Elizabeth Frei is a native English-speaking, American therapist and clinical psychologist working in Biel/Bienne. She is certified by the Federation Suisse des Phychologues (FSP). She received her Ph.D. and Master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida and completed her postdoctoral training in the psychiatric clinic of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
When did you arrive in Switzerland and what was that like?
I arrived in Lausanne in 2011 with my two-month old son, my husband, our two cats and eight suitcases. I experienced a wild mix of excitement, apprehension, and sleep deprivation. I underestimated how exhausting the experience of moving abroad would be and it took me a long time to find my feet and recover.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Orlando, Florida, USA. In fact, I lived in Florida until my late twenties when I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. I feel that Florida is the polar opposite of Switzerland: very warm, very flat, very wild and very beachy! Although there are cows in Florida, the most famous wildlife are manatees, armadillos and alligators.
What are some of the things you enjoy about living here?
In general, I enjoy the increased appreciation I have gained over time for what I consume and how I consume it. I find that life here is based less around convenience and more around cultivating sustainability and quality. For instance, I am more thoughtful about how I get around and more conscious of my impact on the environment and others in my community.
What do you find challenging?
One of the greatest challenges I have faced is the lack of affordable support related to child-rearing. To be a working mom in Switzerland is very difficult without any family support. Luckily, this has resulted in the creation of a very rich community of friends and neighbors who help each other out with trading childcare and other support. And my wonderful mother-in-law has made it clear that she is available in a pinch. The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” has certainly been the case for me in Switzerland.
In addition, the language learning is an on-going challenge. I often remind myself that speaking Swiss German and French is an exercise is challenging my own perfectionism!
What is one thing about your native culture that you wish you could access here in Switzerland?
In the United States (and particularly in the South), there is a warmth and friendliness in public spaces that is very special. When I go home to visit, I enjoy having a quick chat with the cashier at the grocery store or a postal worker. Wherever you go, people are quick to smile at one another and engage. In Switzerland, I find that it takes longer for people to open up to the same degree but when they do, I find that the relationship is genuine and generous.
Do you have any words of wisdom for new arrivals?
As much as flexibility and adaptability are essential for adjusting to a new culture, I find it is also useful to maintain your own traditions and values. In addition, focusing on doing something empowering or calming every day will help in keeping energized and balanced as the strong waves of emotion rise and fall. Living in a non-native country is hard work so I would recommend guarding your energy and prioritizing self-care. Here are a few more ideas.