In a blink of an eye, half a year has passed in Switzerland. Someone just pinch me! By now we have largely settled down, made our home cozy and hyggeligt; I can cross the street without causing a three car pile-up, and our gait are much quicker…overall it’s safe to say we have a better grip on things than when we first arrived 🙂
As I’m typing this I’m sitting out our balcony, coffee on hand and enjoying the warmth of the day. Summer is officially here and the heat reminds us so much of home in Singapore!
So far, I have not shared much about hard times or failures while adjusting to a new life here…Because I’d never wish to sound ungrateful for what I have. But neither do I want to project this false impression that life is all just scenic mountains, sunny vacations and pretty sunsets by the lake. Because truth to be told, I wasn’t feeling my best in the last couple of months. There had been many bumps in the road, especially at work.
Still I’d wanted to be honest about my current struggles, and pen down my reflections over this first half of the year.
The Surprise Job
It all started out in end-March, when I unexpectedly got my first job offer as a learning experience manager at Edacy, a Swiss-African startup. The company partners Swiss universities and academic institutions to provide MOOCs in tech and engineering, coupled with apprenticeship training to help reskill youths in Middle East and Africa. My key work responsibilities lies in instructional design where I produce educational video content, and to work with designers and developers to create our online learning interface. In short, everything sounded pretty darn new and exciting!
My initial reaction to this job was…“IS THIS FOR REAL?” I mean, prior to arriving in Switzerland, Vince and I had heard so much negative talk about finding work here as a foreigner. I’d had myself mentally prepared for as least 6 months of job search before expecting a call for interview. Thus, you could imagine our surprise when this offer landed within a span of a month! No doubt, this career path was opened only by God’s grace, and I was determined to do well in this new role.
“I Can’t Do This!”
Yet… it wasn’t long before unhappiness and self-doubt started to creep in. True to the nature of working startups, the learning curve is incredibly steep, with juggling tasks A-Z with little supervision. Often I felt as through being thrown straight into deep waters, and having to learn how to stay afloat, FAST. From designing assessments for learners first hand, rapid prototyping, editing scripts, defining graphics for video production, to testing the interface features, answering the developers on backend specifications…the list doesn’t end. And many times I don’t have a definite answer whether I’m doing things right! At that point, I was still working remotely from home before our Swiss office was ready, and the constant lack of physical interaction with colleagues further added on to my sense of isolation and frustration.
Towards the third month of work: I found myself feeling completely overwhelmed, and the complaints started streaming in everyday:
“I can’t do this!”
“This is literally the job of three people, I can’t handle it all by myself!”
“How on earth are we going to deliver this project by xxx?”
“It would have been better if I just stayed home, learn French and not work!”
The negativity went on for so long…to the point when I was crying almost every other day. I cried at home, while showering, in between meals, at church, during family phone calls…There was once when I even cried all the way while walking to work! I was constantly weighed down with a heavy heart and a nagging desire to flee from my responsibilities. How was it possible that I’m living in a country as beautiful as Switzerland, but feeling so miserable every day?
I was beginning to question the Lord’s plan in it all. God, is this really what you intended for me to go through? I thought miserably.
And one day this worship song came to my mind:
主的喜乐是我力量 你的救恩是我盼望 虽然橄榄树不效力 也许葡萄树不结果 我仍因救我的神欢欣快乐 我要赞美 无论得时或不得时 我要赞美 每天从日出到日落 我心坚定于你 每天赞美不停 我要赞美 跳舞赞美 我要赞美 自由赞美 大声欢呼你是永远得胜君王
The moment I reflected on the lyrics, and allowed my brain to clear… It was flooded with gifts from the past few months, which I know I have every reason to offer up my praise.
God’s will for me in this challenging season was clear: To be thankful, regardless of the circumstances that I was in.
What Can I Be Thankful For?
The Opportunity to Labour
There’s no denying that transiting from bureaucratic government agency to startup life took a hell lot of adjustment. But the fact that I’d managed to transit into the Swiss workforce so quickly was in itself an enormous blessing! Because really, what could have been worse? I could still be unemployed, anxiously looking for a job still. Our finances would have been much tighter relying on just Vince’s income, in a country infamous for its sky-high prices.
Furthermore, my new job also brought me to new continents that I’d least expected myself to set foot in…Middle East and Africa! On my first week of work, I flew in to Oman to join our field research to gather insights about the earning culture and behaviour of Omanis. Embarrassingly, I even had to Google “OMAN” to realise that it is a country itself. NOT a city in Saudi Arabia as I’d so thought. That was how clueless I was!
There, I met outstanding work counterparts turned friends, who warmly hosted me around the beautiful city of Muscat.
Later on in May, I travelled to Senegal to meet our local operations team. Over the course of interacting with our students, I learnt more about the odds stacked against African youths in the job market
Senegal has one of the highest youth populations in Africa, yet it suffers from a staggering youth unemployment rate of over 25%. Many students that join our programmes are in fact university graduates (Some even holding up to a Master’s degree!) However, given the country’s backwards education infrastructure, what they’d learnt in school fail to provide them with the skillsets needed by industry employers. Consequentially, youths are either jobless or doing menial jobs: like cleaners at hotels, selling mobile simcards or cashiers at minimarts.
I soon began to see with new eyes the larger meaning and purpose to my work. Sure, designing MOOCs may seemed like an unsurmountable challenge at the moment. But God is using my work to serve an entire generation of His people in a different part of the world, by providing them with access to better quality education, to acquire skills to take on better jobs and break out of the poverty cycle.
And while there are still gonna be days when I feel like a headless chicken, at work, I have come to manage my stress level better, and to be patient with myself knowing that it takes time to learn, unlearn and relearn new skills. The Lord is teaching me to be comfortable with uncertainties and chaos…and to build the tracks just before the train is going to arrive.
One of the biggest highlight in the last 6 months was getting to host my family in June and July. A part of me felt like an excited squirrel eager to show them my integration progress: “Mommy, Daddy, look! This is the lake we visit all the time on weekends. This is where we do our groceries…Here’s our usual morning routine before work..And did you hear me speaking in French…?”
I’d wanted to prove that we’ve GOT THIS. That we are coping well independently despite being 10,000km away from home, and that they have no cause for worry. Yet in the end, it was my family who provided more comfort and reassurance than the other way round.
Back in Singapore when I see them every week, it’s so easy to take their presence for granted. From the after-dinner conversations, watching Joan lying on the sofa doing her homework, to hearing my parents’ nagging and bantering in Hokkien…I don’t think I’d ever realized just how much comfort these familiar interactions had given me in the past. Having now just two short weeks with them taught me to treasure whatever little time we have together as a family.
We did lots of fun things in that two weeks: like going on a weekend trip to the gastronomic capital of Lyon in France, whisking up to Glacier 3000 for some magnificent snow mountain views, and also hiking along the beautiful sceneries in Interlaken and Grindelwald. The last proper family holiday we had was over seven years ago, when I was still in high school. Thus it felt really nice to be the adult this time showing them around this new country we now call home, to be able to spend quality time together and enjoy one another’s presence without stresses or distraction.
Vince and I also certainly gained a few pounds while enjoying Mommy’s homecooked food like curry, laksa, beehoon and delicious hot soup everyday! Every meal was prepared by her with thoughtfulness and genuine love for us. Knowing my cravings for hotpots, she also whipped up my absolute favourite malaxiangguo for dinner, and it couldn’t have tasted any better!
We also got to celebrate Mommy and Carol’s birthday together!
My family have since returned to Singapore, but during their time here, I was reminded of how lucky I am to be surrounded by supportive loved ones who’d always got my back, no matter how far away I am from them.
In mid-July, we were flew back to Geneva after attending a friend’s wedding in Rome. Unfortunately, our flight got delayed, and we missed the last train back to Lausanne.
By then I was in full panic mode, dreading the thought of camping at the train station till morning. On the other hand, my problem-solving husband was rapidly seeking help from any friends living in Geneva. Before long, he heaved a sigh of relief and said that one of his SG friend, Ellyn had offered us a place to stay for the night!
Now, Vince had met Ellyn just ONCE, and she doesn’t even know me. We reached her apartment at an ungodly 1am, yet she graciously agreed to us coming over without hesitation. She even gave up HER OWN BED for us while relegating herself to the couch!
I don’t know what we did to deserve such selfless help from Ellyne for near-strangers like us. But at that moment, I felt thankful that even as we charter through new choppy waters, God showed his faithfulness by providing us with community and friendship.
The Little Things
And lastly, there are the newfound freedoms and little experiences that this move have brought us.
For instance, the current ease of travel we now enjoy given our proximity to the rest of Europe. The last time I counted, we’ve travelled to Italy, Greece, Spain and France all in the span of 4 months! Even exploring within Switzerland just feels like a vacation on itself. No time differences, no long exhausting travel, no night time connections. Just a hop, a skip away…and we are surrounded with the most majestic outdoor sceneries.
To be able to look out our balcony and gaze at the beautiful mountains, and sunsets that God paints everyday without fail.
To try out new hobbies, like gardening! We have planted chrysanthemums, basils, parsley and spring onions so far. Keeping plants ALIVE wasn’t as simple as we thought it to be but we are slowly learning the joys of these little green babies grow.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly your thoughts guide your perspective — (for good or bad)?
It’s so easy to get caught up in my own world and lose sight of what matters, when the smallest of things don’t go my way. But when I take a step back, I realise how God has lovingly orchestrated all the details in our lives, with only the best intentions for us to grow.
While I know that the challenges I face at work and with integrating won’t dissipate anytime soon… I am choosing to rejoice, knowing that even through hard and uncomfortable moments — the Lord’s goodness always prevail.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
The next half of 2019 will only get even better, I’m certain of this!
Till next time, Ollie