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"I am the culture shock absorber"

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From Manuela from Ah

Living abroad as an expat for a while is a dream for many families. What does the journey into the unknown do with the parents as a couple? What about the kids? Insights into a life between homesickness and broadening of horizons.

We are out. Take off for a journey into the unknown.

Urbain family in Tokyo, Japan

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The Laemmle family in San Francisco, USA

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Russ family, back from Singapore

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Parents can give the children a 'transportable' feeling of home.

Off to abroad

The e-coaching program Abroad accompanies expat families in all phases of the posting, looks after the partners of the posted workers and offers repatriation programs.

➺ how-to-create-my-life-abroad.com

With 2.7 million members, InterNations is the world's largest network for expatriates. ➺ internations.org

The apartment is cleared, the kitten is housed with relatives, the containers are shipped - the journey can begin. What lies ahead is not an adventure trip in the form of a shrink, not a wild animal safari with a safety guarantee, but a multi-year expedition into the everyday life of a foreign culture.

Around 90,000 Swiss people dare the trip every year.

Singapore, Serbia or Senegal - wherever in the world a family goes, they have to scout out the country and the people like ethnological field researchers. Because the values ​​and norms brought back from home bend and stretch as if you were standing in front of a distorting mirror. It is difficult for those who stubbornly remain attached to their culture of origin. But everyone else takes home experiences that they can draw on for a lifetime.

The culture shock

After an initial euphoria, the so-called honeymoon phase, travelers often experience a culture shock - falling into the feeling of being "in the wrong film". You no longer understand the world: Why does the business partner allow himself to appear half an hour late - and not have the hint of an apology ready? Why does the new neighbor come into our house unannounced and without knocking? And why is one's own actions viewed with suspicion or even criticized? A show of strength for the newcomers. Gradually, however, one develops an understanding of the host country and the norms that deviate from the home culture. Welcome to the new normal!

The family dynamics

An expat family transplants itself as a whole system, so to speak. Things that have been rehearsed at home suddenly no longer work, and the dynamics among family members change.

Often the situation of the accompanying mother is one of the greatest challenges. While a job and a team are often waiting for the man - most of the seconded workers are men - shortly after arrival and the children go to school, the woman is faced with an unstructured everyday life. Your job, the social environment, the familiar routine have broken away like rotten branches.

In addition, in most countries female expat partners receive a residence permit but not a work permit. If one is still available, an employment contract will fail due to unrecognized qualifications or a lack of language skills. A trick of building a new structure in this situation.

The children

They are also called “Third Culture Kids”. Because the children of the expats not only have to struggle with a new language and a different school culture - depending on their age, they are in the middle of the search for their own identity. Fashion, slang and trends sometimes differ fundamentally in the host country and it takes time to internalize the subtle differences.

It hurts to break away from old friends in the country of origin, trust in new ones has to grow first. In order to cushion the culture shock in the children, experts recommend giving the children a “transportable” feeling of home: abroad, continue to bake a Sunday braid, hang up photos and drawings that convey a sense of security in the living room and children's room in Switzerland.

Nonetheless, children absorb the new environment like sponges. "Second socialization" in the host country joins socialization in the home country - and merges into a third, very personal sense of culture.

The social networks

Christopher Columbus sailed around the world for two years without being able to send a sign of life back home, the globetrotters of the 1970s still left their relatives in the dark for two months. Today, however, a stay abroad no longer means being completely cut off from home.

Grandparents and friends in Switzerland can be reached within minutes at any time of the day or night - thanks to Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp & Co., experts therefore recommend that virtual meetings with loved ones in Switzerland become a regular routine. With a blog or Instagram photos, you can even give those at home the feeling of being part of everyday life and adventure.

Legal Aspects

A stay abroad usually lasts a maximum of four years. After that, expats would usually no longer be able to remain in the Swiss social security system and coverage gaps would arise in the AHV and pension fund.

Employers set up a lot in advance for the posted worker and his family and take care of work and residence permits, as well as tax and social security issues.

What sometimes surprises young expat parents is the invitation to marry, explains Sabrina Vogelsang, Head of Global Mobility Services at Siemens: "I increasingly have to point out to couples that in many countries only married travelers can get a visa."

Cohabitation is now normal in Switzerland, but not in Arab states or the USA. Conversely, however, explains Sabrina Vogelsang, foreign expat partners would also have to be married in order to receive a residence permit in Switzerland.

The return

At some point the adventure is over, the container with the furniture is shipped home, the new apartment is occupied, the Büsi is doing well. Language and culture are no longer a problem, the old friends are still there - and yet you somehow feel depressed.

The fact that returning home can also trigger a so-called self-culture shock is often underestimated. Things are perceived differently, expats have to find their way around again after returning. Even if the company supports them or actual “repatriation programs” are offered - it takes time and patience to settle back into the culture of origin.


The Swiss blogger Claudia Jucker (Hoi Berlin) has with her husband and two young children three years in Berlin used. They returned to Zurich in the summer of 2017. In a post on her blog hoiberlin.com, she works on her foreign adventure, describes disenchantment and homesickness as well as arriving and falling in love with Berlin.


Family / expats

Expat expert Samuel van den Bergh explains why it is important to get involved with the foreign culture.

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