Even such a lowcost expedition as ours could make a short stop in one of the Europe’s most expensive countries – in Switzerland. The enabler of our “Switzerland weekend”, our host and guide was a young Slovak woman Lucia who has been living in Zurich for three years already. Similarly to our previous interviewees, this is not her first foreign temporary residence. She gained the first experience during her university studies. She worked and traveled in the USA as many other European university students at that time. As she stated it was this particular experience that made her finally believe that once Slovakia was going to be “too small” for her. Lucia studied to become an interpreter and translator. She never worked in the field though. However, the languages always helped her to make progress. At the moment she is living and working in Zurich. Why is it so in her opinion that Slovakia cannot become another Switzerland and even more she shared with us in the interview below.
Vista Travellers: Lucia, today you live in Switzerland. This is anyway not the first foreign country where you settled down for a while. You used to live in the UK, decided however to come back to Slovakia. Why?
Lucia: The year I spent in the UK was a real turning point of my life. I already had a several opportunities to realize to what extend this experience influenced my following life. Before going to the UK I had a mentally exhausting job at IBM. I quit in order to find a place where I could relax, find inspiration and last but not least figure out whether I can exist (and not only live) in a foreign country. At the time of my departure from Slovakia I only had arranged a flat and all other matters were open – new job, how long I was going to stay, what my expectations were etc. I lived in a shared flat with a friend of mine. That helped me a lot especially at the beginning. I worked in a small Greek bakery. That was definitely something completely different to my previous job at IBM or to what a university graduate is expected to do for living. However, it was an amazing mental relax for me. I had a lot of physical activity whereby I could proof myself that I am not a mollycoddle and I am not afraid of a job where you have to be on your feet for ten hours.
I was fascinated by life in London. That culture diversity, the freedom. Nobody cared what you wore or how you looked. The whole year long I walked with my eyes wide open.
After some time however I was not able anymore to bear the cold, the darkness, the weather. Additionally, I had disagreements with my flat mate and I was concerned about my grandma back at home. So I decided to come back. Once again without any expectations.
Vista Travellers: How did you find yourself in Switzerland? What circumstances caused that you came here?
Lucia: Basically, it is also a consequence of my London experience. After I got back home I was very disappointed in the friend of mine and how our relationship broke down. Additionally, my grandma died. These events and circumstances caused that I fell in depression. I decided that I cannot be at home and not working. On the contrary. I needed to keep my mind busy so it does not have any time left for gloom.
And so, in February 2009 I started at Accenture. I fully threw myself into the work what was soon appreciated. After less than a year I was promoted to a team leader. I had eight people in my team. After one year I took over a whole department with six teams and cca 30 employees. I kept working in this suicidal tempo for another two years.
At the beginning of 2013 I realized that I needed a change again. I had however no idea whether to look for a new job or for a new position at the same company. At that time my boss helped me a lot. He told me about the opportunity to work in Zurich. The job concerned a project planned for the upcoming half a year and included leadership of a team of eight people. I felt that this was exactly what could help reset my head once again.
I was successful at the phone interview and flew to Zurich on 1st July 2013. At that time I had no idea neither about the country, nor about the city (laughter). There was simply no time left for studying due to all my duties.
Vista Travellers: Why have you decided to stay in Switzerland and not go back to Slovakia?
Lucia: The project I worked on in Switzerland was going well. Our client was satisfied with the results of my team as well as with my suggestions on how to improve the already existing processes. He therefore decided to prolong our contract for another half a year. I was happy since I liked Switzerland very much from the first moment. I felt here almost like at home.
After this project was over I was offered a job on a project in the biggest Swiss bank. It was for the first time after four years that I had no team to lead. At least officially. In fact, I often had to lead the project manager who was quite lost on his position. He soon got replaced. With his successor we successfully finished the project in June 2015.
At that time Accenture was not anymore able to offer me any job in Switzerland. They insisted that I come back to Slovakia. On the other hand, people from the bank were satisfied with my achievements to such extent that they enabled me to start to work for the bank as an internal employee. At that time it was equal to a win in a lotery (laughter). I started to work on new projects. In February 2016 I took over the position of my boss and at the moment as a project manager I lead a team working on the biggest project in the bank’s history. For me it is a great honour and an amazing success. Additionally, I love my life here and that is why I do not think of going back to Slovakia.
Vista Travellers: What circumstances would make you start to think about it?
Lucia: I hear this question very often and my answer is always the same. At the moment, there is no reason to return to Slovakia. Not even in a case that I lose my job here. The only reason I could consider is my family. Anyway, now I arranged my life here. It is only one hour by plane from Vienna. In fact, I live just behind the corner and I have here everything. A job that I love. People who have grace. Beautiful nature, healthcare system and public transport system that really work. I have no stress here and finally I have the opportunity to earn a pension that I maybe will enjoy back in Slovakia (smile).
Vista Travellers: Switzerland and Slovakia are very similar as for the area and character of the country as well as as for the number of inhabitants. What is in your opinion the decisive moment that life in these two countries is so diametrically different?
Lucia: The main reason lays in how everything works here. Since everything really works here. The public transport has never delays. All means of the public transport are new, in good condition. The crime rate here is ver low. People here treat each other with respect and in a very nice way. There is no enviousness. There are no homeless people here. To many of my friends already happened that they forgot their wallet in the public transport just to find it untouched in the lost-and-found office. I even know people who do not lock their car (smile). One feels really safe here. People do not complain. There are no protests or demonstrations. For instance, I only noticed the problem with refugees in relation with other countries.
Ultimatelly, it is all about the people. Unfortunately, people in Slovakia are too consumed by the things that do not work and need change. Therefore they feel unhappy and believe that they cannot do anything about it. In Switzerland people grow up experiencing no lack. They are not burdened with some past events and feelings of injustice. I guess they have no idea what advantage this gives to them. They have a political system that works. I never heard a Swiss to complain about the politics. They have a healthcare system on a high level that is anyway very expensive even for he Swiss. The education system makes a great job by integrating the 16-year-old and older students in the real working process. I realized the advantage it gives to the young people when I had a 25 years old colleague who had been working for the bank for 9 years already. In my opinion this is the only way how the educational system can prepare young people for real life. At the time they graduate they are perfectly aware of what it means to do this or that job. Many trainees are offered a job in the companies where they worked during their traineeship. This way the young people simply skip the stress related to the process of looking for a job.
Vista Travellers: You visit Slovakia quite often. Do you follow developments on the political scene and situation in the society? If so what do you think about it?
Lucia: Yes. As one of the few Slovaks I know here I visit Slovakia very often – at least once a month. Of course I do follow the development on the political scene. Although I am not politically engaged, I do care how the country will look like once when I decide to come back. Therefore I never miss any election that influence the situation at home. I anyway read the local newspapers as well. Additionally, colleagues always let me know when Slovakia is mentioned in their media. Recently I had to explain for example why the Slovaks elected neonacists.
Thanks God for the success and achievements of the Slovak sportsmen in 2016. I had at least something to show off (laughter).
Vista Travellers: What is your experience as an immigrant with the Swiss? How do they perceive this topic and what is their relationship to other nationalities living in their country?
Lucia: Generally, the Swiss have a very good relationship to immigrants in their country. In my opinion, they are diplomats in this regard (smile). I find it important to say that one quarter of the Switzerland inhabitants (cca 2 millions) are immigrants. That is a really high rate.
As I mentioned, there have never been any demonstrations against the immigrants in Switzerland. Most problematic immigrants here are people from Eritrea and from Balkan. Especially the latter listed are hot-tempered and their wild temperament often becomes evident. So if any attack or violence are reported it is highly probable that it was someone coming from these countries. I have a personal experience too that I was forced to call police because of a man coming from Balkan.
Vista Travellers: What was a nice surprise for you in Switzerland – something you had no idea about before you moved here? And was there anything that caught you short in a negative way?
Lucia: I was surprised in a very positive way by the air quality. I am asthmatic but here I could put away my spray after two months already. I can breath freely here.
Another nice surprise for me was how well and effectively the public transport is organized here. Everything is new and clean. There are no delays. In the morning, the driver always welcomes his or her passengers, smiles. Honestly, in Bratislava I used to have a completely opposite experience.
Generally, people here are very kind and show frank interest in where I come from.
They alwyas say hello to each other when they meet in the nature. They all consider themselves to be part of a big touristic family (laughter).
Before I moved here I had no idea about the country – I still feel ashamed because of it. I had no idea that Zurich lies at a lake. I find it great since it is always very nice to be near water.
It was a nice surprise to find out what the wages are. Not so nice was to find out what the prices are. Since I had no idea about the wages and prices at the beginning, I was shocked in the first weeks.
There is one thing I still cannot get used to and it was a very unpleasant surprise for me. There is almost no protection of the non-smokers here. It is very unexpected in such a development country like Switzerland. It is especially annoying at the public transport stops.
Vista Travellers: Do you think the Swiss as a nation have something the Slovaks could learn from them?
Lucia: Joy of life and ability to live without complaining. They simply enjoy the life here. They do a lot of sports – at any age. They care not only of their bodies but of their minds as well. They study even at the elder age. I have for example two retired ladies in my Spanish course and I am their great fan and supporter (smile).
It is not so complicated to identify this behaviour, it is however hard to apply it in the Slovak circumstances. I do not try to pretend that I do not care what is the life in Slovakia like. But it is not one man who could change it. Therefore I financially support Slovak organizations whose activities are meaningful to me. I hope that once people in Slovakia also would be happy and able to see the life from the bright side.
Vista Travellers: Is there anything that the Swiss could learn from the Slovaks? What do you think?
Lucia: Yes, there is. You will probably not believe me, but I think the young Swiss are not strong-minded at all. Used to the life in clover they forgot that they should speak also other languages than English or German (smile). I find the Slovaks better in this regard. They work hard and study – although often the only reason is that they want to find employment abroad.
The Swiss could also learn some of the slavonic openness and cheer that sometimes verge on madness (laughter). My colleagues already know me but the strangers often perceive me like a tornado (laughter).
Vista Travellers: If you had the possibility to bring to Switzerland anything from Slovakia what would it be? What do you miss most here?
Lucia: Family and some of my close friends (smile). I would like them to see that there is also other way how to live life. Zurich is an amazing city. Not too big, not too small – just about enough. Especially during the Christmas time it is a city you simply have to fall in love with.
I also miss traditional Slovak bakery. Although I can recover from this lack quite often thanks to my regular visits in Slovakia (laughter).