From Hawaii to Switzerland, my first year
Saying Switzerland is different from Hawaii is an understatement. Throughout my first year living as an expat, I scribbled down little notes, things that I found interesting or funny or odd. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, 19 of them.
1. Most frequently asked questions (like clockwork)
- Why did you move from Hawaii to… here? (Saying it like Switzerland is Mordor. Judging from the photo above I'd say it's more like Rivendell of Middle Earth.)
- What do you think of the president (Trump)?
2. School humor
My first months of school can only be described as a complete train wreck of laughter and snafu. The biggest snafu so far in my German-learning journey was when I tried to tell a young lady she had the "pregnancy glow". Do you know what the pregnancy glow is? Well, if you ever see a pregnant woman walking on clouds of happiness, it seems like nothing can shake her and she's found the secret to happiness. Or, it could be when a person gets “lucky.” You know, when you see someone the next morning after a night out, and you stare that person in the eye and say, “I know what you did last night!”. Two examples of the pregnancy glow in ENGLISH. Now try explaining that in another language you just learned, combined with your limited bro-sign-language. When I told my wife the story, she busted out in laughter. She said I basically told the girl she smiles a lot when she is fat. It’s a good thing the student and I were already friends and she probably assumed I was trying to tell her something nice but couldn’t find the words to tell her. Bottom line, when trying to compliment someone in another language, a good ole thumbs up might just do the trick.
3. Learning German
Speaking of language learning... I have two little quips about learning Deutsch.
- My need to exaggerate. I always kind of knew I was an exaggerator, and that I like to express my feelings in pidgin or slang. For example, whenever I see something awesome, words like "animals", "next level", "braaahh", "guy", "yea you", and "boom" pop into my head. In the early 2000s, people said things like “that’s hot!”. Well, in German they say "gut", "schön", "tip top", maybe "toll", maybe "sehr gut", maybe "wunderbar". I tried explaining how big Halloween is in Hawaii compared to here and I lost count of the amount of sehr, sehr, sehr I said. My language teacher quickly corrected, “Ein Sehr Rex" (One "very" Rex). I’m sure there are other German words to express oneself in excitement but trust me when I say, it’s not enough, and selfishly I’m already saying “Nächste Stufe” for Next Level.
- Some people say learning German here is probably easy because everyone is speaking German. Wrong! People speak Swiss German here. The best way to explain this flavor of German is Pidgin (Hawaii Slang). People who speak pidgin can understand people who speak English, but people who speak English can barely understand Pidgin. It’s the same here in Switzerland. Swiss can understand Deutsch (German) but Germans cannot understand the Swiss. So, what I learn in School does not necessarily translate to the streets. And when I sit down for dinners with my wife’s family, the only words I catch are "genau" and "also".
4. Scheisse not Scheissi
Somehow I have created a new word while trying to say the word shit - "Scheisse" in German (pronounced something like shy-say). I thought I was saying it correctly for a long time until someone said, “it’s so cute how you say Scheisse that we started saying it like you.” What? Have I been saying a German word wrong all this time time? Yes, I have. Yes, I have. Well, my pronunciation of Scheisse is Scheissi (Shy-seeee). I love things that end in "skiiiii". For example, I call my wife Babeskiiii. So having something similar like Scheissiiiiiiiii (without the k), I found it to be a great word to express myself and I honestly thought I was nailing it. Nope. I still continue to pronounce Scheisse wrong, why reinvent the wheel at this point?
5. Favorite Swiss day / moment
I've visited 17 cantons in Switzerland in the span of one year. I have seen the most beautiful locations, everything is new, everything is an exploration, and everything is an explosion. I’ve also had the chance to see France and Italy. And yet, I am here to say, that my most memorable moment since moving away from Hawaii was on a simple morning. It involved waking up at 4ish in the morning and being dropped off in the middle of a field. I was there to capture a sunrise/fog time-lapse. I spent that freezing morning watching the fog dance in the morning glow by myself. The more the sun touched the white misty fog, the more the latter disappeared. I inhaled the chilled, fresh farm air, listening to my camera click off a picture every few seconds. After an hour or so, I made my journey home, walking alone on the empty streets. Seeing the beautiful mountains and empty farmlands struck my soul down to the bone marrow. It was in this moment that it hit me. “I am living in a new country. I am alone. What the F#$ am I doing here?” My emotions caught me. This moment became much bigger than taking photos. It was a defining moment of me being here in Switzerland. I am here and this is exactly where I should be, in the midst of the fog clearing away for my arrival on this empty street.
6. Hawaii is still more expensive than Switzerland
Don’t get me wrong, Switzerland is expensive, but your salary is at least accommodating to the cost of living. I mean, minimum wage here lives up to the name, you can live on minimum wage. Try telling that to a person in Hawaii. Most people in Hawaii work two jobs or move back into their parents' house or give up and move away.
I do still try to find savings where I can (Aliexpress.com is my new best friend). I’m used to paying for shipping and waiting forever. Too often you see on any site, "free shipping" and then in tiny print, "except Hawaii and Alaska". Now, living in Switzerland, it’s the same but I must wait on average 2-5 weeks for a package coming from China. It beats buying the same thing in a store in Switzerland for 10x the price.
7. What I Miss?
It’s not who I miss but what I miss about them, especially in particular moments. Like the moment we saw the sunrise over China Man’s hat or the endless amount of BBQ's we had together or the time we woke up in the blistering cold sandy beach of Makaha, seeing the surfers already out in the water warming up for their heat for the Buffalo Contest. I miss the music that travels through the air from random bars. I miss so many diverse nationalities all living in one place. The Swiss are very diverse but Hawaii is the definition of diversity. This means we can have our favorite Japanese, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, even Himalayan breakfast hot-spots and plate lunch places that come with Poke. I miss watching the sunrise from the ocean. I miss driving around the island on a rainy day. I miss collaborating with other indie filmmakers. I dearly miss Onstage and everything that comes with it, the regulars, the music, and cheap beer.
8. Who am I?
I thought I would never move from Kauai and yet I moved away as soon as I graduated High School. I really believed I would never move away from Oahu and yet here I am in Switzerland writing this blog. In the past, I was offered IT Non-Tax jobs abroad for a pretty penny (a lot of $). I've been offered jobs twice in Singapore and Japan, as well as in Italy and Germany. I turned them all down because I couldn’t wrap my head around moving away from Hawaii. I always felt I needed to do something before moving, but what? I didn’t know. The years went by and I returned to my roots - spending more time with friends, BBQing, camping, fishing, crabbing, hiking, surfing, and exploring the different islands. We shared countless laughs, reminisced about the past, explored new places, made new memories, and embraced every moment. It all meant more when I absolutely knew I was going to move away. It was 2 years of doing everything I wanted to do and even some things I never imagined I'd do. like camping on top of a remote mountain with little food and water.
Photo by Josh Wills
9. I see Hawaii everywhere and in everything
Hawaii has crossed oceans and countries. I see poke bowls, I see “Da Kine” backpacks everywhere (I don’t think anyone here knows it’s a brand that originated in Hawaii and “Da Kine” is a Hawaiian pidgin word), they even sell Kona beer here. Every pizza/Italian restaurant has a Hawaiian pizza, every single one. How heartbreaking would it be to tell them that Hawaiian people don’t actually eat their pizza with pineapple? Pineapple isn't even grown in mass in Hawaii anymore. But the most memorable time was when I saw a guy wearing a BJ Penn shirt. I yelled “Hawaii!” and ran up to him and started blabbering. By the time I was done talking to this poor stranger he had a confused look on his face like “What?”. I hadn't realized how fast I switched into pidgin. And no the guy was not from Hawaii, he bought the shirt there years ago. Brah!
10. My crazy brain
I always secretly wanted to give up everything and start over. I knew it would be a struggle, it would entail an exploration of myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of the "self" and what that means, how we can change as human beings. Diamonds are made from constant pressure. The most interesting people I have met in life either had a hard upbringing or had a tragic event happen to them. Here I am in that moment and it is harder than I ever imagined and yet also easier. My wife helps a lot, like a lot-a lot. I also find strength in knowing that I will be a better person in the end. My ego can be my greatest strength and my worst enemy. I must manage him constantly.
11. Pünktlich “on time”
You know you are becoming Swiss when you get worried when the bus or train is 1 minute late. I hope everyone is OK. Maybe there was an accident. I shit you not, 1 minute late. The transportation system here is soooo LEGIT! When it says 2:01, you bet your ass that bus or train is going to be there at 2:01. It is almost Harry Potter-like magical. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m very grateful and happy they have figured it out. The world, especially Hawaii should adopt whatever system they have here in Switzerland.
The beauty of living in a place like Switzerland is that traveling to other European countries is reasonably affordable. In the past year we have visited France and Italy (twice). It’s totally possible to do weekend trips to neighboring countries that won’t break the bank. Here is one of the Rex Vs videos from our recent trip to Italy.
13. My new Swiss ohana
A family that hikes together, stays together… I love going to places that Manuela and her brothers went to as kids. They tell me stories of them playing in puddles and sliding down mountains. And what can I say? I want to play there too.
14. Job hunting more, like job looking…
15 years of IT experience working on one of the largest intranets in the world. Successful entrepreneur as a hot sauce manufacturer, Da Secret Sauce. Award-winning film-maker, Dear Thalia. Professional athlete (bodyboarder) with sponsors like Manta Bodyboards and Viper Fins. You would think finding a job would be easier. Well, you would be dead wrong. I mean don’t get me wrong, I expected rejections, but not a black hole. The Swiss love degrees, certificates, and especially, previous experience in the industry. For example, if you want a job at a Pharmaceutical company, they require you to have previous experience in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s like, what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Here are my “stages of grief applying for jobs in Switzerland”
- Self-reflection. Is it me, is it you? Should I change?
- Really Angry.
- Crying in the shower.
- Just another Tuesday afternoon. Did I have my Cappuccino yet? Oh, it’s late. Better just eat a quick lunch before Deutsch class. Did I do my homework? Oh yea I did, the night before. I wonder what new grammatical word that pushes the verb to the end we will learn today. Let me read that rejection email one more time. Oh yea, it stings. I still have emotions. Cool. Guess I will go to school now and pretend I didn’t get rejected for the 37th time.
I feel like I’m constantly living in the Upside Down looking for a job in Switzerland.
Photo by Ryan Beppu.
15. My accomplishments here in Switzerland
Though I have struggled with finding a Job, I have still got a lot of things done. I have kept busy by going to school, blogging, vlogging, volunteering, and networking.
Here are some of my highlights
I am a part of the Newly Swissed network, an online magazine that caters to visitors and locals. I got to do some amazing things being a part of this great social network, like surfing... yes, I said surfing!
2. Lili Centre
I joined a local community here in Luzern called The Lili Centre. This is a place for people to meet and network with other expats and some locals. Here is your home away from home. I made their promotional video and I hope to be more a part of the community this coming year. They also run Living in Luzern, a website with daily news, weekly updates, things to do, advice for expats, and stories about what it’s like to live in this region.
I’m vlogging more and I plan to vlog more of our adventures and daily activities. These won’t be fancy edits but more of a raw look into my life living here in Switzerland.
I received a very exciting email that my film, Dear Thalia, was selected to be part of the Comcast streaming platform Xfinity for the entire month of November. Here is the link to my Filmmaker Spotlight.
5. Great Big Story
I was on site doing a story on The Valais Drink Pure Festival in the canton of Nendaz when I bumped into another filmmaker who was covering a story about an alphorn player for Great Big Story. We shared a beer together, swapped stories about how we ended up in Switzerland, and long story short, my drone footage ended up in his video.
I was selected to be a SIVO mentee so I could work with a mentor to help me launch my career here in Switzerland. My mentor is a very successful expat who has gone through the same issues as I (see above #14). He helped me with my CV and LinkedIn profile to better suit the Swiss market.
I am at B1 level. Yeah me!
I knew it would be cold but not how cold. What I soon found out? What you wear during the cold months is crucial. The keyword: layering. Layering your clothes is probably the most important thing a newcomer can learn about Swiss winter. In the beginning, I would wear a t-shirt and jeans with a big jacket. I'd either be hot or freezing, no middle ground. Learning how to layer so that I can always find that perfect amount of warm has been mission critical.
17. My big first: seeing snow fall
I can only explain seeing snow for the first time like being kissed for the first time, or maybe catching your first wave. The longer you wait to see xyz (fill in the blank), the more impactful that moment is for you. I remember a friend from Paris seeing the Pacific Ocean from a Hawaiian cliff for the first time… she cried, she actually cried. I thought something was wrong, but then she so poetically in her French accent said, “You are so lucky, you live in the most beautiful place in the world.” For me, that moment came the first time I saw snow fall. Imagine every cliché thing you can do in the snow, like making a snowball, making footprints in the snow, and even catching snowflakes in your mouth... all done by yours truly.
18. My word for 2017: “Adapt”
Photo: Manuela riding her Bike through Ettiswil, Switzerland.
There have been many moments when I've wanted to turn around. In fact, on my way to one networking event in Zurich, I almost turned around and went straight back home. I was so mad at myself for already giving up. When I got off the train in Zurich, I told myself, just get on the next bus. On the bus I said, just get to the building. On the doorstep I said, just go in for 15 minutes. And the rest is history. I met a lot of cool people and it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I did learn that listening to Hawaii music calms my nerves, and repeating the constant mantra, “I refuse to fail here”. We can make a million excuses not to do something or see it as an opportunity, but it's essential to push through the excuses. It’s not always easy but I encourage you all to take one step at a time.
19. Hawai’i Aloha
The song that plays on repeat and brings me to tears. If you choose to watch only one video on this blog, well this is the one. This is my home. The music. The people. The land. The ocean. The spirit. Hawai’i Aloha. Mahalo for reading.
Aloha and a hui hou,
Bonus: Other Random thoughts…
Chicken? Beets? Yes, please.
Any type of steak in the shops here is like buying the finest filet mignon in the States. Bottom line, I’m not paying 30 something bucks for a single serving steak cut that I have to cook myself. However, the chicken is dirt cheap and Swiss guaranteed. Which means I eat chicken at least 5 times a week. Also, this is the most vegetables/salads I have ever eaten in my life. The produce here actually tastes like produce. I absolutely love the beets here. I eat beets at least 3 times a week. Although, I do miss a good bowl of pho or a spicy tuna poke bowl or a simple spam musubi. Yes, we LOVE spam in Hawaii.
In Hawaii, once a month I visited the hospital to get 2 allergy shots. One for nature (pollen, dust mites, grass, etc.) and one for pets (cats, dogs, horses, etc.). I also took an allergy pill (Claritin D) every day. With these two preventative actions, my allergy attacks were down to once a month instead of once a week. Here in Switzerland, I take no shots or pills. In one year I've had only 2 allergy attacks and in general, my nose is less clogged. I don’t know what is in the air but it seems to be a whole bunch of nothing, at least for me. Just fresh air for days. One of my biggest fears about moving here was my allergies. Not the cold. Not the people. Not the job search. Not not having friends. Not learning a new language. But my damn allergies. Knock on wood or more like knock on my nose because I’m not sneezing.
Rex Moribe is an award-winning director of Dear Thalia. He’s also a Blogger, Vlogger, Photographer, IT Engineer, Entrepreneur, Professional Bodyboarder and Deutsch Student. He is originally from Hawaii and now resides in the beautiful Canton of Luzern. You can see more of his personal journey on Rex Vs and on Newly Swissed. P.S. He is still currently look for a job. The struggle is real folks.
The article was first published on the author's blog.