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I moved to Switzerland 4 years ago and have already lived in two of its largest cities (Lausanne and Zurich). There are not a lot of Asians living here so I often get questioned, “How is it like to be an Asian living in Switzerland? ”
This is my own personal experience living in Switzerland (I live in a small village). The experience will not be the same for everyone!
Don’t get me wrong, I really do love living here. And overall, none of these factors mentioned below really affect me very much. I usually just laugh about it!
What is the Asian population in Switzerland?
Nearly a quarter the Swiss population is made up of foreigners. Of that, 8% are of Asian origin. In other words, it is a very small number! According to Federal Statistic Office, in 2019 there were 170,000 foreigners from Asian countries living in Switzerland!
1. As an Asian in Switzerland, you stick out everywhere
Almost everywhere I go, I tend to be the only Asian person around. This is especially true if I venture off into the real Swiss villages or mountains. In the larger Swiss cities, however, there are quite a lot of Asian expats and students.
In my business school, I am one of the few Asians (less than a handful). I’m not saying this in a negative way, but sometimes I miss being just a face in the crowd.
Growing up in Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities, I am used to being surrounded by ethnicities from all around the world. Living in a country where I am a visible minority is tough and I really don’t like the attention I get!
2. You get stared at a lot
Closely related to #1, being an Asian in Switzerland means that you will get stared at a lot. People are curious about what the hell you’re doing here.
I’ve learned to become comfortable with the idea of people staring at me all the time. I’m still trying to figure out why I get stared at so often. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with the fact that I am always wearing leggings (it’s a Canadian thing) or that I walk like a duck (ballet dancer). Whatever the case may be, I get stared at A LOT.
This staring behaviour applies to both men and women of all ages. I think the kids are especially fascinated by me. They never stop looking at me and smiling when I’m on the train!
The staring used to make me feel uncomfortable but now I’ve just accepted it as part of my daily life. I am a walking museum attraction it seems!
3. People think you’re a tourist
Since I don’t look like a local, people automatically assume that I’m a tourist. And they also assume that I can’t speak any of the local languages – French, German, Italian, or Romansch.
4. People automatically assume you’re rich
Switzerland is an expensive country to visit and therefore tends to attract very wealthy tourists. Every year, wealthy Asians flood to Switzerland by the millions to purchase Swiss watches or other luxury goods. By association, most Swiss citizens automatically assume that I am rich as well.
Funny story: I love window shopping at luxury goods stores. Whenever I walk in, the sales associates give me the royal treatment. They let me look at any product I want. One time I walked into a fancy watch store and the sales associate instantly tried to sell me a $15,000 watch! And of course, I couldn’t resist trying on that beauty. As soon as I took it off, the sales associate asked, “Will you be paying by credit card? Let me prepare the invoice.” Let’s just say that she was a bit disappointed to find out that I had no money!
5. You will get questioned about your origins
Usually the first thing I’m asked when I meet someone new is “Where are you from?” followed by “Why are you in Switzerland?” When I answer that I’m from Canada, I get a lot of confused faces. It doesn’t go away until I add, “Well, my family is Chinese.”
6. If you’re an Asian woman, you will garner a lot of attention
Asian women are quite rare in Switzerland. Based on my experience, a lot of Swiss men tend to like Asian women.
Needless to say, a lot of Swiss men (the older ones especially) tend to hit on me. It’s very strange because Swiss people are generally quite reserved and I didn’t really expect them to be so direct!
7. You will miss Asian food
I have yet to find a decent Asian restaurant in Switzerland. I miss good Asian food sooo badly.
The Asian food here doesn’t taste like real Asian food. It’s also super overpriced. I always look forward to travelling back to Toronto or to Asia to get my Asian-food fix.
8. You will become instant best friends with other Asians
Whenever I meet another Asian person, it’s as if we become best friends instantaneously. I instantly feel a bond with other Asians in Switzerland, even if they’re not Chinese. It’s because we are going through the same thing and we like to have the support of others with whom we can identify.
The few Asian friends I do have here are super kind to me. My one Chinese neighbour brings me Chinese food when she has extra. And once I met a Chinese girl at a networking fair (she was presenting). We went out for drinks after and then she even signed my rent application because I needed a Swiss guarantor. In other words, she signed a document agreeing to pay my rent if I default on my rent payments. And she hardly knew me at all!
I love living in Switzerland. It’s been my dream to move abroad since I was in high school. However, there are still some downsides to living abroad in Switzerland such as not being able to find decent Asian food and always getting stared at wherever you go!
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