Swiss study aims to dispel clichés about expat life

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Swiss study aims to dispel clichés about expat life

Are all expats high level executives receiving relocation packages and sending their children to private schools?


Of course not. But that’s the erroneous view of some Swiss, according to the authors of a new study from the University of Neuchâtel that attempts to dispel such clichés and reveal the true nature of expat living. 
Tania Zittoun, a professor at the university’s institute of psychology and education, has been studying immigrant families in Switzerland for the past three years to find out more about the challenges they face when they move country every few years, reported La Tribune de Genève on Tuesday. 
“We often speak about expats in a negative way but in reality we don’t know them that well,” Zittoun told the paper. 
Many such families confound the classic stereotype,  she said, pointing out they can be found in many different job sectors, are often on the same salary scale as native Swiss and do not benefit from relocation help but must find accommodation themselves.
Neither do they all live in posh areas and send their children to private school, she added. 
Speaking to families all over Switzerland, Zittoun’s team found a number of common themes. 
Families who move country frequently “have a tendency to get attached to objects that accompany them on the move and become their ‘house’,” she said, pointing out that doesn’t mean the sofa but more likely a smaller object such as a teddy bear. 
Traditions help maintain a strong family unit when living abroad, she added, such as cooking a particular dish, singing certain songs, or taking part in particular sports.
Children adapt well, according to Zittoun, quickly making new friends and not questioning their new situation. However their definition of ‘home’ is likely to incorporate various places such as their grandmother’s house, their current home and a former play area. 
So-called ‘trailing spouses’ have it harder, often having to deal with the administration of expat life such as finding a doctor. And many find it hard to get a job themselves, said Zittoun.
Contrary to the stereotype, not all these trailing spouses are women. Many men in this position “suffer from a strong societal view that all men should work,” she said.
Zittoun also questioned the view of some Swiss that expats don’t make an effort to meet local people. 
“Those who don’t live in bustling areas or whose children don’t go to public school logically have more trouble. In reaction they meet other expats instead, which leads to us [the Swiss] thinking that they do not make an effort”.
Indeed, though Switzerland is frequently considered one of the best places in the world for expats, foreigners in the country find it hard to make friends, according to a 2016 study.
The Swiss government should make it easier for ‘trailing spouses’ to get jobs in Switzerland and make teachers aware of the difficulties faced by expat children, Zittoun said in conclusion.
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