Sunday, 22 April 2012

End of the Swiss chapter


I’m flying back to Brussels from Zurich at the moment, watching the snow-capped Alps to my left fade into the distance as we turn to follow the Rhine to the sea. This weekend was an emotional one, as I spent it helping my dad move out of his Swiss home.
He is moving back to the US this week, his company has transferred him back there. And with that, a very significant chapter of his life – and mine – has come to a close.
Switzerland was where I began this European adventure six years ago, so it was a bit jarring to see my dad’s empty house today and walk out the door for the last time.


Six years ago this week I received the call from my dad, as I was walking home to my apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York City, informing me that he was being transferred to Zurich. I remember it literally stopped me in my tracks - it was completely unexpected news. I come from a lower middle class family from Connecticut, certainly not the international jet-setting types. My parents had never left North America until the early 2000s, and I had only been abroad twice – a school trip to Germany in high school and a semester abroad in Prague in 2002.
My youngest brother, who was 15 at the time, decided he would move to Zurich with my dad and go to high school there. As my parents and my brother made trips to Zurich to find an apartment and select a school, I started toying with the idea of quitting my job and going with them. I had just moved back to New York after a year in Chicago and Washington at grad school and then covering the US congress. I was already feeling that moving back to New York had been a mistake – that, though I go consider it home, it’s just not a good fit for me as a city to live in.
As luck would have it, at this same time a position with the magazine I was writing for in New York opened up at the sister office in London. I asked my company if they could transfer me to London, because I wanted to be close to my family in Switzerland. They agreed.

To this day I don’t think they would have agreed to it if I didn’t have the justification that my family was moving to Europe. I think if I had just come to them and said “I want you to transfer me to London because I think it would be fun and I want to move to Europe,” they would have said take a hike.
So, my family moved to Zurich in July 2006, and I moved to London a few months later. I came to visit Zurich with some friends in August, shortly after they moved. At that point I already knew I would be moving to London shortly, so that two week visit to Zurich was sort of the grand kick-off to my European adventure.
I was just amazed by Switzerland. It was stunningly beautiful, incredibly efficient, it almost seemed too good to be true. And my father’s house, right on Lake Zurich with a stunning view, blew me away. My dad and brother were at the time still dealing with many of the culture shock frustrations one encounters when moving to a new country, and my dad was very stressed. But we took a road trip across the country to get to know it, stopping at Bern, Basel, Lausanne and Geneva. I was in heaven. I was so filled with excitement about moving to Europe, and I was endlessly fascinated by everything.
During my three years in London I would go to Zurich for the weekend once every two months or so. It was so nice to have my family so nearby, and to be able to get away to this beautiful place for a relaxing weekend. Other members of my family would come to visit and I could easily pop over to see them while they were in Europe. I would go to my dad’s Thanksgiving parties every year, where he would treat his colleagues, who were from all over Europe, to a little taste of this American holiday. It was really fun.
I even came to live in Zurich for a bit in 2008 to 2009, in between living in Paris and living in Brussels for the first incarnation. I had moved to Paris on the train, then moved on to Zurich afterwards, stayed there for a few months, and then took the train to Brussels. I stayed in Brussels for a month looking for a job before eventually deciding to hop on yet another train and return to London.
Since I’ve been in Brussels the past two years I haven’t been able to go as frequently as I used to, mostly owing to the airfare between the two cities being outrageous. After my brother graduated high school he went back to the states to go to college, leaving just my dad and me in Europe. Now my dad is leaving, and I’m the only one left here.
It’s a bit traumatic for a couple of reasons. Having my family close by has been enormously comforting for me as I’ve moved around to different cities in Europe over the past six years. Since I first arrived in London I’ve lived in four different cities and seven different apartments. But the house in Zurich was always there, as a constant.
I guess I’m a bit worried that not having that Swiss home base to touch in with anymore will somehow fundamentally transform my experience here in Europe. It comes at a time when I’m thinking more about my future and where I want to end up. Right now I just don’t know. I plan to stay in Brussels at least a few more years, but beyond that I just don’t know.
Now, with all my family back in the US – and with my first nephew born last year - the pressure to move back to America will surely start to feel more acute. I used to say I would never go back. Now I’m not sure.
So, it’s been kind of a bittersweet weekend. My brother and his wife and their baby were here visiting, and it was great to spend time with my nephew. But I’m leaving with a heavy heart today. A major chapter of my family’s life has come to a close.

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