sun-drenched, snowy mountains to get their annual fill of winter fun.
It is the norm here for natives to be proficient in two if not three languages. This may be down to the fact that Switzerland has four main languages; German, Italian, French and Romansch. We live in the German-speaking part of the country where the local dialect is Swiss-German. The language of instruction in public schools is High German and depending on which county they live in, children learn either English or French between 7- 9 years of age. Our 3-year-old daughter is bi-lingual, speaking English and Swiss German fluently, an asset I hope will open doors for her in life. Formal education begins at six years of age and the majority of children attend Kindergarten for at least one year.
Of course, there are aspects of Irish life I miss too. Primarily, I miss the down-to-earth attitude of the people, the witty and warm nature that prevails even in the face of adversity, and the interest and openness we have when encountering strangers. Though they’re few and far between, I find I still have the odd day where I’d love to speak to someone who understands our way of communicating over a cuppa, so I could use familiar words like “sound”, “take it handy”, ” It’ll be grand!… After some time here, I realised I’d have to reluctantly abandon these expressions and let them lie dormant in the back of my head because other English speakers I’d met didn’t understand what they meant. They are unique to us. Instead, I’ve had to attempt to adopt a shorter and more polished way of speaking English.
Though I could never consider Ireland not to be my home, I know that Switzerland is now where my heart lies. It was nine years ago that I embarked on my first experience of living abroad, and while I can’t picture myself moving back to Ireland in the near future, I know I’m never too far away when I need to get back to my roots.
Claire is a Kindergarten teacher at a bi-lingual school in Zürich. She is originally from Co Cavan.