Expat adventures

  05.08.2021 Magazine

I’m a huge fan of expat life. I passionately believe it’s great for children, too, offering new opportunities, experiences and life lessons to set them up as well-rounded adults. But what of the children themselves? It’s broadly assumed they’ll adapt well to the change, but what is a move to the Saanenland like for them?

International outlook
Gstaad is a curious mixture of rural tradition with a global outlook. Even though there were many Swiss ways of life for us to get used to, I have no doubt the region’s international flavour made our integration smooth. It enabled us to acclimatise bit by bit rather than being faced with massive change all at once. This was especially true for our children.

Public or private?
One of the fundamental decisions you make as a parent is how to educate your child. This takes on a whole new level of significance when you move country and boils down to a choice between local or international school. This decision requires careful thought.

There are pros and cons to each approach. If you really want to integrate from the get-go, there’s a strong case for local school, particularly if your children are young. It’s a great way for them to make friends and learn to speak accentless French or German. The local authorities are very supportive as well, offering foreign children additional language lessons when you first arrive.

If your children are older, however, there’s more of a case for international school. I have a friend who relocated to Switzerland when his daughters were 13 and 15. He wanted them to integrate, so put them in the local school. This proved to be a huge wrench: both girls were pushed back a year until their French was sufficiently advanced and they ended up socialising with students who were a year younger. They eventually adapted and left school with fluent French, but when asked if they’d make the same decision again, everyone in the family gave a resounding “no”.

With this in mind, we took a blended approach. Our eldest son went to an international school from day one, but our second son attended both international and local school during his time in Switzerland. It’s fascinating to see how this enabled him to create a rich social life in the Saanenland. He developed and maintains two sets of friends from his school days, which run along parallel tracks. He sees it as totally normal to have two distinct friendship groups – the international crowd and his local friends – and is equally at home with both. Consequently, he’s never at a loss for company, whenever he visits and this is extremely special to him.

Words of wisdom
Our two oldest sons are now all grown up and have long since moved away. When I asked what advice they’d offer children moving to the Saanenland today, they agreed on the following top tips:

• Make an effort to learn German privately if you don’t go to local school.
• Participate in events like the tennis and volleyball tournaments. It’s a great way to meet other children and contribute to the region at the same time.
• Make the most of the activities on offer – like cycling and walking – as these offer good ways to meet other families and make friends with their children.

The magic lives on
It’s almost twenty years since we moved to the Saanenland and it’s fascinating to see the magic that brought us here is now rubbing off on our children. They are proud to call Gstaad home, even though they now live elsewhere. What further proof do you need of a successful expat experience?


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